Submission to Authority
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary” (James Madison, Federalist #51, 1788). Forgive me for quoting a founding father when Scripture says enough, but I thought this from James Madison an excellent segue into our passage under study: submission to governing authorities. The fact of the matter is that fallen man needs a way to order and protect himself from, uh … well, himself. This is why Paul says that the duty of rulers is to reward the do-gooder and avenge the evil-doer (also see, 1 Peter 2:13-17). Even tyranny, as terrible as that is, is better than anarchy: no rule or rulers, no law, no protection. Anarchy is survival of the fittest, a veritable hell on earth. Those who think they want such a thing prove themselves foolish because they do not know the nature of man.
It is because of man’s wickedness that God founded human government, to corral man’s vile impulses. This is why Paul writes, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” This is hard to bear when one thinks of present day North Korea and a host of other demonic governments down through the ages that have ravaged the lives of human beings. And this passage must be considered along side of Acts 5:29 when the apostles responded to the Sanhedrin’s order to stop preaching, “We must obey God rather than men,” the disobedience of the Hebrew midwives to kill the Hebrew boys as Pharaoh ordered (Exodus 1:15-22), and the entire book of Revelation in which the saints refuse to recant their faith but witness all the more for Christ despite persecution and death.
But where there is no contradiction to follow our God’s command, we must obey; that is, pay respect, honor, and yes, taxes, too. And we are even told that we must do this “for the sake of conscience”; that is, since we know that the government we live under is instituted by God. Therefore, to resist the authorities when we have been commanded to do nothing outside God’s will is to “resist what God has appointed.” And this has nothing to do with whether we like the rulers or not.
Throughout history the Church has prayed for rulers in her worship; indeed, this was the Church’s plea against the Roman Emperors during horrible persecution: You have nothing to fear from us for we pray for the Emperor. Indeed, Christians are to be the best citizens of any kingdom. In this way, we silence those who would malign us and earn the respect of all (1 Peter 2:15). So let us be for the sake of conscience and for the salvation of men.