Paying taxes to God's ministers...

Did you ever have one of those moments where the Holy Spirit makes it clear exactly how obtuse you are concerning the Word of God?  How is it that we can read the Word over and over, and yet not understand the clearest passages? 

This happened to me in a recent Clearnote Pastors College class, in which we were studying Romans 12:14-13:7.  Romans 12 ends with the command to bless, rather than curse, our enemies.  We are not to take revenge, but to leave room for the wrath of God.  In my overly-spiritualized understanding, I read this passage and picture some far-future reckoning. But does this passage only mean that we are to wait for the Final Judgment?  No. The Apostle Paul goes on to explain that...

God takes vengeance on evil in temporal ways using human means:  He has particular ministers of vengeance.

Romans 13:1-5 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

God’s Word is clear:  the men who serve as civil magistrates are His ministers—both for our good, and for vengeance.  We must be subject to the civil authorities both for conscience’ sake (because they stand in the place of God to bless us) and for the sake of wrath (because they stand in the place of God to avenge evil.)

But it was the sixth verse of Romans 13 that really jumped out at me:

Romans 13:6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.

According to the Apostle Paul, the reason we pay taxes is to support those men whom He has called to be ministers of His vengeance. We are supposed to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, and taxes belong to Caesar, right?  Those are two different kingdoms, after all.  But not so fast—according to this passage, taxes are paid so that God can carry out His vengeance through His ministers. Passages like this make it pretty hard to maintain the hard division of our two kingdoms.  Next thing you know, Jesus will be teaching parables that show us that the Kingdom of God is the whole world! (Oh yeah.  That is Matthew 13:24, 38)

So, how is it that we can read the Word over and over, and yet not understand the clearest connections?  The truth is, we don’t want to understand. Acknowledging the truth would require the messy work of demanding that those to whom we pay taxes act like ministers of God—because that is the purpose of taxation.

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"Indeed, this consideration makes a true king: to recognize himself a minister of God in governing his kingdom." -- John Calvin, Prefatory Address to King Francis in the Institues

What was your understanding before this realization?

I knew that the civil magistrate was a minister of God in the world in some *vague* way, but the Word of God is always so concrete that it breaks down what we want to hold together, and brings together what we want to separate--then He demands action.  If you want to keep the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world separate by giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, you have a problem in this passage.  In it, God tells us why we pay taxes--they belong to Caesar because he is carrying out God's command to bring wrath to avenge evil and to praise good.  But exactly what evil are they to avenge, what good are they to praise?  Evil and good defined by the secular state?  No!  Evil and good as defined by God's Law.

You can't separate Romans 12 from Romans 13.  In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to good according to the Law of God. We overcome evil with good by allowing room for God's vengeance.  Then in Romans 13, He tells us that the civil magistrate is His minister for avenging evil and praising good.  Is this suddenly a good and evil defined by men? No, they are ministers of the Law of Christ. I am not a theonomist, but it is impossible to read the whole passage and see the Law of God and the law of the land as being exclusive! 

Furthermore, we pay taxes to them FOR THIS PURPOSE.  So if you believe in a complete separation of Church and State, what are you to do?  As Americans, we are responsible to hold our governors responsible for the proper use of taxes.  As Christians, we are told that taxes are paid so that governors can be God's ministers.  

We are called to demand our governors to do their jobs as servants of God.  For example, I can't take revenge for the killing of the unborn in abortion, but I am duty bound to demand that our taxes are used to avenge their blood.

Dear Ben,
This post has been very helpful to me. Great job.
Love,
Adam

And what is our duty regarding the ministers if, as is the case, they are punishing righteousness and promoting evil? Jesus and Paul instruct us to pay taxes - and Rome was pretty corrupt - but we have a degree of say in our government... Where is the line between a "free country" and theonomy? (*copied in the "Paying Taxes to God's Ministers" thread, also.)

Dear Keith,

First, don't allow yourself to get brow-beaten by those who want to give you no room between theonomy and a radical two kingdom view.  The truth is that there is a big area in between, and it is called the gospel.

First principles:  You have to believe in a TRANSFORMATIONAL gospel, not an ineffective one.  You have to believe that we have weapons for this warfare. You have to believe that God is sovereign, and rules in the Church and in the world until "the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ."

Application:  We continue paying taxes because God has ordained our rulers rule us, whether they are good or evil themselves.  God is sovereign--maybe He is using them to judge us.  But even if that is true, they are accountable to Him to do what is right, so in love for them, we use the proper weapons of our warfare--proclamation of the Law of God and the Gospel of salvation.  We proclaim the Law by using the privileges that God has given us in our country--right to assemble, freedom of speech, the right to vote for our rulers. The Holy Spirit uses this proclamation as He sees fit to transform our citizens and our rulers so that, all over the world, the Law of God is joyfully carried out in the regenerated hearts of men.

This way, those who think they live in a "free country" because they oppose God's Law will realize that they are living in a "bondage country" so that they can repent and live in a truly free country.

Warmly,

Ben

I love you, Ben. Thank you.

Dear Keith,

I also have a personal confession and exhortation about my comment above.  It sounds good, but how often do I fail at it?  Often.  And the reason is because the line between theonomy and the radical two kingdom theology is the width of faith.  For those with no faith, there is no space between.  It is either/or. But for us as believers, the space between is the width of a mustard seed. And who is sufficient for such things?  But that narrow way is the only place where the Spirit of God works.  It is where all the power is.  So my exhortation to you and all of us is to keep walking down the middle of the path as much as we can, repent when we fall in either ditch, and pray for faith.

Warmly,

Ben

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