Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
Many Christians read and view Romans 13 as if it came down from the mountain with Moses on its own tablet. Many act as if this is an absolute law unto itself Is it the Word of God? Absolutely. Is there any grace or any exceptions?
How does Romans 13 apply to the American rebellion against the King of England? How does Romans 13 apply to Christians in Germany who rebelled against the government of the Third Reich?
We have learned that God is the author of liberty. He prizes liberty for us higher than all, so much so because He risked his whole creation on it and allowed people to suffer death, spiritual death, as a result of a choice He made possible. We have also looked at many places in scripture when He continues allowing people to make self-destructive choices in their lives, choices that God did not approve.
We saw that the people of Israel rejected God’s Kingship as well as His liberty and chose a human government, a king, despite God’s warning of what conditions would come on them from kings.
We saw that God restrained His power many times throughout history, including when Jesus tells Pilate that He could call on an army of angels to spare him from Pilate’s hand, but He did not.
Liberty is love. God loves us and so He allows us to make our own choices, even to reject Him, even to our own destruction.
We also know about the terrible crimes that governments have perpetrated against people across the centuries and across the world.
This becomes very confusing when we then look at Romans 13. If you have not read the first half of this book some of this may not make sense.
On first reading of the text in English it appears to instruct Christians in an absolute submission to governing authorities and it appears to claim that all those in authority are good and just. And finally, that they are all put into their positions by God’s choice. This would seem to put any resistance by Christians in the same camp as Korah in the wilderness rebelling against Moses, God’s anointed. Is that really what Paul is trying to say here?
Is the text truly meaning to tell us that all rulers or authorities are anointed by God? Or is there a measure, such as fruit, when the Christian may judge that a ruler or authority does not carry that anointing?
Does the text mean all authorities down to the most trivial, even homeowner’s associations and husbands? Are we not also under the rule of the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves?
Is there room in this passage for exceptions? What if the ruler or authority abuses those that he is charged with assisting or supporting? Can the people judge an authority by this fruit and decline to submit if his fruit is harmful?
God hates divorce. Scripture teaches a wife to submit to her husband. What if a wife and / or children resist him and run away due to abuse? Scripture does not address this reasoning. Will someone reading this chapter somehow claim that the wife has no approval from God to leave her husband?
We see that at the time of the birth of the church, resistance to authority came about immediately.
And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. Acts 4:18-22
The fact that Christians were persecuted is evidence that they were acting in opposition to the local authorities from the first century.
Paul writes that God has instituted all authorities and that authorities were put in place for good and to punish evil. Does Romans 13 require that we continue to submit and obey even so?
Even God has regrets who He anoints as a leader. “Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 'I regret that I have made Saul king because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.’” 1 Samuel 15:10-11
Then there are instances when God punishes those who resist His anointed.
But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You are the ones who have caused the death of the LORD’S people.” It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” Then they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun!” Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So, he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah. Numbers 16: 41-50
So, when may Christians judge that governing authorities are acting in opposition to God and have a responsibility to resist?
The question is ‘What does resistance look like for the Kingdom believer?’