We can think of several reasons Paul wanted to write about the Christian’s relationship to government. Believers in Rome and elsewhere at that time had reason to resent the heavy hand of secular rulers. Some Jewish zealots were actively resisting Roman rule, and Paul would not have wanted Jews who had become followers of Christ to join any kind of violent resistance. He has urged his readers to be at peace with everyone (12:18).
Most important, Paul’s top priority is the preaching of the gospel, and he wants a peaceful environment for freedom to evangelize. Because government is responsible to maintain that peace, it’s good to pray for secular rulers, he wrote elsewhere (2 Timothy 2:1-4).
These seven verses are Paul’s expansion on the teaching of Jesus: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). How much subjection are we to give to Caesar? You will note that Paul portrays the ruler in an ideal sense as a servant of God. What happens, then, when the ruler abandons his God-ordained ministry and turns his wrath from the wrongdoer to God’s people? That question, too, we will have to answer.
In comparison with Roman rule or the quality of civil governance (or lack of) at any other time in history and even the present, our United States system of government—of the people, by the people, for the people—is much more beneficial for believers and people in general. We the people, who in a fundamental sense are the government, have much to be thankful for. Nevertheless, even our elected officials increasingly pose problems for Christians. Because the last few years demonstrate how quickly government can become an adversary, these verses are a necessary guide for maintaining a godly relationship with civil authorities.