Remind people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready and willing to do good, to slander or abuse no one, to be kind and conciliatory and gentle, showing unqualified consideration and courtesy toward everyone. For we too once were foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various sinful desires and pleasures, spending and wasting our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.
In this passage, Paul addresses something that has the potential to determine the manner in which we behave toward authority figures and people in general. It is the idea of merit. Whether it is respect for the rule of governing authorities or kindness to the unkind of the world, we might decide that respect and kindness are things earned. One might not want to obey the authority of a government that promotes overt sin as acceptable through legislation while denying God’s truth on the matter. Another might not want to speak gently toward or about the worldly person who tramples on the name of Jesus Christ every chance he gets. The truth is that we are not given license to make that call.
Paul, the self-professed worst of sinners, is calling us to compassion for the lost. It is not our position to judge them [1 Cor. 5:12]. We should expect that a person or a government that is not in line with God would be everything that He is not. That just makes sense. Despite this, God calls us to obey government authority and be gentle and courteous to everyone. That does not mean that we follow the rule of law to the extent that we sin against God, but it does mean that we obey the rules we are morally able to obey even if we do not think man’s government merits our obedience. And we deal kindly and lovingly with even the most unloving people the world has to offer. We do all this because, as former lost sinners ourselves, we can identify with their plight. We know what it’s like to be at odds with God and not even be aware of it, to be hopeless and deceived.
When we expect worldly people and worldly ruling authorities to conform to God’s standards, we deceive ourselves into expecting the impossible. When we base our behavior toward the world on how the world behaves toward us, we are no better. Our calling is to love as Jesus loved, to obey as Jesus obeyed, to submit as Jesus submitted. This is the Father’s way, and it brings him joy when we follow it. Father, remove from us the expectation that the world will deal kindly with us, and instill in us the desire to obey your command to deal kindly in return, obeying the government authorities that you have put in place [Rom. 13:1] and loving those You love enough to have sent your Son as a sacrifice for their redemption.