In our final section of Romans 13:1-8, we’re going to talk about the opposite of what we talked about last week. In the previous post, we spoke about the benefits and helpfulness of our government. Now we’ll discuss what disobeying the government means.
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. 6 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.
Last week we stopped at “for he is God’s servant for your good.” The next sentence starts with, “But if you do wrong, be afraid...” To me, it’s interesting how he just switches from a nice, soft government to a government that’s going to kill you with a sword.
So what does Paul mean when he says, “wrong”? Does he mean wrong against the Lord or wrong against the government? My understanding is that he means both. Not every sin is illegal, and not every illegal action is a sin unless made illegal by a government. The Greek word for “wrong” used here is kakos. This adjective is used for sin against God as well.
Then Paul tells us that we should be afraid of the government when we break the law because, “it does not carry the sword for no reason.” The government has power to use it. If the government could not discipline or punish its citizens, then no one would listen to it. Thankfully, government does carry strength; therefore, murderers and robbers don’t just walk away freely. A government that would let these people go, is a government that would not last long.
From verse four, we can see the government is used as God’s servant in blessing Followers and also being an avenger against those who do wrong. Followers should not be those who are doing wrong! Yes, there are believers who are persecuted and have not done wrong, but for believers in the United States, who don’t have to worry about true persecution, we should not be the ones being arrested. There are special cases of this as well though. My boy Martin Luther King Jr. is someone I would personally consider an exception.
Then Paul sums it up and says that we should listen to the government because of wrath and also because of our conscience. Our conscience can be wrong sometimes, but as a general rule, our conscience can guide us from right and wrong. (Here’s a cool article on that from desiringgod.org).
Verse 6 & 7 both, in summary, tell us to be good citizens. Yes, there are times when Believers should speak out, but being a good citizen does more for us than keeping us out of jail. Being a good citizen means we come from a respected point when speaking to others about Christ. If we have a negative light on us from our lack of good citizenship and also claim Jesus, that negative light goes on to Him as well. So for our sake and the sake of the Gospel, let us be doers of good.
If you’re on mobile, go ahead and scroll down to the bottom and subscribe to get an email whenever we post something here on Matchbox! If you’re on a desktop, it’s on the side!