“The Powers That Be Are Ordained of God”
By Kola S. Ajibola
Introduction: Just like many other subjects pertaining to religion, many people have confusion and perverted thought about civil government/authority/power. Some believe that to submit to civil government is tantamount to disobeying God and that it is sinful. While some feel that God would have us to obey everything demanded by civil authority and even to consider their will as that of God which must be obeyed at all cost. It is in some people’s mind that civil government are evil and they are from Devil and they are being ruled by Satan and as such not ordained by God.
During Jesus Christ’s day, this was one of the problems Jesus Christ addressed and solved permanently. His enemies came to Him, pretending they were sincere but were only out to trap Him and got Him arrested at the spot (Luke 20:19-20), asked Him, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:22, NKJV). In response, He held up a coin and asked, “Whose image and inscription does it have?” They answered, “Caesar’s,” (Luke 20:24). Then He said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25, KJV).
Just like the Jews, they did not want to “render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s,” Today, many are of the opinion that civil government did not merit what they are demanding, they being evil and corrupt. In the view of this, we are set to examine this subject in the light of the Scriptures. What is the stand of the Bible? Where and who originated the civil government? Is it God or man? Did God have control over the nations or has He surrendered it to the control of devil or man? Is there any God’s given functions and responsibility of the civil government and Christians respectively? These and many others shall form the major burden of this article.
- WHERE AND WHO ORIGINATED THE CIVIL GOVERNMENT?
By civil government, we have in mind, “that authoritative direction and restraint exercised over the actions of men in communities, societies and states.” In the Bible, civil government is referred to under such phrases like: Caesar (Matthew 22:21); Kings of the earth (Matthew 17:25); governors (I Peter 2:14); magistrates (Titus 3:1); higher powers, rulers (Romans 13:1, 3); ministers of God (Romans 13:4, 6).
Where and when the first non-family government begin was not known for certain. The first place to read of this was in the book of Genesis 10:8-10, “8 And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. 10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.” (emphasis, KSA). On this, Wayne Jackson based his conclusion on Adam Clarke’s commentary on Genesis 10:9-10 who wrote that: “The word tsayid, which we render hunter, signifies prey; is applied in the Scriptures to the hunting of men by persecution, oppression, and tyranny. Hence, it is likely that Nimrod, having acquired power, used it in tyranny and oppression; …”
Jackson now wrote that “Human civil government was thus founded in rebellion to God.” This conclusion seems unwarranted and lack scriptural backing as we turn our attention to passages like Romans 13:1-2, “Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment.”(Romans 13:1-2, ASV, emphasis, KSA). New Living Translation paraphrased Romans 13:1-2 this way, “Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there.” New American Standard Version says, “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.”(emphasis, KSA). The civil state is ordained of God. Whether Nimrod’s kingdom was set up in response to a divine order or on his own initiative is also unknown. All what we can say boldly is that the principle of human government is appointed and ordained by God (Romans 13:2).
Paul was not the first Biblical writer or speaker to declare that earthly rulers are subject to God’s universal sovereignty. “15 By me kings reign, And princes decree justice. 16 By me princes rule, And nobles, even all the judges of the earth.” (Proverbs 8:15-16). Cyprus, a Persian ruler was God’s instrument and was referred to a “shepherd”, God’s “anointed” (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). Daniel also wrote in 2:21 and 4:17 that God “removes kings and establishes kings” that “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind.” During His trial before Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor, Jesus Christ declared unto him that “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above :” (John 19:11a). Reading through Romans 13:4-6, you might be dazzled, if this is the first time of studying the book or Romans 13; when you read that civil government are “minister of God.” From the foregoing, does this fact mean that God approves of every government? I want to say NO! Because, by way of analogy, God has also approved of and ordained the principle of monogamous marriage. He instituted the church (Acts 2). Despite this fact, God had not approved every congregation (see Revelation 2:4, 14, 20). So also, God’s stamp of approval is not on every government. Note that God is not the author or defender of injustice, cruelty, oppression, corruption, vice and other abuses of power in government, marriage or church (I Corinthians 14:33).
Daniel 2:21 was too clear to show that it is God who “raises up kings” and at the same time, He is the one that “removes kings.” This should be a sobering thought for any ruler or any in position of authority. God who raises you up has the power to remove you; after all, He was the one that removed the person in that position before you.
Robert L. Whiteside wrote in his commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Saints at Rome: “He who denies this fact denies the voice of inspiration. The fact that governments sometimes turn out bad, and do unjust things, does not prove Paul’s statement to be untrue. The devil sometimes gets into churches and causes them to do evil and unjust things, but that does not prove that the devil owns and controls all churches” (pg. 258).
- WHO RULES THE CIVIL GOVERNMENT?
“…till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.” (Daniel 5:21-22, emphasis, KSA).
- For the kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations. (Psalm 22:28): The Holy Bible is very clear on this by letting us know convincingly that God exercises providential control over the nations of the world. As noted above, Daniel in offering praises to God of heaven for revealing to him the secret of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams which neither of the wise men of Babylon could make known nor interpret; Daniel said; “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings;” (Daniel 2:20-21). Nebuchadnezzar, in his dreams heard the voice of a watcher, a holy one, who came from heaven (Daniel 4:13) who said; “that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men.” (Daniel 4:17). God is the ruler of all nations (Psalm 22:28). At Athens, Paul declared when preaching to the Athenians on the nature and person of God; he said; “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;” (Acts 17:24-26). God is the ruler, the giver and the taker of civil government!
- God can even use evil governments to accomplish His purposes: We have got to recognise this great Bible principle that God can make use of wicked people/government who are in rebellion to Him as an instruments/tools of His vengeance to punish other evil men, or to maintain law and order in the society. For instance; Assyria was the rod of God’s anger to punish Israel (Isaiah 10:5, 6-12). The Lord used Babylon to punish Judah for its wickedness (Jeremiah 25:9-11). When Assyrian needed to be chastised (Isaiah 10:12, 24, 25), God raised the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to overthrow them, and to subdue the kingdom of Judah (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Other examples that abound on this are: God used Cyprus, the Persian King, a pagan to release Judah from captivity (Isaiah 44:28-45:7; Ezra 1:1-4). He was even referred to as God’s shepherd and anointed as noted earlier (Isaiah 44:28; 25:1). Greeks subdued Medo-Persian kingdom under God’s direction (Daniel 8:5, 21; cf. 2:39). But the Greeks were eventually removed by the Roman armies (Daniel 2:40-ff) and in the first century, God used Roman armies to punish Jerusalem and the Jews (Matthew 22:7). At this point, it is needful to say that, “in some way, God remains in control of governments of the world. In the end, His purposes will be fulfilled.” (David Roper, Romans, 9, Truth for Today Magazine, pg. 5).
III. WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CIVIL GOVERNMENT?
As noted in the book of Romans, chapter 13 verses 1 to 7, the civil government have some responsibilities to do.
- Terror to evil workers (Romans 13:3-4): Civil governmentwere meant to be ministers of God for the good people. They are expected of God to protect law abiding citizens and punish those who are evil. J. B. Phillips renders verse 4 this way: “The officer is God’s servant to your protection.” David Roper noted that “In addition to protection, our city, state, and national governments provide for our welfare with services that would be difficult or impossible to obtain on our own.” Robert L. Whiteside was very correct with his observation when he noted that “The design of civil government is to promote the security and the well-being of its citizens; and there would be no security of life and property, if there were no human governments.”
Of course, the civil government exists to promote the good and suppress the evil (I Timothy 2:1-2; I Peter 2:13-17). From history, we cannot but note that some civil governments have stepped outside their God given functions and have done otherwise. Nero punished Paul and other Christians as evil-doers (2 Timothy 2:9). Paul was wrongfully imprisoned and beaten by Romans authorities (Acts 16:22-24; 2 Corinthians 11:25). Paul himself had been party to such an error before when he was part of Jewish government’s executive, when he wrongfully dished out various punishment unto Christians, those found on the way – the church (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:13).
Despite all these, it is worthy of note that no civil government has ever set itself to put down righteousness and exalt evil as righteous. J. W. McGarvey et all noted that “though there are myriads of cases where human ignorance, prejudice and bigotry mistook the wrong for the right, and made havoc of the good, supposing it to be evil … intentional punishment of the good and countenancing of the evil would be governmental insanity and suicide” (pg. 509).
Considering the civil government of the day, on how they punished good for evil, Burkitt sagely remarks, the civil government “was not ordained for that end.” The civil government was put in place by God to punish evil doers and protect law-abiding citizens.
- Does not bear the sword in vain (Romans 13:4b): Romans 12:19 had emphasized that vengeance belong to God. Men have no scriptural right to revenge. God had also put the punishment of evil in this life into the purview of the civil government. It is within the power of civil government as given by God to institute capital punishment. Long ago, before the enactment of the Law of Moses, God gave this universal directive to Noah after the deluge: “whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6).
- Later, this principle form part of the Law of Moses (Exodus 21:12) and now Romans 13 is pointing it out that it is compatible with the New Testament. This will of God has always been obeyed by men who feared the LORD in a legal way. Anyone who does otherwise will be liable of sin of murder. No man has the right to take vengeance with his own hands. Only the civil government has God given the responsibility to take another man’s life having found him guilty of the crime levelled against him (Luke 18:1-8).
- WHAT ARE THE OBLIGATIONS OF CHRISTIANS TO CIVIL GOVERNMENT?
As far as Christians are concerned, our duty to civil government may be considered under a four-fold concept: remember, recognize, relate and respect.
- a. Remember those in power : “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
We are to pray for those in authority. Please, note that this is to the benefit of Christians, because, it reads further “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” KJV says “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
- Recognize the civil authority: Romans 13:1-2, 4, 6; Titus 3:1 teaches that “every person” (Christians inclusive) must “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14). We have to recognize them as being sent by God to punish the evil doers and praise those who do right. We are to recognize them as “God’s minister” (Romans 13:4-6). If any should resist them, him will receive the judgment of God, and if any dear submit to them, he had done so to God’s wisdom (1 Peter 2:15).
Christians are to note that God had put within the authority of civil government to protect their citizen, hence, we are to recognize them by looking unto them for protection and fairness in keeping with the rights of citizenship. In Acts 16:35-39, Paul taught us by example that one can seek government protection when he did against the ploy to take his life prematurely and appealed to Caesar (Acts 22:25-29; 25:11-12, 25).
- Relate to the authority: “Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honour” (Romans 13:7). Paying your taxes does not amount to your involvement in all the ungodly acts of those in government. Remember, remember from where we started, Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s” (Luke 20:25, KJV). It is our responsibility to pay our taxes and it is the responsibility of those in government to use it judiciously. Their failure does not excuse us from our obligation to the civil government. Jesus taught people to pay taxes (Matthew 22:15-22) and even paid along with his disciple. It is sinful not to pay all your taxes. Christians, pay your taxes and dues, do not be a tax evader!
- Relate to the authority “You must not speak evil of a ruler of your people.” (Acts 23:5 cf. Exodus 22:28). We must be respectful and obedient to the rulers under which we live because the word of God says “be in subjection to the higher powers” (Romans 13:1, 5; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
To this, there is an exception which we will discuss now.
- WHAT IS THE LIMITATION OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT?
Right from the first century, civil governments have been putting in place policies that conflict with Christian’s principles and ethics. We are set to discuss just one limitation of civil government or in order word an exception to the rule of Christian’s obedience to the law of the land.
When the law of the land demand Christian to do something in disobedience to the Law of God, the Christian must obey God rather than men. Peter and John had been ordered not to teach or preach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18), a command that was at conflict to that of Jesus which says “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:15-16 cf. Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 4:2). Which of these must they obey? Which one must they ignored? Definitely, they cannot keep the two. The apostles disobeyed the law of the land and obeyed that of Christ not minding the consequences that those in authority may melt on them. When the civil authority apprehended them, they declared with a brave voice, loud and clear that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Some examples in the Bible are readily available. In the Old Testament, Shedrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the image set down by the king with a law of the land instructing all to bow down to this god of the king (Daniel 3). When caught disobeying the law of the king, they brought them to the king who questioned them why they have chosen to defy his laws and commands and even threaten them with death sentence by fiery fire, they stood upright, with their heads held high-up and they declared to the king of Babylon, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18). They refused kings order to worship idols and obey God (Exodus 20:3-6; Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6).
Another example is that of Daniel who disobeyed the edict of the king to pray to none except him (Daniel 6). He was thrown to the den of lions as a result of his disobedience to the law of the land that demand disobedience to God’s law. God saved him. In the New Testament, Antipas was put to death because he did not deny faith (Revelation 2:13). How can we reconcile this? The first thing we must put in our minds is that “we must obey God rather than men,” and must be prepared to face the consequences just as other men of God have done in the past. Remember, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim 3:12). So, this is the rule, as long as a local, state, or federal (national) law does not violate one of God’s law, obey it. Do not ask whether it is logical, or consistent, or reasonable or otherwise. Just obey. If otherwise, that is if contradict any of God’s law, disobey it and obey the law of God.
One more thing before we round up, for the fact that civil government give approval for a thing does not obligate Christians to participate in such if it is not in the will of God. For example, in 1973, an American Supreme court legalised abortion upon demand. Even though, this act of murder had been legalised in that country, it does not mean that any Christian in that country that have hand in such should not expect the fiery judgment of God. Likewise gambling, homosexuality, drunkenness and all other immorality that civil government have legalised in one country or the other are scripturally wrong. Hence, Christian should not participate in them for they have been marked “beware.”
Conclusion The powers that be are ordained of God. God had not abandoned civil government to the hand of wicked men of the world and Him sitting in one corner of the world watching as a spectator on what become of His creation. He had given functions and responsibilities to both in power and the subjects respectively.
Let us agree with the submission of Williams Barclay on Romans 13:1-7 who wrote: “Paul saw in the state an instrument in the hand of God, preserving the world from chaos. Those who administered the state were playing their part in that great task. Whether they knew it or not they were doing God’s work, and it was the Christian duty to help and not to hinder.” (Romans, Pg. 174).
You may wish to become a child of God today by putting on Christ in baptism. This is possible and attainable; if you can just believe the gospel of Christ about His death, burial and resurrection on the third according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4); and repent of your sinful ways (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 17:30-31); and confess your faith in Christ (Romans 10:8-10; Acts 8:34); and be baptised in water for the remission of your sins (Acts 2:36-38; 1 Pet 3:21; Romans 6:1-6). This will place you in the kingdom of God which is the body of Christ and the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4-6; Colossians 1:18, 24, Romans 16:16). If you can just obey God this way, it will become pretty easier for you to obey those in authority!
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