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. –Romans 13:7
The apostle Paul wrote the words above to the saints in Rome. It is a well-worn statement, but nevertheless true, that Paul directed this admonition to believers whose taxes would be utilized by a corrupt empire to finance frontier wars, build magnificent edifices for brutal sports, turn a blind eye to the “exposure” of infants leading to countless deaths, and to enslave almost a third of the population. And these are only a fly-by of the empire’s wicked deeds. Justice warriors in the Roman Empire came to barbaric deaths. Dissent was not tolerated, and some sects (including Christianity) were frequently targeted for intense persecution. All these truths notwithstanding, Paul commanded Christians (with authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ) to be good citizens and pay their taxes to leaders who were to be respected in spite of their faults.
Many Christians find these realities hard to stomach. I confess that I do as well, and not just occasionally, but often. I have been wrestling with my own thoughts these past few months. I am not pleased with the government intrusion that the pandemic brought to us, and I do not like paying taxes to government officials who (many of them at least) advocate strongly for some concepts and laws that I find to be — dare I say it… asinine. As I indicated a few weeks ago in one of these “Jym-shorts” articles, my father spent over four years fighting for this country (the last full year of that in almost daily combat) during WWII. My mother and her generation sacrificed for almost five years in ways that make what most of us have had to endure the past two months look like child’s play. My father did that for a country that had opened its arms to his family as immigrants, and my mother for a government that had ruled her parents, and her parent’s parents, for generations.
Now I am in a bit of a pickle. I love what this nation stands for (even though it does so hypocritically – particularly when it comes to racial and ethnic injustices baked into our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights). I do not love, in many ways, what this nation has become in the past fifty years. I love the Lord more than my nation a thousand times over. Here is where the rub begins — God tells me to honor my national and local leaders. Truly, there are times when I do not want to do that.
So, here I am, working hard to walk the line between honoring leaders with whom I hold many important disagreements and submitting to a Lord who says that doing so honors him. The line I walk is a fine line, because the very government I often disagree with tells me, in writing, that I have the right to seek the redress of my grievances as a citizen of this nation. Because I have plenty on my plate working on behalf of the church, I choose to address my grievances primarily at the voting booth. Some of you have chosen to do so in more direct ways. I think you have that right if you are American citizens, as long as those grievances are based on biblical truths and are expressed in a lawful manner.
I cringe when I read about mob violence. I cringe at the “defund the police” movement. I cringe when I see a small minority of police officers abusing their power and robbing people of justice, particularly when it is aimed at historically marginalized people in our society. I cringe when I see entire legislative bodies stand and applaud at the passing of a bill that allows for the wholesale slaughter of innocent babies, even after they are born! I cringe when government leaders I am called to honor tweet out statements that sound more like a twelve-year-old bully picking on a scared child at the playground. I cringe when teenagers attend rallies and hold up signs advocating for things that they do not understand, and have no experience by which to make educated decisions. I cringe quite a bit nowadays when I read the news, from actions and statements of both those with whom I agree and those with whom I disagree politically and morally. And that is just what is occurring in “the world.” What really gets me riled up is what is happening as it relates to false teaching in the church. Wow, don’t get me started on that.
These are trying times for many Americans. These are trying times for many Christ-followers. I am both. The second trumps the first by a wide margin. Therefore, I want to submit first and foremost to Christ, whose name I bear, and set my hope fully on the grace that will be brought to me at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:13). This is where true hope lies, my friends. My human nature is in turmoil at times these days, but my sanctified self, which lives in submission to Christ, is at peace. I’m asking God daily to help me listen to my sanctified inner voice, and not my natural inner voice. I hope you are as well.
Grace and peace,