By Tyson Thorne

July 3, 2014

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Since his creation man has been a political creature, living within both the kingdom of God (where honor is bestowed to God) and the kingdom of politics (where honor is bestowed to men). The harmony found between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man which existed in the Garden is no more; we live in a fallen state in which these two kingdoms often oppose one another. Through the ages man has experienced great difficulty in understanding his relationship to both kingdoms. Quite possibly the most often picked passage to discuss such dilemmas has been Romans 13.1-.7.

But this passage is about more than a Christian being subject to governing authorities. In a moment we will delve into the deep truths of these verses. First, however, I think it is important to understand the context of the passage. The book of Romans is a wonderfully rich book, containing some of the best Christian thinking in the areas of faith, salvation, theology and politics. Following a brief introduction (verses one through 17 of chapter one), the book begins and caries through a consistent line of reasoning through to the end of chapter 11. In chapter 12 we see a shift, a change in direction, unique in all of Paul’s writings. Nowhere else does Paul do anything like he does in chapter 12. He begins a series of short, proverb-like instructions. These proverbs continue to the close of the book in chapter 16. Why is this important? Because the passage we are examining is a proverb about authority.

In your Bibles there is likely a title over this section. The editors probably say something like “Submission to Authorities”. And while it certainly addresses this issue, it implies so much more! The passage has implications in theology (our understanding of God), politics (an effort to govern the people of a nation, or tribe) and how both are enhanced when government recognizes God’s right to rule.

I know just the word “theology” can be intimidating to some, but all it really means is “the study of God”. We learn things about God every day, if we’re paying attention. So what can we learn about God from these seven verses?

First, God establishes every authority. At first glance, this seems to pose a problem. Even bad governments? Even the Saddam Husseins of the world? That’s why Paul says it again, “EVERY authority is established by God.” If we carefully read both testaments, this truth is hard to miss. In Genesis chapter one God gives Adam complete authority over the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and everything that creeps along the ground. Later, we see God use Nebuchadnezzar, a terribly wicked ruler (and a man Saddam patterned his life after), to punish Israel for her sins. There is no one, and no nation, that God cannot use to accomplish his goals. That’s what omnipotence and sovereignty means, complete and total power and the right to use that power!

Omnipotence speaks to God’s sovereignty, showing that he has the right to punish us. It also speaks to his Righteousness. Righteousness has to do with law, morality and justice. God is righteous within himself, in that he has never established a moral rule or law that he has violated. God is also righteous in his dealings with man, for he has never acted against us in a way that violates any code of morality or justice.

So the passage teaches us about two key aspects of God’s character. It also teaches us some key truths about politics. The first of which is that politics is not an invention of man, but of God! How many times have you heard the phrase “separation of church and state”? If God is the author of politics and the creator of governments and the one who extends authority to rulers then how can there ever be a separation? To attempt to separate God from his creation is an act of rebellion no different from Lucifer’s desire to rule all of heaven and earth!

In matters of personal behavior and relationships, Christians are to be peacemakers. We are to turn the other cheek when struck, and to suffer for doing good without remorse. We are to pray for those who persecute us and to love our enemies. We are to mirror God’s mercy. The state is to mirror God’s justice. When we suffer unjustly, the state is to reproach the evil doer. And depending on the evil committed, the state even has the authority to sentence the disobedient to death. I realize there may be some here today who do not agree with capital punishment, but you have to do some real twisting of verse four to think that God has not given this authority to the state.

So far we have learned about God and about government, but what of us? What is our responsibility? We are to submit to God, and to those he has put in authority over us. When we submit we show our faith in God’s goodness, we affirm God’s right to rule, and we agree with God’s justice. Rebellion, on the other hand, shows a lack of trust or belief in God and a wrong desire to escape punishment for our rebelliousness.

There is, however, a loophole. If a foreign government invades we do not have to honor them, but our own government instead. Also, should the government become corrupt and not fulfill its obligation to God we have the right to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 4.19-.20). We obey the government to show our faith in God, but when the government demands we sin we show our faith in God by obeying God and suffering the consequences. This was as true for Daniel as it is for us.

First we submit, and second we support God’s chosen authorities. Just as we tithe to support the church in the ministry of prayer and the word, so we are to pay taxes to support the government in the ministry of justice. There is a strong parallel here between the church and the state. Both are instituted by God, both are to reflect aspects of God’s nature, and both are deserving of our support. How then can there be a separation of the kind proposed by so many? I tell you, there is not to be such a separation, but instead a unity. One is not to rule over the other. Both have their own functions and responsibilities. Both are accountable to God. And both are to acknowledge and submit to God. Together they can accomplish great good. Separate, one will always strive to control the other and therefore forsake their God-given duties.

Our founding fathers understood all of this. That’s why the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Rather they limited the government’s authority over the church! If you don’t believe me, examine a few of these quotes.

“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: That it connected, in one dissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” — John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was not founded by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!” — Patrick Henry, Attorney, orator and an important part of the American Revolution.

“Providence has given our people the choice of their rulers and it is duty as well as privilege and the interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” — John Jay, America’s first chief justice and one of the authors of the Constitution.

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