Did it strike anyone else as slightly amusing that Paul goes from a discussion about “love in action” in relationship to our enemies and evil and then immediately transitions into politics? It sounds like things were not significantly different in Rome at the writing of this text than they are with government officials today.
But, the key point of Paul’s writing is not so much about the officials themselves, and, in some ways they are a stand-in for a bigger commitment and message. The main thing in Paul’s writing is our attitude toward God. If we acknowledge that God is the creator of everything and if we acknowledge that everything belongs to God and if we acknowledge that God is sovereign and firmly and actively in control of all things and if we acknowledge that there is no power that is mightier than God that could force something into existence that God does not allow, then we truly recognize that God is completely in charge.
If you are like me, that logic plays out and you are nodding your head in agreement. God is in charge. Got it. Believe it. But, Paul has to go and make it hard. If we believe that God is completely in charge then that means that every authority over us is allowed to be there because God has allowed it. Even the liars. Even the cheats. Even the adulterers. Even the murderers. Even the leaders of old who covered the streets in blood, the leaders who incited war, the leaders who practiced genocide. Each were allowed to be in authority only under the authority of God. To say otherwise is to say there are things outside of God’s control.
In Paul’s day, this included the leaders who were hunting down Christians to torture and kill them. Even the leaders who incited the crowd to have Jesus hung on the cross.
Clearly, Paul is not saying we need to ignore evil and just go along. Instead, he is telling us that the things he said at the close of chapter 12, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” applies in all situations, even the extremely difficult situation of submitting to authority.
To come under, to obey, to be within another’s authority and/or control. All are to submit to governing authorities because they have been established by God.
They disagree with their practices or policies. They differ on world views or find them to be lacking or evil. I struggle to submit to the authority of dictators who subjugate their people through lies and theft, particularly those who neglect children and persecute the church. Fortunately, those are not my authority so God has protected me, but they are authorities that God has allowed to come into power for a season.
When ordered to disobey God. Our first directive is to love the Lord our God and give Him our full devotion. Our second is to our earthly authority. If the second contradicts the first, then we must respectfully decline and submit to the consequences.