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Table of Duties – Of Civil Government (with commentary)

Table of Duties


Of Civil Government

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. [Rom. 13.1-4]

Pastor’s Commentary

Dr. Luther’s original title in the German language for what we call the “Table of Duties” is actually “List of Household Responsibilities”.

Dr. Luther’s original title in the German language for what we call the “Table of Duties” is actually “List of Household Responsibilities”. The list of responsibilities teaches us with Holy Scripture who are within the great “Household” (of the family of God, all whom God has created) how to be a community for living and carrying on daily business within the framework of the three great over-arching hierarchies established by God in which we live: the Ecclesia (the Church), the Politia (the Government), and the Oeconomia (the Home and family).

In the Table of Duties, these three areas are arranged in connection with the others, all on the basis of the all-encompassing responsibility that one is to love the neighbor and offer petitions for the whole world (“To Everyone”).

This section, “Of Civil Government,” does not mention the duties of the ruler. Instead the point is that God has instituted everywhere the temporal authority that rules over nations and communities.

If one fights against or resists what God has appointed, the Apostle is clear, that one will incur judgment, especially temporal consequences – for the ruler “does not bear the sword in vain.” The eternal consequence of “doing wrong” contrary to the temporal authority is that person has broken the first commandment in breaking the fourth, by placing one’s self above God.

The temporal ruler is God’s servant given as a blessing for your good, thus, it is the Christian’s duty to “do what is good” and “receive his approval”, which is therefore pleasing to God. The only exception, not mentioned here, is if the temporal ruler asks you specifically to break God’s Word and go against God’s express will in the Scriptures and against the Christian conscience. Then we certainly answer with the Apostle Peter, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) – while remembering that nevertheless, there may be the corresponding injustice carried out by the evil ruler, who rightly or wrongly still “bears the sword.”

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