Respect for Authority
Romans 13:1–10 (ESV) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Matt 28:18). But our Lord does not always exercise this authority directly. He delegates His authority to parents in the home, pastors in the Church, managers in the workplace, and rulers in the government. The last one tends to rankle us most, especially in a political system that holds democratic elections, which suggests that the demos (people) hold kratia (power) over those elected.
This is a devotion, not an analysis of political theory, so the only safe conclusion to reach is that no matter how the authorities are installed in office, Christians have to respect their authority. This gets messy in practice, when rulers abuse their authority and when citizens rebel against legitimate authority. This leads to many difficult practical questions, but as the saying goes, hard cases make for bad laws.
God's Law is very simple: "Obey authority." Our response is: "Yes, Lord." To the extent that we do not obey this Law, we incur God's judgment, here through temporal authorities and in hell if we refuse to repent. Lord, have mercy!
Even more difficult to fulfill is God's Law of love: "Love does no wrong to a neighbor." St. Paul chose to put it in negative terms, but Jesus makes it even harder: "Love your neighbor as yourself." How many times have we done wrong to our family and friends (sins of commission)? How many times have we failed to show them love (sins of omission)?
If we took God's Law of love seriously, we would have zero time to grumble about secular authorities.
Jesus fulfilled God's Law of love perfectly and laid down His life for the sins of us sinful sheep, only to take up His life again on Easter morn. Baptized into Him, we are set free from sin and death that we might live by faith in Him and in love toward the neighbor. And the promises we have in Christ liberate us from the need to get overly upset about the foibles and failures of secular authorities: "Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:20–21).
Prayer: Eternal Lord, ruler of all, graciously regard those who have been set in positions of authority among us that, guided by Your Spirit, they may be high in purpose, wise in counsel, firm in good resolution, and unwavering in duty, that under them we may be governed quietly and peaceably; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.