On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 2 of 2)
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” – Romans 12:21 (ESV)
On Romans 13
Romans 13 is a chapter that is often quoted to provide “evidence” that a Christian going to war is justified, for they are serving their government, and governments are permitted to “bear the sword”(Romans 13:4). The passage that is referenced does not encompass all of chapter 13, but just the first seven verses. I will go through these verses exegetically, just as I did with Romans 12.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
Chapter 13 verses 1 & 2 state that we should be subject to our governing authorities, for God has appointed those in positions of authority. We tend to ignore this truth when the elections come along, and when a president is in office that we do not like. It is perfectly okay to not like who is the governing authority over you, but we are to be subject to them, which Paul explains later by stating that we should pay our taxes, respect them, and honor them to some extent; even if this simply means not blatantly slandering a ruler because you may not like their political policies, or them as a person.
“3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”
These verses are essentially saying: do good and you will not fall under their (the government’s) wrath. But if you do wrong, the government does not “bear the sword in vain”(v.4). Many Christians use this passage to justify their support of the Death Penalty, however, though I agree that God could very well use the death penalty to carry out His wrath on some individuals, being a mere man, I cannot know what is the will of God, and what is the will of man, so I would never put myself in a position where I would have to decide which criminals are to be put to death. I also cannot help but wonder what advancement for the Kingdom of God could be done if His children trusted the judgment of governments more than the judgement of God.
“For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
Paul states that we are to pay taxes, repay what we owe, and respect and honor those who it is owed, and beings that governing authorities were appointed by God, I would take this to mean that we are to respect and honor our governing authorities. The passage does not say that we have to be patriotic or nationalist, it merely says to respect and honor governing authorities; to respect their position, pay your taxes, and do good. Things get messy when patriotism and nationalism penetrate into our faith. And so the question is this: If the Word of God tells you to do something, and the Government tells you to do another, chose the Word of God. If doing something for, with, or against the Government goes against the Word of God, chose the Word of God. The Lord is Ruler of All, and we are to follow His Word. The NLT Study Bible notes on Romans 13:1-2 (in reference to the Christians subjection to the government) state:
“Our submission to them [the government] will usually take the form of obedience. However, because God stands over all governments, our submission to governing authorities must always be in terms of our ultimate submission to God (see Acts 4:19-20)”.
Therefore, if the government desires for you to enlist in the military, then, the Christian should refuse to do so based on the understanding of the Scriptures that I am convicted by. Thankfully if a draft ever happens again in the U.S., a person can chose to be a conscientious objector for religious reasons, and simply work in hospitals and the like in order to serve their country without violating their convictions.
As I pointed out earlier, many will use Romans 13 as justification for Christians to serve in the military because the military is permitted to “bear the sword”. In the case of Romans 13, I believe it is mainly about, if not all about, domestic policy (governments, police, and judicial systems), and not so much about foreign policy (international conflicts/wars, military, etc.). However, this doesn’t mean that God using a nation militarily is unbiblical, for other places in the Bible certainly indicate that God can use even a pagan nation to carry out His Will (Babylonians/Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Persians in the Old Testament, for example). In this fallen world, war is, at times, necessary for a nation to go into; not to make a statement whether or not certain ones are necessary, but to say that as a political body, a nation must defend itself and its people in order to survive. Therefore, I believe that God can use the United States (or any government, better or worse) in the form of war, if He so deems. However, even if they do carry out God’s will in carrying out His wrath, they may still be held accountable for what they have done, as seen in the Old Testament with the Chaldeans in Habakkuk 2:2-20. The NKJV MacArthur Study Bible notes on this passage state:
“In response to Habakkuk’s second complaint (1:12-2:1), the Lord announced that He would judge the Chaldeans as well for their wickedness. His reply included: 1) the instructions to write it down, as a reminder that it would surely occur (vv. 2,3); 2) a description of the character of the wicked in comparison to the righteous (vv. 4,5); and 3) the pronouncement of 5 woes describing the Chaldeans’ demise (vv. 6-20)”.
Therefore, it is seen that even in specific instances of God using a pagan nation and peoples to carry out His will, they are still to be punished for even those actions. For Habakkuk was crying out to the Lord to administer justice on the Chaldeans (Babylon) for being an oppressive and violent people. To carry this idea further, we see how God used Pharaoh in the Exodus of the hebrews to carry out His will, and then later punished Pharaoh and his people.
Therefore, in light of the passage in Habakkuk, Romans 12, Christ’s words, and what I have found in the Old Testament, I believe that a Christian ought not to involve themselves in any office, organization, or position that could cause them to take a life. For God will have His will accomplished, and we must leave vengeance/wrath to God and through the governments that he has appointed.
“8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Romans 13 starts by speaking of how the citizens are to respond to the government, specifying the roles of the government, and then the chapter closes with words that are reflective of the message in Romans 12:9-19 in regards to the Christian’s response to their enemies, and how they are to interact with one another; setting a moral code to follow. The inclusion of the final passage that was quoted confirms to me that Paul, in speaking of how the Christian is to respond and interact with others in Romans 12 and 13, referenced the government as an extension of this theme, and then concluded this theme by restating how the Christian is to act, as a contrast to how the government acts.
I will restate that my purpose was to communicate the stance that I take on the role of Christians, government, and Christians serving in a position that may cause them to take a life, through the context of Romans 12 and 13. I have done so exegetically in order to write in direct relation to the text itself so as to give the reader a view of how I view these apparently contradictory chapters, and how I honestly wrestled with each chapter. The topic is important to me because I intend to always serve the church that I attend in whatever capacity that I am able, and I would like to at least be able to present them with my view, if asked or required, because to me, if a Christian kills another person outside of the will of God, even if they are within, or serving the government, they are committing murder. If we are all created in the image of God, then all life is sacred.
As stated before, I hold the views that I have because I have found them to be the most biblical through my own study, and through many discussions, on the subject matter that has lasted for several years. I have been presented with views from other sides of the argument by my peers, pastors, and professors, however, none has seemed to be as biblically based as Christian Nonviolence. I understand this because most people have a hard time letting go of the natural inclination that humans have towards violence and vengeance, and some have too much of an allegiance to their country that they are not even willing to consider the argument which I present. I certainly would not naturally choose to believe in this argument if I did not firmly believe it to be what God would have me do. I view this topic as I do others: pray about it, seek the scriptures, examine multiple passages- even ones that may seem to initially contradict, and then seek out opinions written by other people of God throughout the centuries.
We are to follow God and His Will, regardless of our own personal stances. Are we willing to change our stances if God calls us to do so?
Works Referenced (In Parts 1 & 2)
Barker, Kenneth L. “Notes On: Romans 12:17.” Zondervan NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1999. 1654. Print.
Cranfield, C. E. B. “VII. 3. A Series of Loosely Connected Items of Exhortation (12:9-21).” Romans, a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1985. 316. Print.
Grudem, Wayne A. “Chapter 1: Five Wrong Views About Christians and Government.” Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. 54. Print.
Henry, Matthew; Bible, King James Version; Bureau, Better Bible (2013-10-24). Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Linked to Bible Verses) (Kindle Locations 230574-230579). . Kindle Edition.
MacArthur, John. “Notes on Habakkuk 2:2-20.” The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997. 1319. Print.
“Notes on Romans 13:1-2.” The NLT Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008. 1916. Print.