Submitting to Earthly Authorities

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (v. 1).

- Romans 13:1–7

As evidence that the fifth commandment applies to every earthly authority, we should consider how all authority structures are essentially family structures. In a sense, human society is one big family, for we can all trace our physical ancestry back to Adam. Ultimately, all human beings are related to one another, even if these relations are far removed. The fifth commandment’s rule for familial relationships, then, must apply more broadly to all societal relationships. Moreover, God has a special, eternal family—the invisible church. Believers are all brothers and sisters who have one Father, namely, God Himself (Rom. 8:15; Eph. 4:4–6; 1 John 4:20). Within this one family there are different roles, with some believers serving as surrogate fathers and mothers to others (1 Tim. 5:1–2). The honor we are to show according to the fifth commandment must be shown to these spiritual parents as well.

Though the fifth commandment most directly deals with the attitude and deference we are to have to the authorities over us, Paul’s application of the commandment reveals that authority figures have responsibilities under this statute as well (Eph. 6:1–4). Fathers are not to provoke their children to anger but to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (v. 4). The fifth commandment obligates parents to make it easy for their children to obey by not setting up unnecessary impediments to faithful, loving obedience. Fathers and mothers should seek to understand their children; to look for the unspoken needs, desires, and motivations behind every behavior; and work to address the hearts of their children in discipline. Burdens too heavy for children to carry should not be laid on their shoulders, and parents must discern the difference between willful disobedience and problems that arise from immature knowledge or ability. Loving fathers and mothers use discipline to correct sin (Prov. 13:24), but standards should be consistent, not arbitrarily determined or enforced.

Earthly authorities in the political realm and workplace have similar responsibilities to those who are under them. Christian leaders in the church and industry should do what they can to make it easy for reasonable employees and church members to serve them well and in gladness. Employees and church members, in turn, must honor their leaders in their thoughts, words, and actions (Eph. 6:5–9).

Coram Deo

Those who are under the authority of others are not allowed to wait for perfect leadership before they honor their supervisors, parents, church elders, and other leaders. Insofar as our leaders do not command us to do something God forbids or forbid us from doing something that God commands, we have no excuse not to obey their directives. Let us honor those in authority over us and ask for the Spirit’s help to make us eager to serve others.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 39
Colossians 3:18–25

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