As we have recently being challenged from Romans one of the features of Biblical religion is the expectation that citizens will submit to and pray for the governing authorities. These exhortations which are clear in the New Testament are highlighted when we remember that Nero was the Roman Emperor at the time. The two apostles, whose exhortations to submit and have respect for government lost their lives at Nero’s whim.
Why submit to earthly rulers? There are a number of reasons that will help us respect those who form governments. The first is that we need order to live peaceably and productively. Our own bias to self-centred conduct, so easily seen in the news and in our own hearts, needs to be curbed. Wrong needs to be punished, good needs to be rewarded and honesty promoted. Good government cannot make this happen but can provide an atmosphere where good can triumph over evil.
The second is that public leadership is so often a thankless task where misunderstanding can flourish. Respect for the office and the person, where we assume a good motive until proven otherwise, will not only make the work of leadership easier but more likely to draw out honourable men and women who would offer themselves for public office.
Another reason for submission to leaders is the belief that God has built a delegated leadership into human affairs. There is to be distinction between our duty to God and to the governor however. It was Jesus’ words to Peter, “render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s,” that stand behind a healthy separation of church and state.
The payment of taxes, the giving of honour, the obligation to work for the good of others demonstrates our commitment to Caesar and his successors. Our obligation to God, of absolute obedience, will cause us to object to government legislation and demands that are contrary to God’s (higher) law. It is for this reason Christians, almost every week in public worship, pray for those who govern us.
As with prayer for anybody, we are recognising the higher authority of God. This has many benefits. I will suggest three. We show our love for God and our trust in Him every time we pray. This must be good for us since we are totally dependent upon Him. We recognise God’s desire to bless the humble.
My prayer for our Prime Minister, Premier, local members of Federal, State and Local government aligns me with God’s desire for us in gospel shaped living but it also reminds me of my desire for the gospel to be proclaimed in God’s world (1 Peter 2:12). I want to honour and submit to the government God has given us and I want the government God has given us to know of the saving grace that is found in Jesus alone.