Governing authorities

Hello guys,
I’ve read something lately from Paul’s letters (romans 13) I’m sure many of you are familiar with this reference.
It actually shocked me and I can’t figure it out! I live in a country that is sadly embraced with corruption. We recently had a revolution here in which I participated with all my heart , because in my point of view, in that way I am defending the rights of poor people and working hard to build a better future making this place a better one just as Jesus asked me to do.
But in this letter Paul clearly says:“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established”.
So how could this wicked authority in my country be established by God?
and Paul continues :“whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted”
So did I rebel against God without knowing?
I did some research and all I found is that you should apply these instructions to your government as long as they don’t contradict the word of God.
But if that’s the case then why didn’t Paul mention this? Why is the message so generalized that seems to cover each authority in any country?


Hey Gabriel @Gabriel,

This is a tricky question. I will invite others to pitch in too, but let me give you my 2 cents :wink:. First of all, I commend you for your passion to stand up for the poor and your aim to do what Jesus commanded us to do.

Now standing for the truth is important but it is also very important how we do it. Remember in Jesus’s time, there were a group of Jews that wanted to use Jesus’s movement to help take over the Roman oppression. Jesus told them whoever lives by the sword dies by the sword. Unlike the Jews vision and expectation for the messiah (a military leader who will take over Rome), Jesus came to be a servant and to die for our sins. So always love comes first. God also works in mysterious ways, you see how he chose Paul who is a Jew but also a Roman citizen to reach the Roman leaders.

The bible also teaches us that God will turn everything evil to good for those that are called to his purpose. My approach to this is to really ask for guidance from God. Yes you have to be respectful and rightfully stand up for the truth and for the oppressed but you should not do it in a way that would opposes Jesus’s way. Our view of the situation and the world is very different from God’s view. His will will be done one way or another. What you think is bad or whatever is not solved in your time (not fast enough) has it’s own purpose. It is like a blessing in disguise. Look at Jacob’s story, his brothers sold him but God turned to good, to save their own lives. Lazarus’s death, it looked and felt soooo horrible for Mary but it glorified God as they saw him raise the dead.

Also if you truly look at it, humans, in general, if we had everything we wanted in this world, we would never ever need or want God at all. So not all suffering is bad. Your struggle to stand up for the oppressed is growing you. It is also showing you that you cant do it all by yourself. That you need God. That it is not your careful articulation and calculation that is needed. One section I remember is the story of Gideon in Judges in OT. God tells him to only take 300 soldiers to the war even when he had wayyyyy way more soldiers. And the enemy had way more too. But God told him, if I let you fight the war with the 10,000 of soldiers you have, you are going to think you, in your own strength, defeated the enemy. But if you go with the 300 against the 10,000 enemy and win, you are going to say “God you did it.”

God works in mysterious ways. I know it tough and you are doing your best and it seems like it is never going to change. But Trust in him. Get close to him. Do right by him. Be patient. Be respectful of the authorities no matter how wrong they are. All the evil that they are doing might even one day convict them and change their heart to repent. God is the judge at the end of the day. He told us also,

Roman 12:19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice in as much as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

I am a testimony to 1 Peter 4:13, God works in mysterious ways. Keep standing for the truth but keep him and his ways first always.

I hope this helps.
God Bless.


Well, I live in the USA, and I too have been shocked at corruption I’ve seen creeping through our country for decades. But regardless of who our President may be from one election to the next, I still pray for him and our other leaders as the Bible tells us to (I Timothy 2:1-4).

I do not know how leaders are chosen in your country. In our nation, we elect our own – and I’ve often said that people who elect their own leaders will always get exactly what they deserve.

But even in countries that change hands in more violent ways, the winners tend to be those with the greater following. Whether people vote with ballots or bullets, they will still get what they deserve.

I look at nations where the gospel has taken root, and they seem to enjoy greater freedoms, a higher standard of living, and more political stability. And the basic character of the people seems more compassionate, more friendly, more generous.

I look at nations where the gospel has been excluded, and they seem to be the very reverse.

So regardless of the political structure, there seems to be a correlation between the character of the people and the nature of their government. This makes me wonder whether, generally speaking, corrupt governments may be a judgment on corrupt people (Isaiah 3:4-5 and 8), and moral governments may be a blessing upon moral people (I Kings 10:9).

Of course, all people are flawed to some degree, and so all governments are flawed. But I believe the reason God tells us to submit is because all governments are better than none at all. Under total anarchy and chaos, no one is safe.

And so, God ordains civil government. In John 19:11, Jesus said to the very governor who would crucify Him, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.

As Paul writes these words to the Romans, the Caesar he tells them to be subject to is a madman named Nero – the one who will launch the first Roman persecution of the church – the one who will eventually behead Paul.

But now, I think I should provide a bit of balance here. It is true that God ordains civil government. But that was not the first sphere of authority that He ordained – nor the last.

God also ordained the home. In fact, the authority within the family was the very first institution that He ordained in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28 and 2:24).

And He ordained the ecclesiastical authority of the church. The same Bible that tells us to be subject to civil authorities also tells us to be subject to our spiritual authorities as well (Hebrews 13:7 and 17).

But now notice that God never ordains any one institution to have all authority over every aspect of life. Only God has all authority. The legitimate authority of all human governments are limited within their proper spheres.

So the civil government has no God-given authority to dictate to the church what it must teach, who it must hire, how it must worship – or whether it has the state’s permission to even exist.

The civil government has no God-given authority to tell parents whether they must homeschool, use public schools or private – or whether they can use reasonable corporal discipline – or limit how many children a family can have.

And a father has no divine authority to order his children to override the speed limit.

And the church cannot tell a father when his children must go to bed.

Now, can one of these three institutions gain enough power to trample over the authority of the others? Oh, yes – but then they are usurping authority that God never ordained to them. And for one institution to defend its God-given authority against encroachment by another is entirely legitimate.

I hope these thoughts will help you.


I think I know what you mean, but would point out that God created/appointed/ordained a number of “authorities” right from the beginning, and it was specifically with the purpose of bringing order over chaos.

John Walton, in his book “The lost world of Genesis 1” proposes a rather different interprestation of those first 7 “days” from what we normally hear. His propositions (that is his word) are that what is described are functions and “rules” (my words) for different “spheres” (your word).

For example we read
“And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.”

Science refers to the “laws of nature,” to phenomena like “the law of gravity” and to various natural “forces.”

When Eve and Adam ate “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” they disobeyed God, but God said (ch 3:22) “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil." This, I would propose, is the original of our “conscience,” the sense of justice or sense of fairness that all humans whatever race, ethnic group, culture or language, seem to be born with. Paul refers to conscience as being the law written in all men’s hearts (Rom 2:15). Although we are born spiritually dead, we remain morally responsible toward God and fellow creatures.

Interestingly, God did not, in those early days, give Adam and/or Eve the aurthority or right to rule other people. And even in the case of Cain, put a mark on him as a sign to others that they could not exercise any form of “justice” over him for the murder of his brother. It was later that Nimrod began to usurp God’s authority over mankind, and later at Babel, there was apparently a communal decision to actively “compete” with God, in building a tower to heaven in a show of power.

By the time Abraham arrived on the scene, and then 400 years later Moses led the chosen people out of slavery (an institution in this case specifically to serve the Egyption nation), there were many nations with varying forms. God designed Israel to be different - HE was to be their king, His laws were to be followed, based on the principles of Love the Lord thy God, and love your neighbour as yourself. He instituted a priestly service and established “judges” to interpret his laws for day to day community relationships.

The OT prophets time and again warned people - from kings to farmers - that there were “social laws” that underlay the Mosaic law, and if these were not followed there would be catastrophe for the nation. These were the laws regarding protecting the weak and disadvantaged, the rules of restoration of rights to property on a regular basis, and even laws regarding the use of land and treatment of animals. These social and environmental laws continue to be relevant, and history has repeatedly shown that if they are not followed there are inescapable consequences.

The civil authorities are supposed themselves to uphold and apply these - when they don’t, the laws of God (including the basic laws of social behaviour) are to be followed.

Although Paul reiterates the priniple that we are to follow the law of God as it superceds Ceasars, neither he nor Jesus, claimed immunity from the consequences imposed by the “Caesars” of their world. Jesus was crucified in spite of the illegal Jewish trial, and the edict of Pilate “I find nothing worthy of death in this man.” Paul, Peter, and so many others also were martyred because they followed Christ in Caesar’s world. We should not expect anythihg different. This seems totally consistent with the idea, that if we ignore, flout or “disobey” the laws of nature established by God from the beginning, we still are subject to the consequences.

We can however be very thankful if we live in a democracy with non-corrupt judicial systems! And wherever we are we are expected, as followers of Christ, to pray for those who have authority over us, whether or not we chose them. Where we have the right to speak, we should speak against corruption, abuse of power, but also abuse of God’s order of things - social, environmental, natural. Otherwise there will be a return to chaos of one or more forms. Inevitably.


Well, yes - as best I can tell, that sounds about right.

Somehow, the way your post began with the word “but” made me think you were going to disagree with something. But if you did, I’m afraid I missed it. Was there something specific that I misstated that you were trying to correct? If you can point it out, I will be glad to amend any error.


:grinning: :wink: The “But” that starts my post was actually your “but” - it is in the quote. :relaxed:

or are you referring to the “but” in the second clause of my reply? Perhaps. It was not so much meant as a correction, more a statement on your implication that the family was the first institution that God ordained, in the Garden of Eden. Perhaps my understanding of “institution” is broader than yours, I don’t know. I just wanted to note that order, amounting to “rules and basic principles” was introduced very early into the physical world, and at least in the KJV the word “govern” is used of the sun, moon and stars. I meant it more as an extension to the whole idea that God’s creation involved providing order, rather than chaos - in ALL spheres. There was also the stewardship of the garden (if not the earth) that God chose to award to mankind. Our sterwardship has been pretty abysmal, but it is still God-given.

We don’t seem to have a problem accepting the “laws of nature,” but we do seem as a species to have problems with the “laws of societal behaviour” as provided in the OT and extended in the NT. One aspect of this is the proper role and function of governance in society, and respect for/acknowledgement of that role, even when it is corrupted or abused. So no, I do not have significant disagreement with your post.


Ah - thank you for the clarification! And yes - the orderly principles certainly do predate the orderly institutions.


Perhaps we should distinguish between the institution(s) of governance, and the people that occupy the posts in those institutions. And then there is need to distinguish between the persons and their behaviour. God loves the sinner, but not the sinful behaviour.

Why does God allow evil/corrupt people to hold office in those institutions he has established?

Peter’s words may have a bearing on this.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Chronicles 33 gives us an interesting example in Manasseh King of Judah. We are told he became king at the age of 12! And that “he did evil in the sight of the Lord,” to the extent of desecrating the temple with idols. God sent messengers to him to desist in his evil ways, but he refused. So God arranged that the King of Assyria should take him prisoner and humiliate him.

“In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.”

“He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.”

Manasseh reigned for 55 years, most of the time doing evil. But God was patient with him, heard his cry of distress, saw genuine repentance, and restored him to his kingdom, after which he worked to undo the evil he had done.

Ezekiel sums up God’s hopes and intentions, as well as his patience in Ezekiel 33:11
“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked , but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’”

These texts give some clues, but don’t answer all the mysteries of God’s working. Why did God’s patience work with Manasseh and not with other wicked kings of Israel and Judah? Why did God wait 400 years to rescue his people from Egypt? and so on. Somewhere sometimes, we must just trust that “the judge of all the world” does right. And “in all circumstances give thanks” - as Paul said from his place of imprisonment.