Subversive Submission: A Sermon Outline of Romans 13:1-7

When I realized I had to present a sermon outline of Romans 13:1-7 I rolled my eyes. Every time I read Paul’s words my reaction was “Yes… But…” It is no secret that this passage has been used to legitimize atrocities and perpetuate injustice in the name of [g]od. In this outline I try to make sense of my “Yes… But,” seeking to be faithful to Scripture, and sensitive to the realities of those who do not enjoy privilege in society. Keep in mind that this was supposed to be a 1-page-long outline, so there was not a lot of space to flesh out many points. I am aware my outline does not address the issue of undocumented immigrants. I decided no to engage with it for two reasons: (1) It is a very messy and complicated issue that we should not engage superficially, and (2) I do not know how to do it in the context of this sermon. If you have any thoughts on this, I would LOVE to read/hear them.

Subversive Submission

 (Romans 13:1-7)

Introduction

This is a difficult passage for many of us. In the past –and in the present- it has been used to legitimize systems and structures of oppression that dehumanize whole communities; blessing injustice, giving it a new name: “God’s will.” Too frequently this text has been proclaimed as the “doctrine of the state.”[1] Today we come to it humbly, prayerfully, and in worship; with ears to hear God’s voice and hands willing to obey.

Proposition

Let us honor God by submitting to the governing authorities.

Organizational Sentence

Romans 13:1-7 calls us to submit to the governing authorities. This morning we will consider two questions as we explore the passage: (1) Why should we submit to the State? (2) What should we do when submitting means being complicit with injustice?

Outline

  1. Why should we submit to the State?
    1. Reason 1: God is sovereign over it. (v. 1b-c)
      1. God rules over the rulers of this world. This idea is pervasive in Scripture. For instance, consider Daniel’s words to King Nebuchadnezzar: “the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone he wants and sets the lowliest of people over them.” (Daniel 4:17) God uses governmental structures to carry out his purposes, including restraining evil.
      2. Therefore, the one who resists authority, resists God’s ordinance. (v. 2a)
        1. Result: Judgment (v. 2b)
          1. In the present: By means of the judicial system
          2. In the future: By God at the end of history
    2. Reason 2: The State should not be a source of fear to good citizens, but to those who do evil. (vv. 3-4)
      1. The government unconsciously serves God’s purposes of maintaining order, restraining wrongdoing, and promoting good conduct.
      2. As Christians, we acknowledge the need for these structures to be in place so that we have a society where people can flourish.
      3. We do not need to fear, but honor God by fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens.
    3. Reason 3: Because of our conscience (v. 5)
      1. We are aware of “our consciousness of God and his will for us.”[2] Because his will has been made clear, we ought to respond in obedience.
    4. Application (vv. 6-7)
      1. We are to live exemplary lives in society, rendering to all their dues. As N. T. Wright states, “No good will come to the cause of the gospel by followers of Jesus being regarded as crazy dissidents who won’t cooperate with the most basic social mechanisms.”[3]
        1. Paying taxes
        2. Not owing anyone anything
  2. What should we do when submitting means being complicit with injustice?
    1. In March 24, 1980 Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated while celebrating the Eucharist. He had become the voice of the voiceless under a regime characterized by death squads, tortures, rapes, disappearances, and killings. In his sermons he demanded soldiers, the police, and the National Guard to disobey the State’s orders to kill civilians, arguing that “No one has to obey an immoral law.” (If I was preaching in a Hispanic context, I would use the audio of his last homily). By 1992, 75,000 civilians had been murdered by the State. Was Archbishop Romero out of the bounds of Romans 13:1-7?
    2. An invitation to subversive submission. As Thomas L. Hoyt Jr. states, this passage is not to be taken as “a full outline of Paul’s view of government, and even less a “doctrine of the state […] He was not attempting to write a manifesto for the church’s relationship to governments for all centuries.”[4] However, “he was affirming that a proper understanding of, and lifestyle in relation to, the authorities is part of one’s “spiritual worship” (12:1-2).”[5]
      1. This passage is to be understood in light of the preceding chapter, which calls us to a subversive way of life. A life in which we bless those who persecute us; show solidarity; pursue hospitality; do not repay anyone evil for evil; feed our enemies; and conquer evil with good. To be subversive is to live out the values of the True Kingdom in the presence of the Anti-kingdom.
      2. This passage is also to be understood in light of the whole Bible.
        1. Siphrah and Puah
          1. Exodus 1:17, 20-21 “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had told them; they let the boys live. 20So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very numerous. 21 Since the midwives feared God, he gave them families.”
        2. The apostles
          1. Acts 5:29 “We must obey God rather than people”
        3. Revelation 18.
  3. Conclusion: We are not called to blind submission, but to what I have called subversive submission. We are dual-citizens of our country and of the Kingdom of Heaven. We honor God and those around us by submitting to authority and cultivating an environment conducive to human flourishing. However, when there is a clash of kingdoms, we are called to be faithful first and foremost to the Kingdom of Heaven and its King. Óscar Romero modeled this for us. He lived and died as one who had been threatened with resurrection.

[1] Thomas L. Hoyt Jr., “Romans,” in True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, Brian K. Blount, ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 269.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 423.

[3] N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 2, Chapters 9-16 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), e-book.

 [4] Thomas L. Hoyt Jr., 269.

  [5] Ibid, 270

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