The sword of the state

Let every soul submit to the ruling authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the existing authorities are by God’s appointment. So that the one who resists authority resists that appointment of God. Those who set themselves against it shall receive judgment. For rulers are not a fear to good deeds, but to evil deeds. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have its praise. For it is the servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, fear! For it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant, an avenger of wrath to the one practicing evil. (Romans 13:1-4)

We don’t live in a nice world. Human sin has messed it up. In Romans, the apostle Paul tells what God did in Christ for his enemies. He lived a good life to replace the bad lives of his people, he died for the sins of his people and then rose from the dead to show that the judgment against those sins is finished. This work of Jesus reconciles people to God. By trusting Jesus Christ, we can know that we have peace with God. This is good news.

Yet, we still live in a messy world. In Chapter 13, Paul indicates that we should be thankful for civil governments. Their job is to restrain human evil as it manifests itself in violent crimes and war. According to the Bible, it is quite appropriate for civil governments to protect their people by dealing with those who threaten them.

The apostle Paul said that the state does not hold the sword in vain. The civil state is the servant of God. Its sword is for the protection of those who do good and for the fear of those who do evil.

Now the word ‘sword’ may include such things as fines for speeding or drink-driving, and having your driver’s licence cancelled. But, the use of the sword also implies that deadly force might justly be used in the work of protecting and punishing. In fact, the state has a God-given responsibility to use the sword in times of war or terror to protect its people from attack and to deal with those who do the attacking.

As individual Christians we are to love our enemies and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ; as a church we are to love our enemies and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ, but the state has the responsibility to protect and punish. Christians are not to hinder, but rather to encourage and pray for the state as it tries to fulfil that God-given responsibility.

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