For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
God Wants Me to Do What?
The word “submit” is not an easy word. To some, the word “submit” might even be considered insulting. “Submit” has a variety of meanings, from handing in an assignment or completing a form to surrendering to an enemy or giving in to an opponent. In some contexts, the word “submit” can make one think of giving in to an oppressor or surrendering to slavery.
Yet the apostle Paul calls us to “submit” to the governing authorities. Why? What does Paul mean here? Our responsibility to the government is to willingly admit that since God has established this authority over us, we will willingly obey that authority with honor and respect.
But that’s not so easy. Earthly government is far from perfect, made worse by the fact that it’s populated by sinners like us. Still, that doesn’t give us the right to say to God, “I refuse to show respect and honor for what you’ve put into place for my good!”
While we live under imperfect governing authorities, we look to Jesus, who perfectly lived as a citizen of church and state in our place. We look to Jesus, who faced injustice at the hands of the governing authorities he had established, even as he continued to respect and honor them. We look to Jesus, who faced God’s punishment for our sins, so God would declare us not guilty and set us free from submitting to sin’s slavery. With our eyes on Jesus, we can then respect and honor those whom God has placed in authority over us.
O Lord of nations, grant me wisdom, patience, and peace as I live out my life as your child in a sinful world. Move me to respect and honor those you have placed over me in authority. Enable our leaders to serve in a respectful and honorable way. Amen.