Winston Churchill once remarked that “Democracy is the worst form of government until you consider the alternatives.” That is a rough but true statement. Here is what the dictionaries say about Democracy: it is a form of government in which the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation or to choose governing officials to do so
The thing about Democracy is that it can create difficult and messy times. Democracy can be infuriating because of the time it takes to get anything done. We all should know that part of the problem with democracy is that it all depends on the whims of the people. I don’t want to live under a dictatorship, so I live with it.
The recent elections make this very clear that democracy doesn’t always work the way we would like it to work. Sometimes the “wrong” candidates win while the “right” candidates lose. The candidates we support don’t always win. What are we to do? I don’t know. I’ve heard that you generally learn more from defeat than you do from victory. And even in losing, and perhaps because of losing, Churchill’s statement proves true. Democracy, even a flawed democracy where the “wrong” people sometimes come to power, definitely beats the alternatives.
God established three institutions–the home, the Church, and the state. He gave explicit instructions on how all three were to operate. Most true Apostolic Christians know a great deal about what God has to say about the home and Church. Although, not much is known about what God says concerning the state. And how you and I should relate to it.
The recent elections make this very clear that democracy doesn’t always work the way we would like it to work. Sometimes the “wrong” candidates win while the “right” candidates lose. The candidates we support don’t always win. Our text addresses that question directly. Romans 13 is the central New Testament passage regarding how Christians should relate to human government. You will still have many questions after completing this blog post.
For instance, what does it mean to be a Christian living under a pagan government? Is violent revolution ever justified? What about capital punishment? Is it wrong to pay taxes to an unjust government? What about picketing abortion clinics? Under what circumstances should Christians disobey the law? Is it wrong to refuse to pay taxes as a protest against abortion? What about the separation of church and state? Should Christians serve in the armed forces? How do you respond when those over you are corrupt? How far should we go to express our Christian concerns?
So let’s start by laying out the foundational teachings of this Passage. The above questions are all great questions. None of these questions has a simple answer. Thus, I will attempt to lay out a broad teaching of this Passage.
On our journey to answer these questions, let’s start with the fundamental question, where does human government come from?
Romans 13:1-2 Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
Paul’s answer is very clear; it comes from God. Human Government is Established by God. The word “authority” is very broad. It’s the Greek word “exousia,” which means “right” or “privilege.” Thus an authority is anyone who has the right to do something.
Let me give you an example or two to illustrate my point. Let’s say that while performing your job, you have the right to make certain decisions. And while on your job, you are an “authority.” An authority is anyone who has the right to make decisions that directly affect your life. Each of us has authority in certain areas, and we are under authority in other areas.
You may be a husband and thus the head of your home, but at work, you are under the authority of your boss. You may be a teacher and thus the authority in your classroom but you are under the authority of your principal who is under the authority of the school board. You may work in an office where certain people report to you while at the same time you report to someone over you. You are thus “in authority” and “under authority” at the same time.
In the above passage, Paul is thinking about human government–rulers, kings and queens, emperors, magistrates, presidents, dictators, and potentates of every variety. Please understand a crucial point: Paul is not saying that only American democracy is ordained by God. He’s speaking in broad, general terms about all human governments anywhere in the world. The institution of government comes from the hand of God.
Obliviously Rome was in power when Paul wrote his letter to the Apostolic Romans. The ruler at that time was Nero. He had Christians rounded up, dipped in tallow, tied to stakes, and burned like candles in his garden. He ordered Rome set on fire and then blamed the Christians, setting off the first wave of official persecution. We’ve largely forgotten how wicked and pagan ancient Rome was. Abortion flourished, homosexuality was accepted as normal, and the masses worshiped Caesar as Lord. Sorcery and black magic abounded. No government in America has ever been as pagan as the government of ancient Rome. ( Well…. )
Yet Paul said all authority comes from God. No ifs, ands, or but: “Be subject to the governing authorities.” Paul instructs us with this very explicit directive. It does not matter if Nero, or whomever, is a Christian or a pagan. Just the word “submit.”
In the New Testament, “submit” is used over fifty times. It means to voluntarily follow the direction of those in authority over you. But here is what you must understand; submission is not the same as obedience! Now you may be asking yourself “What does he mean by that?” The words “submission” and “obedience” are related. Obedience is associated with outward performance, while submission touches the attitude of the heart toward those who are over you. You may not always be able to obey those who are over you, but you can always have a heart attitude of submission.
Submission means believing that God can accomplish His will in your life! Read the previous sentence one more time for me. It’s a crucial definition because it focuses the attention on God, not on the person over you. We all have to contend at times with unsaved husbands, mean-spirited parents, cranky bosses, and teachers who can’t wait for the end of the semester. Or suffer under a government that consistently promotes evil.
What are we Apostolics to do? In reality, we have many options. We can rebel. We can fight back. We can suffer in silence. We can complain to others. We can get angry and try to get even. We can appeal to the authority over you asking for a redress of your grievances. We can take action to change your situation.
But here is the most important thing; the attitude of our heart. We must submit to the one in authority in the sense that we believe that God has put that person in our life for a purpose. And that God’s will is somehow being done. Even if you don’t see it and don’t understand it. From George Washington to Joe Biden.
Psalm 75:6-7 For not from the east, nor from the west, Nor from the desert comes exaltation; 7 But God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another..
God stands behind the armies that march and the navies that sail. He also stands behind the ballot box. God is the Unseen Hand at work in the nations of the world. That means that George Washington came to power by the hand of God. It also means, although I don’t get it, He installed Joe Biden. (Joke. Actually, I do get it, I’ll explain in an upcoming blog post.)
In these politically supercharged times, it is a good idea to remember that when Jesus comes back, he won’t be riding an elephant or a donkey. I have heard it said that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He’s neither. He’s the ultimate Independent, and He’s got the only vote that counts.
Romans 13:2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
To rebel against authority is to bring judgment to yourself. It may mean judgment by God, but it certainly means judgment by the authority. If you doubt that, just try mouthing off the next time you are pulled over for speeding. If you argue too much, you may find yourself spending the night in the county jail.
Romans 13:4 for it is a servant 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 servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
Every human leader, whether they know it or not is a “servant of God”. Twice in verse 4, he says that rulers are “servants” of God. He doesn’t mean that they are necessarily saved, but that human authorities serve the purpose of God on earth. This is why we should treat our leaders with respect.
It is our duty as Apostolics to lead the way in showing honor to all human authorities. Because we understand they are appointed by God. On a very personal level, I find it very hard to show honor when I know some leaders are making decisions that go against the things of God. As an Apostolic, there are times I must speak out against evil works. But here is the thing, it doesn’t matter how angry or stirred up I get, I must treat those in authority with respect. Always remember, they are God’s servants. Whom God has appointed, I must not treat lightly.