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Scripture reading – Romans 13; Romans 14
Today’s Scripture reading touches upon many important subjects that are both doctrinal and practical. For instance, Romans 13 introduced the question of the believer and his relationship with civil government and human authority (13:1-7). Paul then addressed debt (“owe no man anything,” 13:8a), and emphasized the overriding command to “love one another” (the sum of the commandments, 13:8-10).
Romans 14 continued the practical application of the Scriptures to one’s daily life and walk, and focused on the believer’s liberty, deportment and influence on other believers (14:1-2, 7-9, 16-23). In the matter of a critical, judgmental spirit (14:3-4, 10-15), Paul warned, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (14:12).
The balance of today’s devotional may seem political, but it is taken from Romans 13:1-7 and addresses the believer’s citizenship and relationship with civil authority.
Democracy vs. Republic: Is there a difference?
If you live in the United States, you are aware we have an opportunity to exercise our civic duty in the next few days, and vote for those who represent us in government. “Democracy is on the ballot,” is the relentless theme of the Democratic party, and the implication is the candidates of the other party (Republican) are a threat to Democracy.
The government of the United States is a Republic, not a Democracy.
A republic is a form of government that represents “We the People.” The elected leaders rule by consent of the people, and function as representatives of the people for the common good. In a republic, there is no hierarchy or upper tier of leadership; the power of government rests with individual citizens, who delegate to leaders their authority.
The statement, “Democracy is on the ballot,” should be a grave concern to every American. Though the nature of a democracy is dependent upon the will of the people, it poses a frightening danger I will describe as “the tyranny of the majority.” An individual citizen has protected rights and a voice in a republican form of government. A democracy, on the other hand, has a tendency to evolve into the rule of the majority at the oppression and sacrifice of the individual.
When the virtuous character of a society deteriorates, so does its tolerance for the individual and individual rights. For instance, Adolf Hitler rose to power in the German Weimar Republic. In a void of leadership, Hitler and the Nazi party (representing Democratic Socialist policies) slowly gained a following of the majority of the German people. With the majority in power, a campaign of intimidation began to attack and silence political opponents. Concentration camps were opened and political opponents were arrested. Finally, when all opposition political parties were outlawed, a campaign to exterminate the Jewish people began, and the freedom of the press and speech were revoked.
As a Bible believer, whether you identify as a Democrat, Republican, or Independent…there is one thing that cannot be on the ballot—our submission to King Jesus. Paul’s letter to believers in Rome was addressed to citizens of that empire who knew all too well the tyranny of a dictator. No doubt the apostle, who was himself a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37), had been questioned concerning the relationship and obligation believers had to those in authority. Romans 13:1-6 addressed in very specific terms the moral obligation believers have to all human authorities.
In his first letter to the early church, Peter commanded believers to “Honour the king” (1 Peter 2:17c). While there was much about a king’s character that was not honorable, there was nevertheless a responsibility for believers to treat the ruler with dignity, regarding his office and authority. Yet, believers are not only to honor those in authority, but recognize human authority as delegated by God (13:1). While the governed are to submit to authority, government has a responsibility to protect and ensure the safety and security of the citizens (13:2-4).
Closing thoughts – Whether a republic, democracy, or monarchy, leaders are accountable to God, and are to rule understanding their role is that of a “minister (servant) of God” (13:4a). Believers are to revere leaders as the servants of God for good (13:4a), and the wicked should fear the judgment of the same (13:4b). The inherent sinfulness of man (Romans 3:10, 12, 23) requires a government that is ready “to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (13:4c).
Finally, believers have a moral obligation to be subject to the laws of man (Romans 13:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17)—with one exception: When the laws of the land violate God’s law. When the apostles faced authorities who forbade them to preach the Gospel (Acts 5:17-29), they answered, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were commanded by Nebuchadnezzar to worship his idol or die, they respectfully answered, “be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:16-18). When king Darius commanded that no man was to pray to his God for thirty days, Daniel went home, “kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:9-10). God, not government, is the believer’s highest authority.
When you cast your vote, consider: Which candidate aspires to be the “minister (servant) of God” for good?
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