There is also the function of providing various services. Here the word used for “servants of God” is not the word deacon. No, now prepare yourself . . . it is priest. That’s right. Ministering priests. The idea here is that the government is not only to provide for our defense and security, but also to provide certain common services that all of us need and to function as priests among us, helping us in our needs.
Boy, this is a tough one. Isn’t it? Oh, it’s not that bad. Think of the government providing the mail service, utilities (water, sewage), schools, relief agencies, and many other functions of government. Now these are all proper functions of government agencies, as well.
In order to make these services possible, governments, by God’s grace, have two powers the Scriptures clearly teach: First, they have the power of using force. That is what is meant by “he doesn’t bear the sword for nothing.” The sword is the symbol of the right to use force—even to the taking of life. I don’t think there is any area today in which people are more confused and muddled in their thinking than in this area of capital punishment. The Scriptures do indicate that there is a place for capital punishment. What people need to understand is that when the state, acting in line with the judicial system, functioning as it was intended to function, finally passes sentence on an individual to yield his life for a certain crime, then that is really not a man taking a man’s life. God is taking that life by means of the state. That is what we need to understand. God has the right to take human life. All through the Scriptures you find him doing that very thing. He also has the right to set up human channels for doing this. This is what is meant here. This means that governments have the basic right to maintain armies for their defense, and that people—even Christians—are to serve in them.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome