Emperor, King, Queen, President, Prime Minister--these are just a few of the many titles used by earthly authorities. No matter where people live, there is an earthly authority over their nation or tribe. Undeniably, not all leaders are equal in terms of influence, ability, intellect, or morality. Some seem only concerned about their own legacy and retention of their power. Others, even with their flaws, are more noble-minded and genuinely do their best to serve their constituents. Perhaps you are wondering: Why should followers of Jesus Christ spend time contemplating earthly authorities? Since we are to set our minds on things that are above (cf. Col. 3:2), of what concern to us are temporal, earthly leaders? The answer to these questions is simple: The Bible has something to say about how we treat the authorities over us. Christians are called to view the earthly powers that be in a specific way.
Although each person is under various civil authorities, the New Testament is clear that there is a spiritual authority that trumps all worldly authorities and His name is Jesus Christ. Jesus' authority is given to Him by God the Father (cf. John 17:2; Matt 28:18). Jesus, the supreme ruler, is greater than any authority here on Earth. Ephesians 1:21 speaks of Jesus as "far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come." Not only is Jesus above all earthly authorities, but these authorities are created by and for Jesus, and He sustains them all (cf. Col. 1:16,17). When Jesus stood before him silently, Pilate affirmed that he possessed the power to crucify and the power to release. Jesus replied to Pilate - "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11).
Jesus is above every emperor, king, queen, president, and prime minister. But what does that mean for us? Christians must submit to Christ ultimately, but in the present age we also find ourselves under the authority of worldly rulers. What should our attitude be toward these civil authorities? Paul has much to say about this matter in Romans 13:1-7:
"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain, for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor."
Since there is no authority except from God and the authorities that exist are appointed by Him, God must have a role in the establishment of every worldly power and its leadership. This is a significant point to ponder. Every nation will be used as an instrument of God to accomplish His will. This is true whether they are good or bad (though the good nations invariably last longer; cf. Prov. 14:34). Civil authorities are God's servants. We see this throughout the Old Testament as God used pagan nations to discipline the Israelites. Today, God calls each Christian to submit to whatever government he finds himself under. We are to obey civil authorities since to resist them ("God's ministers") is to resist God! Furthermore, Christians are to pay taxes and tolls as well as give honor and respect to those whom it is due. We owe these things to earthly authorities, even when our leaders are wicked and we would prefer to withhold both our money and respect.
We will continue this study in our next lesson.