Paul was clear that government with authority was not only necessary but God-given. That was why John Knox agonised over his relationship to Mary Queen of Scots and sought counsel from Calvin, aware no doubt that Revelation 13:1-10 gives a very different perspective. Revolt against authority often begins with high ideals, and when the new power takes hold, it turns out to be oppressive also.
When in doubt, it usually helps to visit the example of Jesus, taking a coin and showing that even when Caesar stamped his power on the coinage there were two sides. Jesus himself respected authority to the extent of allowing Israel and Rome to put him to death, but in so doing set up God’s authority in a new way which has overcome the oppression of empires, subverted Robespierre and Stalin, and given his followers hope in the most brutal of circumstances.
This passage does not solve every political dilemma, but it gives us a steer towards respect, towards patient working and waiting for change, towards prayer for our leaders in every realm of life. I often pray that God will encourage good leaders with wisdom and endurance, that God will change or remove bad leaders, that God will raise up better leaders for the future.
A prayer: We pray today for people living under oppressive authority, here and overseas. May they know how to survive each day, may they not lose hope. Guide them in their witness to what is true and right, and in your mercy rescue them. If they are believers may they prove faithful, if they are not yet believers, may they find faith even in the most dire circumstances.
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.