Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. - Romans 13:1
In 2020, amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, I cannot think of a more controversial verse of scripture. The authority of Paul’s writing to the Roman believers is felt today as government officials are making decisions on how every American lives their daily life. I have heard questions, criticisms, and even rejections, consistently, in the last few months of how the context of this verse relates to our current situation. I believe this verse is living and active today and there are several things we can glean.
More than likely, many of the early church in Rome that Paul was writing to were at Pentecost in the upper room. These Roman Jews returned from a life-altering experience where a mighty wind blew in from heaven and tongues of fire filled the room. Their lives were forever changed, but they needed to acclimate to this new reality in their home of Rome; the authoritarian, murderous, empire of the world at that time. They may have felt that the upper room experience would change the entire world and usher in a new reign of the Kingdom of God. What they returned to was a Rome where believers had to worship in their homes, sometimes hidden, while dealing with persecution from an emperor that could choose at any moment to have them tortured and murdered. I try to consider how controversial it would have been for Paul to write these words, ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities,’ to a congregation living under such extreme persecution. In comparison, what we are experiencing now is not even similar.
I remember Sunday morning March 15th, when we also experienced a mighty move of God. The crescendo of our Despise Not Prophecy Conference. I felt it was the beginning of an outpouring to our congregation and our region. When we all woke up on Monday morning March 16th, we returned to our world, a very different world. The government issued a Stay-At-Home Order. We were deemed “essential” or “non-essential” at our places of work. Many of us were either placed on unemployment or let go as entire industries were shut down. We were told that we could not hold services or ministries on the church campus. We were asked to wear masks, practice increased hygiene and cleaning, and maintain social distances to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. If Paul was alive today, witnessing the rebellion and resistance of so many believers, do we honestly have a Biblical justification, or even worse an excuse, for acting the way so many of us are?
Paul, a Roman citizen, knew he was writing his letter to a people greatly persecuted. He himself would ultimately be beheaded by Rome. Yet, he unwaveringly declares to his brothers and sisters in Christ that ‘there is no authority except that which God has established.’ I urge each of us to wrestle with this verse and how it applies to us personally and corporately. We are in unprecedented times. Let us be thankful that ‘the authorities that exist have been established by God.’
Pastor Joshua Ogle