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. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 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. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing (Rom. 13:1-6).
I wonder if you are like me. When I read this passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, I think to myself, “Paul, what were you thinking?” Because what Paul wrote obviously isn’t always true. Some rulers don’t seem to be “ministers of God” in any sense. Many practice and promote what God says is evil. Paul himself suffered under corrupt rulers. According to early church historian Eusebius, Paul’s martyrdom by decapitation was due to the decree of one of those corrupt governmental leaders, Roman emperor Nero.
So what are we to make of Paul’s words in Romans 13:1-6?
I can only assume that Paul meant to tell his readers what was generally true, as governments generally stand against evil behavior such as murder, theft and fraud.
The other possibility is that Paul had a more subtle purpose in mind when he penned those 6 verses. Perhaps he hoped to dispel any rumors—heard by Roman authorities who might read his words—that he was fomenting civil disobedience among Christians. And perhaps he was also hoping to prick the consciences of any corrupt Roman rulers who might read his words by reminding them of how they ought to rule, since they, as Jesus told Pilate, “would have no authority…unless it had been given…from above” (John 19:11).
To consider it from that perspective, try re-reading Romans 13:1-6 as if you were a Roman ruler. If you were worried about the “dangerous” Christians, your mind would be set at ease. And if you were abusing your authority, you’d feel a twinge in your conscience.
Regardless of whether I’m right or wrong about Paul’s intentions, we certainly must agree on two points:
(1) God Omnipotent is sovereign over human governments. Scripture reveals that He may, if He desires, exalt or remove any earthly leader. “The Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and…He sets over it whomever He wishes” (Dan. 5:21).
And (2), God certainly desires that all earthly leaders fit Paul’s description that we’ve just read in Romans 13:1-6. That is, He desires that all human rulers rule righteously, just as He desires that all humans live righteously. That would seem undebatable. (And by the word righteously, I mean “to do what is morally right in God’s eyes.”)
Just the fact that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” and is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), indicates that God desires all leaders to be saved, and naturally, if they were truly born again, they would want to live righteously, which would include ruling righteously. So again, it is evident that God desires that all human rulers rule righteously.
Of course, there are examples in Scripture of God establishing unrighteous rulers in order to bring a nation to repentance. But that does not prove that God would not prefer that all rulers rule righteously. (Obviously, God’s granting free will to human beings gets in the way of Him always getting what He desires.)
If it is God’s desire that all human rulers rule righteously, then of course that should also be the desire of all of God’s people. But here’s the mystery: Many who profess to be God’s people apparently don’t desire what He desires. In fact, they want the opposite. When given a choice between more righteous and less righteous candidates, they choose the least righteous.
In the last U.S. election, 25 million professing Christians who were registered to vote didn’t bother to vote. Assuming that they would have voted for the most righteous candidates had they voted, we can confidently declare that their non-votes were actually votes for the least righteous candidates. So they helped thwart the will of God who, as we have already shown from Scripture, would have preferred the most righteous candidates over the least righteous candidates.
Now I know that some readers will immediately object to what I’ve just written saying, “Paul wrote in Romans 13 that God establishes authorities! So whoever we get, that person is God’s choice!”
But let’s consider that objection. Is it possible that the authority God has established in democratic nations is primarily the authority of all the citizens who elect their representatives? Let’s face it, in democratic nations the electorate determines who is elected. So it is the voters who collectively and ultimately hold all the authority.
One of the interesting things about democracy is, because the electorate ultimately has the authority to select its leaders, God’s blessing or cursing is built right into the system. We automatically get what we deserve because we get who we elect. If we elect unrighteous leaders, we’ll get unrighteous governance with its consequent curses. If we elect righteous leaders, we’ll get righteous governance with its consequent blessings. So we should not say, “Whoever we get is God’s choice” but rather, “God has chosen to give us whomever we choose.”
I am of course aware that there is no such thing as a perfectly righteous candidate. But there are often candidates who are more and less righteous.
For example, consider the issue of abortion. Here in the U.S., we have candidates who are in favor and those who are opposed to the legalized murder of the unborn. Of course every true Christian knows that the dismemberment of a living human being is a barbaric moral evil in God’s eyes. Plenty of non-Christians also understand that abortion is morally wrong. In fact, every woman who has ever had an abortion, and every husband, boyfriend or relative who has ever encouraged a woman to have an abortion has known in their hearts that abortion is morally wrong. And that is why they had to “wrestle with the decision.” They wrestled with their God-given consciences.
Obviously, one who aborts her baby does not love her neighbor as herself (assuming that she doesn’t want to be ripped to shreds by a giant suction hose herself), which is as fundamental as morality can get. Honest and moral people see through the “pro-choice” label as just a euphemism for “pro-baby murder.”
For almost 200 years, abortion was illegal in the United States. Prior to 1973, abortion was prohibited entirely in 30 states and legal only in limited circumstances (such as pregnancies resulting from rape or incest) in 20 other states. Abortion could be made illegal again in all 50 states if the voters willed it, just as fetal homicide and partial-birth abortion are now criminal acts in all 50 states. But pro-life Christians who don’t vote in elections in which there are pro-abortion and pro-life candidates unwittingly vote for the murder of babies.
Perhaps even more puzzling than non-voting professing Christians are professing Christians who actually vote for pro-abortion candidates. They justify their infanticidal votes with the claim that “there are other issues besides abortion.”
Indeed, there are other issues, but I’ve noticed the other issues that they list often aren’t moral issues, but issues that affect their pocketbooks. So they sell out, effectively revealing that for a few dollars they can overlook the murder of babies. Here’s my question: How can people pray on Sunday that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and then on Tuesday vote for babies to be massacred?
If there are other moral issues to consider, what moral issue could possibly trump abortion? The dismemberment of a living human baby is beyond anything that ISIS barbarians have yet devised, and it happens more than one million times every year in the U.S. It is a holocaust in which 57 million babies have been murdered since 1973.
“But if abortion is criminalized, women will endanger their lives seeking unsafe ‘back-alley’ abortions.”
It seems odd to argue for the safety of mothers when they do something that is always deadly for their child. And there are other alternatives for unwanted pregnancies besides back-alley abortions, like giving one’s unwanted baby up for adoption. Between 1 and 2 million couples are waiting to adopt babies. Why do only 4% of women with unwanted pregnancies give their children up for adoption?
“Criminalizing abortion will not deter women from getting abortions.”
Really? Laws that are enforced do nothing to deter illegal acts? I wonder why I automatically take my foot off the gas pedal every time I see a police car along the highway, even when I’m certain that I’m under the speed limit.
Any candidates who are pro-abortion reveal that they have no moral compass that could possibly guide them in making any other correct moral decision. Would you vote for someone whom you knew was in favor of legalizing the poisoning of puppies or the dismemberment of kittens? Even if there were “other issues”?
What if you live in a nation where all candidates are pro-abortion? I would suggest examining candidates for other moral criteria and voting for the least worst ones. If you can find one who is a moral step above the others, I’d cast my vote for that person. I do not think that God will hold you accountable for voting for a pro-abortion candidate due to the fact that you have no other alternative. Remember, if you, as a righteous person, don’t vote, you effectively vote for a less-righteous candidate. Your vote, coupled with the votes of others like yourself, may be able to slow the moral demise of your nation a little bit.
And what if there are several pro-life candidates from which to choose?
I would again suggest considering other moral criteria such as honesty, purity, humility, compassion and justice, and I would look for a strong commitment to freedom of speech and religion. I would also suggest you follow the example of Jesus regarding whom He will select to hold positions of power when He rules the world. You can find some of the criteria He will use in Matt. 19:28; 25:21-23 and Luke 19:16-19; 22:29-30, which, in summary, are proven faithfulness and fruitfulness. Jesus is smart enough to know that you can predict someone’s future by looking at his or her past. Those who have been faithful in a little are most likely to be faithful with much. Talk is cheap! Actions speak!
Rule #1: Vote for someone.
Rule #2: Vote for someone with a moral compass and a proven record.