Submitting to Authorities
By Paul Shunamon
Romans 13:1 says, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." Does this include unjust authorities? Do Christians need to obey and submit to ungodly rulers? All through the Bible I see examples of peoples (even the children of God) living in less than perfect conditions. Sometimes with a benevolent and sometimes godly leader or government in power, but mostly under more treacherous leadership, some of which do not recognize (and may even oppose) YHVH and His way. That authorities necessarily rise comes from a development of human culture as God has planned it.
The concept of "it is not good that man should be alone" comes from the very first book of the Scriptures (Genesis 2:18). As families formed, and were fruitful and multiplied, "society" became the obvious consequence (starting with families living near one another forming clans and villages etc.). In time, it would become obvious to these groups that living together in some semblance of a civilized fashion would be required. Rules would eventually arise ensuring things like protection of each other from evil ones, not stealing from one another, sharing one's food, and not hurting one another. Apparently, God chose to make us familial as well as social beings.
Must we not obey the King? Yes! Civil authority is a God-instituted and socially-mandated power of command to govern the social behavior of individuals and groups. Government was not necessarily God's original plan; He preferred humankind to submit to Him as Lord, but as Genesis 3:5 reveals, mankind preferred to be gods unto themselves, deciding good and evil in disregard of His words (doing what is right in their own eyes). Sometimes civil authority is supported (when need be), or implemented (by some sort of election), or imposed (by ruthless men of force) by physical coercion, establishing leaders or rulers that might exercise over their members or subjects. From this process, there developed consequences for violating these rules or laws within each distinct culture.
Many rules were sensed innately (God's witness within) like murder, rape, stealing, etc. Others developed from the experience of living together. Authority is a great necessity as it is intended to maintain order amidst large numbers, or else anarchy would ensue and self-oriented people would by nature of their carnal lusts and vanity kill, rape, steal, and more.
The idea of civil authority started with God's institution of the family where parents rule the home (for obvious reasons) and extended out to the groups of families (usually with a patriarchal or matriarchal head), then to villages and communities, and finally to nations. Admiration and possibly even worship of past ancestors may have begun right here. So as the GotQuestions.org article "What does the Bible say about government?" indicates, "We are to obey governmental authorities, and the government is to treat us justly and fairly. Even when the government does not live up to its role, we are still to live up to ours. Finally, when the government asks us to do something that is in direct disobedience to God's Word, we are to disobey the government in faithful confidence of the Lord's power to protect us." I would add "or to use whatever happens (like the Book of Daniel's three Hebrew children story who were still thrown in the fire) for His glory and/or kingdom purpose." You should certainly read this article in its entirety but you get the idea. So now let us look at some Bible passages that support this view:
Romans 13:1 — "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers [some interpret "ruling authorities"]. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."
1 Peter 2:13 — "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well."
Acts 4:19 — "But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye."
Acts 5:29 — "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."
Also this indicates that though these authorities are ordained (instituted) by God, it does not indicate He specifically chose those leaders to do exactly what they did in history. Those choices and actions are often of their own doing (Genesis 3:5), and when forced to choose between what they will and what God wills we must choose God, but in all our efforts when possible as Jesus says we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God that which is His.
Image Credit: steeleman204; "capital building"; Creative Commons
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