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.