Topic:God and Government
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
When Paul refers to governing authorities, he uses a phrase that can best be translated “the powers that be.” He is not just talking about heads of state; he is talking about all levels of authority, all the way down to the local police. He tells us that the thing we must think about these governmental offices is that they are, in some way, brought into being by God himself.
I often hear people ask, “Which form of government is the best? Which is the one God wants us to have?” We Americans would love to think that democracy obviously is the most God-honored form of government. But I don’t think you can establish that from the Scriptures. In fact, the Scriptures reflect various forms of government. So when you ask, “Which government is the best kind? Is it a monarchy? An oligarchy? Is it a republic? A democracy?” The answer of Scripture is not necessarily any of these. It is whatever God has brought into being. That is best for that particular place and time in history. God has brought it into being, considering the makeup of the people, the degree of truth and light which is disseminated among them, and the moral conditions that are prevailing. For that condition, for that time and place, God has brought into being a particular government.
Now, that government can change. God doesn’t ordain any one form of government to be continued forever. If the people grow toward understanding of truth, and morality prevails in a community, the form of government may well take on a democratic pattern. Where truth disappears, government seems to become more autocratic. But, in any case, the point the apostle makes is that whatever form of government you find, God is behind it. Don’t ever think of any state or any government as something that in itself is opposed to God, because it isn’t.
This truth is not confined to the New Testament. In the book of Daniel, Daniel stood before one of the greatest monarchs the world has ever seen, one of the most autocratic of kings, and said to him, “God changes times and seasons, God removes kings, and he sets up kings,” (Daniel 2:21a RSV). There it is made clear that God definitely has a hand in whatever is going on on the earth at any particular time. Sometimes we are tempted, or even taught, to think of God as being remote from our political affairs, that he is off in heaven somewhere turning a rather morbid eye on us human beings struggling along with our political problems down here. But God is not on some remote Mount Olympus; he is right among us, involved in the pattern of governments; and he raises up kings and puts down others, raises up rulers and changes the form of government.
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When Paul wrote this letter to these Christians, they were living in the capital city of the empire, Rome itself. Rome by this time had already passed through several forms of government. It had been a monarchy, a republic, a principate, and now it was an empire. Nero had just begun his reign as the fifth emperor of Rome when Paul wrote this letter. What Paul is saying to these Christians is that whatever form of government may be in control, they are to remember that God is behind it.
Father, thank you for these practical words. Help me to be a good citizen, trusting that you raise up and bring down leaders to accomplish your own purposes.
A particular form of government cannot be counted on to uphold righteousness. To whom are we ultimately responsible? What is our responsibility toward government which God permits?