Abundant Life

Teaching: Civil Government: God’s Design for Peace and Justice

Every Sunday I provide videos and valuable links to the Truth or Tradition teachings. We’ve been following the Truth or Tradition teachings for many years now and they have truly blessed our family. We have found peace and happiness through our beliefs and we walk confidently for God. My hope, by passing on this information to you, is that what you find here, or on the Truth or Tradition website, will guide you to a better, more blessed and abundant life.

If you would like to read my views on religion and how we got started with the ministry, you can read this.

Let’s get started:

(Video: Part One of Six)
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Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, peace, justice, and security have been very scarce upon this earth. Adam and Eve had not been out of Eden for long when “Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen. 4:8). Six thousand years later, this earth is still a very dangerous place. The Bible tells us that it will remain so until Christ’s Millennial Kingdom comes, when the promise of Isaiah is fulfilled.

Isaiah 32:18
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.

So, is peace and justice now impossible? Has God made no provision for security in society until Christ’s Kingdom comes? The answer to both is no. Since Genesis 9:6, God has commanded that the safety and security of the people in a society is the responsibility of the government of that society. After the Flood, God commanded Noah and his descendents to govern themselves and protect themselves from evil people. This was the birth of civil governments that have the God-given authority to protect the innocent by punishing evildoers, up to and including the death of those who are guilty of capital crimes.

But, in general, mankind has abysmally failed to obey God and strictly enforce the civil law modeled in the Bible. Societies have often been extremely dangerous places, wherein the average person becomes tempted to act as “judge and jury” and avenge himself when he is threatened or wronged. But, at best, vigilante action fixes the problem only temporarily, and eventually leads to the ruin of the society.

Understanding and supporting God’s design for social order is the better path to take. In John 19:11a, Jesus recognizes Pilate’s godly role as civil governor, and affirms God’s hand in the design (“You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…”). Romans 12:17-13:7 simply reaffirms for the Christian Church the authority of civil government and the need to honor that authority and be subject to it. It reminds us that the way to live in peace in this world is not to avenge ourselves, but rather to give place to the wrath of God as it is executed by civil authority.

Throughout Church history, many Christians have not believed that Romans 12:17-13:7 refers to civil authorities. They point to the occasional atrocities of the civil governments that have existed through the ages, and assert that this section of Romans must be speaking about authorities in the Church. This article has two purposes, to show that Romans 12:17-13:7 refers to civil government, not Church government, and to establish from God’s Word that God’s design is for civil government to punish evildoers so that the general population can live peaceful and secure lives.

Because Romans 13:1-7 is often taken out of context, we must begin our exegesis at Romans 12:17. It is unfortunate that the translators placed a chapter break (Ch. 13) right in the middle of this subject, because it makes it harder for the reader to see the continuation of the subject matter from Chapter 12. Chapters were not part of the original God-breathed Word. Major breaks, chapters and paragraphs were added to the text through the ages, and the chapter breaks that appear in modern Bibles are from the 1200s AD. Although the translators usually appropriately marked the subject changes with chapter breaks, Romans 13 is one they misplaced (Gen. 2 and Isa. 53 are other examples). The actual context begins in Romans 12:17. Christians are exhorted to not avenge evil with evil, but as much as possible to live in peace with everyone and to “give place unto [God’s] wrath” (12:19). (Note: we will be using the King James Version unless otherwise indicated).

Romans 12:17-21
(17) Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
(18) If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
(19) Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto [God’s] wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
(20) Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
(21) Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Several things immediately become clear from these verses. First, they contain instruction regarding proper Christian behavior (v. 17). Second, they refer to proper Christian behavior toward non-Christians as well as Christians. How do we know this? By asking the question, “If the words ‘no man,’ and ‘all men’ used in verses 17 and 18 refer only to Christians, would the verses still make sense in light of the rest of Scripture?” In other words, “no man” and “all men” must refer to some group of people. If it does not refer to all human beings, then to whom does it refer? “Christians” would be the probable answer (and the only answer if you are trying to make the case that Romans 13 is dealing with the internal affairs of the Church). Therefore we will see if it makes sense for the “all men” to refer to Christians (our comments are in italics).

Romans 12:17 and 18
(17) Recompense to no “Christian” man evil for evil (This does not make sense, because it would be implying that it might be okay to return evil to a non-Christian). Provide things honest in the sight of all “Christians” (It is okay to be dishonest to non-Christians?).
(18) If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all “Christians” (Is it okay to return evil to a non-Christian? Christ taught that we should love even our enemies).

It is readily apparent that the uses of the word “all” in these verses do not refer to a subgroup of human beings. God never wants us to do evil to anyone (Rom. 12:21; 1 Cor. 13:5; 2 Cor. 13:7, and especially 1 Thess. 5:15). We can properly conclude that the section immediately preceding Romans 13 refers to proper Christian behavior toward all people, and it is speaking of living in peace with them. In light of that, we need to reexamine verses 18 and 19.

Romans 12:18 and 19
(18) If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
(19) Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

The Bible and history both testify that Christians (and non-Christians) have been victimized by both non-Christians and unscrupulous Christians (any survey of prison populations will show clearly that a significant percent of those incarcerated are professing Christians). How is the godly Christian supposed to protect himself from these evil people? How is he supposed to “live in peace” with them? By avenging himself? No, because Romans 12:19 says, “avenge not yourselves.” Can godly Christians get protection from these evil people by calling on the authorities in the Church? Hardly.

Church authorities have only “charismatic influence,” and lack the ability to protect the godly from the ungodly. This is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. Anyone who has been in the pastorate knows that if a Christian under his or her care is assaulted, raped, robbed, or worse, the best the pastor can do is comfort the victim and pray for justice. That is not very helpful to the one who wants a way to live in peace in our evil society. There has to be a satisfying answer to the question, “How can a Christian live in peace with evil people without protecting himself by avenging himself?”

The satisfying answer we need, and the way a Christian can live in an evil society without avenging himself, is by “giving place unto [God’s] wrath.” That sounds good, but what does it mean? Does it mean that a Christian who has been horribly wronged should simply wait until God strikes the wicked person dead or punishes him in some lesser way, such as giving him the measles or perhaps breaking his car or computer? No, because God does not work that way. God is not actively punishing criminals on the earth today. [1] In both the Old and New Testaments, God commands people to punish criminals as the agent of His wrath. [2]

It is humans who execute criminals (Exod. 21:12-17), levy fines (Exod. 22:2-6), inflict corporal punishments such as beatings (Deut. 25:2), and who build and incarcerate others in jails (Gen. 39:20). What makes punishment “the wrath of God” is not that God directly does the punishing, but that it is carried out according to His will and laws. The phrase “wrath of the king” means the king is directly doing the punishing. The phrase “the wrath of the king” appears three times in the Bible (Esther 2:1; Prov. 16:14; Heb. 11:27), and it is clear that the king did not directly execute his wrath. Rather, the king gives commands, which are carried out by his servants, his army, etc. So when the king’s army carries out the will of the king, the action is called “the wrath of the king,” and when the will of God is carried out by people against those who oppose God’s laws, that is “the wrath of God.”

Some have argued that the wrath of God in Romans 12:19 is the wrath that sinners will face at the Final Judgment. However, that belief is even less satisfying to those who want peace here and now than believing that God will directly deal in this life with evildoers. There will be wrath from God at the Final Judgment, but that is not the wrath that is being spoken of in this context, as is seen by the direct reference in 13:4b to someone or something being the one to execute God’s wrath now (“he is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” NIV). Yes, there will be a Final Judgment, but that will not keep society safe now, or help Christians deal with the injustices of this life and live at peace with all men.

In this context, we should expect to see a concrete way that Christians can live peaceably in this evil world, a way that the wrath of God can be wielded upon those who unlawfully and immorally afflict others. That way of peace is through civil government, and that is exactly what is set forth in the opening verses of Romans 13.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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