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Authority of the "higher powers"

Query for the Month

of May 2003

Next up-date: June 1st 2003 (God willing).

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Romans 13:1-2

  • 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. Whosoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

The questioner writes:

The way I read the verse it seems to mean there can be no authority established on earth without God ordaining it. Verse 2 says we must obey that authority. Is that really the meaning? I can't believe that.



Let’s look at the verse in context, for only in this way can we see what Romans 13:1 is about. The government of that time was Roman and Nero was the emperor. In verse 2 of that chapter Christians are commanded to obey the laws of the land and leave the government to God. So let’s read:

Romans 13:

1 Let every soul be subject to the higher powers [especially Christians because this letter is written to those who lived in Rome]. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained [chosen and authorised] of God.

2 Whoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance [choice] of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation [not for their resistance but because of their disobedience to God].

3 For rulers are not a terror to [those who do] good works, but to the evil [criminals]. Will you then not be afraid of the power? [Would you like to at peace with the authority?] Do that which is good [obey his laws], and you shall have praise of the same: 4 for he is the minister [agent] of God to you for good [he will protect you from other citizens]. But if you do that which is evil [criminal], be afraid; for he bears not the sword [the right of punishment] in vain: for he is the [earthly] minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil [and so keep the peace in the country].

5 Wherefore [for this reason] you must needs be subject, not only for wrath [because of the fear of punishment], but also for conscience sake [because God asks you to]. 6 For for this cause pay you tribute [taxes] also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear [respect] to whom fear [respect is due]; honour to whom honour. 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another [considers the other more important than himself] has fulfilled the law.

Of course, all this presupposes that the authority does not ask you to break God’s laws. Every earthly power has the God-given right to command you to obey them in the things of this world, to keep the speed regulations for instance, to obtain licenses for various activities etc., to wear soft shoes on the tennis court; but they do NOT have the right to tell you what to think in religion, or not to obey God’s laws. See Acts 5:29. That’s why religious laws by governments are so wrong.

But what do you do if the government or policeman is corrupt?

The Assyrian empire was the first of the great empires and it is still known throughout the world as one of the cruellest, although I believe Nero’s was neck and neck with it!  Below is one of the places where the Bible has something to say about that empire.

It also shows us HOW God sets up kings and governments and HOW He removes them. See Daniel 2:20-21.

Ezekiel 31:

1 And it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the third month [of the captivity], in the first day of the month [about 586BC I think], that the word of the LORD came to me [Ezekiel], saying,

2 "Son of man, speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt, and to his multitude; Whom are you like in your greatness? [Look to history and learn.]

3 "Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon [a poetic reference to being a good nation] with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud [he looked after other people], and of a high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs. 4 The waters [the Holy Spirit] made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about his plants, and sent out her little rivers to all the trees of the field. 5 Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long [he got a great empire] because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth.

[There is a principle that "righteousness exalts a nation." Proverbs 14:34. This means that any group which follows God’s ways of being good to others will come out on top in the world. It is a natural law. The same law applies to individuals]

6 "All the fowls of heaven [the little kingdoms] made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations. 7 Thus was he fair [good-looking] in his greatness, in the length of his branches: for his root was by great waters.

[This was because the nation looked after the people they conquered. God can’t stop people fighting because the devil urges them on - He just asks them to be fair in what they do.]

8 "The cedars in the garden of God [God’s chosen people] could not hide him:

[Righteousness is right-doing and the natural man sometimes is as good as, and even sometimes better than, the Christian. Consider Abraham and Pharaoh in the story of Sarah. Genesis 12:11-20. It was the Christian who told the lie and the natural man who was good-natured about it!]

The fir trees were not like his boughs, and the chestnut trees were not like his branches; nor any tree in the garden of God was like to him in his beauty. 9 I [God] have made him fair by the multitude of his branches: so that all the trees of Eden [the righteous people], that were in the garden of God [the church], envied him.

10 "Therefore thus says the LORD GOD; [However] because you have lifted up yourself in height [become proud and arrogant], and he [the king at the time] has shot up his top among the thick boughs, and his heart is lifted up in his height; 11 I have therefore delivered him into the hand of the [next] mighty one of the heathen [the Babylonians]; he shall surely deal with him: I have driven him out for his wickedness.

[God did not do this deliberately, effect follows cause, Proverbs 26:2. As they ceased to be good so the support of the nations was removed and the next greatest became the greatest].

12 "And strangers, the terrible of the nations, have cut him off, and have left him: upon the mountains and in all the valleys his branches are fallen, and his boughs are broken by all the rivers of the land; and all the people of the earth are gone down from his shadow, and have left him. 13 Upon his ruin shall all the fowls of the heaven remain, and all the beasts of the field shall be upon his branches: . . ."

Thus God says, "Obey the government you live under and leave it to Him to deal with its problems. (You can always leave and go to another country if you don’t agree with it – assuming God tells you to.) But if you keep the earthly laws you should have no problems with authority. If you clash with them over religious laws then God is duty bound to protect you. However, if you are a thief or a murderer He leaves you to them. See 1 Kings 2:28-34 for an example.


Daniel 2:

20 Daniel answered and said, “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are His: 21 and He changes the times and the seasons: He removes kings, and sets up kings: He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: 22 He reveals the deep and secret things: He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.

23 “I thank You, and praise You, O You God of my fathers, who have given me wisdom and might, and have made known to me now what we desired of You: for You have now made known to us the king's matter.”

God does have control over all the "higher powers", but He works through natural laws to direct them.  He set up king Saul and promised that if he obeyed Him then his rule would be great.  When he disobeyed God chose David in  his place.  But He did not depose Saul.  Saul committed suicide ten years later and then it was that David took over.  David had opportunities to kill Saul but refused on the ground that God would do it in  His own good time.   See 1 Samuel 24:4-7 for an example.

It is in this way that we should see God as the "setter up" and "remover" of authorities.  Because of this we should always obey them in civil matters.  Religious affairs belong only to God.

Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated, but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.
Next query. To be discussed from June 1st 2003.
  • Philippians 2:

    5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled [submitted] Himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. 

    9 Wherefore [for this reason] God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.


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