Summary: Paul talks about how the Christian is supposed to live in society. Not only does he say that we should obey the laws of the land – but obey even when those laws don’t make sense. And he reveals principals for getting along in the world.
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One of the most interesting news stories I ever covered while a television reporter was the story of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus spoke about – no, this kingdom was located a few miles east of Salem, Oregon – the state capitol.
This kingdom was set up by a man who figured because he was a Christian, he was no longer covered by the laws of this society. So he created his own drivers license, plates, and decided that he was not liable for any property taxes. The courts of Marion County had another view – and eventually seized the land and sold it at auction – imagine that, the Kingdom of Heaven sold on eBay!
Anyway – this man fell into a common misconception among some Christians – or folks claiming to be Christian – that is, as members of God’s kingdom we don’t have to obey the laws of this world.
In Chapter 12 of Romans, Paul the Apostle gave us a “quick start” guide for how the individual is to live with God, with himself, and with those around us. Now in Chapter 13 he talks about how the Christian, with a renewed mind, is supposed to live in society. Not only does he say that we should obey the laws of the land – but obey even when those laws don’t make sense. In the process he reveals principals for getting along in the world.
1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Okay – two problems already. First – we must “submit” to the “governing authorities.” The word “submit” is the Greek word used dozens of times in the New Testament.
It’s a military term, primarily, and it means “to rank under.” In the military, they train and train and train so that when an order is given, the troops respond perfectly without having to think and rearrange and figure it out – otherwise the enemy would be upon them before they could get organized. This happens by ranks – the general gives the “big picture” order, which his officers interpret according to their section of the force and pass it down accordingly to the enlisted men.
The General might say: “we need to take this area in order to route the enemy.” By the time that gets to the private its: “Charge up this hill and take out that machine gun nest.” With everyone doing their part the battle is hopefully won as the machine works with precision.
If the private decides – “no, I think it would be better if I stayed here and took a nap” the squad’s task would be more difficult – and if everyone decided in their own way what to do – the General’s orders would not be fulfilled.
So in society we are to submit to the government. When the government passes a law that says “don’t drive over 65 miles an hour” then should submit to that, we should obey that law – as I’m sure we all do. If we all decided that speed laws weren’t a good idea for us and drove 100 miles an hour then there would be a terrible rash of accidents and people would die.
It’s not important whether you believe that 65 is the right speed – but if it’s the law, then we should obey.
Now, you say, what about laws that conflict with God’s character? Glad you asked. In the military there is such a thing as an illegal order. There are processes whereby a soldier can make a commanding officer prove the legality of an order – like ordering genocide, for instance.
Well, in society, if a law directly conflicts with the laws of God, then we have to obey God. For instance – when the Jews told Peter and John not speak the name of Jesus anymore – he said: Acts 4:19Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.
But, for the most part, we aren’t going to see this kind of thing – and we should do our best to “rank under” the laws of society so that we are all safer and cared for. So what about bad rulers – like Hitler, or Sadaam Husein? You mean God sets them up too? Yes – but it doesn’t mean that they are good, or that they are saved – but God will use them as pawns. Thank God we don’t serve a dictator – and remember that Paul wrote this in Roman times – under terrible dictators.