3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Romans 13:3–4, NKJV)
God ordained “governing authorities” (human governments), and He expects “every soul” to respect and yield to such authority (Romans 13:1). Today’s passage explains that God set these authorities in place, to protect the innocent, and to punish evil doers. Lenski comment is worth repeating here: “The world is full of wicked men, and God has placed rulers among them to check and to control this wickedness by means of laws and penalties, all of them being directed, not against good deeds, but against evil deeds” (Commentary on Romans, 789). There is no hesitation in the apostle’s explanation that governing authorities have God’s permission to “execute wrath” on the evil doer. The use of capital punishment is approved, since “the sword” referred to in verse 4 is the actual sword used by the executioner, as he applies the death penalty on criminals. When governments become a terror to good works, God removes them (Daniel 4:25, 34-35; Jeremiah 18:5-11). For our part, let us “do what is good,” and thank God for the protection He provides us by means of governing authorities.
1 Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together, O undesirable nation, 2 Before the decree is issued, or the day passes like chaff, before the Lord’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the Lord’s anger comes upon you! 3 Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger. (Zephaniah 2:1–3, NKJV)
The great day of the Lord’s judgment was about to descend upon “undesirable” (shameless) Judah. Before it did, God’s prophet Zephaniah called on people to repent and return to humble righteousness. God’s fierce anger would be unleashed against the nation that had turned its back on Him. Babylon executed God’s punishment, but those who would “seek the Lord” found shelter from the storm of divine wrath. God decides when He will bring down a nation for its stubborn sins (Jeremiah 18:7-11). Now is the time for men and women to seek the Lord and find shelter for their souls. Judgment is coming, not merely upon nations, but upon the whole world (2 Peter 3:10-12). The mercy and salvation of God in Christ Jesus protects those who live by faith, doing His will (2 Peter 3:13-15).
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:18–19, NKJV)
God has shown His power and deity to mankind. This truth, that “may be known of God,” has been revealed by God Himself (v. 19). The very existence of this universe testifies of His creative power and divine nature (Rom. 1:20). The psalmist David recognized this when he wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard” (Psa. 19:1-3). Since God’s creation speaks of His power and deity, all who reject and oppose this truth are “without excuse” and under divine wrath (Rom. 1:20). God’s wrath is directed against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness” – these sins “suppress” (hold down) the truth that God has made known about Himself. Sins against God and against men display faithlessness that is seen and punished by our Creator. Therefore, God’s wrath against sin is an incentive to know Him and obey His truth, not oppose Him.
10 The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 11 Who knows the power of Your anger? For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath. 12 So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:10–12, NKJV)
The brevity and uncertainty of life persuades us to measure our conduct by the will of God. Eternity is ahead. Our bodies and our brains are wearing out; We will die. We exercise, we regulate our diet, we rest, we see our doctors, and so it goes. Still, we grow old, and die. What will you have to show for your life at the end of your days? Only “labor and sorrow” if you have not lived with reverence for God and His will in your life. After death comes judgment, and God’s wrath against your sin (Heb. 9:27). But, you do not have to face wrath after life on earth. Salvation in Christ will free you from the fear of death (1 Cor. 15:56-57). Learn from God’s word, and live your days according to divine wisdom. Then, whether your days are many or few, instead of divine wrath after death, you will be carried away to the eternal rest, peace and glory of the righteous (Lk. 16:22). The choice is yours. Your days are short. Today is the day of salvation.
A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention. (Proverbs 15:18, NKJV)
It takes at least two to quarrel. When one refuses to be provoked, anger subsides. Let us refuse to give furious rage a place in our hearts. This sin disrupts peace and harmony in every relationship where it manifests itself. Marriage turmoil, for example, is often traceable to a failure to control one’s temper during times of stress and disagreement. Wrath clouds one’s judgment and ignites conflict. Dedicate yourself to being the one who refuses to be provoked, regardless of the agitation and the temptation to plunge into anger’s chaos. Bring down the temperature of aggravation and anger with a calm spirit, and with unfailing kindness. Rule your spirit, and help establish peace (Prov. 16:32).
20 Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20–21, NKJV)
The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to use Proverbs 25:21-22 to teach Christians to give place to the Lord’s vengeance against those who do them wrong. This counterintuitive counsel is a hallmark of the “wisdom from above,” and is in striking contrast to the (foolish) wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, demonic” (Jas. 3:13-18). God calls on us to rise above the thinking of the world. Such commands challenge our faith and keep us focused on eternity instead of the immediate satisfaction of personal revenge. Jesus said to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Matt. 5:44). Evil never overcomes evil. Good is more powerful than evil. Honor the power of good by doing good to those who are not good to you. By doing so, Christian show themselves to be “sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (Lk. 6:35).
4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:4–5, NKJV)
God is the Giver of good gifts (Jas. 1:17). But one’s heart must be open to seeing and appreciating His gifts. When sin hardens the heart its eyes are closed to seeing God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering, much less allowing these good things to stimulate repentance. Instead of laying up treasures in heaven, this hard, unthankful and unholy heart lays up treasures that will be repaid with wrath in the day of God’s righteous judgment. There will be no satisfaction on the day of judgment that “I did it my way,” when “your way” results in your eternal death. Today is the day to soften your heart toward God and be thankful for the many good gifts He gives you. Let these lead you to repentance so you can live in His blessings instead of being under His brooding wrath. May we never look with disgust upon the rich blessings of God.