Meditating on the Will of God: 27: Authorities
Rom 13:1,2 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. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
In a day when Government, Police and other authorities have been shown to have feet of clay, with virtually every public institution having more than a few scandals, it seems that these are difficult words to take as the will of God. However if you lived in Paul’s day and persecution of the church by the authorities had become almost a norm from time to time, it must have been even harder, yet Paul states a simple principle behind his instructions to explain the will of God for societies..
The truth is, says Paul that there is “no authority except that which God has established” and even more, “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” There is no doubting what he says for he says the same thing twice. Perhaps we need to see the rest of the paragraph to understand more: “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 he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (v.3-5)
Now that appears quite reasonable. The role of authorities in God’s order of things, is to bring order to society, act against wrong doers to both stop them doing wrong and bring them to justice. That is quite agreeable. Paul assumes within this that authorities rightly perform those tasks and in no way does he condone authorities who abuse their power and oppress the weak and vulnerable. The Old Testament was full of prophetic declarations against rulers who abused their people. No, it is automatically implied that when Paul says this about authorities he has in mind those who perform their God-given roles of bringing order and upholding the law of the land in true justice.
Where authorities go against God then the testimony of Scripture is that it is right and proper to stand against such ungodliness. The book of Daniel records both Daniel and his three friends standing against the authority of the king when he called for them to be ungodly, and God upheld those men when the authority acted against them..
We might also cite Peter and John as they stood before the Sanhedrin and the rulers of that council banned them from preaching about Jesus. Peter replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19,20)
But the truth is that these authorities exist by God’s will, even when they do wrong. When Jesus stood before Pilate we find Pilate asking, “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” (Jn 19:10,11) The apostle Peter, on the Day of Pentecost preached, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) Both Jesus and Peter were declaring that what was happening was God’s will. He wasn’t making Pilate act in this way but Plate was there by God’s permissive will and God knew that in his sin Pilate would act as he did.
To try and catch an even bigger picture here, consider king Nebuchadnezzar in the Old Testament. The prophetic testimony through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel was that this king was acting as an instrument of God to bring judgment on Israel and its surrounding nations. That did not mean that Nebuchadnezzar could treat people just as he wanted and get away with it, for the Lord held him accountable and eventually humbled him with madness, yet as Nebuchadnezzar’s armies swept across the land, this was declared to be the judgment of God. Indeed there was more than one nation in the Old Testament who God used for discipline but each time He held them accountable when they acted out their own selfish plans and went beyond what God was calling them to do.
Perhaps when we get to heaven, if the Lord allows us to look back on history with His eyes, we will gasp in awe when the see the Lord’s hand through ungodly nations bringing judgment. Someone has said that we get the government we deserve and in the Biblical sense that is probably true as the Lord uses authorities to discipline ungodly peoples. The more we look at this subject, the more we realise the rightness of Paul’s instructions to submit to the authorities for they are there by God’s design, and even though they may not be aware of it, they may be executing God’s judgment or bringing God’s discipline.