Question: "What does the Bible say about authority?"
Answer: According to the Bible, authority ought to be submitted to and respected. This is a hard teaching for many, as the Bible would seem to indemnify those who rule or preside over others in a cruel and unjust manner. Perhaps the most widely-quoted and well-known verse regarding this matter comes from Romans 13. God advises us to submit to “governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). We are further advised in the Bible that rebelling against authority is rebelling against God (Romans 13:2).
Many would argue that such passages deal only with benevolent rulers because the Scripture continues to say that these rulers “hold no terror for those who do right” and that they are “God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. This is why “it is necessary to submit” and “why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (Romans 13:3-6).
What does God say about reacting to unjust rulers? In another well-known and challenging passage, the Bible says: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your master with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” He explains further: “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” and “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God, [and] if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:15, 17-21).
These are very difficult messages and may incline some to feel God has a sadistic streak. This would be a misreading of the Bible. God’s call always to show love, honor, and respect to others represents how He envisions His Kingdom on earth. He wishes us to live life to the fullest (John 10:10) and promises us a glorious and eternal life (John 3:16; 14:2-3, 23).
Ephesians 6:6-9 exhorts us to obey not merely to win favor just when people’s eyes are on us, but to act as “slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart,” serving wholeheartedly as if serving the Lord and knowing that He will reward us for whatever good we do. His message is consistent for slave masters, enjoining them to “treat your slaves in the same way” because He is master of both them, and their slaves.
Despite instances of poor or tyrannical government, of which many examples are provided in the books of Judges, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings (as well as in today’s world), God assures us that, respect, kindness, and submission are part of His plan (1 Thessalonians 5:12-18) and failure to follow this prescription results in our devolving into depravity and anarchy because of self-centeredness (2 Timothy 3:1-9).
In short, God assures believers that temporary troubles never should trump the exhilarating ecstasy that awaits us with Him.