Romans 13:2—Rebellion will be judged.
From my previous message on verse 1 we can take away three summary assertions:
Human beings may think they invented government, but they are wrong. God did. All authority derives from him.
Christians must honor the institutions of government and submit to all secular rulers, even bad ones unless submission entails disobedience to God.
By implication, in a republic or democracy Christians should wisely participate in government to benefit society and to establish a peaceful environment for spread of the gospel.
Now we go to verse 2 where we can add one more assertion:
Christians who do not submit to secular rulers (again, unless submission requires disobedience to God) are guilty of rebellion, and they will be judged.
The Greek verb translated “resists” by the ESV literally means “to set one’s self in opposition.” The word conveys more than mild resistance or opposition. It is translated “rebels” by the NIV.
What rebellion is and is not
The resistance or rebellion Paul describes is a refusal to submit to the authority of government as an institution. The verb is present tense, conveying an ongoing or habitual opposition to secular rulers. Rebels will be judged. In keeping with the spirit of Paul’s command, we believers must be careful to guard our hearts and minds against hatred and bitterness toward leaders who occupy the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court, governorships, and other offices.
Paul does not mean we are to knuckle under if the government falsely accuses us or interferes with proclamation of the gospel. We are free to use all constitutional and legal protections to resist intrusion by the government into church affairs. Paul used his Roman citizenship to avoid a flogging (Acts 22:23-29), and he appealed to Caesar to avoid being murdered (Acts 25:11). If the government ceases to perform its God-ordained role of rewarding good and suppressing evil, we can promote legislation and take other lawful action for the good of society.
Who does the judging?
Paul does not specify where the judgment comes from. It might come from secular authorities who are able to put down the rebellion and punish the rebels (or fine someone who refuses to pay taxes, for example). Or Paul may be saying rebels will incur God’s judgment at the throne. Even if the judgment is inflicted by authorities in this age, we are to understand that God is the ultimate judge.
Peter: We must honor secular authorities
Peter wrote similarly about the attitude required of the Lord’s people:
We are to honor secular rulers with our actions and speech. Here are two words descriptive of attitudes we followers of Christ must avoid: Calumny (utterance of maliciously false statements; slander) and vilification (expression of injurious, malicious statements about someone).
We are certainly free to criticize decisions and actions of our leaders and to campaign during elections for the defeat of those we disagree with, but we must do so with an attitude of respect. We should speak what we know to be true rather than spread rumors. We should avoid anger and sarcasm, and we should not impute wrong motives to those with whom we disagree.
As we consider candidates for public office, one criterion might be how well those candidates exhibit the above qualities. If they purport to be Christians, do they speak and act with Christian charity toward their opponents? If they do not honor and submit to one another, they probably do not honor and submit to God.