Christian’s Relationship with the Governing Authorities


Sermon Text: Romans 13:1-7
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”

Main Points:
I. The governing authorities
II. The basis of Christian’s subjection to the authorities
III. The extent of Christian’s subjection to the authorities

Over the past ten Sundays, we’ve been reading and contemplating on these chapters of Romans, beginning from ch. 9. The main topic or foundation of the messages we’ve heard so far is God’s sovereign choice. In chs. 9-11, the Apostle Paul explains what God’s election means to us, Christians, reminding us that we are the members of true and spiritual Israel.

Having done that, the apostle tells us from ch. 12 practical applications of this truth in our life. He describes this in 12:1-2 in terms of presenting our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Then, in the rest of ch. 12, Paul urges us to use God’s gifts for the benefit of Christ’s church and the advancement of His gospel. Now, in the first half of the thirteenth chapter, he leads us to consider what relationship we should have with the governing authorities. We know that God is our Creator and Father, and Jesus is our Lord and the Head of His Church. In His kingdom, we’re fellow citizens and, one to another, brothers and sisters.

We know that we ought to love one another in Christ’s Church and build each other up in love. In humility, we ought to count others more significant than ourselves. We must live peaceably with all, if possible, so far as it depends on us. Then, what do the authorities in this world mean to us? What should be out attitude toward the governing authorities? On what basis should we understand this relationship and, in what principle, do we maintain our relationship with the governing authorities? These are the points the apostle raises here in these first seven verses of Rom. 13. It is not a light issue because our lives and our duties as Christians on earth are directly connected to these authorities.

By the way, what are the ‘governing authorities’? Let’s begin from this point. What does the apostle mean by ‘governing authorities’? This should be understood as ‘civil authorities’ that are over us and the public. More specifically, it means the officials in the local and federal governments – in Australian terms. It also includes the laws of the land and the offices set for governance.

So, the Australian federal government and all its officials and laws are the governing authorities to us. In addition, the state and local governments and its officials and laws are equally the governing authorities.

Should we add the governing authorities of other nations to this list? Of course, yes. But in a slightly different way because those authorities are not directly over us who live in Perth, WA, Australia. While respecting the sovereignty of foreign authorities and their officials and laws, we do not need to follow their governance.

So, the ‘governing authorities’ Paul points out in today’s text passage mean the governments that are directly over us. And to these authorities, we ought to be in subjection, and their officials, we should respect, honouring their offices and following their ruling. We’re commanded by God to be in subjection to these authorities and it is for every person, every Christian.

Having said, let me remind you again of the foundational truth of the sermon messages we’ve heard so far from the previous chapters of Romans, beginning from ch. 9. What was that truth? It was ‘God’s sovereign choice,’ wasn’t it? Paul has begun teaching us from ch. 12 the applications of this specific truth of God’s sovereign choice. So, guess what. The same is the foundational truth of our relationship with the governing authorities. Our subjection to the governments is based on the truth of God’s sovereign choice. If this is omitted or separated from our relationship with the authorities, if this is forgotten, then, the message Paul delivers through these verses of Rom. 13 would be lost.

The apostle explains it in v. 1 with these words, “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.” He means that, in the way God sovereignly chose each of us for salvation, He sovereignly gave some people authorities and instituted them over us to rule. So, these authorities are referred to as ‘ministers’ or ‘servants’ of God in vs. 4 and 6 or even ‘avengers’ of God. They’re, in a sense, representatives of God in a certain way on earth.

Because of this, Christians should always consider the governments and their officials in relation to God. As we submit to God, we accept the implementation of the governance of the authorities. As we render homage to God, we should also ratify their leadership; we ought to follow and abide by their guidance because God gave them authority and He instituted them over us. Their existence is, therefore, a sign of God’s existence in our midst.

Rom. 13 is not the only place in the Bible we hear about this basis of our subjection to the authorities. In 1 Tim. 2, Paul asks Timothy to pray for kings and all who are in high positions. Jeremiah the OT prophet says the same to the people of Israel to seek the welfare of the city into which God will send them away. Again, this univocal command is because God is the source of every authority over us and their existence and governance over us is a hand of God through which He guides and protects us on earth. The Lord Jesus is so clear about this when He said to Pontius Pilate as recorded in Jn. 19:11, “You would have no authority over Me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

So, Christians are not anarchists nor subversives. Rather, we submit to the authorities; we honour its representatives; we pay its taxes, and pray for the welfare of all. Moreover, we Christians encourage the governments to fulfil its God-appointed roles. We also actively participate in its works so far as there’s an opportunity.

However, this does not mean an unconditional and uncritical subjection to any and every demand of the governing authorities. Instead, our subjection should be under a condition. That is what Paul means in vs. 3 and 4 of Rom. 13. The condition stated in these verses is the roles of the authorities faithfully carried out. The rulers should promote good and subdue evil with the authority given to them. By so doing, the governing authorities are God’s ministers and servants over us.

This means that Christians may reconsider our subjection to the authorities if they do not meet this condition. If a government promotes evil instead of good, if God’s law is opposed by the government’s ruling, our duty to be in subjection to it should be reconsidered. I’m not promoting ‘civil disobedience’ but I mean a ‘protest’ in terms of urging a change in policy and governance. That’s because we do not disown the authority set over us but seek its restoration from falsehood and recovery to the God-given roles.

We find some examples of this in the Bible. The very first one is found in Exodus. While Israel was in slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh ordered Hebrew midwives to kill male infants. But they protested at such an evil edict and saved many male infants. God commended their protest against the king.

The story of Daniel and his three friends is another good example. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not follow the decree of Babylonian king, and refused to bow to the golden image. What was the outcome of their protest? They were thrown into a fiery furnace and God saved them from it! Daniel protested also against Persian king Darius by continuing his daily prayers to God. God was pleased with that and delivered Daniel from the mouths of lions!

To the disciples of Jesus and all Jews of the 1st century, the Sanhedrin the Jewish high court, was the governing authority. When Peter and John were warned by that authority to not preach the gospel of Jesus Christ any longer, their protest was made in words as recorded in Acts 4:19; they said this to the Sanhedrin, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge.” And they continued in preaching Jesus to all people. The single outcome of these biblical examples is revelation of God’s grace and glory as well as salvation of souls.

This understanding of conditional subjection is also supported by the word that is used in v. 1 of our text passage. When v. 1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” this word ‘be subject to’ is also used in other places like Rom. 8:7 and 1 Cor. 16:16 as well as in Eph. 5:21. In all these occasions, the nature of subjection commanded is rather mutual than subservient. For example, Eph. 5:21 is about the subjection required of wives toward their husbands. As you know well, that subjection never means the attitude of a servant to master. Rather, it is an active and wilful response to her husband’s sacrificial love as that of Jesus toward His Church.

So, if you and I are in a situation that requires a protest, what should we do? Do we simply reject the orders of the governing authority? No, that’s not the main reaction of Christians. Our protest begins, first and foremost, from praying for the authorities. We must seek God to intervene and turn the authorities away from their false way. We ask the Lord to turn them to the way of God and follow it diligently.

Having said that, I wonder whether seeing any authority failing to do its God-given roles is due to our fault of not praying enough for them. As I reminded you earlier from Jer. 29 and 1 Tim. 2, the urge of God for us God’s people is to pray for the kings and magistrates and authorities, seeking the welfare of the city and a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified life of the citizens alongside all believers in the region. I wonder whether we’ve followed and kept this command faithfully – I mean, all Christians in our generation. I wonder whether our ill experience with failing authorities is due to our failures with prayers for them.

Of course, we know that the authorities of this world are not pure or godly because they’re based on secular principles rather than God’s word. The days of theocracy has long gone. The church and the government are two separate bodies based on two different, if not hostile, principles. After all, never in human history, have God and His words been the sole constitution of any earthly nation. Even in David’s time, Israel did not purely follow God’s laws. By God’s grace, however, there have been times with better governments and godly rulers that considered promotion of good and suppression of evil was their role for their subjects. Surprisingly, most of those days coincide with the existence of godly Christians and pure pulpits and enthusiastic pews.

So, our protest to any authority that promotes evil instead of good must begin from kneeling to God in prayers. We ought to seek God’s mercy and power for the rulers and governments. This also means that we should be interested in the works of the governing authorities. We cannot be indifferent to their works in order to bring petitions for them and their governances.

Then, we ought to be active in promoting public good. How do we do this? By being salt and light of the world as commanded by the Lord. We should be faithful to God and His righteous laws so that the world around us could have a light from Christ and a taste of heaven. And our active promotion of public good should include working together with all Christians for the benefit of all people on earth.

In sum, let me remind you that the governing authorities on earth are God-instituted for whom we should pray and to whom we ought to be in subjection. Look at the leaders as God’s servants and ministers, and give them our respect and honour their offices because they’re set over us by God.

But our subjection is not unconditional or uncritical. Rather, we must seek God’s mercy and guidance for the authorities. If possible, we ought to actively participate in the roles in various forms of governments. In this regard, I pray and urge you too to bow in prayers, seeking God to grant us godly leaders and rulers. I think of godly leaders like John Calvin of the 16th century who was a godly leader of the city of Geneva as much as a theologian and minister of God’s word and William Wilberforce of England in the 18th and 19th centuries. I also think of those anonymous yet godly Christians in their times who prayed for their leaders.

In all these, we look to our righteous Lord and His rule over us and we eager to behold the day of His return to us to establish His eternal kingdom in which we’ll reign together with Him, our eternal King! ***

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