I often post Bible passages related to government on my social media sites, as a reminder to us of what God says about this important topic. In recent days, I quoted portions of Romans 13:1-7, where we are told to honor and submit to government leaders since they are servants of God to do His will. In response, I have heard some uneasy responses and questions. Sure it’s in the Bible, but what exactly do we do with this when government is evil or corrupt or hypocritical, as some would say it often is now?
I understand the questions, and the emotions. This is actually one of the more challenging portions of the Bible for me too, as I’m frequently grieved by the decisions and conduct of many government leaders. And I can only imagine how these verses might have unsettled our brothers and sisters in Christ during times of intense government persecution over the centuries.
It is remarkable then that Paul the Apostle, led by God’s Spirit, wrote this passage at a time when many government leaders were notoriously immoral and unjust and vicious and anti-Christ, and even persecuting him and his associates personally. (Pictured is the famous Mamertine Prison in Rome, where according to tradition both apostles Paul and Peter were imprisoned by the government authorities prior to their executions.)
Paul’s point in Romans 13 though is that human government is an institution created by God for our good, and so it is worthy of our respect as such.
When government leaders operate in accordance with God’s will, as he describes in Romans 13:3-4, they are fulfilling their God-ordained role. When they behave unjustly or otherwise go against His will, they are failing to be the servants He has called them to be (Psalm 2:10-12, Proverbs 6:16-19; 16:12, Daniel 4:27), and may someday face His strong judgment (Daniel 2:21, Acts 12:21-23).
Regardless of what government leaders do, we are called to be respectful to them because of their God-appointed positions (13:7, 1 Peter 2:13-17). We also pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2), we proclaim the word of God to them (1 Timothy 2:3-4), and we yield to their laws (Romans 13:7, Titus 3:1) unless doing so would directly contradict what God, who is the highest government, has commanded us (Acts 5:29).
Today, we also have the precious and historically rare privilege of participating in our government by voting and serving within it to guide it and change it and improve it. Paul took advantage of his rights as a citizen (Acts 22:22-30; 25:11) and we would be wise to do the same. In fact, we would be idiots not to. Our government is said to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people” (that’s us) and is inviting and even urging us to vote and get involved, and so we might even consider civic engagement as part of fulfilling Christ’s instruction to “give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17).
Understandably, we may sometimes, or even regularly, get an icky feeling about government. Maybe even righteous disgust and anger. When that happens, we can follow Romans 13 and other passages in God’s word, confident that He is still on the throne. And we can look up and rejoice as we realize that our intense feelings may really be rooted in our redeemed heart’s deep longing for our future home, where God will one day be recognized as King by all, and government will finally be as it is should be (Matthew 6:10, Revelation 21-22).