“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
(Romans 13:1-2 ESV)
This past Sunday, at Prince of Peace, we discussed the Fourth Commandment. And we heard that we’ve been called to honor our father and our mother. However, in his explanation of this Commandment, Martin Luther expands it beyond our parents. In his explanation, he writes: “We should fear and love God, and so we should not despise our parents and superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love, and esteem them.”
Luther tells us that this command applies not only to parents, but also to our superiors. This, then, might involve people such as government leaders, judges, teachers, employers, and church leadership.
Your initial reaction, as you read this, may be that it’s not Biblical. You may think this because the command itself addresses only parents. However, in other passages of Scripture, such as the one above, we see that we’re called to honor other authorities that have been placed over us as well.
We are called, in this passage, to be subject to our governing authorities. And we’re told that these authorities have been set in place by God. For this reason, if we resist these authorities, we are sinning against God.
This is something with which many of us struggle. We struggle with it because we don’t support or governing authorities. We find ourselves on the other side of the political aisle. And we don’t even believe their views to be Biblical.
The interesting thing is that, when Paul wrote these words, he was under the authority of the Roman government. And the Roman government was anything but Christian. The Emperor at that time was likely Nero, who was a very wicked man, and who was responsible for a great persecution of Christians.
It was under this type of leadership that Paul wrote these words. And no matter what you think of our current political leaders, they don’t in any way compare to Nero.
This doesn’t mean that God supported Nero. It doesn’t mean that God endorsed his policies. It doesn’t mean that God desired for Christians to be persecuted. We find in Scripture that God does, at times, allow the wicked to rule. We find that he uses the wicked to accomplish his purposes.
It also doesn't mean that we must obey our leaders if we're asked to do something that's sinful. Our first obligation is to the Lord. Yet, they are in a position of leadership because they were placed there by God.
Thinking of this in connection with the Fourth Commandment, we are called to honor our leaders, even if we don’t agree with them. We are to give to them the respect and the honor they are due because of the position they are in. As Paul adds in verse 7: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
The same is true of other authorities God has established. God has called upon wives to respect their husband (Ephesians 5:22-24). He calls on us, as believers, to honor those who teach us and who are over us in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). And, even though we believe slavery to be wrong, God called upon slaves to be subject to their masters (Ephesians 6:5-8). Even if we don’t feel they’re deserving of this honor, we must do so recognizing that God has placed them in the position they’re in.