Monday, January 29, 2018

The Powers That Be

"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" (Romans 13:1).

What does it mean when Paul writes that the powers that be are ordained by God? Were Hitler’s and Stalin’s governments ordained by God? Remember that Paul was writing this to the Romans. It was the Roman government that ultimately beheaded Paul himself and tortured and slew thousands of early Christians. Was this government ordained of God? 

To understand this we have to remember Paul’s teaching concerning the sovereignty of God. He is the Lord of history. God raises up people and God brings them down. We have to distinguish, however, between a government ordained by God and a government approved by God. God did not approve of Nero and Stalin, but it was His design that they come to power. God gives us wicked rulers as part of His judgment on our sins.

Even under a wicked regime, however, Christians still have an obligation to render civil obedience. Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13–14).

There are limits to this submission, however. This same Peter, when ordered by the authorities not to preach, said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Jesus said to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22:21). So the first principle is that we should bend over backwards to obey the civil magistrate and bear witness as peaceful Christians. But the second principle is that if there is a true conflict in authority, we have to obey God and then suffer for the faith if the magistrate punishes us for it.

Take a moment to think through this matter practically. Are there areas of life in your country where you as a Christian might have to obey God rather than men? Are your prepared to do so? Second, are there areas where the government is exercising legitimate authority, such as speed limits, but you routinely disobey? Take strides to make any needed changes.