1 Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath but also because of your conscience. 6 And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s servants, continually attending to these tasks. 7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.
I am sad that I was 38 years old before I really knew Emmett Till’s story by reading Timothy B. Tyson’s work The Blood of Emmett Till. Emmett was murdered in the Mississippi Delta by lynching, and his killers were exonerated in a court of law. Tyson does an excellent job helping the reader understand the context of the time and the myriad ways the Jim Crow South upheld the subjugation of black Americans. Because power so often blinds and corrupts, it must be held accountable.
“Authorities,” as the majority of translations seem to say in verse 1, are all around us influencing our lives in so many different ways. And just as it has been the case in different places and at different times throughout the history of the world, there is a healthy suspicion of these authorities in our place and time. This scripture has certainly been used by authorities to legitimize their position and to continue in their ruling ways without any accountability. So while we can perhaps agree that the civil positions authorities fill are instituted by God, we can also see from Paul’s life a willingness to peaceably seek to hold authorities accountable.
In the previous chapter (Romans 12), Paul taught that vengeance is God’s, thus relieving all of us of the urge to seek it ourselves when we are wronged. But at times that gets difficult. Think of how otherwise peaceful protests this year in our country devolved into senseless looting. Regardless of how one feels about the protest itself, we all can agree that we need good authorities to help prevent violent robberies that destroy livelihoods. At the same time, we need authorities who work to rid and fend off systemic injustice that destroys or prevents livelihoods as well.
These are the difficult conversations that must be taking place in our public discourse—and we as Christians must be involved in the conversations. Governing authorities are in place because our world needs order. Evil must not run unchecked. As those who are following and being formed by King Jesus, we must continually work out what it means to submit to the governing authorities in our lives while living under the ultimate rule and reign of Jesus, who is Lord of both heaven and earth.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- As an exercise, make a list of all the governing authorities present in your life. Consider just how these authorities affect you and your family. Consider how each helps to maintain order in our society.
- Take time to pray for each authority on your list.
- In what peaceable ways can we, as citizens, help to hold authorities accountable while maintaining a peaceable posture toward them?
Have each family member write or draw on a sheet of paper five things that are grateful for. Have everyone share what God put on their heart.
Pray for Chase and Leslie*, global workers from our church family who are getting settled into their new city in the Middle East. Pray for health, for wisdom about educating their child, for community, for continuing language acquisition, and that they will be led to “persons of peace.”