Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves … therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
… the authorities are God’s servants … (verses 1-2, 5-6)
As I sit writing this morning, Canada is in the midst of a prolonged crisis with a convoy of truckers laying siege to the nation’s capital. Meanwhile, others have blocked international border crossings. What started as a protest against COVID-vaccination requirements for cross-border truckers has morphed into a general protest against all COVID-mandates, whether coming from the federal government or its provincial counterparts. To make their point, protesters have blocked roadways, camped out on public property, blared horns at all hours, and defied the directives of police and government leaders.
The issues are too huge to debate in this small space, but on whichever side we land, followers of Jesus need to take seriously Paul’s instruction in these verses.
“Submit” is not a word that that warms our collective heart. Indeed, it pushes our buttons. But it’s the very word Paul uses to lay out what our default setting should be regarding governing authorities. “Submit.” That being the case, before we jump on any “freedom” bandwagon we need to consider our basic issue. Are we simply balking at this scriptural mandate? Which perspective do we most readily embrace: “Submit,” or “No one’s going to tell me what to do!”?
Paul, of course, lived in a different world. Roman emperors could be fairly heavy-handed. For those of us living in free democracies today, we have rights of free speech and expression, together with voting, that allow us to protest government mandates. We are called to use those rights wisely and faithfully. Further, the scripture itself describes circumstances when opposition (indeed disobedience) to ruling authorities is the right thing to do. One need only think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego confronting Nebuchadnezzar, or the Apostles confronting the Sanhedrin, to realize there are occasions when it is necessary to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
But all the while, we need to weigh that word, “submit.” Are we willing to embrace it? Further, do we actually take the scriptures seriously? Will our actions and attitudes bear witness to the fact that we truly believe “there is no authority except that which God has established” (verse 1)? Along with any necessary protest, will we continue to actively engage in “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving … for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
The scripture raises weighty questions. It continues to be entirely relevant, speaking right into this moment. Will we listen to its voice? Will we allow it to shape our perspectives and behaviour? Will we focus eyes on Jesus, our Lord, taking up his cross before ever taking up any anti-government placard? And if protest or defiance become necessary, will we do it like Jesus himself, humbly submitting to the Father? Can we put aside a grasp for power and entrust ourselves to him?
Father, in the midst of great turmoil, I pray again, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Use me as a minister of your grace and peace in a troubled word. For Jesus’ glory. Amen.
Reflect: What feelings does the word “submit” evoke in you? Do you submit to the word, or push away? What will it mean for you to embrace this command today?