It’s easy to hate those who we disagree with politically, especially if we watch TV commentators. When they vote or advocate what is clearly evil to our ears, our sense of justice can boil over. They exasperate us, and they infuriate us. To me, it’s hard to keep a peaceful heart when those dragging us down a long road toward tyranny keep winning it drives me up the wall. So, when I read Romans 13, it was a little hard to swallow.
1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.
Seriously Paul? Stalin was God’s servant? For my good? Pay taxes to Mao Tse Tung or face God’s wrath? Really? Are you sure?
I googled this topic and found a few interpretations that let us weasel out of the literal interpretation. They point to cultural context or that Paul was actually being sneaky and suggesting that we only submit to those who had God’s authority, but I wasn’t convinced. I think there’s another way to look at this passage by looking at the verses that precede it.
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The key phrases are these : “Overcome evil with good”, and “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Overcome evil with good – Herein lies the tactic that God wants us to pursue. Not just because it is noble, but because it works. The Roman Empire fell to Christians, not by the sword, but through the conversion of its leaders. Gandhi’s successful non-violence was inspired, in part, by Christ. Jesus himself created an irrepressible revolution that continues to sweep the world today, not through violence, but through his ultimate act of love.
Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord – God is patient in his anger, and we must have faith that it will come to those who commit evil. It is not up to us. Again, this is not just because it is noble, but because God is so much better at wrath than we could ever hope to be. The Israelites didn’t have to lift a finger God utterly destroyed Pharaoh and his kingdom. He humiliated their gods, he destroyed their crops and their livestock, he slaughtered their firstborn sons, and ultimately drowned Pharaoh and his army.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.
When you are tempted to hate, and tempted to anger, just remember that you serve an all-powerful and perfectly just God. Love and pity your enemy, because you know that God’s wrath is coming.