Recently, I learned of a believer who holds that Christians should not support the death penalty but rather should support the showing of mercy to those who deserve death for the crimes that they have done. He bases his belief on what he says is a “command” in 1 Timothy 1:15-16 for Christians to follow the example of Christ’s showing mercy to Paul:
1 Timothy 1:15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
I do not believe that there is any such “command” in this passage. This passage is not teaching anything about Christians following Christ’s example in showing mercy on those who deserve the death penalty.
It does not say that the example was given for other believers to follow what Jesus did. The passage is saying rather that Paul is a pattern of how Jesus will bestow similar mercy unto salvation for all who will believe, just as Paul did.
Consider also what the apostle Paul said concerning himself:
Acts 25:11 For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.
Paul affirmed that he would not have refused to die had he actually been guilty of having “committed any thing worthy of death.” If the right interpretation of 1 Tim. 1:15-16 were what this believer said it is, Paul would not have said what he said in Acts 25:11.
Instead, he would have said that regardless of whether I have or have not done something worthy of death, I do not deserve to die because no one deserves the death penalty, etc. But that is not what Paul said because Paul believed that the death penalty was a righteous punishment for those who deserve it.
Furthermore, Christians who resist or seek to undermine the government’s divinely ordained righteous exaction of the death penalty oppose God and will reap the consequences.
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
The sword is an instrument of inflicting death on people; government authorities bear the sword as the ministers of God and must use the sword righteously when it is warranted to execute God’s wrath on those who do evil.
Of all people, Christians should be the foremost to uphold and support their government when they righteously do what God has appointed them to do when they execute His wrath on those who do evil.
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