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

 

Taxes are taxes, and we owe the amounts that our governments dictate that we need to pay. When Paul speaks of revenue he is referencing the sums of money that we all pay to purchase goods and services and to pay for other aspects of living in our society. Although these topics are more complex than this and we do attach a significant amount of importance to our money, these are still relatively straightforward ideas. When the Apostle starts to discuss respect and honor, he has entered into territory that is much less well defined. It seems that our world today struggles greatly with being respectful and that it seldom honors anyone or anything for more than the few moments of life that a social media post enjoys. I wonder if this lack of showing respect and of granting honor isn’t at least in part the outcome that we get for being so stridently independent and self determined in the setting of our values and our world’s ethical constraints.

 

In this passage Paul is telling us about God’s view of what it means to live as a follower of Christ in the cultural setting of the day. His day looked very different than does ours on its surface, but underneath it all, not that much has actually changed over the course of two thousand plus years. We live in a world that, as Scripture tells us, is operating much like a tornado in that it is spinning wildly and without any apparent guidance along a random path in which destruction and death are too frequently the outcome so that confusion and chaos are the tangible result and fear and anger are the emotions that rule the days to follow. God seeks to bring order and reason to bear in the minds and the hearts of people. He desires for us to know Him as the calm that stills the raging winds even before they have actually subsided. God’s immense heart loves both the people who bring on the storm and those who are its victims, and He seeks to use its turmoil as a means for reaching each of them with the saving grace that is Christ.

 

As people who know Christ, it is our responsibility before God to live out the reality of His loving peace and prevailing calm. When it comes to these two final debts that people are required to discharge in the process of living in our world, experience has taught me that I need Christ and His strength in order to remain appropriately respectful and to give due honor to people and to institutions that I do not like or agree with. Let me say that respect and agreement are not the same thing, and granting the honor that is due in our world to someone or to something does not remove our responsibility to seek change and to demand that our societal institutions and governors operate in a manner that conforms to God’s Word of Truth. Yet, our manner in doing these things is important. In Christ, we have His heart and His mind within us, and His Spirit guides us into the deep meaning of His Word. Thus, we should be people who prayerfully consider what we say and the actions that we take. We can also be confident in knowing what is righteous and what is truly God’s will as we conduct ourselves during each day of our lives. We can and we should speak God’s truth at all times, and we must demand it from our leaders and from our governments. Yet, as we set forth our understanding of God’s righteous path in our world, we do need to honor the Lord by using language that is nuanced with love, grace, and peacemaking. Being respectful enhances the speaking of truth and standing for its cause. Living out the principles of righteousness and justice while granting honor to those who have the power to make them real in our world demonstrates to our rulers the fact that they also operate under the authority of the one true King.