Scripture: Romans 12:14 – 13:10
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.”
Paul writes these words in his letter to the church in Rome. They are terrifyingly absolute. But if you’ve read other parts of scripture you have to wonder…
So–the Hebrew midwives Shiprah & Puah should have followed the law and thrown baby boys in the Nile at the moment of their birth? Moses should have told Pharaoh, God says Let my people Go! But when Pharaoh refused, he should have shrugged and walked away? Shadrack, Meshach & Abednego should have obeyed King Nebuchadnezzer’s command and bowed before his idol three times a day? Nabaoth should have sold King Ahab his vineyard in Jezreel? Jeremiah should have joined the ranks of the court prophets and told Kings what they wanted to hear instead of God’s truth? Should Esther have watched her people be hanged on Hamen’s gallows, Paul? Should Peter and John have obeyed authority and stopped preaching the Gospel? What about the apocalyptic vision of resisting the authority of Babylon in Revelation?
I could go on and on and on and on (and usually do–I said it so you don’t have to!). The point is, scripture is full of stories celebrating the faithfulness and courage of God’s people when they resist, rebel and defy authority.
So is Paul really saying that all Christians should be blindly obedient to all authorities in all times and places because every human institution is a perfect instrument of God’s will?
I know you’ve probably sat through some sermons arguing exactly that interpretation of these verses but–guess what?
You heard it wrong.
I hope you’ll join me as we examine this teaching in the context of Paul’s whole letter to the Christian community in Rome and discover that it doesn’t mean what a lot of folks think it means.
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