Submission to Governing Authorities
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
So often when we hear about the relationship between church and the government, it usually revolves around separation of church and state. Many in the church just prefer not to talk about politics or government at all. But today Paul teaches the Romans how to relate to the governing authorities. This is one of the few passages that teach believers how they should relate to authority figures in the world. Most importantly, Paul says the governing authorities have been established and appointed by God.
Then, he makes clear that if we keep our lives free from breaking the law of the land, we have nothing to fear. Yet, if we break the law, we can expect to be punished. Paul the power the government yields, "the power of the sword". Believers should obey the laws to not only avoid punishment, but also to keep a clean conscience. Although authorities are often far from perfect, they are God's agents to preserve law and order and protect our basic freedom from lawlessness.
In Luther's Small Catechism, he teaches on the meaning of the 4th commandment. He says this means we should honor and all those who are in positions of authority. Our parents are our first authorities, who have been given to us by God. But God has appointed other authorities as well, and we need to respect and obey them. He included in this category: teachers, police officers, governors and other public authorities.
There is also the question of when evil tyrants or dictators come into power. Of course there are times when Christians should rise up to protect others from evil rulers and dictators. A good example of this is the Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian and pastor, who felt led by God to resist Hitler and the Nazi Regime. Later he was imprisoned and participated in an assisination plot. He was sentenced to death, and died a few days before the collapse of the Nazi regime. This is an exception to what Paul is teaching the church in Rome.
When you think of the way authorities are viewed today and too often disrespected, it makes one think we need to re-educate people. And this submission to authorities comes out of reverence for God. This is a good reason for Christians to be involved in and aware of government and policies at all levels. We should elect God honoring authorities, and pray for them on a regular basis. Regardless of our political affiliation, we need to support those whom have been elected to serve and protect the people.
How can you support your local, state and federal authorities? Remember if you obey the law you have nothing to worry about. But if you don't, there are no guarantees and the punishment you receive is indirectly from God. Finally, pray for those in authoritiy. We live in dangerous times. We see policer offers encountering violence of a regular basis. This would also include our military, and those who protect our freedoms both home and abroad. Thank God for those who God has placed in authority to protect us, serve us, and stay evil doing in our world.