How do we know if we are submitting to God? We can easily fool ourselves into holy thinking without practising holy living. 'Submission' does not find many supporters among mobile and successful adults. But it is God's way to teach us that we are not God, we do not know everything, and we are not almighty. If married couples will not submit to each other, there is war at home. If students do not submit to teachers, there is anarchy in the campus; and if people refuse to submit to their community leaders and national governments, there is civil war.
God's instruction to submit to those who are over us at work or in the community (who we can see), is also a test of how we submit to God (who is invisible). Although leaders are chosen by humans, that appointment has God's authority along with their justice systems and taxes (Romans 13:1-7). It is no defence to say that we have not respected human authority because it is sinful. It is God who has chosen some sinners to be leaders - and other sinners to be subject to them. That applies in the church too (Hebrews 13:17).
It is always hard for citizens if their leaders ignore God's instructions, but the ruler is still God’s servant (Romans 13:4) and we honour them because we honour God … in the same way that we honour our parents even though they may fail (Exodus 20:12). Likewise, it is difficult when employers are harsh; but our failure to submit to their authority betrays our pride and lack of respect for God who allowed their appointment over us (1 Peter 2:18-19).
This will not always be fair, and we may suffer hardship or even cruelty. But our appeal needs to be to God, and not to rise up against our boss or president. Many issues of human rights may be considered along with the responsibility to defend the oppressed; but we must not take the law into our own hands if God has not placed it there (Romans 12:19-21). We do have a right to entreat a leader or employer respectfully (1 Timothy 5:1), but not to rebel. But we have also been given the privileged right to pray to God who is over all. Jesus said, "And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?" (Luke 18:7). He can be trusted to do what is right (Genesis 18:25).
© Dr Paul Adams