"Governing Authorities"

January 18, 2009
Romans 13:1-7
We have a responsibility to pray for all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

When we become members of the Kingdom of God, we continue to be members of a secular society here on earth.

Throughout the history of the church, there have been believers who have failed to recognize the benefits of having a government here on earth.

The Preamble of the Constitution of the U.S. outlines some of the benefits of having a government:

"In order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty . . ."

Authority is necessary if such an environment is to be provided and preserved.

God-ordained authority is a natural prerequisite for God-ordained order.

Of all people, believers should have the highest view of the authority structures of society.

That's because believers understand better than others how the purposes of God for society require the institution of authority.


Verse 1 = Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

This verse calls for submission which means placing oneself under someone else.

As Christians, we have citizenship in heaven.

But this does not mean that we are excused from acknowledging the government God has placed over us on this earth.

We hold a dual citizenship.

We have two addresses, one here on earth and one in heaven.

Here on earth your address may be 12838 Drake St. N.W. in Coon Rapids, MN.

In heaven, it may 12025 Angel Drive or 7465 Holy Boulevard or 13055 Sky High Lane.


Verses 2-5

This is a difficult portion of Scripture because it seems to take no account of the possibility that a government may be oppressive.

A government may be brutal, rewarding evil and suppressing that which is good.

A few years after these words were written, the Roman emperor, Nero, launched a persecution against the church at Rome.

Many lost their lives and not because of doing evil.

Later on, other emperors would lash out against Christians in several waves of persecution lasting more than two centuries.

So we have a problem!

We have a problem because of what the Word of God tells us and what has actually happened in history.

One way to deal with the problem is to assume that Scripture here is speaking of a government that is functioning as it should function.

And how is that?

How should the government function?

The government should punish evil and reward that which is good.

But when a government denies basic human rights

and liberties are taken away

and evil is rewarded

and good is punished

making life intolerable for freedom-loving men and women, the government has failed to fulfill its God-appointed function.

How are Christ followers to deal with the tension created when obedience to Christ is in conflict with the demands of our society?

In Acts 17:6,7 the apostles are described as men who turned the world upside down . . . and who acted against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.

A circumstance may arise in which the believer must choose between obeying God and obeying people in authority.

In Acts 5:29, we have the account of Peter and the apostles being arrested.

They were put in jail but during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail.

The angel told them to Go, stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life.

They did and then were brought before the Sanhedrin for questioning by the high priest.

The high priest told them: We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching . . ."

Peter and the other apostles replied: We must obey God rather than men!

But we must be careful not to go to the other extreme.

We can not conclude that every government is evil and should be resisted, disobeyed, distrusted or ignored.

We are instructed to honor and pray for those in authority.

The Bible makes clear that government has a positive role to play in God's plans for the human community.

When rulers exercise their authority in line with God's intent, they act as God's servants for the good of society.

If, however, the governing authorities function contrary to God's intent, then that authority may not be God-directed.

It becomes quite clear that the government that

            Persecutes Christians,

            Deals unjustly,

            Supports moral decay,

            Tramples on the weak and powerless,

Such a government has been taken over by forces opposed to God's will.

Step into the shoes of a plantation owner in the South.

The year is 1861.

You have recently committed your life to Jesus as your Savior and Lord.

Because of your new faith, an inner conflict develops.

You realize that, as a slave owner, you are morally responsible for the oppression of the slaves who work on your plantation.

In your conscience, there is a conviction that it's a sin and a social injustice for one man to enslave another.

So you contact the abolitionist movement and begin arranging freedom and transportation to a free state for your slaves.

During this time, a man named Lincoln emerges as the leader of the U.S. government.

You realize that his ideals have become your ideals and you admire this man for taking a stand against slavery.

Then a complication arises: Your state withdraws from the Union.

You are now a citizen of the Confederacy.

And in Romans 13:1 you read these words: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.

What do you do?

Now, move forward in time to the year 1935.

You are an energetic, capable, patriotic citizen of Germany and you hold a middle-ranking position in the German government.

For two years, a man named Adolf Hitler has been the Chancellor of the government.

Hitler has become aware of your talents and abilities and has just sent you a letter.

In the letter, he asks you to accept a very powerful and prestigious appointment in the government of the Third Reich.

You have a serious moral dilemma on your hands.

You are aware of the hate and racism Hitler preaches and you are a committed Christian.

You want to live out your biblical beliefs in every area of your life, including your vocation life.

If you accept the appointment your Fuhrer offers, will you be able to practice your beliefs or will you be compromising them?

As you wrestle with this question, you turn to Romans 13:1 and read these words: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.

What do you do?

These are not theoretical situations.

These are real dilemmas faced by real people.

Many thousands of Christians have faced similar dilemmas over the 2,000 years since the book of Romans was written.

It's a dilemma faced today by many Christians in many countries.

They turn to Romans 13 and read that Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities.

Then they look at their government's policies and conclude that the governing authorities are resisting God.

How do we resolve this conflict?

We must understand that one passage of Scripture may not give us all that God has to say on a given topic.

If we pull one verse or paragraph out of its context and say "There it is. This is God's final word on the subject."

We may be fooling ourselves.

We have received some foundational principles of Bible interpretation from the Reformation.

They are as follows:

  • Scripture interprets Scripture
  • Scripture affirms Scripture
  • Scripture validates Scripture

A basic rule in understanding Scripture is do not take a verse or passage out of context.

Look at the context.

What do the preceding verses and passages say?

What do the following verses and passages say?

What does the Bible as a whole have to say about the subject?

Cults have been started by charismatic leaders who have taken one verse and built a theology around it.

Let's go back to Peter and John.

They are brought before the Sanhedrin which is the Supreme Court of the Jews.

There the apostles are told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus.

If Romans 13:1 were the last word on the subject, then Peter and John would be compelled to submit and stop preaching the Gospel.

But that's not what happens.

The government, the Sanhedrin, was demanding that Peter and John violate the command of a higher authority than the government.

That higher authority is God.

Jesus told these very disciples, Go and make disciples of all nations.

And that is what they did.

Whenever one chooses to obey God rather than the government, there is a price to pay.

It can be costly.

How can we discern whether those in authority are to be obeyed or challenged?

Charles Ryrie makes this observation:

"When civil law and God's law are in opposition, the illustrations of the Bible sanction, if not obligate, the believer to protest, if not disobey. But when a believer feels he should disobey his government he must be certain it is not because the government has denied him his rights, but because it has denied him God's right's."

In other words, our disobedience to civil authority is justified when that authority demands that we disobey God.

Martin Niemoller was a German pastor and theologian.

He was also one of the founders of the Anti-Nazi Confessing Church during Hitler's rule.

He openly opposed Hitler's racist policies and the government's attempts to control the churches.

In 1937, Niemoller was arrested by the Gestapo.

He was confined in prisons for 8 years until he was freed by the Allies.

During his imprisonment, one of Niemoller's friends, another pastor, visited him in prison.

His friend said to him: "Martin, if you had just kept your mouth shut, you would be a free man. Have you forgotten Romans 13:1?"

"Have you forgotten that we should submit to the governing authorities?"

"Martin, what in the world are you doing in this prison?"

Martin Niemoller looked his friend squarely in the eye and said:

"I think the real question is: Why in the world aren't you in this prison with me?"

Governing authorities are intended to be guardians of the laws or commandments that make community life possible.

The commandments "do not kill"

                                    "do not steal"

                                    "do not commit adultery"

And so forth, if violated, lead to the destruction of community.


Verses 6, 7

One sees a parallel between this passage and the famous words of Jesus when He said:

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

                                                Matthew 22:21

The clearer the picture that governing authorities are God's servants, the more responsible we will be in supporting them through payment of taxes.

These public servants work full time governing, therefore, they have no time to earn a living by other means.

As Christians, we are to bear our share of the tax burden.

We may not appreciate the politics of a person holding high office, but we need to be careful not to criticize unnecessarily.

The offices of our government are ordained by God and are for the good of our society.

It doesn't mean that our government or anyone else's government is perfect because we live in a fallen world.

But our responsibility is made very clear in I Timothy 2:1-4.


I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

                                                I Timothy 2:1-4


Discussion Questions for Wake Up with the Word for Sunday, January 25th:

Discussion Question #1: Read Romans 13:1; I Peter 2:13, 14 and Daniel 2:21. What's the upside in having a government? What's the downside? How would you explain the assassination of a president to a young believer or an unbeliever?

Discussion Question #2: Read Romans 13:2-5; Proverbs 24:21, 22 and I Peter 2:17. The verses in Proverbs and I Peter mention fearing and honoring the king. Are we expected to fear and honor the president of the United States? Is it wrong for us to speak of a president in a disrespectful way? Do you think kings and presidents are equal in God's sight?

Discussion Question #3: Continuing on with Romans 13:2-5,

when is it legitimate for one to rebel against those in authority? What role does our conscience play in submitting or rebelling? Do you think dictatorships are ever instituted by God?

Discussion Question #4: Read Romans 13:6, 7 and Matthew 22:15-22. It might be helpful for us to read these passages as April 15th draws near. On a more serious note, it is often difficult for us to watch and see how our tax dollars are spent. Those in authority carry great responsibilities. That's why we are instructed in I Timothy 2:1-4 to pray for those in authority.. That's not the least we can do but probably the most we can do if we want to live peaceful and quiet lives.