Romans 13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
There are some very difficult scriptures in the Bible – passages that seem so contrary to human logic that they seem to wage a war deep in our stomach. Romans 13 is one such passage for me.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. (Romans 13:1-3)
If you spend some time researching this passage, you will realize that Paul wrote it in one of the darkest periods in Rome’s history. Following is just a selection of what was going on.
The ruler Claudius was married to Messalina who frequently had people murdered if she didn’t like them. When Claudius went on a trip, she married another man. Upon his return he had Messalina, and her new illegitimate husband, executed. Claudius was without a wife so married his niece Agrippina, who like her predecessor had people eliminated if she did not like them. During this time Claudius had many Jewish Christians expelled because they were followers of “Christus” and he felt threatened. Claudius soon fell ill, and Agrippina had grown tired of him and wanted her son in power, so poisoned Claudius and he died. Her son Nero then took over. This led to one of the most brutal periods in the early Christian church in which Nero unfairly blamed the burning of Rome on Christians and had them brutally and publicly tortured and killed.
This was the context of Paul’s writings in today’s scripture passage. How does that make sense? How can we honor such dishonorable figures? God’s ways are not man’s ways. As you read the Bible you find the only exception to the rule is if you are being instructed to do something against God’s commands, such as with Peter and John (Acts 4: 19-20); the Egyptian Midwives refusing to kill Hebrew boys (Exodus 1:17); and Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego refusing to bow to the idol (Daniel 3: 16-18).
If you read Romans 13 and scriptures like 1 Timothy 2:1-2 with an open heart, you will see that we are called to honor and obey authority even if they are godless. There are no “if” statements. It does not say “be subject to the governing authorities IF they are godly”, or “IF they are just”. Our respect towards them is not something earned, it is found in the position they hold, because that is how God ordained it.
As an athlete, by definition, the sports you participate in require rules and require authorities in place to uphold those rules. Those authorities may be called referees, umpires, or officials, but they all have a similar function. There are poor officials, and there are even corrupt officials, yet as an athlete you are called to honour all of them. Dishonoring officials seems to have become a national pastime for spectators, competitors, and coaches, but it is a practise that displeases God because “the authorities that exist have been established by God”. If you want to truly be a light as you compete, be a competitor who honors those in authority, “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” (Romans 13:3a). In doing so you will “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16b)