In this chapter Paul seems to be continuing his message to believers of their need to walk in love with believers and toward outsiders. Now he addresses the issue of government rulers and how believers are to relate to them for loves sake. Paul begins:
“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.”
Paul grounds the duty of believers specifically in how they relate to authorities on God’s existence and seemingly on His wise decree. The fact that any ruler exists is not a Darwinian phenomenon, but a reality grounded in the God who is there and who is not silent—the governing authorities being proof positive of that.
Since God exists, and all authority ultimately is grounded in Him, Paul seems to be saying that God gives authority to rule to whomever He wishes, according to the wise counsel of His will and according to His good pleasure which fuels all His deeds. One might rightly object “not all rulers are created equal or worthy to be morally followed”. The polytheistic Roman rulers were not particularly empathetic to believers, but often ruthlessly mistreated Christians for their faith. Paul knew this well when penning this letter and I can’t see him being any clearer. Let’s wind back the clock of history for a moment.
In redemptive history, we observe God implicitly or explicitly raising-up rulers and monarchs in order to accomplish His purposes. These purposes are often hidden to us until after the fact. Pharaoh, Saul, David, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Cesar, and more were never ultimate, God always was and is and ever will be (See The Book of Daniel). That is, in the hidden wisdom of God He exalts a ruler for a time and purpose known only to God, so that His over-arching redemptive plan for humanity and the entire created order may come to fruition.
In this mix are a whole lot of human tragedy, pain and suffering (i.e., Problem of Evil) which call into question both God’s existence, power, wisdom and goodness. And yet none of these realities mute God’s voice through Paul.
Since this letter is written to believers, I take “every person” to mean that specifically believers are to heed the command and because of God’s mercy and grace that has been poured out on them through Christ, this submission to authorities is a means to demonstrate the love previously mentioned. Moreover, it’s a way to placard that the Creator is alive and well in the affairs of men. Paul continues with:
“2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”
He understands very well that many rulers are evil and the inclination to revolt against them is real and understandable…if God did not exist and He was not ultimately in charge. But what is meant by “resist”? The word that follows it is probably a good definition of it: “opposed”. That is, to resist is to oppose, to be against the ruler and hate Gods ordinance.
Somehow Paul is saying that even if a ruler is evil, God is ultimate, not chance, luck, or human desire. And thus, instead of revolting or being against the ruler, the believer is to submit understanding that God is ultimately ruling through the ruler. Some may object, but this is what seems logical to me according to the text. The command given to “not resist” comes with a warning of God’s condemnation on the transgressor.
What is this condemnation? We already know that believers are no longer under God’s condemnation because they have been justified by faith once for all according to chapter 8. Could it be that those who resist are walking according to the flesh (for all sin is that) and not according to the Spirit? Perhaps, and if that’s the case does it show that the one in rebellion is actually not regenerate, maybe?
The core of what I see being taught is not to have unquestioned loyalty and submission to a monarch by a believer (the following verses seem to argue against such a view) rather we are to understand that all authority comes from God who will hold to account every ruler for their actions whether good or evil and knowing this is what stays the believer from revolt.