How can Christians follow Paul’s admonition in Romans 13:1 to “be in subjection to the governing authorities”? Jon Noyes explains how the context of the passage provides an answer: love.
Paul’s command in Romans 13 to “be in subjection to the governing authorities” is preceded by these words from Romans 12: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God. For it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Paul goes on: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” And, Paul says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Now that’s Romans 12:17–21. That’s right before our verse that says [to] submit to the government. Do you think it’s intentional that Paul did this? I do.
Notice, also, where Paul takes us after Romans 13:1. “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). He has us submit to the government, and then he reiterates Jesus’ command to love our neighbors. “Submitting to the government” is wedged between commands to love your enemy and love your neighbor. It’s like a love sandwich, here. This is not by accident.
There’s always been this tension between the Christian and his responsibility to the prevailing government. As Christians, we’re to be salt and light to a flavorless and dark world. Remember, the world is dark. The world is going to bump into things because it can’t see. So, how we react and interact with the political culture around us matters.
So, why do we submit to broken and often corrupt governments? Well, we submit to smash them with love in the hopes of their coming to Christ, and it works. If we follow God’s principles, we use oppression as opportunity to help our oppressors see Christ—not rebel and riot. That’s what the culture of confusion does.
Jesus modeled this. This is WWJD, right? Jesus is hanging on that tree, and he’s looking at the very people who put him up there, and what did he do? He pleaded with the Father for their forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In Matthew’s account, Matthew says that the centurion and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the things that were happening, they said, “Truly, this was the son of God.” There’s a submission to subvert. They see this radical love pouring out from Jesus on the cross, and they’re converted.
Paul says, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer. Bless those who persecute you. Bless, and do not curse.” 1 Peter 2:21–23: “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth, and while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously.”