Get real about government authority
Many of us read passages like Romans 13:1-7 through a representative republic lens, like the Bible was addressing voters, candidates for office, and the three branches of American government. Of course Scripture is timeless and truth overlays every extreme of life, including our role as citizens. But, to interpret Romans 13:1-7 and many other like texts as being a template for voting or a profile for submission to a particular form of government is a stretch. When Paul wrote to the Roman community of faith there was only one form of government and the people in the Roman Empire owed their allegiance, obedience, and worship to the Emperor. He wasn't elected by the people, the citizens of Rome weren't voters, and his rule was absolute.
It is the Word of God and Paul the author was carried along by the Holy Spirit (see 2 Peter 1:21) like the prophets and other writers of Scripture. Romans 13: 1-7 is therefore "...breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul wrote the Romans 13 text as a spiritual reminder about truth that the Romans had to remember and that they represented Christ in that hostile environment. Take note---
1. Romans 13:1-7 is about God.
Paul reminded the Roman Christians of the sovereign rule of God over all
things, including government authority. The first verse underscores this
"there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been
instituted by God" (v. 1).
His equation was that to resist God's appointed authority is to resist God. The
reverse is also true: to be subject to God's instituted authority is to ultimately
be subject to God. He expected his people to be good citizens, even in such a
despotic system as the Roman Empire. He told them "to do what is good" so as
to receive the approval of the authority. As a result they were to pay taxes,
revenues, and even respect and honor where they were due.
2. Applying this truth to our lives requires definition of authority.
Fast forward two thousand years. Thankfully, our government is not
totalitarian (at least not yet) and we do not have to submit to a person or
branch of government. In our representative republic the authority to which we
must submit is the Constitution of the United States, ratified June 21, 1788,
and effective March 4, 1789. This brilliant document actually defines the
branches of government by which our government system functions and
enumerates the powers under which they guide our government. It has been
amended twenty-seven times and the government that exists under the
Constitution barely resembles the one our founders envisioned. Still, the
ultimate authority that we should be subject to is the Constitution of the
In a broad sense, interpretation of the Constitution falls into two categories,
those who interpret the Constitution according to the original intent or
meaning of the Constitution and those who do not. Generally, conservatives
hold to original intent or meaning and liberals view the document as dynamic
and interpret it according to the mores and values of the time in which it is
interpreted. This is why, among other reasons, the appointment of those
serving in the judicial system is so critical to the government the Constitution
empowers. Almost every day we see the conflict created when these two broad
classifications clash. Today, most agree that there are four conservative
members of the Supreme Court of the United States and four liberal. This is the
reason President Trump's recent nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch and his
future appointments are front page news. Whoever is ratified by the United
States Senate will turn the SCOTUS in one direction or another.
Which is beyond the point of my post today. Believing that the Constitution should be interpreted by it's original intent, I'm praying that Judge Gorsuch and others like him will be approved as members of the Supreme Court. That includes the prayer that judges who interpret according to original intent will be appointed throughout the judicial branch of our government.
More to the point, let's remember Paul's writing that we should be subject to the ultimate authority of our nation, that is the Constitution of the United States. This translates to something more basic for every citizen: that we read, study and then understand what this document says about our government and how we function as a nation. You can at least read it by clicking right here.
If all governments are instituted by God, then the Constitution of the United States was given by God to our founders to guide this representative republic. And, we should joyfully be subject to it, as to God.