A Jesus centered Romans 13


This Fundamentalist view of governmental sovereignty comes from Romans 13.

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”
Romans 13:1‭-‬7

With only a flat reading of the text, you have to admit that ALL governmental authority comes from God. Not just those that we voted for or like but ALL.

This includes Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Kim Jung-il, Hussain, ect. So you can’t say God put Trump and Obama etc in power but not the latter. You can’t have it both ways. There is another way to look at it though and CONTEXT is key.

The context of Romans 13 is important when interpreting this verse and using it in relation for use today.

Paul wrote this letter to followers of Jesus in Rome during a time when tensions of a Jewish/Roman conflict was so high that many were ready for battle. Tensions were also notably high between the gentle believers and Jews at that time as well. This was just a few years shy of the complete destruction of the 2nd temple and the slaughter of a million Jews as recorded by historian Josephus. (Circa 70 CE, Google it)

Paul was essentially saying to the believers not to join the religious zealots violent rebellion against the Romans nor should gentile believers harbor contempt or malice for their Jewish brothers and sisters. Instead be Christlike and be spared the wrath that would come. Yes, he uses language that states the Romans are in power because God ordained it. But contextually this wasn’t meant, nor did Paul intend this, for American believers 2000 years later to point to the sovereignty of God in political decisions made by those in power.

Does God “allow” or ordain people to be placed into power? It depends on what you mean by ordain. God is love and love does not control (1 Corinthians 13:5), instead God empties Godself and necessarily allows for freedom within its creation’s created parameters ( Philippians 2:6-8). Therefore all leaders are “ordained” by God in that God has given dominion of the earth and its worldly systems to humans. (Genesis 1:26)

So does God sovereignly place every person who has ever been in or taken control of a country, state ect into that role himself. I don’t believe so. God is sovereign, but he is not a micro manager. I believe He is sovereign in his love, not in coercion and dictation.

Refuse and resist?

If we oppose the governing authorities or their actions are we disobeying this teaching in the inspired text? First, let’s not forget that the writer of this text was murdered by the governing authorities for civil disobedience himself.

Also in Mark 6 John the Baptist criticized Herod, a civil authority, for sleeping with his brother’s wife which ultimately led to his own beheading. In Acts, Peter and John were sent to prison for not submitting to the governing authority, then there is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

President Lamb

Then there is Jesus. As a Christian, we not only profess him as Lord but we follow him. We proclaim the kingdom of God is here, just as he did. We don’t claim to be residents of earthly borders but of the kingdom that is within.

Jesus is the only governing authority of this kingdom. To be disobedient and resist this authority is to not feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty or clothe the poor. It’s to not welcome the stranger into our home, our land. It’s to not forgive our enemies.

This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 12. Romans 13 1-7 should never be interpreted without first reading chapter 12 to explain it. And then followed up by verses 8-10 in chapter 13!

Let’s not forget the subversive message of Jesus when he called the pharasees a brood of vipers for using the scripture as a reason to not help the hungry and heal the sick. Or the time he rebuked his own disciples for wanting to call down fire to those that wanted to do him harm. Or the time he cried out “Father forgive them” for his own murderes. How unlike most, governing authority is that?!

Wrap up

What do we do when we see injustice within the governing authorities? We follow Jesus. We feed the poor. We welcome the stranger. We proclaim a different kingdom than the one the world system has drawn borders around and tries to keep people out of and say “the kingdom is within you, welcome” In the upside down kingdom where Jesus is Lord, the table is open to everyone.

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