In addition to the health threat it presented, the COVID-19 crisis created political tensions for many churches when some states ordered them not to meet for worship. Some complied with government regulations while others saw the order as an infringement on their religious freedom. This type of tension was familiar to the apostle Paul who addresses the subject in Romans 13. In an idolatrous culture where religion and politics were mixed, his command of Romans 12:18 to live at peace with everyone must have seemed challenging.
The apostle’s directive is simple. All believers must be subject to the governing authorities (v. 1). God’s purpose for human government was to act as a servant of the common good and punish wrong-doing (v. 4). Elsewhere, Scripture qualifies this obligation. Obedience to God takes priority over obedience to earthly rulers (Acts 5:29). However, as a citizen of the Roman Empire, Paul certainly knew that the laws and actions of civil authorities were not always righteous. Pilate executed Jesus for political reasons (Matt. 27:22–24). Roman officials mistreated Paul (Acts 16:37).
Despite the imperfections of governing rulers, believers were instructed to pay taxes (v. 6). More than this, Christians are required to treat those in authority with respect even when they disagree with their policies and practices. As Paul puts it in verse 7: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” Paul modeled this obedience in his own ministry. Whether jailed or free, he treated those in authority with respect while claiming the rights and privileges that were his as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25; 23:5).
>> Disagreement with government policy does not free us from our obligation to pay taxes or obey laws. Civil disobedience is only warranted if it’s required by God or we are ordered to do what is forbidden by God.