God, Man, and Society Part 3
Today, we continue in our study of the structure of the relationships of God, Man and Society. Our present focus is on Romans 13:1-7 and in our last message (July 5), we came to some understandings about power and authority, in a general sense, from the Greek words of the New Testament. We have come to see that, for Christians, it is necessary that we understand, with wisdom, the character, functions and claims of civil government, that we understand the God-intended relationships of God, man and society. And we saw the statement by Paul, in verses 1 and 2, of the duty of obedience to civil rule.
Now, our focus for today is to understand the grounds on which rest the duty of civil obedience. In Romans 13, Paul gives us two grounds.
1. Governments Derive Their Power from God
Government of civil society is a divine institution, originating in, and sanctioned by the will of God — v.1 – “There is no power but of God.” Recall Acts 17:28, “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” All things and powers are from God, even of wild animals and even of Satan. Colossians 1:17, “In Him” (KJV: “By Him”) “all things consist.” Thus, it is certainly clear that through God kings and rulers and leaders are permitted to occupy their thrones and seats of power in civil government: there is a divine providence in the affairs of men by which, for example, Pharaoh was raised up, by which God gave the kingdom to Jeroboam, by which Cyrus was raised up. Jesus summed it up to Pilate in John 19:11, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.”
If Paul teaches civil obedience merely to powers that be, without address to the issue of holy authority, then Paul’s own teaching would be understood that any evil conqueror, even the devil himself, could plead the divine sanction of obedience and enforce a pre-eminent, but unholy, authority. Such an interpretation is a monstrous conclusion which is self-condemned because it removes the holiness of authority from the raw power of the machinery of government and the machinations of Machiavellian rulers and politicians.
What Paul is teaching here is the duty of obedience to the institution of government, and explains that there is no authority properly exercised by government over men except by that which God has established. Paul proceeded in his teaching in Romans 13, to define with specificity, distinction and brevity, the sort of “power” to which obedience is salutary and required.
2. Authorities are Appointed by God.
“The authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (KJV: “The powers that be are ordained of God.”)
The general error in interpretation of this clause is to take for granted that this phrase, “the powers that be,” “the authorities that exist,” subjects mankind to all and any existing governments. The same arguments made as to the first ground above apply equally here. Also, for example, note Hosea 8:4, in which there is reference to the establishment of an independent government by the ten tribes under Jeroboam: “They set up kings, but not by Me; they made princes, but I did not acknowledge them.” Daniel referred to what some understand as the Roman Empire (because Rome is near the sea and is built on seven hills or mountains) as a “beast,” not as “she who must be obeyed,” Daniel 7:19: “Then I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast which is different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the residue with its feet.” In Revelation 13:1, the Apostle John, likewise, described the beast, “Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.” Any pestilence so described is to be avoided and shunned, and quickly, and so it cannot be argued that any such government is ordained by God. Like with Jeroboam, God neither made nor acknowledged such a government.
God by His will has called into existence national organization as a government and, in so doing, has set up the proper ends of such governments, by giving them supreme laws which they are called to observe and obey, and set its limits. This is not different as a ministry than the ministry of reconciliation, which God ordained in Christ, willing it into existence, prescribing its duties, its functions, its goals and its limitations.
No other interpretation can be given to Paul’s words which are consistent with due reverence for God, the Holy One of Israel, the Just, upon whose shoulders in Jesus rests the Government! Power not derived from God, not from him, not acknowledged by Him is always illegitimate.
Paul’s teaching demonstrates that it is not beneath the dignity of the Christian to be subject to civil government. Rather than offending Christ, such subjection honors Christ, for it is yieldedness to a divine institution, and cannot be safely withheld.
However, there is a distinction between the institution of government, as noted at the beginning, and the king, ruler, leader or judge in whose hands at the moment lie the reins of power. We shall look into this next time!
Let us pray that, by God’s anointing, we would have our knowledge increased, our understanding blessed with a Godly glow, and our wisdom tutored to God’s glory, that we might come to the fullness of maturity in understanding our part in the relationships of God, Man and Society as we live and breath and act and speak in a continual War of Holiness.