“Wrestling With Romans”
The Sword of Justice (Chapter 13 Verses 1-7)
The desire of course here is that God requires the ruling authorities to understand that they are indeed God-appointed, and answerable to him. That they are indeed his instruments to uphold law and order in society (v3). The fact that they fail is no excuse for our rebellion. The government of the day is there to check lawlessness, the world is full of sinful, wicked people (Romans 3.23), and one of God’s ways in checking the reign of evil in the world, is through government. When they place just punishments, which fit the crimes committed, then there is a deterrent, something to be terrified of (v3). Of course when there is no deterrent, no proper justice system, then law and order breaks down. Where government is weak and effeminate it simply gives birth to more and more crime. But for law-abiding citizens there is no fear. Paul is quite clear concerning the state’s right to wield the sword of justice (v4). The Member of Parliament who votes against the use of capital punishment for conscience’ sake must needs to have their conscience taught from the law of God, even from these verses, for he or she, is misguided. Of course there are other reasons why such a penalty should not just be automatically re-introduced, many other things would have to be re-orientated first, corruption in the police departments, the judiciary and so on. But there is a clear mandate for God-ordained government to punish the wrongdoer. The attitude that soft pedals with villainy is not biblical.
For the Christian there is more than just an issue of duty, conscience is involved too (v5), which they hold before God, and God only. You go against this and you risk punishment from the authorities, but worse still, you go against God. For Christian and for non-Christian the conscience may not be felt, there can be many reasons for this subjective malfunction, but the objective truth of God’s word needs to enlighten them both. The question of taxes (vv6-7), was settled by Jesus long ago (Luke 20.25; Matthew 17.27). The Jews complained about Roman taxes but not about Roman roads which blessed their business facilities. Do you want a health service, benefit system, schools for your kids, or not? Then pay your taxes like the rest of us. We have a democratic political system, for better or worse, and that is God’s ordered way of dealing with any grievances we have, politically. No time for politics? That’s not a Biblical statement either (vv1-7).
(© James R Hamilton, written September, 1997)