Romans 13 in Context, Part 2
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
Today is my third and final reflection upon Romans 13:1-7. There is so much more I’d like to say, but this will have to wait for another time and setting.
In my last post, I made reference to the historical context for Paul’s writing to the Romans, and the likelihood that some Christians were using their freedom in Christ as an excuse to disobey the Roman government, especially when it came to paying taxes. Of course the larger context for Paul’s letter was Rome itself. He was writing to believers in Jesus who lived at the heart of the Empire, the center of the western world. Their environment was filled with reminders of Roman power: statues, monuments, soldiers, and celebrations. Increasingly, the Roman Caesars were claiming not just to be the rulers of the world, but also to be the divine rulers. After his death in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was divinized by the Roman senate. His adopted son, known to us as Augustus, claimed to be the “son of a god.” The Imperial Cult, thriving in Asia Minor, was growing in influence even in Rome, as an extension of the ultimate authority of the emperors.
Thus, in context, Romans 13:1-7 is not nearly as “pro-government” or “pro-Empire” as it might at first seem to us. When Paul writes that “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God,” this is daring stuff, indeed. In a world where Caesar claims to be the ultimate authority, or even a god, placing Caesar under the rule of the one true God, the God of the Jews, is tantamount to treason. Before long, Christians were being martyred by the Roman government for the apparently seditious confession of Jesus as Lord.
For us, Romans 13 speaks clearly to God’s sovereignty over all things, including governments and specific rulers. God has instituted government for his good. Therefore, leaders can be measured by a standard larger than themselves, God’s own standard. And all leaders are ultimately accountable to the one Leader of the Universe. This is true for all human leaders, by the way, whether in government, business, church, or family. All of our authority comes ultimately from God, and we will be measured in light of God’s standards.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What might be some of the implications of Romans 13 for us today? Where do you exercise authority? Do you see your authority as given by God? What difference might it make if you saw your authority in this light?PRAYER: Gracious Lord, first of all I want to thank you for giving us the gift of government. Of course it’s easy to think of all the ways government fails, especially in this days of economic and political turmoil. But, even now, the roads where I live are safe to drive on. I feel safe when I go to bed at night. And, though I’m reminded of potential threats when I go through airport security, for the most part I experience an extraordinary level protection and freedom in my life. So I thank you for government in general, and for my government in particular.
Yet I am also reminded to pray for my leaders, that they will seek your ways and do them. Help them to see their authority as coming not just from the voters, but from you. I pray for the President and his administration, for the Congress and the courts, for state, county, and city leaders. I pray also for law enforcement officers, that you will protect them and give them wisdom.
Finally, I ask that you help me to remember that my authority comes from you. May I exercise this authority in a way that honors you. Help me, Lord, to be a servant leader in every part of life, for the sake of your kingdom. Amen.