And how on earth am I meant to do what this verse commands and submit here on earth, for heaven’s sake?
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.
Referring here to ‘governing authorities’, the apostle uses a phrase that can be translated ‘the powers that be’ and he is not only talking about the highest of higher powers such as heads of state like the crown or Parliament. He includes about all levels of authority, right down to the local councils and police. He literally says they have been ordained.
He tells us that the way we must think about these governmental offices is that they are, in some way, brought into being by God himself, so that submitting to them is submitting to him because he is somehow still Sovereign over all of it, so much so that in the next verse we are warned that if we resist them, we are resisting him. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to come up against God!
Yet I have so many struggles in this area, not just with the current Conservative ruling party who seem to go from bad to worse and should consider a coalition with the Monster Raving Loonies, but then I cast around for an alternative and for me personally the ineffectiveness of the opposition party shows me they would be worse, and with media so fixated on the big stories I never hear anything about the other parties anyway, so what do we do?
People ask, how can we have the best form of government? If you’re a believer you’ll wonder which is the one God wants us to have?
Looking through scripture we see even at the very beginning God was working over and in and through the mess in his creation by his Spirit (Genesis 1:2), then the story unfolds history as a series of rulers and rebellions, times when ‘everyone did what they thought was right in their own eyes’ (Judges 21:25) that really ended terribly, then various kings whose reigns were categorised as good and bad, there were puppet kings and prophets, religious rulers and invaders, exiles and remnants, occupying forces ruled Israel again and again even as Jesus was born. And guess what, over it all, and through it all, somehow, God was working out his plans, ruling – above it all and through it all.
We’d love to think that democracy is the most God-ordained form of government. But I don’t think you can establish that from the Scriptures. The constitutional monarchy in the UK was once our patriotic pride and joy, so much that we wanted everyone to benefit by conquering them and extending it so everyone drove on the left and spoke the Queen’s/King’s English.
God can of course work through kings but he’s not limited by that. In the book of Daniel, he and his exiled friends served one of the most powerful monarchs in history – and would see others come and go after him. When the great Emperor had a bad dream foretelling the end of his own empire and many after that would crumble soon enough before the Lord established an everlasting kingdom Daniel made it clear to him that God changes times and seasons, ‘God removes kings, and sets them up’ (Daniel 2:21).
Reading through Daniel we see clearly again and again that God definitely has a hand in whatever is going on here on earth at any particular time. In Chapter 4 he tells Nebuchadnezzar he’s going to learn the hard way that ‘the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.’
Notice two words there. ALL and ANYONE.
That still applies here and now, and it should make the most powerful tremble as that most powerful ruler of the Babylonian Empire did when soon after he was humbled until he saw and said it’s really true that ‘the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.’ (Dan 4:17)
Sometimes we may be tempted to imagine God as far off and indifferent, turning off the heavenly TV off like I do when I am fed up with he news. Washing his hands of our political or even personal affairs, somewhere listening to that ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ playlist on repeat in heaven, instead of getting involved. I couldn’t blame him, it’s what I would do if I was God.
But ‘Our Father in heaven’ is not like me. The Romans knew of their pantheon of gods ‘up there’ on Mount Olympus but Paul had already written to remind them that he sees everything and knows everything (1:18-24), can be trusted to judge impartially (2:6-11) and has always intervened in a world where really there are no truly good leaders because there are no perfect people (3:10-18). He has always heard and answered prayer even when we don’t know how to pray (8:18-26). God cares so much he became flesh to live among us and die for us and he and sent his Spirit to remain with us (8:3-9, 32-39)
He is still intervening and involved in our lives and in the world; still deciding and deposing kings and queens, raising up rulers and changing the forms of government. That will remain the case and we with all creation will moan and groan and strain under its imperfection in this fallen world until and one day he will return (8:19-23) and the wicked, and the greedy and the power mad drunk enough to suppose they someone had the power from themselves so could use it only for themselves will cower in caves and the rocks of the mountains (Revelation 6:15) hoping to hide from him who sits on the throne before whom every crown will be laid down.
Until then, I’ve concluded that the Scriptures reflect various forms of government. So when you ask, ‘Which government is the best kind?’ A monarchy? An oligarchy? A democracy? A republic? The answer of Scripture is ‘not necessarily.’ Any of these may be judged as wrong or right(eous) – though tyranny is always condemned, and can all too quickly arise out of any of them, and yes one day it will be judged.
How do I pray for the Government?
So how we obey the command of 1 Timothy 2:2 to ‘pray for kings and all those in authority’, for government in such times as these? Again I admit confusion. It’s easier and much like my nature to vent my spleen on so called social media than pray when I don’t know what or how to pray for the best.
Until I ask Jesus.
Like the disciples did.
I don’t know what was going on but one day they just admitted it – they didn’t know how to pray. So he told them, when we pray, we ask that God’s kingdom will come. Intercede today and ask that his will be done, here on earth as it is in heaven.
Isn’t that great? So simple, so powerful, so perfect.
Because I see the headlines as we reel from one fiasco to another and honestly Lord what do I pray now?
Seek first the kingdom.
So I want to pause and pray into that now: maybe you won’t read the rest of my thoughts and you’ll pray instead and that’s great if you do, perhaps pray with me and come back later to finish off the rest of this because it gets even harder for me to think how to submit to these kind of supposed leaders than to pray for them, so here I go with the prayer for now,
‘Lord, with a new king on our throne, may your kingdom come.’
‘Lord, with a parliament in peril once again – may your will be done here on earth. May we have the leaders that you bring into being, the very best for this particular time and place in history.’
You change times and seasons, you removes queens, and he set up kings. You are Most High and sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and you gives them to anyone you wish. So I don’t just pray what I think or for what I want, because Lord you alone are wise enough.
You know what we need and what the answers are – I don’t even understand the problems! You know the people, you know the prevailing conditions and the future we must be prepared to face. We don’t pray enough for our leaders so forgive us and hear us now as we do not just ask for our ease and comfort but for your rule to be established, for what is good for the gospel and for the poor and hurting and lonely and fearful – because we know of the increase of your government and of peace there will be no end. Amen!
How do I submit to ‘the powers that be’?
What does that even mean?
Paul wrote to these Christians in the capital city just as Nero began his reign as the fifth emperor. The city had already passed through several forms of government – a monarchy, a republic, a principate, and it was now an empire. God wanted them and us to know that whoever and whatever form of government may rule, we must remember he is working, behind it.
Ministers resign, Monarchs die, governments come and go. God remains and while he ordains them he does not ordain any one form of government to be continued forever, except his own, the increase of which will never end (Isaiah 9:7).
Scripture and history demonstrate that ‘righteousness exalts a nation’ (Proverbs 14:34) but sin and rebellion against God and his laws brings his judgement and removes his blessings. That’s where we are right now in the UK and that’s why we have landed up this way. Don’t blame Boris and laugh (an easy target for me), look in the mirror and weep.
I have struggled at times, more than ever in my life in the past five years, to see how God could still possibly ask me to submit to the kind of leaders we have seen on the merry-go-round here in the UK. You don’t need me to describe them to you.
‘I don’t get it Lord’ I have said as I have wrestled with this, ‘How can you command me to submit to these earthly governors – how will that possibly help advance your kingdom?’
But as I pray and meditate on this statement he starts to show me, that while we must oppose tyranny and be willing to suffer when the choice to obey man means we disobey God and his word (Acts 5:29), it’s not the church’s job to point at any particular party or person but to pray and proclaim the truth of God’s word faithfully. Then yes to live obediently, quietly (1 Thess 4:11), to be a good citizen here (1 Peter 2:13-17) as a resident alien in every nation for now and an ambassador for Christ (Eph 6:20) whether in freedom or in chains for him, knowing my true citizenship is heaven (Phil 3:20) eagerly waiting for my Lord to come from my home nation and make this place fully his once more.
So for heaven’s sake, I live on earth submissively to whomever it is that seems to be wielding earthly dominion (Romans 13:7). That’s how I get true heavenly authority to do what Jesus says I can do (Matthew 8:9), because I am doing what Jesus did (Phil 2:5-11)
At his own trial the Lord told Pontius Pilate, who thought he held all the power, ‘You would have none, except that it was given to you from above.’ (John 19:11)
I have to remember how he suffered and submitted when when High Priests and procurators, Caesar and the Sanhedrin thought their will was being done. The cross only happened because the One who could have railed against the injustice of that phoney politician and the hypocrisy of those uptight upright right honourable dishonourables, who could have commanded ten thousand angels to blast them all in a moment – instead had already made a submission decision as he prayed to his Father, “Let your will be done.”
Christ submitted to the authorities that were instituted then, as he had done all his life, rendering to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and to God what belonged to God, so that God’s power would be released from heaven on the earth.
God’s will for his own Son, Hebrews tells us, was that he would learn obedience through suffering. His prayer with loud tears was not for comfort, wealth and everlasting ease in this life – the things I too often demand those in power give me or else I condemn them. Jesus prayed for the strength and humility to serve and turn the other cheek and go the extra mile and keep his hand steady for the nail to go in.
Why? For the joy that was set before him, knowing that more and more people would to come to their own cross and lose their lives there so you and I could gain eternity when he gave away his power temporarily, only to assume it all again when he rose on the third day.
The moment when the greatest evil that ever happened through earthly powers, became the moment when the greatest good in history would change all epochs and all our eternities! Because God did not just say we should submit to the earthly powers so that his rule could come on this planet. His own Son did it.
I don’t dare claim the intellect or theological acumen to explain to those who may demand a full answer to the mystery of how God can still work when a Hitler or a Mao or a Stalin ascend to rule.
I’m not sure any of the news outlets give me the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what is happening in the nations.
Who knows who really wields power and the extent of the demonic battle raging in the heavenlies right now and the true powers (and principalities)behind the thrones? But I am fasting and praying today for our nation, grateful to be chosen to come to the kingdom for such a time as this, because I know and declare the truth of scripture – that as the Psalm says, whatever the kings of the earth may plot and plan, the One enthroned in heaven laughs them to scorn! (Psalm 2:2-4)
This morning as I prayed the old hymn came to mind and lifted my spirit:
God is working this purpose out,
as year succeeds to year;
God is working this purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be:
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.
God is still working his purpose out!
So in prayer and intercession, through submission and speaking a blessing over our nation, and by preaching with boldness and living a holy life with compassion we demonstrate and declare that he is still on the throne, that we serve the King of Kings and Lord of lords – who will come again soon in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Let us go forth in the strength of God,
with the banner of Christ unfurled,
that the light of the glorious gospel of truth
may shine throughout the world.
Let us all fight with sorrow and sin
to set the captives free,
that the earth may be filled with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.