"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no
power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."
There are two Greek words that are
translated "power" in the New Testament. One is "dunamis" and it
means strength. The other is "exousia" and it means authority. In
this passage in the thirteenth chapter of Romans the Greek word is "exousia"
meaning authority. Thus, Rom. 13:1 could be rendered "Let every
soul be subject unto the higher authorities. For there is no
authority but of God: the authorities that be are ordained of God."
One of the lessons taught in verse 1
is that all authority comes from God. God is the creator of all
things. He created and made all things for his pleasure. Paul had
previously asked the question, "Shall the thing formed say to him
that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" Thus, as God is the
former of all things, we are subject to Him in all things. There is
no true authority outside of God and that which to gives. Any
so-called authority that did not derive from God is a false
The authority that I have as a
husband and a father derives from God. Likewise, the authority that
my wife has as a wife and a mother derives from God. The authority
that I have as a man derives from God.
There are many authorities that
derive from God. Societal authorities to govern societies derive
from God. The Church has authority to govern its members and its
functions according to that authority that God has given to her in
All authority that God has given to
others is limited. God sets the limitation on individual authority,
on societal governmental authority, on church authority, on parental
authority, on marital authority, on master/servant relationships.
We have no authority to go beyond the limits of the authority that
God has given to us. Any effort to go beyond the authority that God
has given is rebellion against God and his authority. God set the
limits on Adam's authority in the Garden of Eden. Of every tree of
the Garden Adam was free to eat, except of the tree of knowledge of
good and evil. Adam had no authority to eat of the tree of
knowledge of good and evil. When Adam ate of that tree he was in
direct rebellion against the authority of God.
Likewise, the authority of rulers to
govern a nation does not include the authority to order others to
commit murder, or to steal, or to bear false witness, etc.
Similarly, parents do not have the authority to command their
children to commit sins in the eyes of God.
God has appointed every authority
that is needful for the well-being of man. God is perfect and
complete in all that he does. There is no need for additional
authorities beyond what God has appointed.
Furthermore, societies may allow
some things to be done, yet that does not grant an individual the
authority to do it even if a society allows it. An example of this
is abortion. While a nation may allow for abortions of unborn
children, yet God has not given anyone the authority to murder
unborn children. Therefore, any mother who purposely causes an
abortion (other than when her own life is threatened by the unborn
baby) is guilty of rebellion against God and of murder. Likewise,
the person who performs the abortion is also guilty of assisting in
murder. (We are not talking about abortions that happen by nature
and not caused by the individual. This is not murder.)
"Let every soul be subject unto the
higher powers." Since God has appointed the true authorities that
are over us, we are to be subject to those authorities. Failure to
submit ourselves to those authorities is also rebellion against
God. If the authority of the nation, or state, or community says
that you are not to spit on a sidewalk and you spit on a sidewalk,
then you are guilty of breaking a lawful authority of God.
Likewise, if the speed limit is 60 mph and we go 70 mph then we are
violating the law and come under the penalty of the speed limit
law. We are to be subject to the laws of the nation, state, and
community in which we live so long as those laws do not violate the
laws of God.
An example of lawful resistance to a
unlawful governmental law is set forth for us in Acts 5:27-29: "And
when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and
the high priest asked them, Saying, Did not we straitly command you
that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled
Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood
upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We
ought to obey God rather than men." The high priest and the
Sanhedrin council had no authority to command the apostles not to
speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Thus, the apostles had every
right to resist the false authority of the Sanhedrin council.
"Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of
God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt
thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and
thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God
to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for
he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a
revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye
must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience
"Whosoever therefore resisteth the
power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall
receive to themselves damnation." The "power" is not identified for
us but is used in a generic way. The principle applies to all
lawful powers. If a child resists the authority of its parents, it
will receive condemnation for its actions of resistance. Punishment
will be meted out to the child. The worker at a factory who resists
the orders of his supervisor will receive reprimand from the
supervisor and if he continues to resist, then he may lose his job.
A person who violates a traffic law and is cited by a police officer
will have to pay the fine for his violation.
Likewise, a soldier who disobeys a
direct order will pay a heavy penalty for his disobedience. A
church member who is guilty of one of the six things listed in 1
Cor. chapter 5: "But now I have written unto you not to keep
company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or
covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an
extortioner; with such an one no not to eat" will find himself out
of fellowship with the church.
Moreover, when we resist the
teachings of God's word, we will receive chastisement from the
Lord. The scriptures plainly teach that whom the Lord loveth, he
are not a terror to good works, but to the evil." Those in authority are not a terror to
good works. A parent should not scold a child who does what he is
told to do. A police officer should not cite a person for obeying
the traffic laws. A supervisor should not warn an employee who is
doing his job correctly. The church will not withdraw fellowship
from a member who is living uprightly. Likewise, the Lord blesses
those who are living godly lives.
chastisement, punishment is applied to the purveyor of evil works
not to the doers of good.
"Wilt thou then not be afraid of the
power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the
same:" There is no reason for us to be afraid of a lawful authority
when we do good. The lawful authorities will praise us when we do
good. The Lord praises his children when they do good: Matt. 25:20
"And so he that had received five talents came and brought other
five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents:
behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21 His lord
said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast
been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many
things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."
Good parents praise their children
when they do good. Likewise, good supervisors praise their
employees when they do good.
"But if thou do that which is evil,
be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the
minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth
evil." This statement is true whether it be a child being punished
by its parents, a man being punished by the civil authorities, a
church member losing fellowship with the church, a child of God
being punished by the Lord. The authorities established by God do
not bear the sword in vain. They are ministers of God, revengers to
execute wrath upon them that do evil. We should fear the powers
that are ordained of God and do what is right and not evil.
"Wherefore ye must needs be subject,
not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." Our motivation
to do good should not just be fear of the wrath that will come upon
us if we do evil. We should also do good because our conscience
convicts us out of love to do good.