Read: Romans 13:1-3
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,
During his lifetime, Paul saw the beginnings of the first-century church, but he was also a Roman citizen and eventually, he would give his life for the Gospel, so how do we reconcile verses like those found above. How does Paul explain that “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” in a world system that persecuted followers of Christ?
John Piper responded to a question on this passage with the following quote – “Government is a great gift in a world of fallenness, restraining evil and bringing some kind of order.”
Some refer to this passage as a reason for following whatever the government prescribes, but, does this mean that there is no room for civil disobedience to the government? First, let’s consider Paul’s life. Even when it was illegal to speak the truth of the Gospel, he adopted the view Peter expressed in Acts 5:29 – ” We must obey God rather than men.”
That is not the only example. Think of the midwives who protected Hebrew boys in defiance of Pharoah’s order. Or what about Daniel’s commitment to prayer when it was ruled illegal? Or when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were commanded to bow their knee to a man, how did they respond?
Let’s think of some of the issues our world has faced in the last century. I remember reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer a few years ago. Bonhoeffer was a man dedicated to his faith and was willing to plot against Hitler as the leader of Germany. Some may be critical of Bonhoeffer today, and Metaxas underscored the conflict he experienced, but Bonhoeffer decided the only proper response was to stand against evil (even when the majority of church leaders complied).
Now, back to the Scripture. It is important to consider all that God’s word has to say on the subject. And so I think Paul is commanding that we be model citizens in all that we do, with the exception of acting in such a way that dishonors God’s ultimate authority. And sometimes that may mean civil disobedience.