Romans 13: The Authorities as God’s Servants


Key Verses:

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.
— Romans 13:1
Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.
— Romans 13:3–4
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
— Romans 13:6–7
The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
— Romans 13:9–10

Daily Message:

Prior to chapter 13, Paul has covered individual relationships with God, the role of self, and relationships with others. It seems only natural that now Paul turns to relationships with governing authorities.

In today’s political environment, it may be more difficult to accept governing roles such as those created by God, but it is pretty clear that human government was instituted as a restraining power to bring punishment to wrongdoers and to be concerned with morality and moral order. Without it, there would be chaos in society. It was in this sense that it was a divinely created institution.

The verses quoted above reflect what Jesus Himself has said: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). In answer to the question about the greatest commandments, Jesus responded first with the love God commandment but went on to say, “and the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matt. 22:39). Everything the commandments speak out against harms other people, and we are instructed not to do so while governing authorities are there to protect against such behaviors.

Although there has been corruption in government for many centuries and around the globe, chapter 13 of Paul’s letter to the Romans helps us understand divine intent in establishing governing authorities.

A Moment to Reflect:

It is a delicate balance between the role of the church in establishing what constitutes moral or immoral behaviors and the role of authorities in governing such behaviors. But it is difficult to disconnect the two. In your view, when does the government go too far in defining morality or immorality? Specific laws render many, but not all, of the behaviors forbidden by the biblical commandments illegal. Walk through each of the 10 commandments (Ex. 20:1–17) and ask yourself how you feel about those legal distinctions.