Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. (NLT)
This teaching from Paul seems a bit strange given that in the near future the civil authorities ended his life and engaged in widespread persecution of the church. Some Christians have used the passage to support unjust regimes. The German church, with honourable exceptions, didn’t stand up to Hitler because they figured they had to submit to him since he was in authority and thus somehow God’s agent.
We need to understand that Paul is speaking of authorities who basically do things right. He is not endorsing each and every tinpot dictator or corrupt officeholder. He is endorsing the principle of authority. God opposes anarchy. The civil authorities, imperfect as they are, regulate society so that people can live with a degree of security.
Some authorities act so badly that they do not to do this and so are not entitled to honour or in some cases even obedience. We don’t disobey authorities on a whim or for narrow partisan political purposes. But in extreme cases, civil disobedience to one particular exercise of authority is our way of supporting the principle of authority itself. We need someone to regulate and order society, and if those who are supposed to do it utterly neglect it, we are right to protest.
No authority is ever entirely up to scratch. We are imperfect people under the authority of fellow imperfect people. Whoever we vote in, they will fail from time to time, just as we do. A measure of thankfulness and lots of prayer are a proper response to our own authorities in place. If we don’t like them much, so be it. Anarchy is worse.