Subjection to Higher Powers
Romans 13:1-2 (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. (2) Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Scripture has much to say about submission to government (The action of ruling; continuous exercise of authority over the actions of subjects or inferiors; authoritative direction or regulation; control, rule). Our text today (and its following verses) have broad implications that are not limited to godly submission to civil power but it is not to be denied that civil powers exist and exercise their rule by the grant of heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ said even of Pontius Pilate, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above...” (JOH 19:11). He was a very base man, but “...the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (DAN 4:17). The minister of Christ has a charge from Him for the sake of believers: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,” (TITUS 3:1). It becomes the citizens of Christ's kingdom to be good and reasonable citizens of their civil society and even suffer some abuses of its powers rather than discredit the name of the Prince of Peace by an unreasonable bellicosity. Before arms are raised against civil power, let holy hands be raised without wrath and doubting in prayer “...for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in godliness and honesty...” (1TI 2:1-8). Christians are warned against certain unprincipled types who “...despise government...” (2PE 2:10); they “...despise dominion...” (JUDE 1:8). It may here be stated as axiomatic that despisers of civil government (particularly the bellicose variety) only despise government until such time as they seize it for themselves in the power vacuum that their revolution creates, and birth a despotism of greater threat to the liberties of the body politic than the former system they despised. Of this, history has many witnesses. Where the Apostle Peter warned about such despisers of government, he went on to say of their tactics, “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption...” (2PE 2:19). As an apostle to the circumcision (GAL 2:7-9), Peter's words would have been very relevant: the strongest anti-Roman sentiment amongst the Jews of his time was an especially virulent strain. It advanced political liberty without subduing the lusts of the flesh---a very unlikely success story, for how can anyone presume to overcome others and live in freedom when he cannot overcome slavery to his own carnality? Better is “...he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (PRO 16:32). Political liberty in the absence of personal restraint is like a pure oxygen supply bottle with no regulator: what should benefit the body can actually destroy it. Truly great nations are truly good nations and they will prosper only until they abandon the fear of the LORD, which fear is “...to hate evil, pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth...” (PRO 8:13). But nations that forget God “...shall be turned into hell...” (PSA 9:17), and they go there apace in a handbasket. A once flourishing upright nation will turn into a living hell, its prosperity into austerity, and its tranquility into terror. Today's text (and its following context) have been sometimes used to affirm that Christians are inviting their own damnation if they resist their civil government. And to an extent this is true. Resistance of civil authority (and especially armed resistance) for light and transient causes (as sagely stated in the Declaration of Independence) is to be discouraged. But unlimited, unqualified submission to civil authority is likewise to be discouraged; it is even sinful when civil authority forbids a believer to do what God requires or demands that a believer do that which God forbids. In such cases, the apostles made clear, “...We ought to obey God rather than men” (ACT 5:29). Christians are elsewhere told, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether to the king, as supreme, or unto governors...” (1PE 2:13-14). Like our text today, this has been construed by some to imply an unqualified submission to civil authority. But the rest of the sentence in 1PE 2:14 goes on to say, “...as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” Civil government is therefore created by God with two basic duties. When it perverts or abandons this design so that it calls evil good and good evil (ISA 5:20), to reward what righteousness abhorred, and to punish what righteousness promoted, some solemn decisions must be made by believers. As for the notion that Christians ought to not resist or even speak against their present civil government, it should be remembered that the American form of government is founded upon the principle that civil power is to be held accountable to law and to the people from whom its just powers are derived by consent. Therefore, any Christian who, by a faulty reading of scriptures and by neglect of the fact of a designedly limited republic, affirms that it is wrong to challenge or change political leaders, has neither kept the law of God nor done good service to his country. Such a person should, to be consistent, never vote for anyone but an incumbent lest he be guilty of not submitting to his God-ordained authority. The doctrine of unqualified submission to civil power is an almost certain path to tyranny and therefore a doctrine away from which a Christian must steer. Tyranny is autocracy which is by definition, “independent power, absolute government,” and no entity other than God should ever be credited with such character. He (1TI 6:13-16) is “...the blessed and ONLY Potentate...” (a person endowed with independent power). Let us not make the state our God.