“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.” (Romans 13:1, NASB95)
I said that I was going to back up to the beginning of Romans 12, after writing about the second half, before going on to Romans 13. Now having done that I am ready to tackle Romans 13, or am I….
One doesn’t have to spend much time on the social media or watching any national news during election seasons or times of particular political struggle to know that writing about politics can be a touchy subject. Many families have holiday rules for this very reason—you know, the ‘no talking about religion or politics’ rules. I’ve seen some families where these discussions can get quite intense and I’ve followed some threads on Facebook which have had similar emotion to them.
So, before jumping in with both feet and risking alienating everyone I know because of what I might write, let’s first consider the issue of the sovereignty of God. This takes us to the middle portion of Romans 13:1 without regard to what comes before or even what follows. We read there, “For there is no authority except from God.”
In thinking of this, I was reminded of a phrase that had become quite popular over the years since it was first used in a political debate in 1988 when Senator Lloyd Bentsen (Democrat) responded to Senator Dan Quayle (Republican) in a Vice-Presidential debate. Senator Quayle had been asked a couple of times about his qualifications and readiness to be President should he have to succeed to the office. And it was Senator Bentsen’s response to Senator Quayle’s answer that caught national attention and which probably limited his highest role in government to that of Vice President. Here is what was said.
Senator Quayle: Three times that I've had this question — and I will try to answer it again for you, as clearly as I can, because the question you're asking is, "What kind of qualifications does Dan Quayle have to be president," "What kind of qualifications do I have," and "What would I do in this kind of a situation?" And what would I do in this situation? [...] I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, if that unfortunate event would ever occur.”
To this Senator Bentsen was given an opportunity to reply, and this is what followed: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.”
The audience in debate arenas is supposed to be quite subdued, but their response to this was loud and prolonged. Senator Quayle chose another well-known human as his point of comparison or readiness, but as it had been shown even President Kennedy was not sovereign or fully in control of the events of his own life or this country.
We are reminded in Romans 13:1 that regardless of whom the current authority might be that there is ultimately only one sovereign ruler, and that is God Himself. Everything that is exists because of God. Our world exists because God spoke it into being, and we ourselves are His handiwork whether we acknowledge it or not. This world continues to hold together because God is restraining it, and even evil is limited because God is the one limiting it until such time that He takes further and more drastic action ultimately leading to the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.
Man was created to worship God and have a relationship with Him forever and it was because of man’s sin and rebellion that all of the evil that we now see was introduced, whether that evil is in the form of a rogue individual in a mall or a government pursuing radical ends. Some might look to our current times and point to how bad it is getting, yet we read in Scripture that even during the time of the apostles that Christians were being pulled out to their death. Need we also be reminded that our sinless Savior and Lord was put to death, chosen to be crucified over a proven criminal. God is sovereign over all of these, and He at all times has the power to bring them up or put them down. Satan, even now, is limited by the power and authority of God. There is absolutely no authority except from God.
When Job was tempted to consider just how bad his plight was, it was God who repeatedly brought to Job’s attention His own sovereign hand (and not Job’s) in all of creation and all that existed. During the time of the Jews finally entering the land which had been promised to them, it was God who made them victorious. And during their years of rebellion it was God who both worked through foreign powers for their discipline and even through the weakness of their nation during times of turning for their restoration. God has baffled man throughout history with how He works, and yet there remains one unshakable truth. God is God, and we are not and neither is any leader or government institution.
So, as we move through these first verses in Romans 13, we need to be constantly mindful that it is God who establishes the foundation on which we stand and who gives us the breath that we daily take. He is the One who directs our steps and even how we are to walk when those steps become complicated.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:6–9, NASB95)
“I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:13–16, NASB95)