Introduction:Although the views expressed in this post are applied to contemporary situations, they are views that I first developed in the early 1970’s and are therefore not a hasty reaction to what is going on now.
In the current debate about gun control in the USA one hears it said that the problem is not guns but sin, I grant that sin is the root cause of all our problems. The Apostle demonstrates the destructiveness of sin in Romans 1-3. Yet we have to admit that guns would not have existed if man had not fallen into sin, unfallen man was a vegetarian and so guns would not have been needed for hunting. What is missing from the objection that sin is the problem is that it fails to grasp that in the Bible the way sin is restrained is by law. One can see this in nearly every book of the Bible.
What is disturbing in the present discussion is that Christian leaders seem to think that it is alright for the private citizen to be an agent of vengeance, yet this is clearly against the clear teaching of the Bible. God has clearly forbidden that we take the law into our own hand and we desperately need to bring the teaching of Romans 12:17-13:10 to bear on this subject. This is a case that when chapter heading were imposed on the text in the sixteenth century, an unwise choice of division was made. Paul’s argument flows as you would expect in a letter.
Paul’s teaching on love and justice: Lets look at this text and see what it teaches and its relevance to current discussions.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Ro 12:17–13:10).
We should notice here how much stress is laid on seeking peace and the good of other people, this contrasts to today’s emphasis on my rights, the Biblical teaching teaches us to think of our responsibilities not our rights. Paul calls Christians to be people who seek for peace and to do all things in the a loving way. In this argument of Paul’s he clearly say that “we should not repay evil for evil”, we are also told very clearly not to seek vengeance but rather to trust God. Part of trusting God is see that he has ordained a way that vengeance will be administered and that is through the ruling authority in other words through the state. It is the government that bears the sword not the private citizen and it is only the agents of government that are entitled to punish criminals. This passage shows that there it is no such a thing as a right to own weapons, enlightenment thinking has made people tend to think in this way and many national constitutions reflect enlightenment thinking rather than Biblical thinking.
Is Violent Revolution Permissible: The original idea for the possession of weapons was so that a tyrannical government could be overthrown, this surely is not a Biblical position, Romans 13 does not allow for violent revolution but commands submission to the roman Emperor. Surely we can not argue that a revolution is right because taxation without representation is wrong when Paul commands believers to pay their taxes. Paul was probably writing when Nero was emperor. I have seen many arguments for trying to argue for violent revolution from a supposedly Christian base but none of them deals adequately with this passage and I have therefore never been convinced that a credible case con be made.
The call to Love: Paul’s overarching concern in this passage is to show that Christians should be loving people and he makes this very clear. Paul shows that the Biblical law calls us to love and service and not hatred and vengeance. Surely in this hour we need to make sure that our laws reflect the love and justice of God, who treasures the life of the people he created.