Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong.
Here are six thoughts that can help us interpret his passage (The rule is, we interpret Scripture via Scripture).
- Typically governments are to do good and punish the wicked. If we reject government, we end up with anarchy. In Judges, 17:6, “those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” It was not a good time for Israel…ultimately they clamored for a King (Saul).
- Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). However, God is fully involved in the affairs of nations. Jesus submitted to the governing authority of His time (Pontius Pilot) and allowed an unjust arrest but to what purpose? God’s ultimately higher plan.
- Even when laws are unjust or unfair, we are not to rebel against the authority (to the point of anarchy), but obey the laws and typically work within the system for justice and mercy. Are there some laws that are unjust? Yes, and it was true during Paul’s day; but Paul sent a runaway slave back to his Christian master (Philemon 1:17), and provided specific instructions to both masters and slaves in his epistles to Ephesus and Colossae.
- Benjamin Franklin's statement: "God governs in the affairs of men" was fully embraced by those leaders of the colonial government of the time…at the time of a revolution. His statement is fully reflected in Jer. 27:5-7:
"It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave."
- Submission, however, does not rule out criticism or working for change within the government The American Revolution was led by many Christians who were well aware of Romans 13, a passage often described as the “Rule of Kings” and they generally were taught by their Biblical scholars that Romans 13 meant they were not to overthrow government as an institution and live in anarchy. Today as well as then, it would be rare that the passage be interpreted to mean that Christians are to submit to every civil law.
- We are to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-4), however, that doesn't mean that we don't have to always be polite in the way we talk about them. Jesus called Herod, "that fox", (Luke 13:32) not a very complimentary term, but likely a pretty good use of the word.
- Note that in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11, many of those who were included and identified as heroes of the faith were guilty not submitting to government--including Daniel, his friends, Shadrack Meshack and Abendigo, the Hebrew women who allowed the little Hebrew boys to live and Moses, the Lawgiver. The Apostles, in Acts 4 & 5 also said they would obey God rather than the governing authorities.