About Jesus Steve Sweetman
The Politics of God And The Bible
And Submission To Civil Authority
Paul wrote in Romans 13:1 to 7 has been taken seriously by many
Christians who have lived under, or, who presently live under, a
dictatorial regime. For
those of us in the western world, Paul's remarks haven't been taken so
seriously. That will have to
Romans 13:1 Paul told his readers "to submit to the governing
authorities", which I believe refers to civil leaders.
In Paul's day these authorities were part of a harsh dictatorial
regime. Paul's instruction
to submit would have been hard for you to understand if you were a
Christian back then. The
authorities to whom you were to submit might turn around, slice your
head off, parade your skull around the city square, and feed your body
to wild dogs roaming the streets. Submission
to ungodly authority is thus the issue we need to address in this
based his reason to submit to civil authorities on the fact that
"there is no authority except that which God has established".
I know the debate over the
word "established". Did
God simply establish the idea of government, or, are all civil
authorities placed in power by His sovereign choice?
Because Paul was speaking in the present tense, I believe he
understood the authorities in his day were put there by God.
Paul knew certain Old Testament passages like Deuteronomy 32:8,
Genesis 10, and others that helped form his thinking.
Deuteronomy 32:8 tells us that God gave the nations their
inheritance and set their boundaries.
I believe Paul would tell you and I that the leaders of our
nations, for one reason or another, have been set in place by God.
By no means does this suggest these leaders are godly people.
God has established civil authorities, in verse 2 Paul says that if you
rebel against these authorities, you rebel against that which God has
established. Such rebellion
will bring judgment on you by these governing authorities.
In verse 3 he says, "the rulers hold no terror for those who
do right, but for those who do wrong".
Simply put, if you do good, you won't have to fear punishment by
the authorities. On the
other hand, if you do wrong, you will fear the authorities.
says that if you want to be free from fearing the authorities, obey
them. That makes sense, but
if you were a first century Christian, you might think twice about this
and respond by saying, "okay Paul, I’ll obey Caesar, but I'm
still afraid of the guy".
context of Paul's words concerning fearing authorities is based on the
premise that God put those authorities in place to punish those who do
wrong. That's my
paraphrase of verse 4. For
this reason, if you obey the authorities, you won't have to fear being
punished for unruly behaviour. It's
important to note that the fear Paul speaks of here is in relation to
being afraid of being punished for doing wrong.
This fear isn't in reference to being afraid of Caesar slicing
your head off for being a Christian. That's another issue. Caesar might
still ax your head off, even if you do obey.
Besides, Jesus told us not to fear men like Caesar.
Such men can only kill you and burn your naked body in the city
square. They can't kill your
soul. So in the long run, we
must fear God who can burn both soul and body in hell's fire. (Matthew
verse 4 Paul tells us that the governing rulers are "God's
servants" to do you good, but if you do wrong, be afraid.
Believe it or not, Caesar was God's man to administer justice on
His behalf. A study of the
Old Testament shows that God caused
ultimately defines what is right and what is wrong?
It's not Caesar. It's
God. How we then submit to
authorities who refuse to submit to God's authority is the issue at
5 gives us two reasons why we are to submit to civil authorities, as bad
as they might be. The first
reason is so we won't be punished for doing wrong.
The second reason is probably more important.
We submit for the
sake of our conscience. Having
a clean and undisturbed conscience is vital in our relationship to the
state, as it is in all we do. Concerning
our conscience, it must be reformatted by God's Word because the human
conscience is sinful and can't always be trusted.
A Biblical based conscience is fundamental to how and when we
submit to the state.
sum up, Paul told us that civil authorities have been established by God
to represent Him by enforcing matters of civil justice as defined by
Him. We therefore submit to
the authorities, even if they are ungodly, in matters pertaining to
justice as defined by God.
civil authorities have been established by God, they are subject to Him.
If the authorities require us to submit in matters that clearly
oppose God, the one they represent and to whom they must submit, we have
no choice but to not submit. Our
consciences must be clean and undisturbed in this matter, as Paul's
conscience was in Acts 24:17.
knew the authorities of this world were heavily influenced by demons.
He said so in Ephesians 6. Paul
himself didn't submit to civil authority in every situation, and he
certainly wasn't afraid to stand up to rulers when an injustice was
done. In Acts 16:35 to 37 he
withstood unjust authorities. He
and Silas were illegally beaten and imprisoned without a trial.
The authorities wanted to sweep this injustice under the carpet.
They commanded Paul and Silas to secretly leave town so no one
would know of the injustice. In
a bold act of defiance, Paul refused to obey.
He didn't immediately leave town as ordered.
He and Silas visited the saints at
spent a large portion of his ministry standing up to
unjust authorities, and along the way he preached the gospel to
them. Jewish authorities had
falsely accused Paul, landing him into a Roman prison.
He was offered freedom by the Roman authorities if he would drop
the matter and not pursue justice. You
can call Paul stubborn, or you can call him a man of justice.
Whatever the case, he refused to drop the matter without a legal
hearing. He appealed to
Caesar to defend himself and fight this injustice. (Acts 25:11)
Paul was respectful to governing authorities, and he did his best
to submit, but when it came to matters of injustice as defined by God,
he stood firm before the civil authorities.
In fact Paul became God's spokesman to these authorities in these
submit to ungodly authorities, but when they demand submission in
matters that clearly depart from Biblical truth, we peacefully and
respectfully decline to obey, and accept the consequences.
Like the apostle Peter, we obey God rather than man. (Acts 4:19
– 20) This issue is fast
becoming an issue that Christians will have to address, even for those
of us who live in the west. More
and more our civil authorities want us to join them in their
ungodliness. We just can't
can't read Romans 13:1 to 7 and formulate our thinking on that passage
alone. We must understand
this passage in the context of Paul's life, his ministry, and the rest
of his teaching. That's good