"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." - Romans 13.1 (ESV)
This may be one of the most purposely overlooked verses in the whole Bible. There is just something about being in submission to authority that grates against us. Perhaps this is due to the American spirit of independence; for was not our country founded upon the rebellion of our forefathers? Is it not taught that we boldly stand up for our rights? We value our rights and the freedoms that we have as citizens of this country but at what cost?
It is said that we should consider the past in order that we might not fall into the same mistakes that were made by those who came before us. In light of this, let us consider the day and age when Christianity was just in the beginning of its development. This was the time of the apostles and the prophets. Men like Paul and Peter were at the forefront of this movement that was even said to "have turned the world upside down" (Acts 17.6). What was Paul's advice when it came to how the believer in Christ was to relate to the governmental authorities? Submission!
Now before we speak of how this teaching might affect our own attitude or treatment of authority, we must consider the situation in which these early Christians found themselves. They were labeled a sect by most of their contemporaries and mistrusted because of Christianity's close ties to Judaism (the Jews were known in the Roman world as troublemakers and rebels). Not only this but along with the preaching of the gospel (and the subsequent conversion of many) came fierce opposition from many in the Jewish community which resulted in civil unrest most every place the gospel was taken. This association with all the civil unrest did not put Christians into a favorable place among the people of the Roman Empire. In fact, for over a hundred years following the time of the apostles Christianity was consistently persecuted by the majority of the populace and oppressed by those in authority. Yet Paul has the audacity to tell his readers to be known as model citizens? This is due to how God views authority and the way in which He expects man to respond to it.
Let us travel further back in time to the most loved king of Israel's past: King David. We have record of two separate occasions when David had the opportunity to kill Saul but refused to do so (see I Sam 24 & 26). God had already told Saul that he had forfeited his right to be king because of his disobedience and had Samuel the prophet anoint David to be king in Saul's place. However, Saul continued to act as king for some time with David mostly on the run from Saul's attempts to kill him! David recognized that God was the one who had anointed Saul as king and that it was His prerogative to remove him when He saw fit.
However, we must not dismiss the importance of authority and leadership as it relates to our daily interactions with those around us. Whether at work, in school, on the road or at home, all of us deal with those in authority over us and must exercise responsibly the authority that we have been given. It should also be noted that there are some key differences between authority and leadership. Authority is the right and responsibility to lead, while leadership is the ability to lead. One might say that the authorities are in charge while leaders tend to take charge. It goes without saying that not all those in authority are good leaders. Moreover, those who lead well do not necessarily occupy positions of authority. Problems tend to arise either within our own hearts or in open conflict when both the ability and right to lead are not adequately joined together.
In regards to how we deal with authority, we must keep in mind that our responsibility is to respect and submit to the authorities over us and even to encourage others to do likewise. When we find ourselves in a position of authority we should constantly seek to better ourselves in our ability to lead those who are under us, for such is the duty that comes with authority. Furthermore, if we discover that we are more aptly suited to influence the lives of those around us than even the one in authority, we should to do so faithfully while continuing to respect the one in authority.
All in all we submit to the ultimate authority - God Almighty Himself. Jesus was the perfect leader and it is He who said: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." -Matt 28.18-20