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God Establishes Ruling Authorities

General wisdom says when you go to family gatherings, there are only two topics that are off limits: religion and politics. Romans 13:1-7 combines the two. There aren’t many passages in Scripture that explicitly talk about the church’s relationship to the state or political affairs.

Paul makes a sweeping statement when he says, “There is no authority except that which God has established” (v. 1b). It is true even of Satan that what authority he exercises has been given him (cf. Luke 4:6). God established human government, and then appointed certain men and women to administer it. This is so because God has ultimate authority.

Now we all know that there are some very difficult questions to be answered here. When it says again in verse 1 that “there is no authority except from God,” does it include evil rulers? When it says in verse 1 that we should submit to civil authority, does it mean always and no matter what? Is God calling us to unquestioned submission? When it says in verse 3 that the civil authorities are “not a terror to good conduct, but to bad,” is that always true, or do some governments terrorize good conduct? What are we to make of Paul's seemingly absolute statements?

Despite those honest questions and potential tension we feel with the passage, we must conclude, however, that God has established and presently establishes civil authorities. This includes immoral rulers as well as moral ones because the Bible tells about wicked kings/rulers that God guided into office. A few examples:

  • King Jeroboam - 1 Kings 11:29-33, 12:15

  • King Cyrus - Isaiah 45:1

  • King Nebuchadnezzar - Jeremiah 27:5–6; Daniel 2:21, 37; 4:17, 25, 32, 34–35; 5:21

  • Pilate - John 19:11

This means that the Roman Christians and we today should learn that it is God's will to govern the world of mankind through human civil authorities. This is God's plan. Man did not create government. God did. Man does not sustain it. God does. Civil authority is God's idea in this age.

Paul regards rulers not as autonomous, but as “established by God”; the ruler is “God’s servant” (v. 4). This gives the ruler a special role but at the same time stresses that his position is a subordinate one. It is important to remember that government is God’s way of maintaining the public good and directing the affairs of the State.

It is important to recognize the truth that Paul starts with in Romans 13:1, supports in verse 4 and which is seen in the Old Testament—the truth is that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Although we may not agree with those in position of human government or their decisions and policies are antithetical to the character of God, God the supreme One, has established them.


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