“For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” (Romans 13:3–4, NASB95)
Generally speaking the best way to get along in a society is to abide by the rules. If you stay within the lines then you won’t be prosecuted for crossing them. But if you cross the lines, don’t be surprised when there are harsh consequences. If you obey the laws then you don’t have to be watching over your shoulder to see if you will get caught. You may not get praised, and you may not even get noticed. But at least you won’t be put away. Laws and the enforcement of laws helps to provide for a safe environment in which to live good lives, and in so enforcing those laws the government is doing what it is designed to do. Similarly, with the authority invested in the government also comes the power to prosecute and to judge those who break the laws and then to put them away such that they are removed from those who are living good, law-abiding lives.
I don’t think any of us would argue this point, but….
This is where the rub comes. We have our concerns where we are tempted to say, ‘but.’ There are those things that governments do that must clearly be an exception to these verses. What if our government isn’t trustworthy or doesn’t get things right? What about where government oversteps its intended purpose, or what if it tries to take more than we want to give or becomes more invasive and restrictive that we think it should? We also might even have concerns about government demanding that we do or approve things which are in conflict with our values. These questions are not fully covered in these verses. What we are looking at here is the intended role of government as the entity that protects the people by establishing laws for their overall welfare and then enforcing them.
God is a God of order and He instructs us to obey His ordinances. Consistent with this, He also instructs us to obey the laws of the places in which we live. In doing this we are to submit to the authority of those charged with enforcing these laws. As we read in the first verse of Romans 13:1, these rulers are established by God and he tells us to live in subjection to them.
When it comes to those situations where government acts outside of this intended role and it maybe even demands that we do things which God instructs us not to do, then we have to weigh how we will respond based upon the greater instruction of God’s Word.
Obeying God and walking wisely among men is not always easy. It requires that we trust Him fully, that we continually hide His Word in our hearts and depend upon it to be a lamp for our feet sand a light for our path, and it means that we need to be continually in prayer—bringing everything to Him and submitting our wills and our bodies to His wise, good, and sovereign hand.
“rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,” (Romans 12:12, NASB95)
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:31–35, NASB95)