Friday, 29 November 2013
For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Romans 13:4
Verse 4 starts with “for” to show the continued explanation of the previous verses. “He” is speaking of the “governing authorities” of verse 1 and the “rulers” of verse 3. Whoever our leader is, in whatever land and whatever time in history, this is the individual Paul now speaks of for us. This individual has been appointed by God to “minister to you for good.” He is the protector of the land, the defender of the judicial system, the one responsible for the infrastructure, etc. Without leaders, society breaks down into anarchy.
Continuing, Paul notes next that based on the leader’s position for us in doing good, “if you do evil, be afraid.” That follows logically. A leader is appointed for the good of the society and when someone is hindering that good end, he has every reason to be afraid of the leader’s wrath. He is the bearer of the sword (symbolizing the one who wields the policing and military powers) and “he does not bear the sword in vain.” The sword is an emblem of death power and death. It isn’t a tool used for chopping wood, instead it is an implement used for taking life. The power and authority the ruler has been entrusted with will be used to ensure the continued, uninterrupted furtherance of society, or he will use the sword for corrective measure.
As noted in verse 1 though, there is a point where facing the sword is expected. That is when our allegiance to God is usurped by a human ruler. The exiles from Babylon were faced with such a dilemma in Daniel chapter 3 and they stood on the side of the Lord, even in the face of death. However, this is the exception, not the rule. Apart from our allegiance to God, we are instructed to live and work within the confines of the rule under which we reside (see Jeremiah 29:7). And the reason is restated for us to understand clearly, “For he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”
God is the one who establishes, builds up, and tears down societies. And He is the one who places every person in exactly the position that He determined (Acts 17:26-28) for His purposes. Because these are biblical truths, we only strive against what He has ordained when we strive against the life and position in which we have been placed. In the end, by subverting proper rule and authority, we can expect our leaders to execute wrath on us if we practice such evil.
Life application: If you are unhappy with your leaders, then work within the legal framework of your society to get them out of their leadership position. If you work in an illegal or subversive manner to oust them, then you are opening yourself up to whatever wrath is determined upon you.
O glorious God! When I think about the marvelous tapestry of human history which You have woven together, I see how everything fits so perfectly. It is revealed in the word You spoke to the prophets so long ago, and as I read I can only marvel at what I see. History is held within Your hand and surely nothing occurs apart from Your foreknowledge. I stand amazed in Your presence! Amen.