Our study in Romans has brought us to that famous passage in Chapter 13 that deals with the Christian and his relationship to the government. This can be a touchy area for some. I mean if your Government is corrupt and working against your Christian faith, how are you supposed to respond? Do you rise up arms and attempt to overthrow your Government? Do you quietly lie back and silently acquiesce? Do you withdraw from society and create your own culture, isolating yourself from “outside influence?”
What about the leader of your nation, do you see him as a servant of God? Here in the United States we have had a continual disagreement as whether our current President is a Christian or a Muslim, but is it fair to even ask the question? But what about our previous Presidents, were they servants and tools of God? President Jimmy Carter said he was. He publicly professed his faith in Jesus and that he experienced a “born-again,” experience. So was he a servant and tool of God? But what about Leonid Brezhnev. Was he a servant of God? Or Idi Amin? Or what about Adolph Hitler and Po Pat, Joseph Stalin?
The reality is that even the most inept President such Carter, and the evil men like Hitler, Stalin, Po Pat were, according to Paul (in some sense), servants of God.
If we need to wrestle with that idea, it proves how much we need to have our minds renewed, our thinking changed, as we saw in the twelfth chapter of this letter. We need this transition of our mind—this renewal—so we are longer “conformed to the mindset of this age.”
Non-believers, and believers alike, have a big problem thinking of governmental leaders who are tyrannical, vicious, or cruel, as, in any sense, being servants of God. However, if Christians are going to conform their thinking to the Scriptures, this is what we must begin to think. We need to have our minds renewed to what the Scriptures say, and start thinking along those lines about the life around us, in order for us to be able to present our bodies available to God to use in whatever situation we find ourselves.
We don’t have any problem adjusting our mindsets to being “born-again,” to being healed and speaking in tongues, but we really struggle with some of these difficult ideas. Now, the first thing Paul tells us about our government is where it comes from:,where it originated, We find his answer in the very first verse:
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. (Romans 13:1 NIV)
Now J.B. Phillips adds a slight clause to that:
Every Christian ought to obey the civil authorities, for all legitimate authority is derived from God’s authority, and the existing authority is appointed under God (Romans 13:1 JPP)
Phillips adds the clause, “legitimate authority,” and he argues that is the original intent of Paul’s comments. I don’t know. When Paul refers to governing authorities, he uses a phrase that can best be translated “the powers that be.” Whether those powers or legitimate or not, isn’t clear. But it seems to imply that Paul is not just talking about heads of state; he is talking about all levels of authority, all the way down to the local dog-catcher. I suppose this would include the teacher in a classroom and the principle in the school. In the home it would be the parents and between them, I suppose the husband. These are the, “powers that be,” those that exist. He is telling us that the thing we must think about these “authorities,” is that they are, in some way, brought into being by God himself.
I often hear people ask, “Which form of government is the best? Which is the one God wants us to have?” We Americans would love to think that a “Constitutionally limited Republic” is obviously the most God-honored form of government. Some will argue the He prefers a “Democracy.” But I don’t think you can establish that from the Scriptures. In fact, the Scriptures reflect various forms of government. So when you ask, “Which government is the best kind? Is it a monarchy? An oligarchy (i.e., ruled by a few)? Is it a republic? A democracy?” The answer of Scripture is not necessarily any of these. It is whatever God has brought into being. That is best for that particular place and time in history. God has brought it into being, considering the makeup of the people, the degree of truth and light which is disseminated among them, and the moral conditions that are prevailing. For that condition, for that time and place, God has brought into being a particular government.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome