Paul explains that those who resist God’s system of good judges will find themselves under powerful worldly rulers who will do terrible evil. He contrasts God’s judges (exousia) with worldly rulers. The word that he uses for “ruler” is “arkon”. This is the same word as Paul used in the letter to the Ephesians to describe “government-spirits”. Arkon are rulers that are opposed to God and usually controlled by powerful government-spirits.
Throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul engages in a debate, setting out a false position and demolishing it, before stating the true position. With regard to government, he begins setting out the contrasts in Romans 12. God’s people are called to radically change their thinking and do his will (12:2). They were to love one another by joining together in the body of Jesus and sharing in the gifts of the Spirit (12:3-8).
The body of Christ was a relatively safe place in an evil world, because they could support each other and provide for each other when resisting evil. Paul told them to hate evil and cling to good (12:9). They should not be conformed to the patterns of the world (12:2) by relying on political power to obtain justice (12:19). They should not repay evil with evil (12:17) or see revenge against those who harmed them (2:19)
Followers of Jesus should not participate in the arbitrary and evil of Roman power. It did not provide justice, but protected the rich and powerful. Instead of relying on political power, they should overcome evil by doing good and providing justice within the body of Jesus. This justice would be delivered by elders rising up to become good judges, as described in Romans 13:1-3.
Paul explains that people who object to the justice provided by excellent judges applying God’s laws are rebelling against God.
Anyone resisting the decision of a good judge is rebelling against what God has put in place and will receive a sentence from God. Worldly rulers hold no terror for good works, but only for those choosing the evil way (Rom 13:2-3).
Those whole reject God’s system of justice will inevitably find themselves under worldly rulers. People who have chosen the best way within the body of Jesus are relatively safe from evil, because they can support each other to protect their community. Those who choose God’s good life do not need to fear worldly rulers (arkon). Paul urges followers of Jesus to do good by sharing in his body.
If you want to be free of fear of a judge’s authority (exousia), do what is good. You will praise him, because he is God’s servant for your good (Rom 13:3-4).
Excellent judges applying God’s law are the servants (deacons) of those who have chosen his good way. They do good for God’s people. If we do not break the law by harming our neighbours, the judges will do no harm to us.
In contrast, worldly rulers (arkon) produce fear for those who reject God’s way and choose to live under political power in whatever form prevails during their time.
But if you do evil, be afraid; for the ruler does not carry the sword for no purpose; for he is God’s servant to avenge those who practice evil by decreeing sentence against them (Rom 13:4).
Worldly rulers carry a sword and they are not afraid to use it. Their justice is based on power and coercion. People who are forced to live under political power, or choose to live under it, should be afraid of their rulers, because they can hit them hard if they step out of line, even if they are right.
Rulers carry the sword in an attempt to overcome evil with lesser evil. They don’t attempt to overcome evil with good, as God requires.
In contrast, good judges do good for people who have chosen God’s way (Rom 13:4). They implement a voluntary justice based on love that always does good for those who accept it.
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