In Romans 13:1-7, Paul instructs Christians on how to behave toward those who He has put into positions of authority. I believe Paul is mainly talking about political leaders here, but you could take his words and apply them also to employers, pastors and others who are in authority.
In verse 1, Paul clearly states for us to submit ourselves, and allow ourselves to be subject to those in authority.
Romans 13:1 “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
This verse says for us to be subject to those in authority. Paul reminds us that whatever authority and power they have, God has given to them. God has, in essence, entrusted certain people with some of His power. These people in authoritative positions have a great responsibility which Paul explains in verses 3 and 4. Paul makes the point that since God has put them into the position they are in, we shouldn’t not undermine the work of God. In reading these verses, it struck me as odd to come to the understanding that God has put Barach Obama, the Congress of the United States, Gordon Brown, and even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into their positions of authority. I recall the verse from Romans 9:17 which goes hand in hand with this statement.
Romans 9:17 “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”
Even Pharaoh who enslaved Israel for hundreds of years, God put into his position.
Paul then gives Christians a warning for resisting those who God has put into authority.
Romans 13:2 “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
God has in effect “ordained” leaders into the positions which they are in. Resisting, or standing against those who God has put into authority is the same as resisting God Himself. Verse 2 says that. Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. The reward for resisting in this case is the same when you resist God in any other case: total separation from God.
Then in verses 3 and 4, Paul gives Christians some characteristics of a leader who is following the will of God.
Romans 13:3,4 “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
Here are some characteristics which leaders ought to have. The caveat of Christians not resisting leaders is that the leader fulfills the will of the Lord. This will is in verses 3 and 4. First, leaders ought fight evil, and reward good works. I think of legalized abortion in our country. It is an evil act. If our leaders support legalized abortion or other evil acts, they are not fulfilling the responsibilities that God has entrusted in them.
When Paul says “do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same”, he is saying that a good ruler will reward those who do good. Those who are good Christians should receive accolades from our politicians, not scorn as many do.
Paul then refers to leaders as “ministers of God to us”. They are to be the hand of God when exacting justice in our society. Those who do evil should “fear” a godly leader. Does that happen today?
The end of verse 4 has an interesting comment. Paul says that our leader is a “revenger” to execute wrath on evildoers. Paul had just stated in chapter 12 for Christians not to take revenge into our own hands. We are not to do this because revenge belongs to the Lord. However, our leaders are to be so close to the Lord that God can work through these leaders in executing revenge. They are to walk with God and consult God in all their actions.
These are the caveats which Christians need to consider when subjecting themselves to our rulers. Christians are held to a responsibility to uphold godly leaders. The leaders are held to an even higher level of responsibility to lead the masses closer to God. What are Christians to do when a leader strays from God? What if a leader promotes evil in society and punishes good, as many of them do today? Romans 13 does not explicitly say. It does lead me to believe that we ought to elect godly people into positions of authority. We should strongly consider if a person is a Christian before voting for them. We should discover their walk with God (or lack thereof). In Romans 13, 1-4 it is a given that leaders be close to Jesus. It is assumed to be so. As election times come upon us, let us consider our leaders and how close their walk is with God when we vote.
To learn more about Romans 13, follow this link.