A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Christian Life is One in Subjection to the State
The Christian's Duty to the State
Paul himself experienced judgment during a trial before the Sanhedrin. He said something that was just a little bit rebellious, and he was slapped by the high priest. Not knowing the identity of the man, Paul rebuked him. He in turn was rebuked, "Revilest thou God's high priest?" (Acts 23:4). The priests, in a sense, were rulers. Paul apologized. His eyesight was poor, so he explained, "I did not know it was the high priest" (Acts 23:5). That is the Christian attitude. Paul stopped immediately. That absolutely shuts out the Christian's participation in all rebellion against existing forms of government. You may say that is difficult. Whenever a government becomes established, it is not your duty to ask, "Why?" but to submit. That is the true Christian's attitude, and it will accomplish more than all the rebellion in the world. That does not mean that we are not to try to improve a form of government; but we are not to use physical force in attempting to accomplish this result.
In verse 3 the government is described as "a terror to the evil." Paul is speaking generally. As a rule, governments reward the good and punish the evil. Sometimes they get things mixed up, but even so, the mixup is often from right motives. Even in those terrible persecutions in the early church, when the Roman emperors put thousand of Christians to death, the emperor acted on what he considered the best interests of the state, because he thought the Christians were a danger to the state. That does not justify him, but it does illustrate the fact that the state exists for the good of its subjects.
In verse 4 Paul discusses the officer of the state - "For he is a minister of God." Pastors are ministers of God. But let us not forget that the United States government is a minister of God, only in a different sphere. The pastor ministers in the spiritual; the state ministers in the temporal or the material sphere.
Moreover, the government is established "for good." The apostle Paul learned that in the course of many experiences. At Jerusalem the Jews were about to kill him, and he said, "I appeal to Caeser," Nero probably. And yet that monster of inequity, that man who is held up as the very acme of cruelty, saved the life of the apostle Paul because he was the state. Since the apostle's life had been saved through the existing authorities, he could say this.
"For he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." This verse undoubtedly justifies capital punishment. God's commission to the state is absolute! He has given the sword to the state and "he beareth not the sword in vain." It is the business of government to punish evildoers, and when a government seeks the extradition of a criminal in a foreign country, it is executing a divine commission. This will often require the exercise of physical force. The government is therefore discharging its divine commission. This divine directive was established immediately after the flood, as recorded in Genesis, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:6). This does not mean in the sense of venting individual passion, but man in the sense of constituted government.
We often think that we ought to leave vengeance to God, and He will take care of it at the judgment day. That is true in the ultimate sense, but God has another way and that is through the state. That is exactly what Paul means. To take a concrete illustration, if a man enters my house and steals something, it is not my duty to retaliate by stealing something from his house. I am not to avenge myself; that is not my duty. It is the state's duty to lay hold upon him and make him restore in corresponding value.It is God who is doing it, but He is using the state as a means to the end. That takes vengeance out of the individual man's hands and places it in the hands of constituted authority. There is infinite wisdom in what the apostle teaches.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 80)