Empire, Peace, and War

Romans 13 says, “1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” 

The Context of "Rightness"

Governments have the right to bear the sword as agents of God's wrath, but remember that Paul wrote these words while sentenced in a Roman prison  for preaching the Gospel. He must have done something wrong in the eyes of the government to land himself in prison - so what does Paul mean when he says "do what is right?" 

The government Paul is telling those followers in Rome to submit to is a pagan government. Also, it was one of the most oppressively violent regimes in the history of the world (especially toward Christians, who refused to fight back -and died in droves because of that).

At best, this should be unsettling for us. To submit to this kind of government means that we necessarily must be agents of peace and goodwill, rather than agents of rebellion and violence in the traditional sense of the words.

Instead, our rebellion is preaching the gospel, and our violence is dismantling the pervasive lies our host empire tells us and replacing those lies with the truth of who we are in Jesus, our liberating king.


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