Why this is important: God does not intend for us to live in chaos. That is not the way of God at all. Jesus is very clear about being under authority. Jesus submitted himself to God, his Father. He only did what God wanted him to do. That is it. That is all there is to it.
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.
Romans 13:1 (NASB)
God’s goal: God’s goal for us is to submit ourselves to the governing authorities. God has established them for our benefit.
Good news: All authority has come from God. That is clear. It is also clear that God has place Jesus to rule over every current and future governing authority. There is no exception. The last words of Jesus before he ascended to sit at the right hand of God were “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” There are no exceptions. PERIOD!
This paragraph focuses on a single point: the need for Christians to “submit” themselves to governmental authorities. Paul issues this demand at the beginning of the paragraph. He gives two reasons why believers must do so:
- Because God has appointed the authorities.
- Because the authorities, with God’s blessing, will punish people who do not obey them.
Verse 5 summarizes: Paul repeats the demand to submit to authorities and then briefly mentions again the two reasons for submission (in reverse order). “Because of possible punishment” alludes to verses 3–4, while “because of conscience” sums up the argument. Paul concludes the paragraph on a practical note, urging the Roman Christians to continue to pay their taxes.
Paul’s sweeping and apparently unqualified demand that believers obey whatever governing authorities tell them to do has generated a lot of discussion and debate. One preliminary matter needs to be settled first: Why does Paul include this teaching at this point in his letter to the Romans? To some scholars, the paragraph seems to be a “strange body” in the midst of Romans 12–13, interrupting Paul’s discussion of Christian love (12:9–21 and 13:8–10). They therefore argue that this paragraph must have been written and inserted by someone else after Paul wrote the letter.
But we have no evidence that the letter of Romans was ever without this paragraph. In fact, it contributes to Paul’s delineation of the transformed living expected of believers in the new age of redemption in an important way. From the beginning of the church the radical demands of the gospel to avoid conformity to this world were taken too far by some overly enthusiastic believers. They thought that the coming of the new age meant that everything in the world was under judgment and to be avoided by truly “spiritual” Christians. They included in “the world” such institutions as marriage, sex, and the government.
The apostles had to combat this kind of extremism, pointing out that such activities were, in fact, appointed by God for the good of human beings. Disciples of Jesus should not think their faith requires them to consider these institutions as evil. This helps us understand why Paul felt it necessary to balance his demand that believers not “conform [to] this world” with a reminder that governmental authorities were not of the world in this sense, but were, in fact, servants of God, doing his will.
Paul urged believers not to take vengeance but to allow God to judge. One reason why we can do that is that God has ordained government as the institution to carry out his judgment in this world. Moreover, Paul may have been aware of affairs in Rome during this period that made an exhortation to obey the government especially apropos.
The basic point of the paragraph is summed up in its opening words: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” Two words in this command need special attention. First, “governing authorities,” as the translation suggests, refers to any person who represents the power of the state: from the local bureaucrat right up to the emperor, president, or prime minister. In the past, a few scholars argued that Paul intended the word “authorities” (Gk. exousiai) to refer both to human beings who exercised authority and to spiritual powers, who, according to ancient ideas, stood behind those human authorities. But this view is now rightly rejected.3
The second key word is “submit” (hypotasso). What is important to understand is that this word is broader in its scope than “obey.” It calls on believers to recognize that they “stand under” government in the scheme that God has instituted for ruling the world.
Let’s dig deeper here!
- Matthew 22:17–21 — 17 “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
- John 19:11 — 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”
- 1 Timothy 2:2–3 — 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
- 1 Peter 2:13 — 13 Submit yourselves for Yahweh’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
- Genesis 9:5–6 — 5 “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. 6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.
- Proverbs 8:15–16 — 15 “By me kings reign, And rulers decree justice. 16 “By me princes rule, and nobles, All who judge rightly.
- Daniel 2:37–38 — 37 “You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; 38 and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold.
- Daniel 4:17 — 17 “This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes And sets over it the lowliest of men.”
- Daniel 4:32 — 32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’
- Daniel 5:21 — 21 “He was also driven away from mankind, and his heart was made like that of beasts, and his dwelling place was with the wild donkeys. He was given grass to eat like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until he recognized that the Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind and that He sets over it whomever He wishes.
 Moo, D. J. (2000). Romans (pp. 420–422). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.