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subordination and obedience

10-04-2019 - Posted by Andre Piet

We already saw that, according to Paul, subordination to the authorities is normal practice. In Romans 13: 1 he teaches:

Let every soul be subject to the superior authorities, for there is not authority except under God. Now those which are, have been set under God.

Paul speaks in absolute terms. “Every soul” and “no authority except under GOD”. It’s meaningful that Paul wrote these words to the Romans, during the reign of Nero. Even almost 2,000 years later, this man is still known as one of the most notorious emperors ever. Subordination to the authorities doesn’t only hold true when the authorities want the best for their citizens.

In response to some reactions to what I said about subordination to the authorities, I must add one important note, for the sake of completeness. And that is that we must separate ‘subordination’ (or submission) and ‘obedience’. Subordination is a passive attitude, where we accept the other as our superior. Obedience is an active deed where we do what the other dedicates to us. Usually obedience results from subordination. But this doesn’t always hold true. Obedience to, for example, authorities has limitations. When the authorities in Jerusalem dictated Peter and the apostles to stop their teaching in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter firmly rejected and he motivated by this short answer (Acts 5: 29):

One must yield to GOD rather than to men.

Peter still recognized the authorities in Jerusalem as his superiors. I.e. he still subordinated to them. Even if he couldn’t respond to their orders. But that’s something else. It must be clear: the will of GOD goes beyond the will of men. Also beyond the will of superiors. Not responding to the orders of authorities is in that case not a deed revolution or rebellion. For the position of the authorities as superior isn’t called into question. You just cannot comply with one specific command. But that is just because you subordinate in the first place to GOD.

Naturally, this clause of subordination isn’t only valid in case of civil authorities. It also applies for other relationships where one subordinates to the other. For example: children to their parents (1 Timothy 3: 4), slaves to their owners (Titus 2: 9) or wives to their husband (Titus 2: 5). Also then one must yield to GOD rather than to men.