Governing Authorities

(Romans 13:1-5)

So often today it seems that as soon as an elected government comes to power they are immediately lionized as being the worst government ever or being the source and reason for all the ills and evils that exist in that country.

Governing authorities are not a terror to good conduct but to bad conduct
Governing authorities are not a terror to good conduct but to bad conduct

This is especially noticeable on social media. The rants against governments and government leaders are frequent and often full of vitriole. The expressions of distaste, disgust and downright hate are beyond belief. And often I see this on the Christian sites and chat sessions too.

As Christians it is important that we stop and think about what is happening and if we are standing against the government of the day for the wrong reasons, we need to think very carefully about our position, as these scriptures tell us.

What Are We Called To?

First we need to stop and consider the purpose and reason for our call and coming to Christ.

We have come to Christ to seek the things that are above. We have come to Christ to learn and grow in the things of God and to be transformed out of the ways of the world and into the image of Jesus Christ.

The essence of that work of transformation is to become like God. That is, to take on His nature through the work of the Holy Spirit and the transforming power of the gospel of salvation that we receive in Jesus Christ.

The nature of God is love for as the scripture tells us in many places, God is love. All that is of God is of the nature of love and if we are to be like Him then we need to learn the power and the truth of love.

Love does not hate. Love does not wreak havoc and oppose with angry words. Love does not seek to hurt, discriminate, argue with wrath and bitterness. Nor does love stand against and opposed to the things of God.

Instead, love seeks to find peace, harmony and to work out things that are wrong. Love seeks to teach those who will listen so that they may be built up, encouraged and strengthened in the ways of love and the ways of God. Love also respects authority, especially the authority of God and the authorities established by God.

Who Establishes Authority?

The first thing we must recognize from the verse today in verse 1 is that, “…there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God”.

All of the authority that exists on earth exists only because God has established it or allows it to be established. All of the governments that exist on earth, no matter how bad or evil people may think they are, exist because they have been appointed by God.

Even the very worst governments and tyrants that are in power exist only because they are allowed by God to reign.

Consider what the bible says about Pharaoh in the time of Moses. Here was a ruler that was clearly evil and opposed to God. He stood against God attempting to prevent Israel from leaving Egypt. But in the end after many signs, wonders and punishments against the Egyptians, Pharaoh had no choice but to allow the Israelites to leave, and even then he chased them with his armies to their destruction.

But what we see of this evil ruler is that even his reign was established by God. The bible says of Pharaoh,

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)

Yes even Pharaoh who stood opposed to Israel and God was established as ruler by God for His purposes.

So too all governments today as well as throughout history exist and have existed because God established them to do His purpose. No matter whether they were good, bad or indifferent, it was God who established them and allowed them to have power for they were doing His will.

Resisting Government, Resisting God

Thus we see in this section of scripture that if we decide to resist the government, whether to bad mouth them on social media or whatever, we are actually resisting the appointed representatives of God. The second verse in this section today says,

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

I am certain that no Christian would consciously stand opposed to God. No Christian would ever choose deliberately to oppose what God stood for. But when they oppose the governing authorities, that is exactly what they are doing.

Paul continues on in this section showing what God's purpose is for the governing authorities and why we should obey them. He says in verses 3-4,

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.

It is the governing authorities who exercise the power of God against wrongdoers. For the most part the laws of the land are based upon the moral principles of the laws God gave to the children of Israel. And for the most part the governing authorities exercise the justice of God's law fairly.

When we keep the laws of the land then as the scripture above says, we do not come under scrutiny of the government for judgement and vengeance. Instead we receive the approval of the governing authorities by doing what is right, as well as receiving divine approval from God for doing what is right as we keep His royal law to “Love your neighbour as yourself,” or to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

And so in the last verse of this section today we understand the reason why we need to be subject to the governing authorities.

5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:5)

It is so that we can live and stand in good conscience before all men as well as before God. It is for the sake of our own conscience which in the end may excuse or convict us as it says,

13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Romans 2:13-15)

When we do what the law requires, even though we have been set free from the law as Christians, our conscience bears witness that we are doing what is right. And that is why we must obey the governing authorities for they are the ones appointed by God for the purpose of exercising God's authority on earth.

When Governments Oppose God

I am sure you are thinking now, maybe even screaming at the screen, “But what if they are wrong!”

Well, yes, governments do not always get it right. Especially today when we see governments progressively moving further from God with some of the laws being enacted that oppose what God's law states. And if we go back to Pharaoah we can see that Moses and the people of Israel had to stand against Pharaoh's oppressive government to leave Egypt and come into the promised land.

Also if we look at the examples of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshec and Abednego, they too had to stand against an edict of the rulers that was evil and opposed what God would have them do.

Well, today is no different. When the government gets it wrong and puts a law in place that opposes the truth and the righteousness of God and which we cannot accept, then we too will have to make a stand for what is right. Make no bones about it, if the governments propose evil then those who stand on the side of God need to stand up and be counted.

But much of the argument and vitriole on the Internet and in the media about government is not because the government has made laws that oppose God or that would force Christians to do evil. Most of the arguments are “party spirit” issues where someone does not like the current government and would prefer someone else.

Certainly the governments are making some poor decisions, like preventing the teaching of Christianity in schools and not being able to express our Christian beliefs in public places. But they have not prevented teaching in private schools or in the home or to be able to meet together as a church. They are not asking us to cease worship or take up idolatry as happened with Daniel and his friends.

In most places the government has not (yet) prevented Christians meeting together or outlawed our way of faith or aggressively pursued Christians to prevent them living their lives in accordance with the truth of the new covenant. I have no doubt that such opposition may come, and we can see it beginning now, but until that time comes we have no cause to oppose the government appointed by God.

Yes, some laws they are passing do not comply with the truth of the bible, but even in those cases the laws are not forcing Christians to do anything evil in the sight of God with penalties if they fail to do so, unlike Daniel & Co. For example, in places where laws are being made to legalize same sex marriages, which is accepting a practice that God clearly describes as an abomination, we Christians are not being forced to take part in these practices.

Those who are seeking God will find Him and He will provide a teacher to assist those who are truly looking. It is God who is fighting this battle and it will get worse as time passes for that is identified in the prophecies of the end times.

Our purpose as Christians is about seeking a new kingdom ruled by God. As Jesus said in the bible,

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14-16)

We are not citizens of this world but of the kingdom of God. Our purpose is to serve God in all things while we live in this world, and that includes being respectful, mindful and obedient to the ones He has put in government, on the proviso they do not seek for us Christians to do anything in opposition to God's will.

As the bible also teaches us,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

This is the process of our call. To be transformed in our thinking and in our spirits so that we conform to God's ways. If the world rejects God, as it will, then we have no choice but to reject them and choose to do what is right in the sight of God. But while we live here we must be respectful and subject to the governing authorities while they do not oppose God.

He will judge them if they do wrong and take their reign away. We need do is ensure we stand with Him and follow Jesus Christ as best we can. In the end until the day of the Lord's return we should follow the recommendation in Revelation 22:11, and the advice also includes governments as well as individuals.

Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

(Image sourced from freeimages.com provided by Moi Cody)

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