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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Ninety-Second (Romans Part 21)

Last week we looked at chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome, and we found some key things that we should be living by while we’re here in our current tabernacle (our current bodies, 2 Corinthians 5:1).  We should review those periodically so we can remain grounded in how YHWH desires that we live, and so we can clean out the influence that the world inevitably infiltrates into our lives over time.  This week, we’re going through the beginning of chapter 13, and Paul has written more things we should live by in this chapter.  We do have to parse some of the things very carefully though, so we don’t get the wrong impression.  So, let’s get into it!

It’s no coincidence that Paul transitions directly into a reference to authority right after he talks about overcoming evil with good.  We looked at this before, but if you don’t recall, the believers in Paul’s time used the name Babylon as a reference to Rome and the Roman Empire (1 Peter 5:13).  As a side note, this gives some credence to the thought that references to Babylon in the book of Revelation are actually talking about the Roman Empire, but don’t be too quick to say that means all that stuff referencing Babylon has been fulfilled already.  Like many things in scripture, especially with dreams and visions, it is likely referring to a spiritual aspect of Rome, and that, very much, is still in existence today.

That’s a study for another time, but for now, getting back to Romans, this chapter starts with Paul talking about submitting to authorities.  At the time, the Roman Empire was the governing authority, and it acted in accordance with evil towards believers.  So, the last chapter ended with Paul talking about overcoming evil with good and this chapter started with how to do that regarding authority.  He is very clear, right off the bat, that any authority has been placed there by YHWH (Romans 13:1).

This statement by Paul, when specifically referring to governing authorities, is confirmed in other places in scripture, not the least of which is by the words of Yeshua Himself (Daniel 2:21, Psalm 75:6, John 19:10-11), and it sets the tone for what Paul is trying to say.  When he writes “authorities,” the word he uses is exousia, and is found all throughout scripture.  Strong’s Concordance tells us the definition is “power to act, authority,” but HELPS Word-Studies goes a bit more specific and says “conferred power,” or “delegated power,” meaning power ultimately delegated by YHWH.  This specificity makes sense, because it’s a compound word of ek, which means “out from,” and eimi, which means “a right or privilege.”  In other words, YHWH places people into positions of authority as a privilege, and thereby He places them there for a purpose and will judge them based on how they use that authority.

It is also interesting to note, that this is the same word used by Paul in his letter to the believers in Ephesus when referring to spiritual authority (Ephesians 3:10).  In that verse, he talks about the mystery of the gospel (which was the bringing in of the Gentiles to the salvation provided by Yeshua’s sacrifice) being revealed to the authorities in the heavenly realms through the ekklesia (the ones called by Yeshua to be His body) as a sign of YHWH’s wisdom.  It’s also the word Paul uses when saying our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the authorities of evil (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul then goes on to say that resisting this authority is opposing YHWH and will bring judgment (Romans 13:2).  We have to figure out what Paul actually means by resisting authority though, or we could get the wrong idea of what he’s saying.  For one, he certainly didn’t mean just going along with whatever the authority says, because if he did, he most definitely did not live by that in regards to governing authority.  He was thrown into prison multiple times (Acts 16:16-24, 22:23-29, 24:27, 2 Timothy 2:8-10, Philippians 1:7, Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 4:3).  

Now, you may say the reasons he was imprisoned were based on false or unjustifiable pretenses, and you would be right.  Essentially every time he was arrested it was due to either made up testimony, or testimony that conflated what was actually going on.  He was arrested for casting out a demon from a child, but the charges brought against him were that he was promoting unlawful customs (Acts 16:20-21).  He was also arrested for preaching of his mission to the Gentiles, ordained by Yeshua, but the charges were that he was causing dissension in the empire among the Jews and desecrating the temple (Acts 24:5-6).  Finally, he was arrested for preaching the gospel, and this would be the imprisonment that led to his death (2 Timothy 2:9, 4:6).  

Even though these arrests were unjustifiable, when you read what Paul is saying in Romans 13 that fact causes even more confusion as to what he means.  Was he a “do as I say and not as I do” sort of leader among the believers?  Of course not!  He told people to do the same thing he was doing.  And he said this despite being in prison at the time with his death coming soon! (2 Timothy 4:5)

He writes to the believers in Rome that they should do what is good and right so they have approval of the authorities (Romans 13:3-4).  What’s more good and right than spreading the gospel?  And yet, he was imprisoned and eventually executed for it.  He then says you have to submit to authority to avoid punishment! (Romans 13:5)  What’s a greater punishment from earthly authorities than being executed?!

So, what did Paul actually mean when he wrote all this?  Well, when you look at the word he used for “resist,” when talking about resisting authority, it is antitasso, and it actually comes from an old military term that meant placing a soldier in a position with a definite order to attack.  The idea behind this word, in Paul's context, is an organized resistance; an intense opposition to the governing authority.  Paul’s actions were consistent with his words to the believers, because he was not in, or putting together, some militia that was going up against the Roman Empire.  He was doing exactly what he said to do; he was doing what is good and right.

That brings us to his statement about avoiding punishment.  We already identified that his submission to authority did not result in him avoiding punishment.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  So, what did he mean by that?  Well, much like any other place in scripture, it’s important to read what’s actually written and not impose our own assumptions into the interpretation.  

Paul wrote about not being afraid of the one in authority not because you're always just going along with whatever the authority says, but because you know in your heart that what you have done is right.  Those that do wrong know it’s wrong, and as a result they fear the consequences imposed by the authorities that they have brought upon themselves.  Paul talks about it in verse 5, but what he’s getting at in verse 3 regarding fear is that our spiritual connection to what is right and wrong, our conscience, helps us be unafraid when we know we’ve done right and the authorities still put us in prison, or worse.  And when he says you’ll get the approval of the authorities, he’s not saying that you won’t endure punishment or hardships by the authorities.  He’s saying that when you do endure them for doing what’s right, and sticking to what’s right, you will be commended for that.  The word he uses for approval is epainos, which actually means accurate acknowledgement, not that the authority will decide not to punish you.  You can see and example of that in the trial and crucifixion of Yeshua.  When Pilate found no fault in Him and washed his hands of the judgment, he was acknowledging that even though a punishment was still going to occur, it was unwarranted because Yeshua had not done wrong (Matthew 27:24).

Then why did Paul say that submission to authority will avoid punishment?  Again, we must not impose our thoughts into this statement, because he didn’t say that doing good would avoid punishment, did he?  He just got finished talking about the authorities being a servant to YHWH by bringing His wrath based on wrongdoing.  In his statement about avoiding punishment, he connects it to our conscience because when we do wrong, our conscience makes us feel bad about it.  So, he's saying don't do wrong so you can avoid being punished and avoid feeling bad about what you did.

He goes on to talk about paying taxes because avoiding taxes is another reason someone could get punished by the authorities (Romans 13:6).  Putting our opinions aside about current authorities and whether or not they actually devote themselves to their work (and that our taxes are used appropriately by those authorities), the truth is that all the earthly authorities really are YHWH’s servants.  He is in control of all, and He knows all, so He knows when someone will misuse the authority they are given and He knows that fact before He even puts them in power.  However, we also know that YHWH uses for good what was intended for evil (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28, James 1:2-4), and that there will be judgment in the end for those that misuse their authority (Luke 12:48).

We’re going to stop there for now because while verse 7 is a continuation of Paul’s statement on us paying what’s due to others, it’s really a transition into another idea we should live by and we’re already on the longer side of our weekly studies for this week.  The important thing to recognize about what Paul wrote here is that he absolutely did not say that believers should just go along with whatever the authorities say because YHWH put them where they are.  That is a trap that lots of believers fall into, and you can see examples of that all over the place.

While we alluded to political, or governmental authorities mostly, Paul doesn’t specifically say that’s what he’s talking about (although with talking about swords, government is likely what he was inferring).  His statements can also apply to authorities in places like churches.  The Greek word was also used when referencing religious authority (Acts 9:14).  In some ways, those that misuse those authorities are even more heinous than the governmental ones because they are dealing with you spiritually rather than simply physically.  What is good and right is not necessarily the same as what some of those religious authorities state or put in place as far as standards to live by or policies in their church.  Yeshua preached about that, referencing the Pharisees, during His ministry.

When you find out that what you’ve been taught as worship to YHWH is actually based on pagan rituals and is an abomination to Him, you aren’t required to “submit to authority” and just go along with what they taught you.  When you see that your church is promoting homosexuality rather than rebuking it but still spreading the gospel to homosexuals, you aren’t required to “submit to authority” and stay in that church.  These are just a couple examples, but the point is that no matter what, we are called to do what’s right and good regardless of what a political, governmental, or religious authority states.  By doing that, you’re not raising a militia and storming the castle, you’re simply holding true to YHWH’s commandments and doing His will!

Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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