Here, Paul describes rulers and government officials as ‘servants of God’. To us today, that seems an unusual use of that phrase. We would expect the ‘servants of God’ to mean loyal Christians. They serve God by their prayers, by good works and when they declare his message. However, many rulers and officials do none of these things. Sometimes they use their power in a cruel or evil manner. Many of them do not know the true God; however, Paul still calls them God’s servants.
God works powerfully in our world (8:28). God has the right to carry out his plans by means of anyone whom he chooses (9:17). In Isaiah 44:28 to 45:6, God appointed the powerful foreign king, Cyrus, to carry out his (God’s) work in the world. Cyrus did not know the true God, but God used him to return Israel’s people to their own country (Ezra chapter 1).
A judge may not know the real God, but that judge’s authority to punish criminals still comes from God. Our governments may not respect God, but their power to make laws still comes from God. The purpose of those laws is to make evil people afraid, because there will be judgment of evil acts. Government officials have real power to punish guilty people, which Paul expresses in his reference to their ‘swords’.
With so many evil governments in the world, we may ask whether good people should also be afraid of their power. Christ’s answer was that we should not be afraid of them. God is the judge of all people. A powerful person might be able to kill someone’s body, but he cannot send that person to hell (Matthew 10:28). Governments may deal cruelly with God’s people, but God will always support his people (8:35-39). God will protect his people; he will bring them safely to heaven (John 14:1-3).
Next part: Christians and the law (Romans 13:5)
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© 2018, Keith Simons.