Pay What You Owe
There seems to be some major confusion in our minds regarding what is free. My father told me at an early age that there is no free lunch. Somebody pays for it. Yet, there is the sentiment that some things are free.
Christians sometimes fall for such ideas because salvation is free for us. We forget that it was paid for by someone else. This distinction is especially important in our day when socialism is again raising its head and government welfare is so expensive. Please go with me for a few minutes into what the Bible says about it.
God’s Sovereign Love is Expressed in Delegated Authority
In the thirteenth chapter of Romans, Paul deals with our relationship with earthly authorities. This is in the section of the book that could be called the “how to apply” section.
For the first 11 chapters, Paul explained what God has done to have a people on earth who live as restored humans in partnership with him in blessing the earth.
In chapter 12, he tells us that our response to God’s acts of grace is to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. He reminds us that it will require a whole new orientation of thought, because we are accustomed to thinking according to the values of our present culture. Our transformation in behavior comes from our minds being renewed to the new reality that has been created by the advent of Jesus who fulfills all promise and hope.
Paul then begins to explain how we are to apply this new reality and what life in the newly inaugurated kingdom looks like. One of the issues he addresses is the whole concept of authority expressed through earthly structures. In other words, how do people who are citizens of the Kingdom of God relate to the kingdoms of the world.
We learn that God’s sovereign love is expressed in delegating authority to various institutions for the benefit of the whole society. (Romans 13:1-8)
Submitting to Authority
It is vividly clear from scripture that God instituted the family as the cornerstone of human society and has given it authority to nurture and orient us to living with him in his family on his earth.
God’s intention is that we get the basic lessons of life in the setting of a family where there is structure and mutual submission. Husbands are to lead as Christ leads in love. Wives are to respect God’s order as joint heirs with their husbands. Parents are to rear their children with love and respect, as persons made in the image of God. Children learn how to respect authority first in the family.
The civil government is given authority to protect the citizens of society from wrong doers relating to their persons, their property, and their pursuit of their dreams. The Church is given authority to define truth and offer transformation to all persons who make up society.
Respecting these expressions of authority reflect a submission to ultimate authority. All earthly forms of authority are established by God, who rules over all. It is his mercy that grants to human instrumentality the privilege of managing life. God gives adequate authority to fulfill the role he has designed for each institution. If an institution tries to manage a part of society outside its jurisdiction, it is a form of tyranny. Refusal to honor the purpose and existence of earthly authority is a form of rebellion.
Sustaining the Structures of Society
Being a citizen of the transcendent Kingdom of God does not exempt us from our earthly responsibilities. We are part of creation and have a part in its development and its upkeep.
“Pay to all what is owed to them; taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whim revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” — Romans 13:7
Any concept of welfare assistance that robs a person from participating in the upkeep of the structures of society is destructive to the person’s soul, as well as to the sustainability of the structures. It violates God’s design of humans and society. When we are the beneficiaries of the authority, we owe our part in sustaining it. We pay our taxes recognizing that we are enjoying the benefits of that revenue. Those who are so disenchanted with government that they refuse to pay or cheat to keep from paying should refuse to drive on the roads, never call the police, and never depend on the courts to protect their legal rights. They are stealing from those who are paying the bills.
We may object to such an approach to earthly authorities by pointing out how some of the humans who are in the place of authority are not good people, even sometimes evil. This is obviously true, but it doesn’t cancel the purpose for the authority. History has proven that such persons will either be changed or be judged by the ultimate authority. God brings justice to all in his time. We can honor the authority without admiring the character of the individual representing it. We should never opt for anarchy. That is the goal of hell’s forces. Chaos is hell’s order.
We not only owe fiscal participation, we owe honor and respect. The current trend to dishonor executive, legislative, and judicial authority with vulgar and demeaning rhetoric because we don’t like the person(s) holding the office is reprehensible, especially for citizens of the Kingdom of God.
In our society, we are blessed to have some voice in who sits in the seat of authority and even how that process is determined. That requires even more responsibility. When Paul wrote the letter to the church in Rome, Nero was representing the civil authority there. He was one of the most cruel and despotic leaders in history. We have plenty of corruption and ineptitude today, but not at that level — and we have some say in changing it.
Maybe it is time to stop criticizing from afar, as if it were someone else’s responsibility, and engage in honoring the institution of authority by infecting it with the eternal truth found in Christ. Before we conclude that the institution is demanding that we dishonor God thereby justifying civil disobedience, we should do our duty.
And it is not enough to just vote, though that is a high privilege and responsibility. First, think! What are the moral issues? Don’t allow culture to convince you that because an issue has become political, that the church can’t have a position. Political issues often reflect a moral position. Abortion is just one example. Murdering an innocent person is not just a political issue, and it is not the only issue that matters, but it cannot be ignored by shrugging our shoulders and mumbling something about the law of the land. We can change the laws — and we should.
I encourage every citizen to exercise the right and responsibility to vote, but I ask every citizen to think first. Candidates will come and go. Laws that reflect morals affect society for a long time.
Pay What You Owe
It is a serious thing to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God living in the kingdoms of this earth. We have the assurance that our King is already on the throne and is ruling, even when it seems like evil is ascending. The judgment has already been decided.
We are privileged to carry out the purposes of our King amid societal struggle. We are not victims, and never shall be. Earth and heaven will ultimately see right prevail in every case. God’s justice guarantees it.
We live with hope, confident that light is pushing the darkness back even while we suffer the pangs of a creation waiting for complete adoption. We might have to suffer persecution, and there might come a time for civil disobedience. For now, pay what you owe!