Love, Our Primary Duty
Open Your Bible
Romans 13:1-14, John 13:34-35, Hebrews 13:15-17
The Bible is filled with the stories of people who have defied authority. Moses stood up to Pharaoh and then led the Israelites out of Egypt. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all refused to worship any other god but Yahweh—and were then thrown into the lions’ den and the fiery furnace, respectively.
Stephen defied the ruling Jewish council, preached the gospel of Jesus, and was stoned to death for it. Paul and other apostles were martyred by the Roman government during the persecution of Christians.
And yet this same Paul, who likely later died at the hands of his government, urges believers to honor and respect those in authority. Paul—who knew many examples throughout Jewish history of standing up to corrupt rulers—says to obey, seemingly without question (Romans 13:1–7). What are we to make of this?
Of course, it’s natural to wonder, “What if the government was urging murder, stealing, or some other form of not loving one’s neighbor? What if the ruling authorities were, as Nebuchadnezzar did, asking their people to bow down to another god? Or no god at all?”
Scripture has given us plenty of evidence that Christ is the ultimate authority in heaven and on earth. Paul isn’t contradicting that here. What he is doing in Romans 13 is laying down a foundation for Christian living—reminding us that our ultimate authority is Jesus Christ. Our first and truest loyalty is to Him.
This is a beautiful truth for us to cling to, especially in times of deep confusion, national partisanship, and turmoil within our own institutions.
Paul tells early Christians to honor their government, but they do so in the context of the whole story of Scripture (and his own writings) affirming that Jesus is Lord over all. Therefore, we obey the government when it doesn’t contradict God’s commands—and we do it joyfully as a way of honoring God.
Our every action should be motivated by our identity as followers of Christ and citizens of God’s kingdom:
The night is nearly over, and the day is near; so let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk with decency, as in the daytime: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no plans for the flesh to gratify its desires.
The Bible offers many examples of godly citizenship in an earthly kingdom. Let us pray continually that we will seek first God’s kingdom, listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we engage thoughtfully with our own earthly governments.