13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Much has been written on the meaning of these controversial verses written by Paul in his letter to the Romans. And one could use these verses to justify all types of political behavior and pose all sorts of vexing questions like “Were Christians in Germany during the Second World War supposed to support Hitler?” I don’t know and frankly I don’t care about the theological answer to that question or any related questions.
If you read the verses that follow you will see that Paul is trying to convince Roman Christians to honor the authority of the Roman Empire given that they were living in its capital. Was this a divine direction that all Christians are to honor the government authority they are subject to in all circumstances? That is a question well above my pay grade.
I believe that Paul was trying to convey a few things.
First, and foremost the ultimate source of all authority is God. It is His authority and His law that really matters. If you spend 90% of your time complaining and fighting about what some earthly government is doing or not doing you might have some misguided priorities. Paul wanted us to focus on God’s law and His will not that of the government.
Second, if you follow God’s law you will likely be OK with the Government. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t fight, love others, and you won’t run afoul of the laws of the government you are subject to.
Third, Paul was not looking for some revolt against the Roman Empire. He wanted the Roman Christians to be spending their energy on growing the kingdom of God, spreading the Good News, setting a good example by loving not only one and other but all people in all circumstances. The revolution was bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in heaven, not undermining the Roman authorities.
Finally, I think Paul was likely writing knowing that the Roman authorities would get wind of his letters. And the fact he was urging Roman Christians to honor the Roman law was going to keep the Roman authorities off the backs of the Christians. He didn’t want the Christians persecuted or made out as enemies of the state. That would undermine their ultimate priority of growing God’s kingdom on earth. If people saw the Roman Christians as outlaws those same people would be less likely to listen to Christ’s message as shared by his followers.
I have heard people say I am a Democrat first and an American second (or a Republican first and an American second). For me, I believe we should be Christians first. Everything after that will take care of itself and is of little consequence in the Kingdom of God.
I end where I usually start, I am the most broken person I know saved only by the mercy, grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection we celebrate in this season of Lent.