This is another postscript to my comments on the letter to the Romans in the #Rom2Rev Twitter reading group, before we move on to 1 Corinthians next week. I’ve tried to tweet or blog my own thoughts, whatever arises from the daily reading, trying not to rely too much on study notes, commentaries etc. It’s not completely possible, as any reflection may well be influenced by things I’ve read or heard in the past. However, I’m going to try reading a commentary after I’ve commented on the reading, to see if that gives any further insights – or corrections! To start with, I’m catching up by reading “Romans: a Shorter Commentary” by C. E. B. Cranfield.
There are some interesting thoughts on some of the areas I’ve had difficulty with (see earlier posts), and I may come back to these at some point. But for today, I want to think about 13:1. The NLT translates the first part of this verse as “Everyone must submit to governing authorities”, and one problem we have is how do we do this, or even should we do this, when those authorities are wrong.
Cranfield translates this as “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities”, and notes that the Greek verb translated as “be subject to” (NLT “submit to”) doesn’t simply mean ‘obey’; he says there are lots of other verbs for ‘obey’ that Paul could have used. He suggests that what Paul is saying, therefore, is simply that we need to recognise and live up to our obligation to the authorities and political systems under which we live. There may be limits to that obligation, but we can’t simply ignore it, as it appears that some of the Roman Christians were doing (eg refusing to pay taxes).
Cranfield also suggests that in a democracy, this obligation is wider than simply obeying civil laws; it means being active, voting thoughtfully, making our voice heard, challenging our leaders when we think they’ve got it wrong or are acting dishonestly. For some of us, depending on our calling, it may mean being a member of a politcal party, or even standing for office.
But this isn’t our only obligation. When Jesus was faced with a question designed to trap him whichever way he answered, he said “give to [traditionally ‘render unto’] Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” (Mark 12:17). As well as recognising and living up to our obligation to the civil authorities, we need to recognise and live up to our obligation to God. And in the same way, this isn’t just obeying a set of laws, but being active in God’s service and for God’s kingdom – of which we are citizens