“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:1–8).
It’s important to remember that at the time Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome, Nero was the Emperor of Rome. If you don’t know who Emperor Nero was, here is a brief summary: he had his mother stabbed to death for treason, his wife beheaded for adultery, kicked his pregnant mistress to death, and allegedly ignited the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD that burned about two-thirds of the city of Rome. It was recorded that Nero sang and played his lyre while watching the city he was charged to protect burn. He blamed the fire on Christians and arrested possibly thousands for it. Many of these Christians were burned alive as punishment. The apostles Peter and Paul were both eventually martyred by Nero.
I think we can all agree that Nero was not a good and just ruler. Did God endorse even this crazed psychopath as the Emperor of Rome? Well, no. God didn’t directly endorse Nero himself, but rather He instituted the governmental office that Nero held. Nero was an evil man and did not exercise his governmental powers justly and he was ultimately judged by God for it. Paul wrote that we are still subjects to even that governing authority because God instituted it. But Paul is also referring to all levels of governing authority, not just the heads of state. It is not just the emperors, kings, or presidents to whom we are subject, but all those in positions of authority, all the way down to local police officers. And God is not subject to any of those rulers, good or bad. “For kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:28). “He removes kings and sets up kings.” (Daniel 2:21). “On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16).
We Americans love to think that our style of government is the only type of government that God would ever endorse, but that’s just not true. Jesus as the Son of Man was not an American, He was a Hebrew Jew from the Middle East; Jesus as the Son of God is from Heaven. God is outside any form of government. Government is meant to bring order to its people and God approves of order. Order is truthful and just, whereas the opposite (chaos) is from Satan and is made up of lies and wrongdoings. God institutes all forms of governing authorities to prevent chaos from engulfing us all. However, not all governments are just and fair. Not everyone who serves in a governmental position pursues truth or has integrity. Once humans take the reins of power, we tend to mess it up. That is because we are sinful and filled with selfish desires. We are told that we should pray for the leaders of our nations; “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:2).
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution helped form one of the best versions of government in the world as we know it: a constitutional republic with checks and balances and multiple levels of government. It was based on Christian principles and values, such as the pursuit of peace. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19). The Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That document was signed 245 years ago yesterday and it still rings true in our country today. God created us all in His image and He loves all of us equally. It’s why He sent His Son as the sacrificial Lamb to be slain. Jesus didn’t die and rise from the grave for any one set of people, He sacrificed Himself for everyone!
The U.S. Constitution mirrors God’s love by protecting all our rights as American citizens. These rights allow us to freely worship God and to be able to take the great message of Jesus Christ to all ends of this country and the earth. The Founders had a grand vision, but it wasn’t and can never be absolutely perfect. As Americans, we should always strive “to form a more perfect Union” together towards the goal of peace. And as Christian Americans, we need to realize that the only perfect “government” is God in Heaven. There are no earthly governments that supersede His. There are no human laws that overrule His. God doesn't proclaim any one form of government as everlasting; only God’s Kingdom will last forever. “He makes nations great, and He destroys them,” (Job 12:23) and “His kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom.” (Daniel 4:3).
Paul reminds us that if we do bad and wrong things, the government is there to discipline us and keep us in line. Take murder for instance. Murder has always been wrong. It is a law written on the human heart, is part of God’s Law in the Ten Commandments, and is part of nearly every human-written code of law. So, when a person murders another person, their government is in God’s charge to punish the murderer. If we do what is good and right, we don’t need to fear our government. And more so, we are called to help those in need and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. This is pleasing in God’s sight. This is what the Founders strove to accomplish with the Declaration of Independence, American Revolution, and U.S. Constitution. Praise be to God that He blessed us with this prosperous nation. Let us never forget His grace and mercy and spread His message of good news to all who will hear it.
“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15–22).