In Romans 13, Paul says that Christians should obey the governing authorities because all authority comes from God. The governing authorities that are in place are only in place because God has allowed them to be in place. Paul says if you do not want to be in fear of the governing authority then do good. “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
The problem I see here is that Christians then run with this and try to be in control of or involved with the governing authorities so they can use the sword to execute God’s vengeance. First, this takes the entire passage completely out of context.
In Romans 12, Paul just described how a Christian should live – “present you bodies a living sacrifice,” “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them,” “let love be genuine, abhor what is evil,” “love one another with brotherly affection,” “bless those who persecute you,” “live in harmony with another,” “repay no one evil for evil,” “live peaceably with all,” “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God,” “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The governing authority is in power to be an avenger, to wield the sword, but in Romans 12 Paul said to “never avenge yourselves.” Therefore, it seems pretty clear that Christians would not want to be part of these governing authorities. In fact, in the first 300 years after Jesus, Christians were not a part of the governing authorities.
Second, we should be very mindful how God deals with those who take vengeance. Ezekiel 21-25 is very instructive on this. Throughout these chapters God says a lot about a sword being brought against Israel and Judah. The sword would be brought by Assyria, Babylon, and the other nations around Israel and Judah. These were governing authorities that God had put in place. God even called some the kings of these nations his servant or minister. That doesn’t mean God approved of them, rather he was going to use them to fulfill his purposes and cause people to know that he is the Lord (the phrase that gets repeated over and over throughout Ezekiel). While God used the surrounding nations to bring the sword against Israel and Judah, it did not turn out well for those nations. Edom and Philistia provide just two examples.
Ezekiel 25:12, 14 – “Because Edom acted revengefully against the house of Judah and has grievously offended in taking vengeance on them…I will lay my vengeance upon Edom…they shall know my vengeance.”
Ezekiel 25:15, 17 – “Because the Philistines acted revengefully and took vengeance…I will execute great vengeance on them…they will know that I am the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon them.”
Elsewhere in scripture we see similar statements with Assyria and Babylon. Those nations and the kings leading them thought they were doing one thing, but God was using them for judgement, and when he was done using them for judgement then he would judge them.
I have yet to find anything good in scripture for the one that bears the sword, even as a governing authority put in place by God. I have yet to find anything good in scripture for the one that acts in vengeance. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
So, as Christians, let’s leave the ruling of this world to the governing authorities that God has put in place for it. We are no longer conformed to it, but are transformed. Because, rightly understood, the church is a governing authority. It is an outpost, a colony, of a new kingdom. A kingdom not of this world. So, the church is to put on display how this new kingdom, the kingdom that will consume all the kingdoms of this world, is governed, according to the rules of its Lord and king, Jesus, as laid out in Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount).