…He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~ Philippians 2:6-11
I’d like to welcome you back to one of the most difficult series to ever appear on HOPE4Hipsters: HOPE4Politics. Today, we begin looking at Romans 13:1-7.
If this is your first encounter, we have been swimming in the sewers of the state and modern-day civics for the past few weeks. (see HOPE4Politics pt 1, pt 2, and pt 3) Some avoid religion, some avoid politics, and many avoid both, but in true hipster fashion, we defy the conventional and dive into the drama.
But we’re not here to just discuss political problems or to elevate ourselves onto some soapbox. The goal has always been to shed more light without turning up the heat.
We began with the vertical and from there proceeded to the horizontal. A life of prayer and piety with God should naturally extend to our fellow men and women, even those we don’t agree with regardless of position, power, past, or political affiliation.
And moving from prayer, we started last time investigating worldview — that place from which all assumptions and conclusions derive. The starting place through which we filter and the landing place from which we execute.
And as such, my approach here will be more topical rather than exegetical. There will be ideas and themes Paul shares that could shock us, so it will be helpful to see why and how Paul can write what he did as we develop a more fully-orbed foundation and approach to politics extracted from the Scriptures.
A friend recently reminded me of how inconsistent the Church can be with Romans 13:1-7. If we are presently pleased with politics, we champion this passage. If, however, we are distressed or disgusted with democracy, we oftentimes move on to more “meaningful” passages.
Integrity with the inspired word of God does not permit such negligence. Romans 13, with all that it suggests, is just as true today as it was during Obama’s administration or even Nero’s reign when these words were originally penned, back around 56-58 A.D.
To begin, the letter of Romans can be divided into four basic sections (excluding intro and outro): righteousness needed (1:18–3:20), righteousness provided (3:21–8:39), righteousness vindicated (9:1–11:36), and righteousness applied (12:1–15:13).
Notice where our text falls. Immediately we see that the way in which we engage politics should always stem from God’s righteousness manifesting in and through our lives. Whenever someone reads our social media posts or sees and/or hears of what political activities, groups, and movements we endorse, these should always be rooted in and aiming towards the righteousness of God.
And so with that background, here we go…
“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.” ~ Romans 13:1-2
Let’s begin by stating the obvious — Paul’s instruction for this righteousness realized is all-inclusive. Paul exhorts “every person” to, “be subject to the governing authorities.”
I don’t find it necessary to go searching for “hidden” gems in this cave; I am of the opinion that the plain meaning is typically the best option.
And so the first real “hurdle” presented to a 21st century, post-modern, relativistic culture is the idea of subjection or submission. This notion is repugnant to a people that creates virtues out of trouble-free autonomy and isolation, especially as it relates to the government!
It is important to note that our presuppositions on this topic will steer where we go from here. And since it is so prevalent in this passage, I will have to spend much of my time here and we will therefore divide this post into two parts.
The hierarchy of heaven reveals to Christians that although we belong to the Alpha and Omega, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we are in no way removed from our present, real-world context. Pecking orders permeate. (see Dan. 2:21b)
Don’t believe me? Try not paying your bills next cycle and see if your right standing before God frees you from your obligations.
But perhaps this is just a “one-off” sort of text. Paul was just writing these words to a particular audience at a particular time, right? Certainly his words really don’t have any real bearing on our advanced, evolved issues today.
Or do they?
The truth is that subjection and submission are all throughout the Bible. Denying them is an utter waste of time. In fact, this is one of the reasons why the Scriptures endure such harsh criticism. The verses about slaves and masters or husbands and wives alone will keep you busy for years.
See a similar exhortation to Titus, a very timely word for our day and time. (Tit. 3:1-11) This is truly a sobering filter for my political social rants. In fact, this passage alone often sweeps the rug out from under me whenever I feel the “need” to tell the world how a particular issue offends or concerns me.
But maybe it’s just Paul. He came from a very esteemed, Jewish background while also being a Roman citizen. (see Phil. 3:4-6; Acts 22:22-23:11) What about Jesus’ followers who never walked the ivory towers of society?
The apostle Peter, a lowly fisherman, encouraged a persecuted people to, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…for this is the will of God.” (see 1 Pet. 2:11-17) He considered this political posture to be evangelistic, for it was through such behavior that the world would, “see your good deeds and glorify God.” He concluded this instruction with an exhortation to honor everyone, even the emperor.
Wow. These three verses are intense! It would be so much easier if it was just Romans 13, but to be honest, we’re barely scraping the surface on submission and already I’m overwhelmed.
Let’s take a moment here and ask some sobering questions…
How do these verses make you feel?
Are they for today? If so, how is your present peripatology (fancy Greek word meaning “Christian walk”) personally incorporating and communally sharing these instructions?
How is your consistency in applying them?
How does your desire for comfort, or a pain-free existence, affect your application of these verses?
To what levels do you justify your own autonomy?
Honestly, I am utterly humbled by these ideas. They scare me and they fly in the face of my natural and cultural ideals.
I can occasionally stomach the idea of submission when it’s someone I trust and agree with! Otherwise, isn’t submission to someone who violates my conscience evil? It most certainly can be!
So, how does biblical submission provide room for “disobedience”? Subjecting myself to the governing authorities does not mean that I am required to do anything and everything they dictate, right?
I am happy to answer this, from the same word of God, with a resounding, “NO!”
There are places and times when the higher laws of heaven “trump” (get it?) the lower laws of our lands. For example, the Nazi regime, or anything similar, will never be sanctioned by Scripture. (see Exod. 1:15-22)
This is what I have found…
We must distinguish and discern between what is legal (current, evolving morals) and what is lawful (transcendent, unchanging ethics).
Basically, whenever the revealed word and will of God are contradicted and a “fork in the road” is presented, your resistance to tyranny (used broadly here) is obedience to God, as the British-defying American Founders put it.
This is why obedience to God, expressed no greater than in the spread of God’s rule and reign (the Great Commission), is the only ground one can stand upon when resisting civil authorities (see Josh. 2; 1 Sam. 14:45; Dan. 3 & 6; Acts 4:19-20; 5:29; Rev. 13:15).
For the sake of time, let’s analyze the verses from Acts since those are perhaps the most relatable context the Church faces today.
Notice the order: God’s people obey Him (i.e. by making disciples), an anti-Christ government takes notice and punishes these obedient followers, and in response these individuals humbly continue on God’s path, but they were willing to suffer the consequence for it.
Ask yourself, is this what we have observed in the Church’s present political struggle lately?
I observe a different order: a new president was elected and many Christians (some who are disciple-making, some who are not) were offended. The root for offense stems not from ministry constraint but personal preference, and so now they utilize every platform available to them to slander and commit libel against their authorities along with those who disagree with them.
Ironically, Christians who were not offended but were rather satisfied by November’s results currently exhibit very similar behavior.
See the difference? Many of us see ourselves as modern Peters and Johns, but our words and lives expose a much different reality.
The shocking news in all of this (more than Donald Trump becoming president) is that subjection and submission, unlike what our world would tell us, are not ugly, barbaric, out-dated ideas that need to be completely discarded.
If the verses quoted above won’t convince the Church, perhaps this will.
Much of the power, beauty, and irony we find in the gospel are painted by strokes of submission. (see Jn. 5:19; Mt. 26:39; 1 Cor. 15:27-28; Phil. 2:5-7; Heb. 5:7-8) If you are grateful at all for the cross of Calvary, you must accept with it the most brutal expression of submission known to man — the just dying for the unjust. (Rom. 5:1-11)
Just sit on that for a moment — the God who brought all of creation into existence has the wherewithal to look his executioner in the face, remind Pontius Pilate of his pawn-like purpose, and still carry on with receiving His unjust execution like a lamb to the slaughter. (Jn. 1:1-3; Isa. 53; Acts 8:32-33)
Jesus’s approach to Pilate illustrates the very discomforting reality of Romans 13:1-2. And the TKO is this: His subjection to the unmerited cruelty of the Jewish leaders and Roman army was His submission to the Father. (Isa. 53:10; Matt. 26:36-46; Jn. 19:28-30)
I realize that none of us are Jesus. Let’s be clear: He had the highest, most unique calling ever enfleshed. There are conditions and nuances very particular to the Passion narrative that must be considered.
Christians are, however, called to bear our own crosses daily as we follow His example. (Lk. 9:23) Church history illustrates that this commitment is even unto death, as Paul, Peter, and a laundry list of other Christ-followers indicate.
So are we to be on a death wish? Absolutely not. But are we to think that our citizenry benefits in this world should supersede our citizenry obligations to the next? (Phil. 3:20) Absolutely not.
John Piper penned, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
I’m not really interested in how folks voted last November. That detail is a moot point, especially now. I am much more curious in how satisfied my fellow brothers and sisters are in Christ. (Phil. 4:11-13)
At first glance, this may seem unrelated, however, our satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) in God will penetrate all areas of life. And this is not difficult to assess: our tones, words, attitudes, thoughts, and actions reveal quite vividly how we see God and ourselves in all of this world’s mess.
So I leave you for now with this: Do we see obstacles or opportunities? Can we see a good God behind a perverted politician?
Conditional circumstances fade as we focus upon the ceaseless Savior who, in the greatest irony ever, is Lord over all but for a time willingly subjected Himself to the harshest forms of cruelty.
More to come. Until then, keep the hope!