“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. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 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; 4 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. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:1-7) “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:12-17) “Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He *said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They *said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He *said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:17-21) And since we are called to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) we are to render (give back) to God everything, for everything we have God gave to us.
Scripture speaks of God-ordained authority in marriage and family (Genesis 2; Ephesians 5-6), in human government (Genesis 9:1-17; Romans 13:1-7) and the church, both the local church and the family of God. (1 Corinthians 11:3; Hebrews 13:7; Matthew 18:15-18) Submission to God is seen in how we submit to the authority structures He ordained. From Lucifer (Satan) to Adam and Eve, to fallen man today, rebellion against God is the seed of our sinfulness. And our rebellion can be seen in how we resist God-ordained authority. It is interesting to note that the first four of the Ten Commandments speak of how we are to relate to God and the second six speak to how we are to relate to other people. We would think that the latter six would begin with “Thou shall not kill (meaning murder)!” Yet it begins with submitting to God-ordained authority. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Exodus 20:12) Thus God-ordained authority is a significant doctrine we need to understand.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is the theme of the Lord of the Rings showing how the lure of power even for the most humble man (Frodo) could not be resisted. We see the great abuse of power when church and state combine to rule over man such as when Pope Innocent (1198 – 1216) promoted the Inquisition, surpassing all his predecessors in killing over one million people. http://www.remnantofgod.org/nl0409.htm And we see the murderous evil of Islam as mothers place bombs on the backs of their children for suicidal murder of innocent people whom their “holy” book calls infidels and Allah commands them to kill.
Jesus resisted Satan’s offer of power in the wilderness temptation. “Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” (Matthew 4:8-10) He is our perfect example of submitting to God-ordained authority with His human parents (Luke 22:51); spiritually (1 Corinthians 11:3) and to government (John 19:8-11). And because of His submission to God through God-ordained authority, He was the most spiritually powerful and influential Man (God-Man) that ever walked the earth. (See Philippians 2:5-11)
The fallen angels (Lucifer and the third who joined him) and mankind failed the test of submission to God and now only in Christ and in submission to God can we submit to Him and have spiritual influence. “The sinful mind (flesh) is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7) Spiritual authority is different from positional authority as a king or father, boss, pastor, elder, mentor or the influence of a charismatic personality. Spiritual authority flows through the channel of humility and submission as seen in Jesus. Thus we must submit to God-ordained authority or we cannot exercise spiritual authority ourselves. Yet unless we are filled (ruled, controlled by) the Holy Spirit we will not submit, for the flesh is hostile to God’s authority (as seen above in Romans 8:7) “But be filled with the Spirit…..submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” (See all of Ephesians 5:18-21 KJV)
Romans 13 specifically focuses on how we are called to submit to human government. As dual citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and citizens on earth and the nation in which we live, how do Christians respond to God-ordained human government all of which is imperfect at best and evil in many cases. As we will see, it is our responsibility to obey the law of the land until it causes us to disobey God, our highest authority. “And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20) “When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:27-29) There are many other examples in Scripture where man disobeyed the king (or government) in order to obey God. (E.g., Exodus 1:15-22; Joshua 6:25; Daniel 1, 3 and 6; Acts 5:17-21; Acts 12:1-11) We also have many examples of man submitting to evil rulers and God’s ultimate deliverance. (David and Saul -1 Samuel 24) Of course, Jesus is the greatest example of this. (John 19:8-11) “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)
”Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 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; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good.” (vv.2-4) This ties in with Romans 12:19,“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” One way God administers His punishment is through laws of government. Of course for those who reject the gospel there is eternal condemnation. Generally speaking any government is far better than no government or anarchy and lawlessness. We may dislike the patrol car we pass by when we are speeding but rejoice to see it when we are alone in a dark alley and a gang is approaching us. Paul had to appeal to pagan Roman officials to save his life from religious people of his own race (Jews – see Acts 22, 23) and was thankful for the pagan Roman government in each case.
“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.” (v.4) The sword in Roman government meant capital punishment. The cross was never used for Roman citizens and church history tells us that Paul, a Roman citizen, was decapitated whereas Peter was crucified. Capital punishment through human government was instituted by God right after the flood. “Whoever sheds man’s blood (death by murder) by man his blood shall be shed.” (Genesis 9:6)
“Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” (v.5) This means that we don’t just submit to the laws of the state to avoid punishment but to please God as we humbly submit to government which He ordained. “For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (vv. 6-7) Thus we don’t cheat on our taxes or hide our purchases from trips abroad to avoid paying customs “for conscience sake.” We may get by with it with man but not with God. He knows and sees everything. We are to honor the office and position God has given government leaders even if we do not honor their evil acts. Both Paul and Peter lived under the rule of Nero, one of the most evil Roman kings that ever ruled and yet both of them obeyed the king and tell us (by God’s Word and Spirit) to honor “governing authorities.”
[“Christianity is, at the moment, much more intent upon producing Christian leaders than it is in producing Christian followers. While His disciples had their heads filled with thoughts of position, power, and prestige, Jesus constantly talked to them about subordination and service. While we think much about leaders, Jesus talked most about being followers, disciples. Ironically, the way men become good leaders is by learning to become good followers. Contemporary Christianity is probably more purposeful and aggressive in seeking to influence government and legislation than ever before. And yet I fear that we are less effective than in previous times. How can this be? On the one hand, we seem to be relying on the “arm of the flesh,” on human mechanisms and motivations, rather than on those which are spiritual. We seem to think that we need large numbers to attract the attention of government officials, and that we will not be able to change men’s minds or voting habits unless we hold over their heads the threat of losing the next election. We do not need to muster more votes or more political clout. We need more “moral clout,” gained by simple obedience to God, to His Word, and to the institutions He has ordained. May God grant that we will present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, as we subordinate ourselves to others and to the government He has ordained.” https://bible.org/seriespage/33-christian-and-civil-government-romans-131-7]
A good example of the quote above is about a father loudly protesting at a PTA meeting that prayer should not have been outlawed in public schools. The principle, a Christian man, asked the protesting father if he prayed daily with his children in their home, to which the father had to confess that he did not. Maybe if more fathers and parents had regularly prayed with their children and for godly leaders in government our spiritual influence would have prevented some of the ungodly laws passed by our government leaders. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” (2 Cor. 10:3-4) “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:1-4) Our spiritual weapons are prayer, God’s Word, submission to God-ordained authority at home, in the church and as good citizens.
However, as we have seen, when any government commands us to do something God commands us not to do (e.g., kill babies) or commands us to not do something God commands us to do (share the gospel) then government has over-stepped God’s authority and we must obey God even if there are consequences. When Daniel refused the command not to pray (Daniel 6) it cost him the lions’ den (but God delivered him in it) and when the disciples refused the command not to speak about Jesus (Acts 4, 5) they were thrown into jail (yet God sent an angel to deliver them). Obama Care is a present day example in America where we must obey God not man. [“In the most prominent challenge of its kind, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. asked a federal appeals court Thursday for an exemption from part of the federal health care law that requires it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill. The Oklahoma City-based arts-and-crafts chain argued that businesses – not just the currently exempted religious groups – should be allowed to seek exception from that section of the health law if it violates their religious beliefs. The Greens contend that emergency contraception is tantamount to abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. They also object to providing coverage for certain kinds of intrauterine devices.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/23/hobby-lobby-obamacare-birth-control_n_3324552.html]
Also, rulers at every level are accountable to God ultimately and even if they appear to sin with impunity God will judge them in the end. As the famous sermon by R. G. Lee puts it there is a Pay Day – Some Day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BZepT-czgU Nebuchadnezzar is a dramatic example of getting his due (in this life) for his pride and evil rule. Unlike most evil rulers in Scripture, he repented and became a worshiper of Yahweh. “This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: 25 that you be driven away from mankind and your dwelling place be with the beasts of the field, and you be given grass to eat like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven; and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.” (Daniel 4:24-25; also see 2:21 and Isaiah 40:22-24) Even when God does not deliver us in this life and believers suffer torture and death, we can still say “our God reigns” because it is true.
Questions for Discussion and Application
1. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thus God-ordained authority is a significant doctrine we need to understand. Where do we see the corruption of power in Scripture; in history? Where have you seen the corruption of power in your own life?
2. How did Jesus model total submission to God? What was the result as seen in Philippians 2:5-11?
3. How is it possible for man to submit to God-ordained authority in the home, church and government? See Romans 8:7 and Ephesians 5:18-21.
4. Is no government better than an evil government? Why or why not?
5. “Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” (v.5) How is this motive for subjection different from the others seen in Romans 13:1-7 and what are some ways people do not submit for conscience sake?
6. [“Christianity is, at the moment, much more intent upon producing Christian leaders than it is in producing Christian followers. The way men become good leaders is by learning to become good followers. Contemporary Christianity is probably more purposeful and aggressive in seeking to influence government and legislation than ever before. And yet I fear that we are less effective than in previous times.” https://bible.org/seriespage/33-christian-and-civil-government-romans-131-7] “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. (2 Cor. 10:3-4) How can we become better followers of Jesus as it relates to spiritual influence in our communities and nation? What spiritual weapons did Jesus use and what are our spiritual weapons of warfare?
7. What is the difference between “political clout” and “moral clout” or “spiritual clout”?
8. When does God call us as believers to not submit to government leaders? Give some examples from Scripture and history.