Romans 13:3b-5

In Romans 13:3b-5 Paul begins by reminding us that we are called to do what is good. Paul’s idea is that Christians should be the best citizens of all. Even though they are loyal to God before they are loyal to the state Christians should be good citizens because they are honest, give no trouble to the state, pay their taxes, and – most importantly – pray for the state and the rulers. “Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.” How much are you praying for our leaders. Paul describes them as ‘God’s servant’ because they have a place in the plan and administration of God, just as much as church leaders do.

Every leader should remember that they are only servants, and not gods themselves. Sometimes people that are placed in leadership allow power to go to their head and pride takes over. Scripture is clear that pride comes before a fall. And if we don’t keep our emotions in check, and not read our own press or listen too much to compliments, we’ll deal with wrath. It is through the just punishment of evil that government serves its function in God’s plan of holding man’s sinful tendencies in check. When a government fails to do this consistently, it opens itself up to God’s judgment and correction.

Paul references the sword which is a reference to capital punishment. In the Roman Empire, criminals were typically executed by beheading with a sword (crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the lowest classes). Paul, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has no doubt that the state has the legitimate authority to execute criminals. “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.” The government not only had the right, but the responsibility to deal with those who were evil.

After laying the framework for God’s plan for government, he makes a very clear statement. “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” We must be subject to government; not only because we fear punishment, but because we know it is right before God to do so. Obedience is never blind or mindless but is driven by our conscience and the Holy Spirit’s influence in our life. It isn’t something we should do grudgingly and fearfully to avoid God’s punishment, but because it is the right thing to do. Our conscience led by the Spirit will lead to us submission and obedience.

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