One of the characteristics of our God is that he is orderly rather than disorderly. He is a designer—and our entire world is shaped by his genius. Everything from the creation of the universe to the establishment of a ruling government points to a sovereign divine designer. Therefore, any attempt to create a world, a city, a town, or a country that lacks law and order and is plagued by anarchy is a movement away from God.
When Paul penned his letter to the church in Rome, he laid a robust foundation of doctrinal clarity regarding justification by faith alone in the first eleven chapters of his letter. Beginning in chapter twelve, Paul directed the believers to put on display the gospel of Jesus in practical everyday opportunities. After outlining the characteristics of genuine Christianity, he moved on to chapter thirteen where he opens with the responsibility of Christians to submit to governing authorities. It’s here that Paul not only gives the command to submit, but he likewise details the blessings of a government.
Restraint of Evil
As we navigate through life, we spend time in three basic spheres of life. We spend time in a family structure of some kind. As Christians, we spend much time in the sphere of the church. No matter where we live, we spend time in the sphere of the state or under some form of civil law. God is the source of all authority, and he establishes all of the hierarchies of authority in these different spheres.
Regarding the family, it is God who has setup the father as the leader, provider, and protector of the family. He has called wives to submit to their husbands (Gen. 2; 1 Pet. 3:1; Eph. 5:24) and children to obey both mother and father in an honorable manner (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16; Eph. 6:1-3). This is God’s design for the family and through this structure of authority, it restrains evil by keeping children in subjection rather than running wild and free into lawless behavior.
Regarding the church, God established elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7) as the spiritual leaders and deacons as the servants within the church. The church is called to submit to their spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17) as they seek to shepherd them and equip them for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). When it comes to sin and lawlessness, Christ has commanded the church to be a pure bride. Not only are pastors to reprove and rebuke the church as necessary (2 Tim. 4:1-5), but Jesus gave a command regarding church discipline in Matthew 18 which serves as a means of reconciliation between members of the body, but ultimately between the church and Christ. This structure of authority and discipline is ordained by God.
As it pertains to the state and civil rulers, the call of the church is to submit to the governing authorities. We see this in Romans 13, but likewise in places such as 1 Peter 2:13-17:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Even as Paul wrote the words in Romans 13, he understood that the system itself and the rulers were not perfect. In fact, this is the very same government that would be responsible for his execution within a few years—yet so long as it was possible and so long as they did not mandate the church to disobey God, they were to submit. That same principle is true for us today.
One of the blessings of rulers and governing authorities is the restraint of evil. Paul writes, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:3-4). Lawless individuals should fear the rulers for they do not bear the sword in vain. They have been given the responsibility of establishing law and order in a civil society.
The church can be blessed by such an orderly rule established by governing authorities.
Execution of Justice
In a way that is quite different than the sphere of the family and church—the government is given the sword. Paul calls the rulers “avengers” which comes from a Greek term “ἔκδικος” that literally means punisher. It is the role of governing rulers to act as God’s servants which is another Greek term that comes from the same root word from which we derive the English term deacon. Rulers are to execute justice and the sword is not given to them in vain. They are to use it and when it’s exercised properly, it’s a blessing to the whole of society—including the church of Jesus.
In 1995, Timothy McVeigh placed a bomb outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In an act of terrorism, McVeigh detonated a bomb that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. After being arrested and convicted for the crimes, McVeigh was executed by the State of Oklahoma by lethal injection on June 11th 2001. The sword was not given to the rulers in vain.
Today, months after the tragedy with George Floyd—we continue to see American cities filled with rioters, looters, and mobs who are interested in destroying businesses, government property, and creating mass chaos along the way. One of the common hashtags floating around on social media throughout this entire process has been #DefundThePolice. A movement away from law and order and toward anarchy is a movement away from God. The hierarchy of authority was established by God himself. Although every system is impure since every human system is operated by sinners, nevertheless, such impure systems are far better than lawlessness and anarchy.
The blessing of ruling authorities who have the sword and can lawfully execute justice is evident when mass murderers are put to death and when simple 9-11 calls are answered by police officers in small towns all across our nation. The entire society, as well as the church of Jesus, benefits from a ruling hierarchy of civil leaders and laws who not only restrain evil, but are given the authority to execute justice.
For that reason we can thank God for ruling authorities. We don’t want to live in a world plagued by anarchy. Thankfully, God has established an orderly hierarchy of rule for our good and his glory. In order to glorify God, we should not only submit to them, but we should strive to pray for them as well.
1 Timothy 2:1–2 – First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Yesterday, we continued our series through Mark’s gospel. I preached from Mark 10:32-34. It was now the third time that Jesus warned His disciples about the coming suffering, death, and resurrection that would transpire. Jesus was intentionally preparing His followers for what they would see, experience, and endure in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection.
As we examine this passage, it’s clear that Jesus is preparing His followers. It’s also clear that they are afraid. Two specific words are used in connection with fear. For the inner circle of Jesus, the disciples are said to have been amazed – “θαμβέω,” which means “to be astounded, amazed, filled with amazement.” The larger group of people following Jesus were said to be afraid – “φοβέω,” which carries the idea of “being struck with amazement and fear, being afraid, become frightened.”
Why were they all fearful? Because Jesus was now fixing His focus on Jerusalem and stepping out to boldly lead the charge toward the city. Everyone knew that for Jesus to arrive in Jerusalem at the time of Passover would certainly end in disaster. Nevertheless, Jesus understood that He was to be about His Father’s business. He had a divine calendar to keep.
Jesus explained this to His inner circle. This was the third time He had explained this, but this time He became much more detailed. He prophesied about what would happen to Him. What sticks out to me in this scene is that Jesus taught them and warned them from the Scriptures. Notice the parallel account from Luke 18:31, “And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”
This past week, I wrote an article on the authority of the Bible. I have spent time this week responding to the people who have provided their input. Interestingly enough, the comments have been mostly negative and from a distinctively Roman Catholic perspective. In other words, they are suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church gave authority to the Bible rather than the Bible having authority on its own. I completely disagree with that on many different levels. For one, notice that Jesus didn’t appeal to the authority of the Church when He spoke to His disciples. He spoke on the authority of the Scriptures.
Jesus had complete assurance that the Scriptures were true. Why did Jesus approach the Scriptures with such confidence? Because Jesus is not only one with the Father, but He is likewise one with the Spirit. It is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we have the Scriptures. So when Jesus approached Scripture, He is approaching it with confidence in the third person of the Trinity. Jesus understood that the Scriptures contain authority that is given by God since they are God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).
Any religion or group that diminishes the authority of God’s Word shouldn’t be trusted with your soul. It doesn’t matter if they are Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Roman Catholics, if they attack the authority of God’s Word, you should reject their word. Jesus had confidence in the Scriptures. When we approach the Scriptures, we must seek to do so with the same confidence that Jesus demonstrated for the Word of God. Just as Jesus prepared His disciples for the rocky road ahead from the Scriptures, so can we be prepared to handle the trials that we face because we have confidence that the Word of God is sufficient.
From the very beginning, Satan has had one primary agenda in his opposition against God. His agenda is to attack and undermine the authority of the Bible. That’s what happened when Satan attacked Eve in the Garden, he veiled the authority of God’s Word with doubts and lies. From that time forward, since the fall of Adam and Eve, skeptics, liberals, atheists, agnostics, pagans, higher critics, and others have employed the same tactics. If you want to lead people astray, cause them to deny the authority of the Bible.
I was once asked by the parent of a rebellious child what my opinion was regarding their child’s persistent sin problem. I responded by saying that I personally believe that all rebellion is rooted in the problem of authority. If you have a rebellious attitude toward your parents, it’s rooted in rebellion toward God. If you have a problem with authority in areas of government, it’s rooted in a rebellion toward God. How does one rebel against God? It begins with a simple rejection of God’s authoritative Word.
In Paul’s words to Timothy, he writes the following:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
As Timothy was to do the work of ministry and get into the trenches of controversy in Ephesus, before going off into eternity, the final words we have on record from Paul to Timothy point him to the Scriptures as his ultimate authority. Paul didn’t point Timothy to a catechism, a list of articles he and other apostles had written, or another source for ultimate authority. It should be pointed out that Paul didn’t point Timothy to the “Church” as his source of authority. Timothy was to teach, preach, reprove, correct, and train disciples in righteousness through the holy Scriptures.
If Satan can cause someone to reject the authority of the Bible and rest upon another source, whatever it may be, that’s the decisive moment where the person rejects God. It’s impossible to disconnect the authority of God from His Word. Paul didn’t say, “All catechisms are breathed out by God.” Paul put the Scriptures as his focal point for divine authority. Just as the Psalmist pointed to God’s Law (the Old Testament Scriptures) as authoritative (Psalm 19; Psalm 119), so did Paul in his final letter in the New Testament.
In order to have ultimate control, the Roman Catholic Church never denied the authority of the Scriptures. What they did was very sly and crafty. The Roman Catholic Church elevated the authority of the Church to the same level as the Scriptures and claimed that in order to interpret the Scriptures properly, one must read through the interpretive lens of the Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church also placed the Sacred Tradition of the Church on the same level as the Scriptures, and by simple definition, if the Scriptures are constant and never changing (a complete Canon), they’re therefore controlled by the Tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Because the Tradition changes based on leadership within the Catholic Church. Therefore, if the Tradition moves and shifts over time, that turns the Scriptures into the caboose that follows Church Tradition down the train track. This must be rejected as a false understanding of God’s Word and a denial of Scriptural authority.
If we’re looking for a juicy quote that points to the authority of Scripture, we will not be disappointed by looking to men like Charles Spurgeon. A valiant defender and proclaimer of the gospel, Spurgeon once said the following in a sermon titled “The Lover of God’s Law Filled with Peace,” preached on January 2, 1888:
The Word of God can take care of itself, and will do so if we preach it, and cease defending it. See you that lion. They have caged him for his preservation; shut him up behind iron bars to secure him from his foes! See how a band of armed men have gathered together to protect the lion. What a clatter they make with their swords and spears! These mighty men are intent upon defending a lion. O fools, and slow of heart! Open that door! Let the lord of the forest come forth free. Who will dare to encounter him? What does he want with your guardian care? Let the pure gospel go forth in all its lion-like majesty, and it will soon clear its own way and ease itself of its adversaries.
Consider the words taken from Keach’s Catechism (1689):
Question 4: What is the Word of God?
Answer: The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, being given by divine inspiration, are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. (2 Peter 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Isaiah 8:20)
1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (Chapter One, Of The Holy Scriptures):
Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in diversified manners to reveal Himself, and to declare (that) His will unto His church;3 and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now completed.
Westminster Confession of Faith 1646 (Article One, Paragraph Eight):
The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by His singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; (1) so as, in all controversies of religion, the Church is finally to appeal unto them. (2)
(1) Matt. 5:18.
(2) Isa. 8:20; Acts 15:15; John 5:39, 46.
While it’s extremely helpful to consider the words from historic preachers, catechisms, and confessions of faith, it’s most profitable to examine how Jesus used Scripture. More than juicy quotes, we need to see how Jesus approached and used the Scriptures.
In confronting the religious establishment of his day, Jesus quoted the Old Testament Scriptures. It was clear when Jesus preached, because He preached with authority (Mark 1:22). It wasn’t just His posture in preaching that astonished the religious leaders. It was what He preached. Jesus was preaching God’s Word.
In Mark 10:3, when asked about divorce, Jesus responded by asking, “What did Moses command you?” Jesus corrected the religious community of His day in John 5:46 by saying, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” When Jesus preached His famous Sermon on the Mount, He consistently corrected the incorrect interpretations of the rabbis by saying, “You have heard it said, but I say unto you.” In preaching about His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus pointed to Jonah as an illustration of what was to come (Matthew 12:40). Jesus also stated, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). What were Jesus’ commands? Remember, He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
When Jesus withstood Satan in the the wilderness, He consistently quoted Scripture, not catechisms, creeds, confessions, or church fathers (Matthew 4:1-11). We must recognize the age old attack when it comes knocking on our door. To reject the authority of the Bible is to reject God Himself. Beware of slick salesmen who come to you with religious talk, enticing words of man’s wisdom, and cleverly constructed cliches. You cannot reject God’s Word and be the child of God. Learn to love God through the Scriptures. Jesus said:
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
As a pastor, I’m constantly asked to give my opinion on very personal matters. Sometimes, through this blog, I receive e-mails from complete strangers about complicated challenges that people face in their family or personal relationships. Although I like to consider myself a relatively young pastor, as I look back on my ministry, it seems that a large percentage of problems that people face in life are connected to the issue of authority. When no king was in Israel, people were doing what seemed right in their own eyes. In our present culture, that same trap of personal autonomy and independence looms over our culture. To put it bluntly, the depraved sinful heart seeks autonomy and resists authority.
The American evangelical church has suffered greatly by resisting authority. The people who live by the motto, “land of the free and the home of the brave” don’t easily surrender to anyone’s authority. When we teach our children to be “free and brave” – that attitude rising from the soil of a depraved soul can result in teenage rebellion, disrespect for civil authority, a rogue attitude toward laws, and a hatred for boundaries. Americans have been singing the words, “I did it my way” for years, and with a sense of pride we rebel. It’s no surprise that we have teenagers walking around in the local shopping mall with t-shirts that read, “There is no authority but yourself.”
Most of the time, when a parent comes to me with problems with their child, within a few minutes I can make a connection to the issue of authority. However, this authority issue is not an independent “authority” issue, it’s really a God issue. Children rebel against their parents because they have rebelled against God. They don’t obey their parents because they have no desire to obey God.
R.C. Sproul has accurately stated, “The very word authority has within it the word author. An author is someone who creates and possesses a particular work. Insofar as God is the foundation of all authority, He exercises that foundation because He is the author and the owner of His creation. He is the foundation upon which all other authority stands or falls” (“The Divine Foundation of Authority,” Tabletalk, March, 2009, p. 6).
In Matthew 18, we see Jesus’ words concerning church discipline. This process is to be practiced in order to preserve the holiness of the church. Occasionally, a church might reach the point of excommunication, whereby the church has to revoke the membership of a member because of persistent rebellion and a refusal to repent of ongoing sin. It doesn’t matter what the specific sin might be, at the root of the whole situation is a refusal to submit to authority. First, the authority of God and His commands of holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Second, and related to the authority of God, is the refusal to submit to the church’s authority (see Matthew 18:15-20; Hebrews 13:17).
Lawbreakers roam the streets of our society. In fact, they live under our roofs. To be clear, we are all lawbreakers and rebels at heart (Ephesians 2:1-10). However, those who are rebels to God often have little restraint of conscience, disrespect for God, and a lack of submission to the laws of society (Romans 13:1-7). This lawbreaking attitude manifests itself through drugs, theft, adultery, murder, rape, a refusal to pay taxes, and various other sins.
At times, rebels to civil laws likewise have a rebellious attitude toward police officers, the very people who enforce the laws of society. Although many case studies exist and much ink has been used to explain the root cause of such behavior, the reality is – it’s all connected to a problem with authority. The rogue attitude toward civil laws is rooted in a rebellion against God’s law. This attitude is related to a deep rooted rebellion against God.
In recent days, the landmark decision of the Supreme Court has provided new perspective regarding authority. What happens when a certain percentage of the population decides that they want to break the law and get away with it? If they pressure the law makers, or in the case of same-sex marriage if the pressure the Supreme Court justices, they can merely change the law to reflect their sinful desires. It’s one thing for a teenager to have a problem with the authority of his parents. It’s quite a different thing for a nation to have a problem with the authority of God and His divine law that’s deeply rooted in creation.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about problems with teenage rebellion, a wife’s disrespect for the headship of her husband in marriage, a refusal to pay taxes, materialism, disconnect and disinterest in the church, drug dealers, murderers, homosexuals, thieves, and various other sins – all of these actions are rooted in a problem with authority. Rebellion against God and an unwillingness to submit to His authority leads to various other sins (see Romans 1:26-32). When people refuse to recognize God’s intended purpose of authority and seek what’s right in their own eyes, an entire multiplicity of problems will plague that individual, family, church, or nation. It’s an unfortunate reality that people want God to be everywhere except on His throne.
We can learn much from the lessons of failed leaders, judged nations, and the sinful trap of rebellion. Charles Spurgeon once said, “A sacred regard to the authority of God ought to lead us to reject an error, however old, sanctioned by whatever authority, or however generally practiced.” At the heart of the first sin was a disregard for authority – Satan disregarded the authority of God and lusted after His throne. The first sin in human history was rooted in a disregard for authority and boundaries instituted by God – Adam and Eve rebelled against God. It would be an extremely wise decision to live life in complete submission to God.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.