For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil.
And wouldest thou have no fear of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same: for he is a minister of God to thee for good.
But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil.Romans 13:3-4 ASV
It is a comment upon the effectiveness and success of the state as God’s ordained institution that such a statement as this stands as truth.
Aberrations may be catalogued and failures noted; but, in the principal part, and in the overwhelming number of examples afforded by history, Paul’s language here must stand as unchallenged truth.
The glaring exception to this is in the ruthless Marxist and other communist governments which have appeared in the present century; and, should that type of government gain ascendancy in areas populated by Christians, there could well be another age of martyrs like that which descended upon the first century, shortly after these noble words were penned.
The truth of Paul’s words here is not contravened, either by the persecutions of the first century or the threat of persecutions now.
The word rendered “he” in this verse could be translated “it”; but the translators are correct in making it personal, for only a person could be spoken of as bearing the sword.
The person in view, therefore, is the policeman, the legally constituted arm of human government, making the law-enforcement men of cities, states, and nations to be every where as much “ordained of God” as any minister of the gospel.
Let all hear it from the word of God, if they are so blind as to be unable to read it in history, that the policeman also is God’s man, and that without him there is nothing.
A minister, friend and brother in Christ, once invited two New York policemen into his living room, gave them a cup of coffee, and read this chapter to them, with the same exposition as here.
Their astonishment and gratitude were nearly incredible.
One of them reached for the New Testament to read it himself and said, “I do wish that everyone knew this.” The other spoke up and said, “Well, it would help a lot if all the clergymen in our city knew it!”
We say the same.
Much of the vilification, harassment, and warring against policemen in the current era, the defund the police crowd of communists, has blinded some good people to the absolute indispensability of governmental authority, including an effective police establishment.
Capital punishment is clearly allowed to be a legitimate prerogative of human government, by Paul’s statements here.
Those states which have yielded to the naive “do-gooder-ism” of the present era by abolishing the capital penalty will eventually pay the price of their foolishness.
Present-day lawgivers are not wiser than God who laid down such penalties and enforced them in the Old Testament dispensation.
These commandments do not nullify each other, because they speak of different things. Moffatt’s translation made the difference clear, thus:
Thou shalt do no murder (Exodus 20:13).
The man must certainly be put to death (Numbers 15:35).
We must take account of the essential difference in two Hebrew words, [RATSACH] and [HARAG], the latter meaning “put to death,” the other meaning “murder.”
Humanity will never find a way to eliminate such a penalty completely, because it is the threat of death alone which enables policemen to apprehend and capture perpetrators of crime.
Taking the gun out of the policeman’s hands is the surest way to make all people victims of the lawless.
There are twin reasons for the Christian’s observance of society’s laws: first, as a matter of conscience, it is a sin for him to break the law; and second, in order that he might not incur the legal penalty of lawbreaking.
The preeminent consideration is that of pleasing God, as Peter expressed it, “Obey every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13).
The first poem ever written was by Lamech, bragging about his murders (Genesis 4:23-24), thus murder is as old as history and as new as today’s headlines!
The biggest problem related to this commandment is that of war. Is it forbidden that Christians participate in war?
The related problem of whether a Christian may be a policeman must also be confronted.
And, since war itself can be, and frequently is, an expanded police action, we shall look at the police angle of it first.
Here, there is a clear word from an apostle. Paul denominated the policeman as “a minister of God unto thee for good,” giving full approval of the office and its lethal sword. “He beareth not the sword in vain” (Romans 13:1-7).
There are, in fact TWO swords in that passage:
(1) the sword of authority, which it was unlawful to resist; and
(2) the sword of self-defense carried by Peter. Christ himself used physical force when he plaited a whip of cords and drove the money-changers out of the temple (John 2:13-15).
There are times when nothing but force avails.
Can it be supposed for a moment that the band of thieves and robbers whom Jesus expelled from the temple would have accepted a mere invitation to “Get out!”
Sir Stanley Baldwin, the great conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain summed it up thus:
“Civilization itself is but the ice formed in process of ages on the turbulent stream of unbridled human passions; and, while this ice seemed to our fathers secure and permanent, it has rotted and cracked during the agony of the great war (1914-1918), and in places the submerged torrent has broken through leaving fragments in constant collision, threatening by their attrition to diminish and ultimately disappear.”