We have come to two conclusions in our previous blogs on the subject of “Being A Christian Statesman.” The first being that God instituted civil government in Genesis 9:6. The second being that the power of the civil government was instituted to protect the weak in society. The question we want to ask now is, “Does the New Testament continue to affirm the lawful existence of the protective power of the civil government in the Gospel era?” Let’s read Romans 13:1-4 to begin answering this question.
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. 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.
“There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1b) And all God’s people said, “AMEN!” So the New Testament unequivocally affirms what we have discussed previously regarding the existence of a civil power whose authority is given to protect the weak in society. But now for a new question, “How does this civil magistrate or ruler protect the weak in society?”
The civil ruler protects the weak by being a “terror” to those who engage in bad conduct. The civil magistrate is to strike fear into the hearts of those persons who would dare to disturb a peaceful society by criminal aggression against innocent citizens. Whether those crimes come from outside of the nation or inside of the nation, the civil ruler is to “bear the sword.” Meaning, that God has given authority to the civil ruler to use physical force to either drive back the violating foot of an invader, or arrest and try the domestic criminal for crimes against society itself. Further, as the ruler carries out his duty by protecting his innocent citizens from violent incursion or domestic aggression, he is acting as God’s servant. When the invader is struck down in war, it is not murder, since his life was taken in the protection of innocent citizens. When the domestic criminal is arrested, prosecuted, jailed, or put to death for their crimes, the civil ruler is acting within his God given authority. God therefore is himself punishing evil doers through the mediating power of the civil ruler, whom He established for that very purpose.
This “power of the sword” also acts as a significant check within societies, causing crime that would be committed if it was absent, to go uncommitted. The depravity of man, or man’s sinful nature, is a universal experience. Whereever humans dwell there are those who attempt to carry out mischievous deeds against their neighbors. But many crimes go uncommitted because of the threat of punishment. The would-be-criminal perceives that the punishment for being caught out weighs the benefits of committing the crime. His business rival then remains alive, where without the threat of punishment, he might not. His neighbors property remains un-stolen. He tells the truth because to defraud his neighbor would lose him his reputation, his freedom, or worse, possibly even his life.
Without that threat of punishment, if every person in society was truly left to their own defense, the strong would overcome the weak and taking whatever was gained through hard work by force. No one would then have the motivation to build or accrue the benefits of labor. Why would anyone build something worth having if it is to be burned, or if the rightful owner could be evicted from his property by violence? Why plant if there is no hope of gaining the reward of the crop? It is the threat of a communal punishment upon the strong that holds back the torrent of violence that engulfed the first world and brought on the judgment of the Great Flood. It is also the threat of communal punishment upon the strong that encourages people to build civilization, accrue wealth, and improve the place they inhabit for future generations. It allows people to believe that there will be future generations, that their heirs won’t be wantonly killed. And it allows them to believe those future generations will be able to enjoy the benefits passed down to them. That their children’s inheritance won’t suddenly be taken by violence. This causes them to dream, work, invent, and build. The protective power of the civil ruler allows for stability and peace to flourish in human societies. And with peace comes civilization, and with civilization, comes prosperity. Not just monetary prosperity either, but longer life-spans, nutrition, disease prevention, innovation, familial strengthening, educational development, etc. etc.
In our next blog, we will flesh out this concept more fully by widening our gaze and looking at parts of Romans 12 and 13 together to get a better handle on how we are to live within our societies as Christian citizens. Some of the topics coming up in this series will include vigilantism, the source of civil law, lawful Christian resistance of the civil ruler, and warfare, as well as many, many others, so stay tuned.