God is sovereign over all. “The kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted” (Ps. 47:9). “Who should not fear you, King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise leaders of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you” (Jer. 10:7). “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14).
Paul put it this way: “There is no authority except that which God has established.” Submission to political authority is one example of how to live out the gospel (vv. 1–4; cf. 1 Peter 2:13–17). Since God has established all authorities, to rebel is to declare that we think we know better than God.
Note that in Paul’s day, the Roman government was thoroughly pagan and had already unleashed persecution against God’s people. But the God-given purpose of government is to maintain order and justice for the good of society. In that sense, civil leaders are “God’s servants,” empowered to control and punish as warranted.
Therefore, submitting to such authorities is generally the right thing to do, not only from fear of just punishment but as a matter of conscience or integrity (vv. 5–7). This means, for example, that citizens should pay their taxes and give proper respect to their leaders. Jesus had said the same: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:13–17).
Other passages in Scripture address the question of what to do when governing authorities overstep their bounds (see Acts 5:29–32). In the context of our study of Romans, it’s clear that our respect for God’s sovereignty is manifested through our respect and obedience for the laws and rulers that God has placed over us.