July 6, 2003
POWERS ORDAINED OF GOD
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom. 13:1). These words are clear and shocking. Their clarity gives no room for misunderstanding, yet some find it impossible to esteem world leaders as "ordained of God," and "the minister of God...for good" (v. 4). They feel it must refer to a pastor or spiritual leader. A pastor or shepherd might wield a shepherd's staff, but could he bear "a sword..." or be "a revenger to execute wrath" on the evil doer" (v. 4)?
The words, "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" might give pause to a Jewish believer, for God had written, "thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, who is not thy brother" (Dt. 17:15). But with the captivity of Judah, God command-ed all nations to obey His servant, Nebuchadnezzar! (See Jeremiah 27:6-8.) Thus the times of the Gentiles began with Israel's captivity and servitude. Now God warns us through Paul that "they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation" (i.e., judgment by the ruler).
"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the 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 the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (v. 3-4). God forbids us to take vengeance because He has established government as His representative, "a revenger to execute [His] wrath" on evildoers.
"Wherefore we must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake," conscience because we know it is the right thing to do. And we should fear the wrath as well.
This passage has shown the grace God given us for service; first toward believing brethren, then toward the world, living peaceably as much as possible without being overcome with the evil of taking vengeance, and lastly to be subject to the government which God has placed in all nations throughout the world. If government oversteps its bounds, our path is clear, "We ought to obey God, rather than men" (Acts 5:29), even when there may be dire consequences as in Daniel 3 when Jews were commanded to worship an image of gold.
Ivan L. Burgener