Romans 13:1-7: For Whom Does the Sword Swing?

Some days or years before our first parents bit into the forbidden tree’s fruit, God founded both Church and family.  In a love unknown to us and a closeness beyond our imagining, Adam and Eve worshiped God.  Though not like we do, to receive His forgiveness and salvation.  No, they required none, yet.  “Be fruitful and multiply,” God told them (Genesis 1:28).  Through those words, He formed the family, through which offspring enter our world. 

Ponder what you won’t encounter—government.  The state didn’t exist until sin infiltrated the world.  So, the government isn’t an order of creation, but of necessity.  So, this enables us to grasp its purpose: “A punisher to bring wrath on the wrongdoer.” 

No sin, no need for government.  Nevertheless, with our corrupt nature scampering wild, something must restrain the mayhem we cause.  If not, the guy with the most massive stick will dominate—until he falls asleep.  Taken out while sleeping, the cycle will resume, with property lost and people hurt, so others can take what they want. 

To punish evildoers, as 1 Peter says, and commend those who do well (2:14).  Of course, we can organize our local government to do other things, but defending people from danger is first.  The second is to reward what is right.  Nothing is to override these two duties.  Thus, with both the carrot and the stick, a government tames our worst ambitions.  Still, the absence of darkness doesn’t mean a light will shine.  So, governmental motivation reaches beyond the bad to promote what is beneficial. 

Separate from government, God commands something different for His Church.  After His resurrection, Jesus gave His Apostles specific tasks, which the Church still does.  On the way to Emmaus, Jesus reminded them to preach repentance into forgiveness.  On Easter evening, Jesus authorized them to forgive and retain sins.  Not done, He also directed them to disciple others by baptizing and teaching.  So, God’s Church exists to baptize, proclaim the Gospel, teach what Jesus commanded, absolve sins, and administer the Lord’s Supper. 

Can we do anything else?  Yes, but never should they interfere with the Church’s primary taskings.  Let’s extrapolate further.  Should our Savior’s Church obstruct a government in its duties to deter evil and encourage virtue?  No!  The Church concerns herself with salvation, of things eternal, not losing herself within such worldly matters. 

Each citizen owes allegiance to his government since God instituted them.  A Christian will realize he resides within a nation and in God’s Church.  So, a country’s government and Christ’s Church shouldn’t be at odds.  No, they should co-exist, for God governs through both, through different means to achieve different ends. 

A state involves itself with bodies and things physical, the Church with people’s souls and hearts.  So, one centers on conduct, unsheathing the “sword” to subdue our destructive deeds—the other with inner righteousness, which God bestows on someone because of Christ.  In Him, you are God’s redeemed child for all eternity.

So, God authorizes governments to be His sword-bearer to accomplish His anticipated outcome.  Not so, His Church.  No, God calls her to gather, enlighten, and sanctify His people on earth and, by true faith, He will keep them in Christ Jesus.  Rather than forgiving sin, governments strive for external peace, order, and safety.  For us, as God’s people, He expects us to obey our leaders since anarchy is against His will. 

Now, as Americans, we may regard our government as an example of our founding fathers’ genius.  Though to do this only is to forget how God chooses to contain our evil.  In a fallen world, until He creates a new, sinless one, God still operates through His current creation.  Otherwise, His blazing righteousness would destroy us all. 

Does this not explain Jesus’ incarnation?  The uncreated God took on a created form to interact with us.  Not only did this allow Him not to annihilate us, but to grant us life by dying for us.  By extension, He now comes to us through the preached Word and sins forgiven, water, and bread and wine, to absolve our transgressions and save us. 

The authority God grants to another are signs of His love.  Through Church and state, He provides for our spiritual and earthly well-being.  Thus, both are divine and human institutions: Divine because God acts through them, but human since people are doing their given responsibilities.  Yes, this is how God works in the world. 

To meet its objective, the government may enact suitable laws (1 Peter 2:13).  More so, governments may also enforce those laws, judge people by them (John 18:31), and impose penalties on those who break them. 

Let’s ponder a bit more.  Though God establishes the ruling authorities, this doesn’t mean they must rule according to Scripture or make the Bible its governing document.  The Roman emperor, Nero, who reigned when Paul wrote our Epistle reading, didn’t do this.  Nevertheless, the right to rule, which he represented, did.  The only real power is God, who holds ultimate supremacy and jurisdiction to command. 

In civil government, rulers don’t exercise their authority.  No, only what God delegates to them.  Do you recall Jesus healing a Centurion’s son?  The commander understood society’s workings, “I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me” (Matthew 8:9).  So, everyone is under another’s authority, but God is at the top. 

All government officials are to serve the well-being of their constituents.  In a sin-perverted world, someone needs to suppress our vices.  Otherwise, we will rip each other apart, making life with any semblance of social order impossible.  So, working through our civil representatives, God constrains our wicked outbursts.  Here’s what’s crazy—God also works through non-believers, as our Old-Testament reading told us. 

All right, but what about your foul neighbor who desires to do you harm.  The same—God will deal with this through some part of His created order.  How?  Through human authorities.  So, as each person participates in his vocations, God rules over the world. 

To prevent His absolute purity from frying us to a cinder, God accomplishes His will through people.  The result, however, is that we often mess up.  Though, if you want God to deal directly, He can, but we’ll all die, for sin cannot abide in His pure Holiness. 

So, here we are, flawed individuals working in sin-corrupted institutions.  For now, God keeps His creation alive so many others can revel in His salvation.  To want otherwise is to rush His timeline—when He will bring everything to its culmination and restore us to our original, physical, immortal state.  Through faith, this one day will be yours. 

Now the elephant lurking in the room.  Some governing authorities are the problem, refusing to use their power as they should!  Not only are some not safeguarding those under their care, but they also allow violence to rage and riot.  The resulting turmoil is evident—as one man massacres another, and buildings blaze without relent. 

Whenever another compels something of you, contrary to God’s Word, you must disobey.  Your obligation to every authority is not equal.  With lives lived under a government, but in the Church as well, you respect whomever God places over you (Romans 13:1-2).  Though when forced to, you “obey God instead of men” (Acts 5:29).

Satanic evil will assault others, including you, igniting the flames of our fallen desires.  With sinfulness confounding our thoughts, distinguishing what you should do can become tricky.  The more you can discern between fact and falsehood and sacred Scripture from sin-filled notions, the better you navigate this bewildering terrain. 

A mayor punishes his city when he decides to allow evil to prosper.  Thus, he bears the blade in vain, ignoring his first calling to protect his people.  Any official who abandons his obligations like this destroys peace and tranquility as his people suffer from his self-gratifying whims.  In this situation, he violates God’s intentions, losing his legitimate authority to act.  A solution does exist—vote the scoundrel out of office. 

All authority stems from God.  The Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, ordered Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18).  In this case, they didn’t listen and remained loyal to God.  Long before this, Egypt’s Pharaoh told Hebrew midwives, “If the baby is a boy, you are to kill him, but if a girl, let her live” (Exodus 1:16).  True to their conviction and profession, they allowed no newborn to suffer injury since all lives mattered to them.  In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defied King Nebuchadnezzar and refused to bow before his golden image. 

Your Lord established governments for our well-being.  So, if some official demands evil of you, you must endeavor to counter and correct this.  Like salt, God sprinkles us Christians across our land.  Like light, we shine to cast away its dark shadows. 

Brought into two kingdoms, we answer to both, trusting God is working through them.  With sinful humans in the mix, however, all will not always be proper.  No matter how the wind may blow, we live by faith, awaiting the fulfillment of all, when all will be well. 

Receive God’s gifts.  Let them change you from the inside out.  After, give to others as the Lord gives to you.  Filled with faith, be faithful toward all.  On the Last Day, these two realms, of God and government, now torn apart by sin, will become one.  In the new heaven and earth, God shall reign forever.  So, even now, you can rejoice since this world cannot take this away from you.  Amen.