God, the Christian, and Government

MEMORY VERSE: “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.” —Romans 13:1

ROMANS 13:1-7

WHEN, as in our memory verse, Paul asserts that “the powers that be are ordained of God,” he is writing to the Christian brethren in Rome, and the “power” he refers to is the power of the Roman Empire and its tributaries. The power of the Roman Empire was, in a special sense, authorized by God, as the Old Testament record reveals.

This record goes back to the time of the Babylonian Empire, when Nebuchadnezzar was king over that vast domain. The pertinent facts of the case are related in Daniel 2:28-45. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which Daniel recalled and interpreted for him. In that dream he saw a humanlike image with head of gold, breast and arms of silver, thighs of brass, and legs of iron. Daniel said to the king, “Thou O king art a king of kings; for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.”

Thus we see that the head of gold on the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represented the fact that the God of heaven had given him world dominion. Daniel further explained that the silver, brass, and iron of the image represented the fact that there would be a succession of rulership; and history shows that the authority of Babylon was taken up, first by Medo Persia, then Greece, and finally Rome; and this was the God-given authority originally given to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

Thus we see how true it was, as stated by Paul, that the power of Rome had been ordained by God. This does not mean that God sanctioned and blessed everything which the Roman Empire did, but it was used by him to maintain a certain climate of peace and tranquility which was favorable for the Early Church in those first days of Christianity.—I Tim. 2:1,2

The Roman government was disposed to grant a great deal of religious liberty. It did not interfere with Jewish worship, and it was largely to keep the peace with these subjects that Pilate consented to the death of Jesus. Paul was imprisoned in Rome only because he appealed to the Roman government for a judgment of his controversy with the Jewish religious leaders.

Later, of course, Rome did become a persecutor of Christians until nominal Christianity became the official religion of the state. But even in Paul’s day no Christian could do more than render to Caesar the things which were Caesar’s. The things which belonged to God the Christian was in conscience obligated to render to God. And that has been true in every part of the age, and is true today.

Today there are but small fragments left of the old Roman Empire, and these are the fragments of a divided empire. However, in principle it is still true that Christians should abide by the rules of the civil authority under which they live, unless that authority demands from them that which is contrary to the law of God. The will of God must come first in every faithful Christian’s life.

JUDGES 9:8-15

The Parable of the Trees as related in this section of the lesson is most revealing. It emphasizes that those who have something really worthwhile to do in life, something by which they can contribute to the welfare of their fellows, are not concerned about becoming rulers. It is often those who are barren of good fruit, like the bramble of the parable, who are glad to seize an opportunity to become “king.”

And when kings like this are in authority the situation is usually very difficult for the truly unselfish and noble, particularly if they are dedicated Christians. The various dictators which have arisen within the century have illustrated this point. They have deprived the Lord’s people of their privileges of Christian worship and service, and in many instances have even prevented them from having Bibles in their homes.


In what sense was the power of Rome ordained by God?

Should a Christian violate his conscience to obey civil power?

Dawn Bible Students Association
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