A Study of Romans 13 (part 1)

Did you ever have someone go flying past you on the road? Maybe you muttered something under your breath: “People like that shouldn’t be allowed to drive!” And maybe you even thought, “I hope there’s a traffic cop up ahead!” Or better yet, did you ever see the guy go flying past you, and then a couple of minutes later you saw him pulled over on the side of the road by the State Patrol? And we know that we’re not supposed to rejoice in the misery of others, but there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in that, isn’t there? How many of us snicker when we see that reckless nut pulled over — and getting his “just deserts”?

But then comes that day when YOU are in a hurry. Or, you’re not really paying attention. You pass a policeman on the side of the road, and you do what everyone does when they pass a policeman — you look down at your speedometer! And by the time you look back up you see the flashing blue lights in your rear-view mirror. You think to yourself: “I hope he passes me, I hope he passes me…” But alas, he pulls right up behind you with his lights flashing. And you think to yourself, “Why isn’t that guy out catching the REAL criminals?” Welcome to Romans 13, and the scripture that we are eager to apply — to everyone else. (But perhaps not so much to ourselves.)

Romans 13 can be broken down into 3 sections. Part one: verses 1-6, The Authorities. Part two: verses 7-10, Outstanding Debts. Part three: verses 11-14, Times and Behavior. [This month we will cover the first part; next month, parts two and three.]


Rom 13:1-6. “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punish-ment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”

As you read through the Bible, it becomes clear that God ordained at least three separate institutions: The home, the church, and the government. In other words, the home, the church, and the government were His idea. Now granted, as you look at Washington, you might wonder, “How in the world could THIS be GOD’s idea?!” The answer is simple: God didn’t create the mess we have in Washington — but He did ordain the concept of government.

Perhaps Daniel had more to say about this than any other book. Dan 2:21, God “changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.” Dan 4:17, “…The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.” In Dan 4:25, a proud Nebuchadnezzar was told that he would live with the wild animals, and eat grass like the cattle — until he learned that God “is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

The apostle Paul starts out in Romans 13, by saying that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities…” He goes on to tell us that “there is no authority except that which God has established….” And those who rebel against the authorities are in fact rebelling against that which GOD has instituted. That’s incredible when you think of Washington! But even more incredible, when you realize that Paul was writing to Christians who were living under a pagan government. A government that was even worse than ours (if you can imagine). Paul wrote this toward the latter part of his life. He had spent time in Roman prisons for preaching the gospel. This was the same Roman government who persecuted Christians. Jesus had been put to death by this same government. Paul was writing this as a new law was going into effect that made Christianity illegal. Nero was in power. And if you think morals are bad now (and they are) you should have seen it then: Sexual promiscuity and adultery were taken for granted. Homosexuality was rampant. Unwanted children were sometimes abandoned and left to die. And this was the government that was in power when Paul said, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.”

Jesus also acknowledged the principle of submission to earthly authority when He stood before Pilate. Pilate asked Jesus if He understood that he had the power to release Him or crucify Him. And Jesus replied that Pilate only had that power because it had been given him from above (John 19:11). Now, we should be quick to point out that God did not create the mess that is in Washington, Iran, China, or wherever. Man has been given free will, and he makes his own decisions and choices. Wherever man is involved, you can be sure there will be plenty of sin and failure. But never forget that Almighty God is sovereign. And He has the ability to accomplish His will in spite of sinful and godless rulers!

Two REASONS For Government, Two RESPONSES To Government

Paul tells us in Romans 13:4 that there are two reasons for government. First is to do good. “For he is God’s servant to do you good.” The government is supposed to serve the people. A second reason for government is to restrain evil. “He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Government is supposed to make sure that evil does not prevail. Man-made laws cannot make you a good moral person. That is, man’s law will not make you love someone. But there are laws to keep your from killing them! Man’s law will not make you an honest person, but there are laws to keep you from stealing from your neighbor. Government does not make you a good person, but it can help keep you from doing evil.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always succeed. It is said that Henry VIII once pardoned a man who had committed murder. The pardoned man then went out and killed someone else. When the king was asked to pardon the man a second time, he refused. He reportedly said, “He killed the first man–and I killed the second.” There have been many examples where government has failed to protect, as is to be expected. Any system that man is involved in will make many mistakes. And yet, as Christians, we are told to be in submission to the government–even its speed limits!

There is, of course, one exception to the rule. And that is whenever the law of man goes against the Law of God. When Daniel was told that he could not pray, that was the law of man. But Daniel answered to a higher law. And he went ahead and prayed, just as he had done before. Again, the Sanhedrin commanded the apostles not to teach or preach any more in the name of Jesus. Peter said; “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29), and they continued to preach the gospel. God’s law always trumps man’s law. Always! That is important to remember, as there may come a day when our government tries to tell the church what it can and cannot do. Churches could be charged with hate crimes, simply for preaching the Bible. Some churches may lose their tax-exempt status, and some may even face imprisonment. But when that time comes, we must still speak the truth. We must obey God rather than men. Yet in all other things we are to submit ourselves to the government.

There is something else that we are told to do for our government, that we probably don’t do nearly enough: In 1 Tim. 2:1-3 Paul urges “first of all, that requests, prayers, inter-cession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior…” How often do we pray for our government? We should note that there is a difference in praying “for” and in praying “about”. It is easy to pray “about” our government, just as it is easy to pray “about” our enemies. When we pray about someone, we are just telling God about them: what they did, how bad they are, etc. But the Bible tells us to pray for them! In the apostle Paul’s day, the Romans filled the Coliseum to watch Christians be killed, while other Christians prayed for God to change what was going on. We know from history that things did eventually change. Things are bad in America, but we serve a powerful God! It might not seem very likely, but things can change. Pray for our government! Pray for the President, for those in Congress, and for our Judges.

Here’s something else we need to do: VOTE! Some statistics indicate that as many as 40% of conservative, evangelical Christians don’t even vote! It is hard to imagine how we could sit back and idly watch as men are elected president who will fill the Supreme Court with liberal judges, and appoint liberal federal judges. These are the ones who will interpret laws concerning abortion, same-sex marriage, and what is taught our kids and grandkids in school. The next time you think it doesn’t matter who gets elected to office–think again! A lot has changed in this country because of liberal judges who have legislated from the bench (which is not their job!). Get out and vote! Your vote does make a difference!

Submit to the authorities.
Pray for the government.
And vote.

[Next month: Parts 2 and 3 of Romans 13. Jim Gillaspie preaches at the Kentucky Ave. Church in Louisville, Ky.]