Paul has been teaching us how to live the heavenly life. Remember? Christ has delivered us from this present evil age. We’ve been raised up with him to the heavenly realms to live a new kind of life, so that instead of being conformed to this age, we’re to be transformed by the renewing of our minds by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been given to us, and he’s working in us, from the inside out, to transform us so that more and more we’ll be willing and able to do God’s will and to live this heavenly life on the earth, a life which reflects the glory and goodness of the Lord.
And Paul has been explaining to us what this heavenly life looks like. So, we’re to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, wholly devoted to living for God’s glory. And we’re to use whatever gifts God has given us in the right way. We’re to love one another and put others first. We’re to be full of zeal as we seek to serve the Lord. We’re to endure afflictions and we’re to share what we have. We’re to bless those who persecute us, instead of cursing them. And we’re to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, living in harmony with one another, serving one another in humility. And instead of repaying evil for evil, we’re to do what’s right; and we’re to try to live at peace with everyone so that we’re never overcome by evil, but will always seek to do what is good and right and pleasing in the sight of the Lord.
This is how to live the heavenly life. And do you see? It’s all so practical and down to earth. It’s about how we treat one another and how we get on with one another. And we see the same thing in today’s passage, because in verses 1 to 7 of chapter 13, Paul explains that living the heavenly life will mean we’re prepared to submit ourselves to the governing authorities. So let’s look at these verses now.
Verses 1 and 2
And in verses 1 and 2, Paul makes the point that we’re to submit to the governing authorities because the governing authorities have been established by God.
When he mentions the ‘governing authorities’, Paul is referring to the civil government. So, he’s talking about, in his day, the Emperor in Rome and all his magistrates and governors and all who were part of the Roman government. In our day, he’s referring to kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers and all who are in positions of authority over us and who are responsible for governing the nation. We’re to submit ourselves to them, which means we’re to acknowledge their authority over us and their right to govern us.
Why should we submit ourselves to them? Look what Paul says at the end of verse 13:
for there is no authority except that which God has established.
In other words, whatever authority there is, whatever ruler there is, has been established by God. We look at the world and we see one person in one nation and another person in another nation and still another person in a third nation. All of them are in positions of power. All of them got there in different ways and by different means. All of them are very different from each other. But all of them got where they are because of the Lord, because whatever authority there is is from God.
And Paul goes on to re-iterate this point in the next sentence:
The authorities that exist have been established by God.
They’ve been established, or instituted, they’ve been ordained, by God. You see, the Lord is the one who rules over all and he exalts this one, and he humbles that one; he raised us this one, and he tears down that one. And whoever is in authority over us, whoever is in that place of power, has been put there by God who rules over all things.
And therefore, since God has put this person in this place of authority, we’re to submit ourselves to this ruler. We’re to submit ourselves to this ruler, because this is the ruler God has placed over us.
And look what Paul goes on to say in verse 2:
he who rebels against what God has instituted, is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
In other words, whoever rebels against the governing authorities is, in a sense, rebelling against God, because it’s God’s will for this person to rule over us.
Now, the really remarkable thing about this is that in Paul’s day, the person in authority was the Roman Emperor. And, of course, the Roman Emperor was a pagan, who did not worship the Lord, but who bowed down before false gods and lived a wicked life. And yet, here’s Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, and he’s saying to them that you need to submit to the Roman Emperor and all his magistrates and governors. If you don’t, you’re rebelling against the Lord and will come under the Lord’s judgment.
Verses 3 and 4
In verses 3 and 4 we have a second reason why we ought to submit ourselves to the governing authority. The first reason is that whatever authority there is has come from God. The second reason is that the ruling authorities have the responsibility for maintaining law and order in society. Look at verse 3. Who should fear the governing authority? Well, the only person who needs to be afraid of the governing authority is the one who does wrong.
You’re driving along in your car, and you look in the rear view mirror, and you spot a police car coming up behind you. Well, you don’t think anything of it, unless you’ve been speeding. If you’ve been speeding, then your heart will no doubt begin to beat faster and harder, because you’re suddenly afraid. And you’re afraid, because you’ve done something wrong and the police have the authority to stop you and to book you for speeding. But if you haven’t done anything wrong, then you’re not worried.
So, who should be afraid of the governing authorities? Only the person who has done wrong. If you do what is right and good, you’re not worried. But if you do wrong, be afraid, says Paul. Be afraid, because the governing authority doesn’t bear the sword for nothing. In other words, he has the power and the authority to use force in order to uphold law and order and to punish the guilty. And by doing so, he’s able to maintain law and order in society.
And this, of course, is one of the blessing we receive from having governing authorities. Whenever I was in Co. Kildare, I used to help an Irish Mission Worker with a youth club he ran. And from time to time, someone would begin to cause trouble. You know, they were misbehaving and they became disruptive; and on some occasions, they made threats. So, what did we do on those occasions? Did we put up our fists and have a fight? Did we do our best to throw them out? No, we took out a phone and called the guards, the police. And the guards would come and sort it out. They had the power and the authority to use force to get rid of the trouble-makers, so that the rest of us could enjoy the youth club in peace. That’s one of the chief benefits of having people in positions of authority. They’re able to maintain law and order for the rest of us. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy? He instructed him to pray for all those in authority. Why? So that we might live peaceful and quiet lives. The governing authority is able to ensure that we’re able to live peaceful and quiet lives, because the governing authority has the power and authority to punish wrongdoers and to make our homes safe.
And look at the end of verse 4 which is quite remarkable. Remember, Paul was writing to believers in Rome. The governing authority at that time was the Roman Emperor and all his governors. And, of course, they were pagans who did not believe in God, but who worshipped false gods and they lived godless, sinful lives. But Paul says about the governing authority that he is God’s servant. Whether he knows it or not, whether he believes in God or not, he is God’s servant, put there by God as an agent of God’s wrath to punish the wrongdoer. Whenever they governing authority punishes the lawbreaker, he is doing God’s will, whether he knows it or not.
And, of course, this relates to what I was saying last time. In our personal lives, and in our dealings with our neighbour, we’re not to take revenge. We’re not to repay evil for evil. We’re not to take matters into our own hands. You see, we don’t have the right to use force. But the policeman, for example, has the right and the authority to use force, because he’s been appointed by the governing authority to maintain law and order; and he’s been given the power and the authority to use force in his work as a policeman. And, of course, the power and authority which he has been given to use force comes ultimately from the Lord.
There we have two reasons for submitting ourselves to the governing authorities. Firstly, because the governing authority is from God. And secondly, because the governing authority has the right to use force against whoever does wrong. And Paul refers to those two reasons again in verse 5, where he summarises what he’s already said. So, according to verse 5, we’re to submit to the authorities because of possible punishment. And then, we’re to submit to the authorities because of conscience. In other words, now that we know that every authority is from God, then our conscience will accuse us of doing what is wrong if we ever rebel against the governing authority. So, for the sake of maintaining a good conscience, we ought to submit ourselves to the governing authorities.
Verses 6 and 7
And as well as submitting ourselves to them, we’re to support them with our money. That’s Paul’s point in verse 6 and 7. We need to pay our taxes and whatever customs are due, in order to support the worker of the governing authorities. And as well as giving them our money, we’re to give them the honour and respect they deserve.
Do you see how the heavenly life is so practical and down to earth? Even though we’ve been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms, we’re not to think that we don’t have any obligation to the governing authorities. That’s what believers have often thought over the years: Christ is my king; so I don’t have to serve any earthly king, especially whenever the earthly king is an unbeliever. But Christ our King says we’re to submit ourselves to the earthly king, because Christ our King has appointed the earthly king to his position of authority.
Let me finish with two further points. First of all, the governing authorities will one day have to give an account to the Lord for how they have used their authority. They’re meant to do us good. That’s what Paul said in verse 4: ‘he’s God’s servant to do you good.’ And so, if they haven’t used their authority to do good, then they will answer to the Lord. So, we mustn’t think they’ll get away with it, if they’re doing what’s wrong.
And secondly, what if the governing authorities command the believer to do something we know is wrong? Well, if ever that happens — and I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever been commanded to do something the Lord forbids, because we enjoy so many rights in this country — but if ever it happens, then we need to remember the words of the Apostles who said to the religious authorities in Jerusalem that they must obey God rather than men. We must remember their words, and we must be prepared to suffer the consequences. So, think of the midwives we read about in Exodus 2 who disobeyed the Pharaoh when he told them to kill the baby boys. They disobeyed him and were prepared to face his wrath as a result. Think of Daniel, who disobeyed the king’s edict forbidding prayer. And Daniel was prepared to be thrown into the den of lions as a result. Think of Daniel’s three friends who refused to bow down before the king’s statue. They disobeyed the king, and were prepared to be thrown into the fiery furnace as a result. Think of the Apostles who were forbidden o preach about Christ. They disobeyed the religious authorities and were prepared to be beaten and imprisoned as a result. If ever it happens that we’re commanded to do something the Lord forbids, then we need to obey the Lord and not man. And at the same time, we need to be prepared to suffer the consequences. But we’ll be ready to suffer the consequences, because we know that the glory to be revealed in us in the future life far outweighs all the sorrows of this troubled life.