Derek Prince - Be Subject To Governing Authorities
This is the second session in a series of four dealing with the last five chapters of Romans. We’re going to start now at chapter 13. And the first part of this chapter deals with the issues of relating to secular governmental authority, which is extremely important and a very delicate subject to discuss and handle. There are probably somewhat divergent views among Christians on this point. I will do my best simply to bring out what the Scripture says and leave it to the Holy Spirit to apply. I think Before we read chapter 13, it would be good to take a parallel passage in 1 Peter chapter 2, so I’m going to turn to 1 Peter chapter 2 and read verses 13–17. 1 Peter 2: 13–17 It’s a significant fact that both Paul and Peter, Paul wrote Romans, Peter wrote this epistle, both of them were executed under the Roman Empire.
So, we need to bear in mind that whatever they said, they had to live it out. And I need to bear in mind that whatever I say, I may have to live it out. So, this is a very sober subject. But Anyhow, let me read what Peter says: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. In essence, Peter is saying very much the same as Paul says in this chapter that we’re going to look at now. And Paul says in verse 1: Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Now that’s a rather breathtaking statement when you reckon that it was made in the time of the Roman Empire which had crucified Jesus and later was to execute the author of this epistle. But Paul says very categorically, there is no authority except from God and those which exist and that's in His time, as much as today, are established by God. We need to check on that statement and I want you to keep your finger in Romans 13 and turn to Matthew 28 verse 18 for a moment. Matthew 28:18, this is after the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to me in heaven and in earth. And in Galatians 2: 10, you don't need to turn there. It says: He is the head over all authority and power. So all authority in the universe has been delegated by God the Father to Jesus Christ the Son. And Paul wrote these words and Peter wrote what we read there in the light of understanding that all authority ultimately is in the hands of Jesus.
Let me go on in verse 2. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; And and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Now, our first reaction is to say of course what Paul means is the one who resists righteous authority. But, it isn’t what he says. He says the one who resists governmental authority resists the ordinance of God; and will receive condemnation. I see you’re looking puzzled. I think very few Christians in America, have had to really face this issue. But, if you were to ask Terry Law here about Christians under Communism, I think he’d tell you that this is an issue they've had to face. And who knows whether we may not have to face it quite soon. We have no guarantee. Paul goes on: For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.
Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. So as long as your conscience is clear and you do what is right, Paul says: there is no reason to be afraid. And then he goes on, and I like this translation because it uses the pronoun “it” in verse 4. For it, not he, not a person, but the authority is a minister of God to you for good. So we’re not talking about the person that occupies the office, we’re talking about the actual office itself. And Paul says it is a minister of God to you for good. but if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it the office does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God or a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.
So we are to be in subjection to the governing authorities not merely because we’ll be dealt with severely if we are not in subjection, but for the sake of conscience. Because, as I see it, Paul and Peter both say the same thing, behind that office is God. And our relationship to the office ultimately depicts our relationship to God. Now I realize there are questions arising in your mind and that’s very legitimate. But I’m trying to present you as simply and as accurately as I can what the Scripture actually says.
The first lesson from this which I want to deal with now is that we need to pray for those in authority. I just immigrated to the United States in l963 when President Kennedy was assassinated. And I was a stranger to this nation, a sort of visitor although I’d become an immigrant. And God began to speak to me about teaching American Christians to pray for their government. And I said, Lord, I’m not the right person to do that. I don’t really know anything about the institutions of this nation. Will they listen to a Britisher talking to them about praying for their government? God was very insistent with me and I began to teach. And I turned them to 1 Timothy chapter 2, if you’ll turn there. I got some astonishing responses from American Christians. One lady came up to me and said, If you’re asking us to pray for the government, that’s like asking us to pray for our enemies.
When I tried to suggest to her that government could be changed by prayer, another lady said, Well, doesn’t the Bible teach that everything is going to get worse? And I said, No, not as I understand it. I think the Bible teaches some things are going to get worse and some things are going to get better. And I’m one of the things that’s going to get better! So, here’s what I used to teach. And I mean, I know Brother Jay Fesperman has heard me teach this many times. In fact, actually, out of this dealings of God with me there eventually emerged an institution called Intercessors for America, of which I was one of the founding whatever it was. Not founding fathers, but whatever you want to call it. And I’m still an honorary member of the Board. And I thank God for what came out of that.
But let’s turn now to 1 Timothy 2. Bear in mind that 1 Timothy is written to instruct Timothy on how to conduct the affairs of a local church. The whole message of the epistle is that. And then he starts chapter 2, First of all. In other words, what’s the first thing to focus on in the local church. It’s not preaching, it’s prayer. I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and giving of thanks be made on behalf of all men Four different kinds of prayer are spoken there. Entreaties would be supplications, calling out for mercy. Prayers would be coming to God on behalf petitions would be specific things that we ask for, thanksgiving explains itself. On behalf of all men. That broadens the vision of a lot of Christians immediately. Somebody said the average Christian’s prayer life is God bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife, us four, no more, amen Well, Paul is talking about a lot more than that. God said that His house would be called a house of prayer for all people. That’s the church.
Now, who’s the first group that we’re to pray for? Is it evangelists or ministries or missionaries or the sick? No, who is it? Kings and all in authority. That’s a very significant principle. in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. ask yourself this question. Does the government I live under affect the kind of life I live? Yes or no? Yes. Then it’s self-interest to pray for the government, isn’t it? It’s just enlightened self-interest. And if we don’t pray for the government, we deserve what we get. In those days, and I think there’s been a great change, but I would have to say in the l960s, American Christians were much more prone to criticize their government than to pray for it. Jesus has never told us to criticize the government. But the Bible does tell us to pray for it. And frankly, in many respects, the offices of government are doing their job more faithfully than the Christians who criticize. Because it’s not our job to criticize, our job is to pray.
Then Paul gives the reason, the primary reason why we want good government. And it’s not so that we can double our income or start a new business. It’s a spiritual reason. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Why does God want good government? Because good government promotes or opens the way for the preaching of the truth of God. And that’s what God wants. But He places a great responsibility upon His church to pray that the government will do that. And I venture to say if we don’t pray, we have no right to expect that we’ll have the kind of government that will facilitate the preaching of the gospel. So there’s our first responsibility as Christians in relationship to secular authority, it’s to be regular and faithful in our prayers for the government. And as I see it, this is a public prayer because in 1 Timothy, Paul is talking about the conduct of a local church.
Now we’ll go back to Romans, but I wanted to say that as a positive before we discuss maybe some of the less clear or acceptable implications of this teaching. Going back to verse 4: For it [that's the secular authority] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. The word minister gives us a rather cloudy impression. We need to use the word servant, which is what a minister means. I was ... Ruth and I made a trip to Pakistan a few years ago to preach the gospel. When we got to the immigration, they said, What is your profession? And this is the point where you have to be very cautious in a Moslem country. So I said, I’m a minister. I didn’t realize it, but he understood me to be a minister of the U.S. government. And from that point onwards I got very preferential treatment. But I wasn’t deliberately deceptive, it’s just his understanding. He didn’t understand that a minister is a servant.
What Paul is saying here is governmental offices and authorities are servants of God for the benefit of us. Can you say amen to that? It takes some adjusting for some Americans to say that. See, this nation and now I’m really getting myself into trouble but this nation was born in revolution, in rebellion. You say well he’s British, that’s why he says that. No, because if I’d have been English here in the days of George Washington, I would have lined up with George Washington. But, there is an element of rebellion in this nation which persists. There’s no nation that I know that protests like Americans. When the British let things happen and just hope it will work out all right, but the Americans take the bull by the horns and stage a protest or have a march or do something. Well, I mustn't get off my track.
Now, we’re coming to verse 5 again. Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. And then Paul goes on to describe the things that government does for us. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. And so he says fulfill your duties as a citizen. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; [customs that you pay when you come into a country], fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. So there’s a clear outline of our responsibilities. Now, the question arises, What happens when an ungodly or a wicked man or a persecutor is occupying the position of authority? That’s where the rubber meets the road. Well, let’s take the example of Jesus. How about that? I think Jesus is a good pattern.
Keep your finger there in Romans chapter 13 and turn to the gospel of John, chapter 18 and verse 36. The gospel of John chapter 18 and verse 36. Jesus is in front of Pilate and Pilate is questioning him about his claim to be a king. And Jesus answered in verse 36: My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting that I might not be delivered up to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm. I think that’s a very important basic principle. The kingdom of God is never established by carnal weapons. I’m not saying we shouldn’t use them but we don’t bring in the kingdom of God with carnal weapons. It’s not established by fighting. Now we are citizens, if we’re Christians, of two worlds. We’re citizens of the kingdom of God, we’re citizens of a country the United States. As citizens of the United States, it may be our responsibility to fight, but we’re not establishing the kingdom of God by our fighting.
In the Old Testament in Zechariah chapter 4 verse 6, the Lord said to Zerubbabel: Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. And the word which is translated might, heil, is the modern Hebrew word that gives us the word for a soldier, hayal. So, it’s not by military power, it’s not by force of arms. There’s only one power that can bring in the kingdom of God, which is the Spirit of God. We need to be very clear about that. I’m not saying Christians should not carry arms, that’s a personal decision. What I’m saying is we will never establish the kingdom of God that way. It doesn’t come that way. And Then we turn to John 19:11, and again Jesus is in front of Pilate. And Pilate says to him in verse 10: Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you, and I have authority to crucify you? Notice the word authority. Was that true? Did Pilate have authority? He certainly did. He was making a true statement.
Now listen to what Jesus said: Jesus answered, You would have no authority over me unless it had been given you from above. In other words, behind Pilate who was making an unjust decision concerning Jesus, Jesus said, I see the authority of my Father. And then He made another remarkable statement: For this reason, he who delivered me up to you has the greater sin. I presume that’s the Jewish high priest. Because, he stepped out of the bounds of his authority. He was not operating within his authority. He did something he didn’t have authority to do. So you see, Jesus had tremendous respect for secular authority even when it was being used unjustly against him. Is that true? I think it’s indisputable.
So, we go back to Romans 13 verse 5: Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of God’s wrath or the wrath of the ruler, but also for conscience’ sake. Now, you say what if the ruler demands that I do something that I cannot do with a clear conscience as a Christian? What do I do? The answer is you refuse to do it. But, you submit. You say, I won’t do that but you can do whatever you like with me. See, you don’t give up your submission. There’s a very clear example. Turn to Acts chapter 5 verse 29, where the apostles had been told that they must not preach anymore in the name of Jesus. Acts 5, we’ll read from verse 27. And when they had brought the apostles before them, they stood them before the council and the high priest questioned them, saying, We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name.
And notice they wouldn’t say the name of Jesus, that’s interesting. I mean, that prejudice goes back as far as that. We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name And behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. But Peter and the apostles answered and said, We must obey God rather than man. When there is a clear-cut issue, then we have to obey God and, if necessary, disobey human authority. But let’s be very sure that it’s really obeying God is what we’re doing. You see, we need to turn to that. In Mark 16 verse 15: Jesus said to His disciples, to His apostles: Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation [or every creature].
So there was a specific command of Jesus which the apostles were obeying and which the high priest told them they were not to do. There was a clear-cut decision. It wasn’t a foggy issue. It wasn’t to gain something for themselves. They were determined to obey the law. The Lord said, Preach the gospel to every creature. So when they were told you mustn’t preach, they said we can’t stop. We won’t obey you. You can do what you’d like with us but on this issue we have to obey God rather than man. But they didn’t stage a revolution. They simply submitted to unjust treatment and they were flogged. They did not rise up in revolution. Let’s just look at something that Paul said a little further on in Romans 16 verse 20. We can just turn back to Romans. Romans 16 verse 20, a remarkable statement. He said: The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
Now, there could be more than one way of interpreting that. But it’s the God of peace who is going to crush Satan. How is that fulfilled? Well, one way it was fulfilled was in the subjection of the Roman Empire to Christianity. Christianity started as a little offbeat movement following a man who had been executed by the Roman government. A mere carpenter. It had no valid hopes of success. But within three centuries, it had brought the Roman emperor to his knees. And God had crushed Satan under the feet of that church. And particularly, the church of Rome. But, they didn’t stage marches, they didn’t hold protests, they didn’t have sit-ins, strikes. What did they do? They prayed, they testified, they preached. And, they submitted. And by their submission they opened the way for God to do for them what they could not do for themselves.
Now I think it’s very timely that I’m teaching this right now because I venture to suggest, and I appreciate having Terry here, that the Christians in the Soviet Union followed in the steps of the early church. I don’t read that they staged a revolution or a rebellion; I don’t read that they held protest marches. They went the way of the early church and God has vindicated them. If we submit, we open the way for God to do what only He can do. That’s my understanding of it. I have such a solemn sense that this is not an abstract issue for American Christians. I have such a sense that God has prompted me to bring this issue before you because some of you may have to decide in due course. I’m not making a prediction, I just have an uncanny sense that things are not going to continue forever the way they are. Don’t assume it. It’s better to be prepared beforehand.
Talking about suffering in 1 Peter, Peter said, Arm yourselves with this mind for Christ also suffered once for sin. In other words, Arm yourself with the attitude, I may be called upon to suffer. Don’t go into that situation unarmed. Don’t go into the situation assuming nobody will ever ask me to make that sacrifice. I’ll never be faced with this difficult choice between obedience to God and obedience to secular authority. If you get into that situation, without facing this issues beforehand, you're unarmed. Peter said, Arm yourselves with this mind. Make a decision now. Settle it in your minds how you are going to act. It says about those that brought down Satan’s kingdom from the heavenlies in Revelation 12 verse 11, one of my favorite Scriptures: they overcame him. How? Do you know that? By the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.
Does the verse end there? what else does it says? They loved not their lives unto the death. what is that mean? My interpretation. It means that for them it was more important to do the will of God than to stay alive. And I don't believe they would have been able to use those spiritual weapons if they hadn’t that degree of commitment. I don’t think that Satan is the least bit scared of uncommitted Christians. You can use all the language, pray all the prayers and he’ll laugh in your face. But when you’ve laid your life on the line, then he treats your prayers with real respect.
I was called up into the British army in l940 and served five and a half years, reluctantly let me say, it was not my choice. But when I joined the British army on the 12th of December, l940, they did not give me a little certificate saying We guarantee you, you will not get killed. No army has ever made that commitment. And I hear Christians talk about being soldiers in the Lord’s army, I don’t think they’ve ever stopped to consider what they’re saying. This is a serious business.
I think you’ve probably heard what Brother Andrew said about the commission Go into all the world, preach the gospel to every nation. His comment was Jesus didn’t say anything about coming back. People say, We can’t go because we won’t come back. Jesus didn’t say come back. He said go. Now, you have to hear from the Lord, I’m not saying leave this place immediately and go to Albania. But if I may, God go with you if you do! What I’m saying is But what Paul said, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. If all the gospel does for us is in this life, we might as well give up now.