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All authority is from God. He does not wear the sword in vain...

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.

Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Romans 13:1-7

This passage is not a part of the Gospel; it reflects people’s attempts to live according to Christ’s commandments after his execution. These are the words of the Apostle Paul, a man who, unlike the twelve disciples, did not follow Jesus on his earthly journey. They are the words of a man with a very difficult past, and who is capable of making mistakes, just as every follower of Christ makes more than a couple of mistakes.

An additional point worth making is that these words were written during Nero’s reign, in a time of oppression and persecution when many Christians were brutally killed. To claim that this kind of authority was of God and was a terror only to robbers, thieves, and rapists, would be to deceive oneself and others; and, in the worst case, to classify one’s fellow believers as criminals.

Here, in principle, we could put an end to it. Because no words can be an excuse for endless obedience to the authorities, if you understand that evil is being done with your hands.

Editor's comment (click to expand)What appears as a license for the authority is actually a limitation of that authority. If an authority is corrupt, it is unable to play the role of guarantor of justice envisioned by Paul. If the authorities truly do care about justice, then you will respect their governance — not from fear of the sword, but from conscience, always reserving the right to obey conscience even when the authorities don't agree.

However, despite the apparent pathos of revenge and retaliation of evil for evil’s sake that Paul left to non-Christians, we can see an attempt to help Christ’s followers come to terms with the evident injustice in the world without resorting to resistance. Let’s consider what Paul says immediately afterwards:

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8, 10

Furthermore, we find the same tone with Peter the Apostle:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.

1 Peter 2:13-15, 18-20

And so, do not resist any power — love the other person, and do good in any circumstances, under any authority.

“The chief is God’s servant”. The Lord has both good servants and careless servants. Does authority defy God’s law and justice, and rampage? Love others, but do not resist the authorities. Does the government force you to violate the law of love? Love others, but do not resist the authorities. Have they captured and tortured you? Do they force you to kill people or participate in it? Do not do it — do not kill. Love others. And do not resist by force or evil.

Just as Christ did not resist earthly authority.


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