Romans 13:6-7, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
In today’s passage, Paul concludes his discussion of what a life transformed by the gospel looks like in the context of the believer’s relationship to the governmental authorities. Before we examine Romans 13:6-7, however, we would be remiss if we did not consider what the Apostle’s instruction means for the rulers of this world. Given Paul’s stress on government as the Lord’s instrument of wrath on wrongdoers, those who hold positions in the government have a duty to punish evil and protect innocent people. Any governmental official who does not fulfill this responsibility will be held to account for his failure to do his duty. Those who are called to serve as senators, judges, governors, and otherwise represent the civil magistrate have a high calling indeed as ministers of justice, and we must hold their feet to the fire when they do not do their jobs. The church fulfills its call to be the conscience of the state not only by obeying the laws of the state but also by calling for our leaders to protect the unborn, show no partiality in the court system, and so forth.
Romans 13:6-7 stresses the importance of paying taxes. Paul covers several points. First, the Apostle assumes that his audience is already paying taxes to the secular authorities. The Greek construction of verse 6 carries with it the idea that the believers’ payment of taxes means they implicitly recognize that the state has the authority that Paul says it has. Second, Paul recognizes that the reason we pay taxes is so that the government can fulfill its role of punishing evil and protecting the innocent. Finally, the Apostle indicates that we owe more to the governing authorities than just our taxes. By virtue of the government’s role as ministers in the civil sphere to promote order and the common good, we owe our leaders respect and honor. This does not mean that we cannot question the government; it does mean that we endeavor to show respect even when we must call the state to account for its failures.
In sum, Paul’s teaching on the government recognizes that it is part of God’s moral order and that we submit ourselves to the Lord by submitting to the governing authorities. At the same time, this call to submission is not a call for us to do whatever the state says. We can justify sin by saying “the government made me do it” no more than we can justify it by saying “the devil made me do it.” We may not break God’s law in order to obey the secular authorities, but we also may not disobey the government for frivolous reasons.
God calls us to pay taxes, not to approve of everything our tax money pays for. In Paul’s day, tax money was used to pay the salaries of soldiers and other officials who persecuted Christians and committed other evils. Nevertheless, Paul told the church at Rome to pay its taxes anyway. Paying our taxes is not a sign that we endorse everything the government does with our money; rather, it is one way we fulfill God’s command to submit to the state.