Submission to the Authorities, Rom. 13:1-7
Rome ruled the world with an iron fist in the day of Paul the apostle. At the beginning of the church, Rome was no threat to Christians. But eventually, Christianity would be regarded as an illegal religion. This was due in large part to pressure from 1st century Jews who opposed Jesus. Paul would stand trial in Rome twice for being a troublemaker who followed Jesus, and who supposedly led insurrection against Rome. Paul would be executed at the end of his second trial (2 Tim. 4:6-8). The fact that Jesus is Lord and Christ was no true affront to Caesar, but Rome did not see it that way. Rome became a persecuting arm of Satan. But even in the face of threat from the Roman government, Paul penned this section on the role of civil government in God’s plan and the Christian’s duty to the government. Threatened by a cruel government, Christians might be tempted to think that since they owed allegiance to Christ, they owed none to Rome. The Spirit directed Paul to address the subject.
One writer entitles this section of Romans “Political Ethics.” Many would likely find this to be a contradiction in terms. We hear people say things such as “all politicians are crooks.” In all fairness, this is simply not true. The term “politics” refers to the art and science of government (Webster). Paul plainly teaches that civil government is the design of God, a means used by God to promote stability and peace in society. The word “police” may originate from the term polis, or city. In one form or another, police and other law enforcement officers have been around for a long time. Rules are made for safe and decent conduct among citizens. Enforcement of the law is necessary, for some will always disobey the law and cause harm to others.
Paul makes these salient points in the discussion: (1) Civil government is of God, a divine institution. Not the very form of government or the specific leaders at a given time, but civil government as a concept. (2) Civil government was instituted by God for the good of society, to promote good and to prevent evil, punishing violators as need be. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul states the same principle and commands Christians to pray for civil leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-4). (3) The Christian is bound by God and conscience to respect civil government and to cooperate with authorities. This includes payment of taxes to support government. Need I mention April 15? “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matt. 22:21).
We have experienced a turbulent time in America involving actions of law enforcement, sometimes violating the very laws they are sworn to uphold. There are bad actors in every field of life, those who abuse their authority and position. Sometimes they sit in high seats of government. Sometimes they patrol the cities. But know this—the failure of some does not mean the failure of God’s plan. Bad actors need to be removed. Bad laws need to be changed. But we cannot allow the actions of the corrupt to poison our attitude toward the institution. Those who knowingly disobey the law, disobey God (except when civil law contradicts God’s law, Acts 4:19-20, 5:29). Efforts to reform evil are a good thing. General disrespect for law and law enforcement is not. Paul spoke for God, not as a political activist. So with this preacher.
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.