Before you get angry with me and send me nasty emails, please here me out. If you search the Scriptures, you will find this position supported by other passages: Read I Peter 2:17 which says we are to “honor the king,” When Peter wrote this, Nero was the one who was seated on the throne. Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities, Peter tells us. In the book of Daniel we are taught the same thing. Nebuchadnezzar, that mighty monarch, had been brought low before God by God’s dealings with him. In a great decree, which he had issued throughout his kingdom, he testified to that effect. He said God had taught him painful lessons “to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men,” (Daniel 4:17 RSV).
Isn’t that cool? God sometimes deliberately picks a man that is not capable, the lowliest of men, and puts him into power. So the first thing we need to recognize is that, regardless of the form of government we may be up against, the hand of God is in it. Not only is this true of the form of government, but also of the very ones that occupy the positions of power. God has put them there. The second thing we need to know about our relationship to our government we find in Verse 2:
To oppose authority then is to oppose God, and such opposition is bound to be punished. (Romans 13:2 NIV)
Ouch. If God is behind the governments, then anyone who opposes them and attempts to overthrow it is really opposing God. Man, that is rough. This is no easier for me, than for you. I have to accept these instructions, too. I also realize this has to be handled very carefully, because there are those who would use a statement like this to justify everything the government does—no matter what it is. However, we must recognize that governments do have a God-given right to punish those who would overthrow them, to punish treason, to resist overthrow, to control riots, and to seek to preserve themselves in power by legitimate means. Governments do have that right.
Nevertheless, though Paul does not go into this side of it in this particular passage, we also must remember that Scriptures also shows us that such a right is always held under God. I thank God for the enlightened soul, a few decades ago, that set in line a motion that added to our pledge of allegiance the words “under God.” That reflects biblical truth. This nation exists as a nation under God. What that is saying, of course, is that nations are to recognize that they have limited power. They are agents of God, but they are not God.
There are some things that nations have no right to do, or governments have no right to get into. The Bible is clear on what those kinds of things are. This is what Jesus clearly referred to in that famous incident when he was asked about paying taxes. He took a coin and held it up and said, “Whose image is on the coin?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said, “All right, then give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar; but give to God the things that belong to God,” (Matthew 22:20, Mark 12:16-17, Luke 20:24-25). When he said that, he clearly indicated that there are limits to the power of government. Caesar has his image on certain things; and they belong to him—and rightfully so, Jesus is saying. What Caesar put his image on belongs to Caesar. By implication, he extends this to the world of things.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome