1 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Here in the latter chapters of Romans, Paul offers instructions to believers about how to live as believers in this fallen world. He has already clearly explained the glories of the gospel, and now he focuses his readers on living in the light of that gospel.
In this section, he begins a brief discussion of how believers are to live in relation to the governmental authorities. Paul argues that God, sovereign over all, has put in place the rulers of the day. The apostle calls the Roman Christians to obey those authorities and to recognize the hand of God in the politics of the day. Later, he will call on them to give those in charge their due.
What strikes me, of course, is that it is not at all easy to obey and respect ungodly authority figures. It is easy to say that, while this obedience is the general rule, obviously God would want us to oppose and bring down leaders with whom we disagree. Yet, such would be illogical. Paul was living under some pretty corrupt rulers. He was writing to the church in Rome, where Caesar lived. While the timing of this letter makes it unlikely that Nero was on the throne, there is no doubt that Christians in Rome understood the government to be full of corrupt and perverse men. Adultery, politically motivated divorces, homosexuality, drunkenness, bribery, and violence marked these leaders throughout much of this period of history.
So, what do we do with Paul’s words? We understand that Paul completely understood what it was like to live as a Christian under hostile leadership. Paul knew what it was like to be governed by people who would have thought him to be insane for his beliefs. Paul knew what it was like to have to follow the rules set forth by men who many of us would not have ever wanted in our homes because of their violent, dishonest, and corrupt character.
But God tells us to obey the authorities over us, because those authorities have been put their under his sovereign design. This does not mean that God embraces or approves the evil actions of such men. However, throughout history, God has given nations people to rule them who properly represent the people. God has used even wicked rulers to accomplish greater plans. God has placed kings on thrones to bring about the rise of some nations and the fall of others. Our Lord’s ways are far beyond our ability to understand.
Thus, it is right for us, in even our messed up political environment, to understand that the Lord is in control. Whether you like one of the candidates for president or you plan not to vote for any of the corrupt options set before you, know that God is in control. As a believer, it will be your call to obey the laws of the land in which you live so long as those laws do not contradict the command of God. Part of what will make this difficult will be learning how to express opposition to immoral commandments while at the same time showing proper respect for the authority that God has given us. In this, we need wisdom and courage from the Lord to live as his followers in the middle of a corrupt nation, just as Paul needed the same in a very similar circumstance.
Lord, I would ask that you help your people to obey your command and to trust your sovereign will. You will give us the rulers that you intend. We will trust you that your kingdom will not fail because of kings, prime ministers, or presidents. We ask for mercy from you. We ask for men of character to lead our nations toward righteousness. Yet, we also grasp that the true hope for our nation is not in politics but in the gospel. Give us, I pray, the courage to live godly lives in the here and now. Give us wisdom to know what laws we can obey and when those laws so oppose your word that we cannot follow them. Grant us courage to live as aliens in a land not our own as we look for the coming of our Savior who will set right all that is wrong.