ROM. 13:1-14 - RICHISON COMMENTARY
v. 1 - Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
This chapter continues the injunctions to live a life in submission to God (12:1-2). Chapter 13 begins a new subject-the relation of the Christian to government. It is the central passage on this subject, which also includes the role of human government in society. Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire. Christians in Rome needed to pay attention to governmental authority because it was the most important capital in the world. There is no indication that Christians were under persecution from the empire at this time.
The tension is that the Christian is the citizen of two kingdoms, an earthly government and a heavenly kingdom (Mt 22:15-22; Phil 3:20; Co 1:13).
The principles for God's empowerment of the state are found in Romans 13:1-5:
v. 1a - Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. The principle is that Christians have loyalty to both God and government. "Every soul" indicates that submission to human government-whether Christian and non-Christian-is a universal command for everyone. The word "subject" means to arrange under. The idea is to arrange our lives under the social order that government provides. Civil obedience is the operating norm. We should not muddy submission, however, with keeping silence about issues in government. Those of us who live in democratic societies have the right to speak to government.
v. 1a1 - For -There is a reason to submit to human government-all governmental authority ultimately comes from God.
v. 1a2 - there is no [civil] authority except from God, "Authority" here is used for governmental power. No human government comes to power without the superintendence of God's sovereignty, so state power is delegated power. The issue is not whether the government itself is good or bad but whether God placed them in authority or not. The word "authority" occurs six times in this section of Romans. The Greek word here means delegated power. God delegates governments the right to use their power for the benefit of society.
PRINCIPLE: Good citizenship follows the principle of divine establishment.
APPLICATION: As long as Christians live in human governments, they must obey the given governmental structure. Believers are to give to Caesar what is Caesar's (Mk 12:17). God asks us to obey not only kings and presidents but also all levels of governing authorities such as policemen, mayors, and judges. Paul does not deal with every contingency that Christians might face with government. If there is a conflict between the will of government and the will of God, then obviously we give precedence to the will of God. The issue is authority. Christians must accept governmental authority, but if that authority overrides God's authority, then God's authority must be paramount. Our responsibility to obey the state is limited to the bounds of God's Word.
v. 1b - and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Human government was established by God (Da 4:17, 25, 34-35). The reasons Christians are to subject to human government is that national entities come by divine establishment. This passage specifies no particular form of authority, whether dictatorial, democratic, imperial, or monarchial. Nor does this phrase indicate whether this authority is exercised in an oppressive manner, or whether this authority was obtained legitimately or not. None of that limits the Christian's submission to authority. The overriding principle is that anarchy by the believer is wrong, but there are exceptions to that principle. The principle of order over chaos in government is more important than a society's living in rebellion.
Not all rulers are chosen by God, but all those authorities that work for the good of social order are from God. God ordains all rule, not rulers in government. The state derives its mandate from God and not from the voice of the people, military superiority, or the succession of kings. God grants this authority on a temporary basis. He gives this authority to human agencies because of depravity in every man.
"To ordain" in Greek carries the idea of to assign a place. God puts government in place for the purpose of law and order. The ordination here is God's prescriptive will for authorities and institutions of government. God obligates governments to execute their appointed functions. Human government, then, is a divine institution established by God.
PRINCIPLE: The state operates under a greater authority-divine establishment of human government.
APPLICATION: Paul does not deal with every contingency that Christians might face with government. If there is a conflict between the will of government and the will of God, then obviously we give precedence to the will of God. The issue is authority. Christians must accept governmental authority, but if that authority overrides God's authority, then God's authority must be paramount. Our responsibility to obey the state is limited to the bounds of the Word of God.
The apostles continued their evangelism (Acts 5:28-29) and most suffered martyrdom for preaching the gospel. The Bible does not teach that Christians are to submit to any form of tyranny that might include violating a biblical principle. However, this passage teaches us that rebellion for anything other than a biblical principle is wrong. Personal liberties are secondary to God's norms. Property rights are secondary to a Christian testimony. We allow ourselves to be treated unfairly for the sake of the gospel. Christians should not submit to or actively cooperate with unjust or immoral activities of human government. Either the Christian should passively resist or, if that does not work, the believer should actively resist an unbiblical demand from government.
v. 2 - Therefore [consequently] whoever resists [stands against] the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
Opposition to human government is antagonism to God's plan for national entities.
v. 2a - Therefore [consequently] whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, Christians who rebel against the state dissent against divine establishment for government. Here the idea is opposition or resistance to government. This person stands against both God and government. God establishes human government so that human beings can live in order and peace instead of unorganized chaos in society. The word "resists" carries the idea of to arrange in battle against, to oppose oneself against. The idea is civil revolt. The Greek tense indicates that this is a settled attitude against government (perfect tense). The Greek word for "resists" is the opposite of the Greek for "submit" (submit = hupotasso; resists = antitasso).
Also, the Greek for "ordinance" is the root of both previous words-tasso, to order. God is a God of order. Everything in this verse centers on that idea. In the immediate context, the issue is social order from God's viewpoint. The idea of order in government applies to every kind of state. It is social order that is at the heart of the matter. The Roman Empire was not an ideal government, but the principle of keeping order applied to it. The "ordinance of God" means that God decreed in eternity past that social order would come by human government. This is a principle of divine establishment. He appointed and divinely designed that principle as a constant. God is sovereign over the secular state.
PRINCIPLE: The principle of divine establishment is the overriding principle but not the exclusive principle.
APPLICATION: Romans 13 deals with the cardinal principles of the Christian's relationship to government. There are exceptions to these principles, and for them we follow different norms found in other scriptural passages. The context indicates that the state can demand obedience within the limits of the purpose of law and order, which is the central purpose of the divine institution. The Christian constantly lives in tension between God's principles and what the state demands. We follow Scripture when there is a conflict between the two dynamics (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).
v. 2b - and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
Both God and civil government will judge those who break the law. Anarchy is against biblical principle (with certain exceptions). The "judgment" here is punishment from human government, a judicial sentence from authorities in government.
PRINCIPLE: God's design for government is to maintain the principle of social order.
APPLICATION: Those who resist the authority of the state resist what God ordained. They will bring judgment on themselves. Because Christians recognize that God gave the state its authority, they should be the best citizens they can be by accepting the authority of human government. They obey the state where it has legitimate authority. Where government goes astray from its legitimate authority, the believer has no obligation to the state.
Social order is a particular blessing for Christians in that they have the freedom to share the gospel openly. This is a public good. But God's purpose for government is not unbridled power. His purpose for the state is to establish justice through laws and power. The right to punish lawbreakers is foundational to an ordered society. This principle presumes there is such a thing as good versus evil. The state must have a clear understanding of what is evil.
Laws in the United States were formed upon Judeo-Christian assumptions, from truth revealed by God. That is the ultimate objective norm whereby we measure things-the absolutes of the Word of God. Otherwise, man is left to the caprice of whatever viewpoint or perspective is prevalent at the time. Citizens are then left to shifting mores and laws, and people cannot count on the direction of a national entity.
Civil disobedience is not addressed in Romans 13. If human rulers put themselves in the place of God, then we know whom to obey. The state has limits within the domain that God has given it. A president cannot make an executive ruling not to evangelize. In this case we "obey God rather than man." Civil disobedience is another matter than the overarching principle of obedience to the state. To involve ourselves with mob mentality is not Christian because a mob does not think rationally. Murder is never rational or biblical. In fact, murder is of the devil. No rationalization can justify a non-biblical stance. A few years after Paul wrote Romans, Nero launched a persecution against this church at Rome. Many lost their lives. The church was not rebellious against the principle of law and order, but they refused to honor the gods of the empire. There was a greater principle than law and order at stake.
v. 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.
- For, The "for" here gives an elaboration on the divine establishment of human government.
- rulers are not a terror to good works, Human governments respect people who keep the law, and their "rulers" show that fact. The state exists so that society is orderly and workable.
- but to evil., Governments will punish law-breakers. The state has the prerogative to punish law-breakers.
- Do you want to be unafraid of the authority?, There is no need to fear human government if we respect human laws. There is a proper fear of government when it attempts to keep law and order.
- Do what is good, Doing what is good is obeying human laws.
- and you will have praise [commendation] from the same. Civil government respects and commends those who follow the law.
PRINCIPLE: Allegiance to God does not abrogate our allegiance to the state.
APPLICATION: God has delegated the protection of society to the state. The public good is important in God's economy. Obeying governing brings approval of society. Paul himself was subject to punishment from governmental authorities, yet he maintained the proper perspective on the role of human government (Ac 16:19-24; 2 Co 11:25). The normal principle is that government is good for society because it provides law and order. Since government cannot deal with the sin issue, we cannot expect it to reform individuals. Penal punishment does not restore criminals to a better state. Human depravity can be resolved only by a function of God the Holy Spirit. Redemption changes the heart; reformation does not. The state at least can limit the damages of a sinful nature by forcing it to stay within certain legal bounds.
v. 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.
The first two verses give the theological reasons for obeying government. Verses three and four give practical reasons for accepting the authority of the state. One purpose of government is to control law-breakers and another is to provide order for society.
- For he is God's minister to you for good.
Civil leaders are God's ministers. The Greek emphasizes the word "God's," stressing the idea that civil leaders clearly operate under God's auspices. These leaders keep our good in view by maintaining social order and our welfare. The state itself is not good but its function to provide order, justice and peace is beneficial for society. We are not to think of government as infallible in its pronouncements. Yet this does not mean the individual can negate the state's decisions unilaterally if its decisions are not to his liking.
- But if you do evil, be afraid;
"Evil" here is law breaking. Those who break the law need to fear the state. The individual does not have the right to take the law into his own hands. The biblical principle is that government, which is a collection of justice instruments, has more objective processes than the individual has for order in society.
The purpose of government is twofold: To protect the good. And To punish law-breakers
- for he does not bear the sword in vain [for no purpose]; The "sword" is a symbol of police power delegated to government by God. The state will use its police force against law-breakers. The government has the power of life and death from God. The "sword" here is not exclusively the death penalty, but it definitely includes authority for capital punishment. The state has the right to judicial function. Those who take the life of another should also be dispossessed of their lives. It is the proper role of government to inflict judgment and penalty.
- for he is God's minister, For the second time God calls the state His "minister." This is added for emphasis.
- an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. The state will execute justice on those who break the law; it is God's servant in achieving both justice and civil order. The issue here is forcible restraint of evil by government. The individual Christian does not have the authority to use physical force to deal with his enemies (Ro 12:17, 19).
PRINCIPLE: Coercive power from government is a social necessity determined by God.
APPLICATION: When society denies capital punishment for first-degree murder, it stands guilty before God (Ge 4:10). Satan is a murderer (Jn 8:44). Capital punishment is clearly a biblical principle (Ge 9:6; Nu 35:33). If a government does not follow this principle, it is a failure of biblical justice (Ezek 7:23-24). Today God does not rule through a theocracy like He did with the nation Israel. Since Israel rejected her Messiah King, God turned to dealing with all national entities to provide for social order. If individuals were to take law into their own hands, this would create anarchy. That is why God uses the collective will of the people through national entities to provide for order in society. God's gift to the state to exercise police power is not unlimited. Legitimate use of that power is always within the scope of biblical principles. The state cannot exercise its authority any way it wants; it has no right to slaughter its citizens capriciously. God does not give the state the right to force its citizens to do evil, such as aborting babies. To the contrary, it is the state's responsibility to do "good" (vv. 3-4). The state's role is to defend its citizens from without the national entity and from within; it has both military and police power from God's viewpoint. The government is to be just in all its dealings according to the standards of biblical justice.
v. 5 - Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake.
- Therefore, The word "therefore" draws a conclusion to the state as God's minister demonstrating wrath against law-breakers.
- you must be subject, not only because of wrath. There are two reasons why Christians should subject themselves to government: 1) Externally, because of the threat of punishment from government (personal preservation) 2) Internally, because of conscience. "Wrath" here is judicial punishment. To defy the state is to invite death or severe judgment such as jail.
- but also for conscience' sake., The word "conscience" comes from two words: know and with. The person
who lets his conscience speak to him measures his personal standards against something he is trying to determine as being good or bad. This measuring assumes responsible awareness of our ultimate basis of right and wrong. Conscience normally convicts us in ordinary ways. The conscience pricks the conviction of a Christian, alerting him that God has divinely ordered government as the maintainer of peace in society. There is a sense of responsibility in this. The conscience's sense of morality motivates the believer to obey government with cooperation. The Christian should have a higher sense of duty to state than do non-Christians. Following the conscience in submitting to the state does not mean slavishly obeying without any sense of personal judgment. The Christian must always operate, even in relation to the law of the state, by biblical principles. There is a limit to obedience to the state.
PRINCIPLE: The conscience is a higher standard for obeying government than fear of punishment by the state.
APPLICATION: Mature Christians recognize the need for government to maintain the social order. Responsible moral agents act on a higher plane than simple fear of punishment. We must be careful with the conscience because it is not an infallible guide to decision making. It is possible for our conscience to be clear of guilt but not be innocent. However, it is a guide, just not an infallible guide. We take notice if our conscience pricks us about something. This is particularly true when it comes to submitting our taxes each year. There is such a thing as a "weak" conscience (1 Co 8:7, 10, 12). Conscience can condemn us for something not true to God's standards. We need to keep our conscience clear before God (Acts 24:16). There are those with a "good" conscience (1 Ti 1:5, 19) and a "clear" conscience (1 Ti 3:9; 2 Ti 1:3). Paul himself had a "good" conscience (Ac 23:1). We cannot justify illegal actions by claiming, "Everyone is doing it. Those laws are not right in any case." If Christians obey civil law, they contribute to stable government. Popularity, convenience, or the question of whether it is advantageous are not proper standards of conscience. Those values are from a warped conscience.
v. 6 - For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing.
- For, Paul here tied the message from the previous verse (we submit to government out of conscience) to the paying of taxes.
- because of this you also pay taxes, Part of Christian citizenship is paying taxes. Taxes are the means of supporting an orderly government. They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Mt. 22:21)
- for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing., Government officials have the responsibility to collect taxes and be paid by taxes under the auspices of the sovereignty of God. The word "ministers" is different from the previous words for "ministers" in verse four. This word carries the idea of priestly service. We get the English "liturgy" from this Greek word. It is not confined to this use but the New Testament always uses this word of service to God. It is service of a serious nature.
PRINCIPLE: Government officials are God's appointed agents for maintenance of civil order.
APPLICATION: Government officials might not be aware that they do God's bidding, but it is true nonetheless. God views public service highly, even the collection of taxes. No one naturally appreciates paying taxes, but it is a necessary function of government. To not pay taxes is fraud. The Bible offers no exception for paying taxes.
v. 7 - Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
- Render [give] therefore to all their due: "Render" means to give back. This presupposes that what we pay to government in taxes presumes a value has been received. There is an obligation we owe to the state. What is "due" not only includes taxes but also respect for the principle of governmental order. If we do not honor government by practicing our obligations to the state, we will become objects of state scrutiny and even retribution.
- taxes to whom taxes are due, From God's viewpoint, Christians owe direct taxes to the government.
- customs to whom customs, "Customs" is tax on import and export trade. This is an indirect tax.
- fear to whom fear, With the introduction of the word "fear," Paul moved away from the subject of taxes. "Fear" here is used in the sense of respect for civil authorities.
- honor to whom honor. Christians should go beyond the mechanics of paying taxes. They will never rouse suspicion from government if they respect government. We owe personal regard to government officials. We give them our respect because they have been appointed as God's ministers.
PRINCIPLE: The Christian has monetary obligations to government.
APPLICATION: There is a divine legitimacy for government. Political realism is part of the Christian life. This means living within the system of our political entity. We are not to regard our political system as an enemy. There is no such thing as the separation of our spiritual world and our political world as polar opposites. Modern democratic systems make it possible for Christians to exercise political power and to pass judgment on the substance of current political leaders. Christians owe the state appreciation for a broad range of services such as military defense, transportation systems, water, light, sewage, and police protection. If there were no national entity and no state or city organization, what kind of society would we live in? Life would be filled with chaos and crime. The Pax Romana (Roman peace) in the Roman Empire made it possible for missionaries to travel the empire sharing the gospel on their outstanding road system.
v. 8 - Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.
Verses 8 to 10 show the obligations of a believer to the civil authorities spoken of in the first seven verses.
- Owe no one anything , The Christian has one central obligation to everyone-the debt of love. This phrase does not deal with the subject of credit but of what we owe people who are in political office (vv. 1-7). If we owe the government taxes, then we pay them.
- Except to love one another, Love is a debt we owe to others. The one central obligation the believer has to everyone is to love them.
For he who loves another has fulfilled the law., The Christian who loves others has fulfilled the essence of his debt to the Mosaic "law." Love is at the heart of the law, not something alongside the law. Love fulfills the standards of the law. The law itself cannot help us to love, because this is not outward conformity to legalistic rules. The heart of the law is liberty and regard for others. A man does not cheat with another person's partner or commit murder if he loves people. The law reaches the full measure of what it requires in loving
others. Love is complete conformity to the law. Love is the girdle that holds all aspects of the law together.
PRINCIPLE: Love is a permanent and universal obligation.
APPLICATION: Love can never fully discharge itself. We can never fully repay the debt of love we owe to others. God gave us the resources to make this payment wherever it is needed. Verse eight is not a prohibition against owning debt. It is an injunction to give people what we owe them. The one debt that stands above all others is our debt to love others unselfishly (agape). We are to go out of our way and sacrificially put ourselves out for others. This is love of the will rather than emotions. Emotions simply manifest this love, not cause it. It is our love for God that motivates this kind of love. Love gives more than what it owes.
Love keeps the wellbeing of others in view at all times. It is others oriented and therefore self-sacrificing. Love is not an emotion that may or may not be exercised as we please. It does not select people to love according to our preference of whether they are loveable or good enough to love. Christians love without distinction. It is of no consequence whether people are good or bad, beautiful or ugly. We stand in the debt to love them all. Self-centered people always think of themselves rather than what they owe others. They always magnify their rights. Love does not displace or dispense with law. The point is not that the law is love but that love fulfills the law.
v. 9 - For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Verse nine singles out six commandments that manifest love in concrete terms. These commands also show acts that reveal a person who does not truly love others.
- For, "For" shows the logical connection to v. 8. This verse demonstrates that the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments that relate to our neighbors is interrelated with love. This verse shows how love obeys the law.
- the commandments, Paul here began to quote four or five of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:13-15, 17, all related to the second table-our relationship to our neighbors). He quotes the seventh, sixth, eighth, and tenth commandments in that order. The upshot of the following commandments is not to take unfair advantage of others. Love treats people fairly.
▪ "You shall not commit adultery," The command not to commit adultery has to do with the principle of liberty for a person's mate. Adultery violates the spouse. Love will not violate our mate or exploit another person sexually (Ge 39:8-9). The person's partner then has liberty to know that his mate faithfully keeps this standard of the law.
▪ "You shall not murder," People in a society free of murderers are free to live in peace in their community. Love does not violate the value of life. Love does not take a human life for selfish reasons.
▪ "You shall not steal," Not stealing is a tacit recognition of the right to own capital. Biblically, people have the right to own things. Jesus' parables show that it is right to possess capital and gain interest from it. The Bible does warn against usury but not capital itself. If we borrow from a bank, we expect fair interest rates, not usury.
If we live in a society where thieves are limited, people are free to engage in business and live with a sense of confidence in personal banking and so on. Love respects the property of others.
▪ "You shall not bear false witness," This phrase is not found in some manuscripts.
True witness to the facts allows for a fair judicial system. People who love do not ruin the lives of others by falsehood.
▪ "You shall not covet," Coveting another's possessions creates animosity in society. There is an implied jealousy in coveting. We want what others have-their boats, expensive cars, and luxurious houses-even if the possessions we currently own are above average. Mature people are glad that other people have success. If our neighbor possesses a boat, we are happy for them. We are not jealous of what they own.
- and if there is any other commandment, This statement shows that the commandments just cited do not cover the entire range of commands. Love leads us to find any of God's standards for the wellbeing of others.
- are all summed up in this saying, namely, Paul here quoted from Lev. 19:18. All the commands just given can be summarized in loving our neighbors by taking care of their wellbeing as we would love ourselves.
- "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." This verse is no justification for self-love or self-esteem. People naturally love themselves. It is true that people love themselves, but the self-love as presented today is not consistent with Scripture.
PRINCIPLE: Love includes all our social obligations.
APPLICATION: True love of self loves others. Christians are to love more than abstractly. Biblical love shows itself in what we do or do not do. God wants us to love in action. True love (agape love) cannot be turned to oneself. It is the very opposite; it is selfless love. Self-love is at the heart of what sin is. Love does not require that we like our neighbor but simply that we keep his wellbeing in view no matter how many faults he may have. Our verse does not teach the idea of keeping our self-image high. True love is not self-centered but others oriented (Ph 2:3-4). This verse is not a command to love self but simply a recognition that we do love ourselves. Biblical love has standards. Without norms by which we love there can be no true love.
v. 10 - Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
- Love does no harm to a neighbor; The negative "does no harm" is a rhetorical figure of speech employing understatement, here meaning "greatly benefits the neighbor." The negative expression implies a strong affirmation. This phrase is a repeat of 13:8. Love concerns itself with the wellbeing of others.
- Therefore, "Therefore" indicates the consequence of loving others.
- love is the fulfillment of the law. Love fulfills the Mosaic Law. The repeated, triple call to love caps exhortations of Christian's relationship to one another: (1) Love your neighbor as yourself, (2) Love does no harm to a neighbor, and (3) He who loves another has fulfilled the law.
PRINCIPLE: Love loves to obey.
APPLICATION: Love seeks the welfare of others. It does not harm neighbors. Law deals with sin; it is not against love. This kind of love removes all obstacles to doing the best for our neighbors. Love fulfills the requirements of the commandments through interpersonal relationships. Love for others originates in our love for the Lord Jesus. Love loves to obey Him.
v. 11 - And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
Verse 11 is a summons to action based on the coming of Christ. Verses 12 to 14 delve more deeply into this action.
v. 11a - And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep
- And do this, "Do this" refers to the Christian's duty to follow all the exhortations from 12:1-13:10. The believer is to do this by keeping in view the imminent return of Christ in the Rapture.
- knowing the time [kind of time], Christians are to know the time in which they live. The word "time" refers to the kind of time (a particular kind of season), not the chronology of time. Here "time" refers to the character of the coming of Christ. This is a strategic, special season of time. "Time" here has ultimate import and significance in the working out of God's design for us. It is time charged with issues of practical moment. That is why we need to wake out of our sleep. The alarm is ringing; the moment has arrived. "Time" is the completion of the salvation process and is bound up with our hope in Christ. "Time" here is the conclusion of the three phases of salvation: (1) Christ saved us in the past from our sins, (2) He is saving us in the present from the power of sin over our lives, and (3) He will save us in the future from the very presence of sin.
- that now, "Now" here means already; the moment has arrived. There must be no delay, no neglect of the important issues at hand. The word "now" indicates the urgency of waking out of spiritual slumber and lethargy.
it is high time, "High time" is significant time in the present. The imminent coming of Christ and our ultimate salvation at hand is the momentous time.
to awake out of sleep [slumber]; Spiritual vigilance is necessary because Jesus might come at any moment. "Sleep" is a vivid picture of indifference and delay. Many today live in spiritual lethargy.
PRINCIPLE: We do what we do because of the significance of time from God's viewpoint.
APPLICATION: Christians need to be wide awake for a major event in history. If they do this, they will orient themselves to eternity ahead. When Christ comes again, it will be a new day for every believer. Night will yield to the day, the day of final salvation. We wait for that day. God will deliver us from the very presence of sin. To sleep in the Christian life is to disregard God and become indifferent to His requests. The believer must not be lulled to sleep by indulgences of this world. Christians need to understand the critical nature of the time they have left on earth. We cannot satisfy ourselves with things of this world (Ph 3:18-21). Many Christians today have plunged into deep spiritual sleep. They have forgotten what it took to save their souls. We need to wake up and take action about our spiritual lethargy. Boredom retreats into sleep. The problems of life cause some to retreat into slumber. Paul does not set a date for the Lord's return. He does say that the time is nearer than when we believed.
v. 11b - for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
- for now, The word "for" shows why it is necessary to awake out of sleep. "Now" indicates the nearness of
ultimate salvation for the believer, the imminent return of our Lord.
- our salvation, Salvation here is our ultimate salvation, the consummation of the period when Jesus comes back again. Paul repeated the word "now" from the previous phrase, indicating the imminence of Jesus' coming and the arrival of a new day.
- is nearer than when we first believed., Our present time will not go on forever. It will come to an end one day, the day that Jesus comes again. God has a predetermined end for our time. He is in control of time and its events. Each day brings us closer to Jesus coming to take us home. The day of our salvation is nearer than when we came to Christ. The imminent expectation of the coming of Christ is clear in this verse. Every day brings us closer to that final day when our salvation will be fulfilled in all its completeness.
PRINCIPLE: God motivates the spiritual Christian through the anticipation of Christ's coming.
APPLICATION: Christians must make a decisive commitment to expect salvation on the near horizon. God expects us to eagerly anticipate the coming of Christ (1 Th 5:1-11, 23; 1 Pe 4:7-11). The fullness of our salvation is yet to come. We see the present time in light of both what Jesus did for us and what He will do.
v. 12 - The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
Verse 12 continues the thought of the nearness of our ultimate salvation.
v. 12a - The night is far spent, the day is at hand.
- The night is far spent [advanced], The "night" is the entire period of man's alienation from God (1 Th 5:5-7). The time in which we currently live is night time, a period when Satan has sway (2 Co 4:4; Eph 2:2). Night time is the time for sleep and sin because of the dark age in which we live. Satan's time will soon expire. His time is coming to an end and the spiritual darkness he created will come to an end one day.
- the day is, The "day" is the time for setting ourselves apart unto God because He is the God of light (Jn 3:19-21; 1 Th 5:5,8). This day is the "day of Christ's coming (1 Th 5:4; He 10:25; 2 Pe 1:19).
- at hand [drawn near]., At hand" means to draw near, to approach. The Greek says that the day "has drawn near." The result is that the day of Christ's coming has drawn near. The Rapture is imminent. The "consummation of the ages" will come (He 9:26). The Christian looks forward to a new day when Jesus will come again. That day is on the imminent horizon. Paul does not imply here that the Rapture would come during his time. His point is only that if we live our lives in light of the imminent coming of Christ, it will change our behavior. Christians should be always ready for His coming no matter how far off it might be. This day will manifest what the darkness conceals.
PRINCIPLE: When a man is prepared to die, he is also prepared to live.
APPLICATION: C. T. Studd: "Only one life, 'twill soon be past; Only what's done for Christ will last." The doctrine of the imminent return of Christ simply means there is no prophecy that needs to be fulfilled that would prevent the coming of Christ or the Rapture. He could come at any moment. Imminence in our passage does not carry the English sense of the word, but it does mean the nearness of prophetic perspective; it is not chronological but the idea is that nothing needs to be fulfilled before the Rapture. The next epochal event on God's timetable is the Rapture. This even looms on the horizon of the believer.
v. 12b - Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
- Therefore, Because of the imminent return of Christ, we are to "cast off" something and "put on" something.
- let us, Paul included himself in this action.
- cast off [disrobe] the works of darkness, Since Jesus might come shortly, we should put off "the works of darkness." Those who are spiritually asleep will be captured by darkness. They will do sinful things in secret. Darkness is the natural territory of sinfulness. We see specifically what the darkness is in the next verse. "Cast off" is a term for divesting oneself of clothes. Here it is the dirty clothes of sin. This is the negative side of "put on" in verse 14. The Greek indicates we should do this decisively (aorist). The Christian should deal with his sin by confessing them and moving on.
- and let us put on the armor of light. "Armor" is military language. The believer currently lives during a period of spiritual war, a time of "darkness." He will need his "armor of light" for this challenge. Darkness hides our sin but light exposes it. That is why people do not like the light of Scripture. "Put on" is a term for vesting oneself with clothes. Paul was saying we are to put on "the armor of light" in place of the cast-off "works of darkness." The Christian life is a spiritual battle against Satan and needs the spiritual armor of light to fight him. Satan hates the truth of who God is, as revealed in His Word. We shine the bright light of who and what God is on our sin. To put on light is to live a spiritual life. Christians must equip themselves for a spiritual battle if they are to survive the spiritual war before them (Eph 6:10-17; 1 Th 5:8).
PRINCIPLE: Christians are to do everything in the open light of day.
APPLICATION: Many of us today fritter away time. In a practical sense we can lose opportunities by dreaming of what we will do tomorrow and lose the opportunities of today. Killing time is not murder but suicide. We can challenge the darkness of sin in our lives by going to the light. The more we expose ourselves to God and His Word, the more we deal with our sin (1 Jn 1:5,7,9). Allowing ourselves to "walk in darkness" blunts our walk in the light.
v. 13 - Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.
v. 13a - Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry
- Let us walk properly [appropriate behavior], The word "properly" means decently. Our walk should be beyond reproach. Christians live the course of their lives in a manner that accords with who Jesus is. To "walk" is a metaphor meaning to live as a course of life.
- as in the day [daytime], The "day" or daytime references our spiritual life. People love darkness and sin (Jn 3:19-20; 12:35; Eph 5:8,11; 6:12; 1 Th 5:7; 1 Pe 2:9; 1 Jn 1:5-6; 2:9, 11), but this course of life is not in accordance with the nature of our eternal life. Citizens of heaven should represent themselves with the character of heaven-like light, not darkness.
- not in revelry [orgies] - The following six tandems indicate what is involved in a walk in darkness. Paul enumerated three negative pairs of vices. Each in the pair of two is closely related to the other. For example "revelry" and "drunkenness" are closely associated.
The first tandem is "revelry" or orgies and "drunkenness" or drinking bouts. Orgies are wild parties with binge drinking. This sin is the concomitant and consequence of drunkenness. A lifestyle like this is not appropriate for a believer, for it gives an awful depiction of our relation to Christ.
PRINCIPLE: Wild parties are the result of drunkenness.
APPLICATION: The believer who allows alcohol to control his life will end in wild parties that will dishonor the Lord. Christians who participate in wild parties give an awful depiction of Christ Himself.
v. 13b - and drunkenness [drunken bouts],
"Drunkenness" or drinking bouts are conducted by frolicsome men parading through streets. In the first century this was done in honor of the god Bacchus or some other deity. Here Paul referred to something less than that because he was addressing Christians. "Drunkenness" is in the plural, indicating many kinds of drunkenness and the habit of drinking bouts. This amounted to drinking-parties. We call this "hard drinking" today.
PRINCIPLE: Christians who participate in hard drinking will develop a habit that will be hard to break.
APPLICATION: Believers who get to the place where they are hard drinkers have a habit that will be difficult to overcome. Habits are patterns of behavior. A habit is overcome by a countervailing habit. If we develop a habit of not reaching for the bottle but displacing it with something else, then we will eventually conquer the drinking problem. If, for example, we memorize this verse and then each time we are tempted remind ourselves of what it says, we will counter sin with a biblical solution.
v. 13c - not in lewdness... - not in lewdness [sexual immorality], Those who fall prey to orgies and drunken bouts are more likely to tumble into bondage to sexual sin. "Lewdness" or sexual immorality originally referred to a place for lying down, a bed, or a marriage bed. Later it came to mean immoral sexual intercourse.
PRINCIPLE: Sexual immorality is alien to God's will.
APPLICATION: It is amazing how many young evangelicals have developed the rationale that sexual immorality is alright as long as they are not married. There is no biblical rationale for this whatsoever. The Bible is always explicit in saying that sex outside of marriage is sin.
v. 13d- and lust [sexual excess], The Greek word for "lust" means debauchery. It portrays the idea of someone who has lost all sense of shame. This person operates on unbridled lust with a sense of insolence and shamelessness. Most people conceal their shame, but not this person. He does not sin in secret and does not care who sees him. He will make a public exhibition of himself and does not care what people think of him. He is so deeply in the grip of unadulterated lust that he flaunts his sin publically; it is a wanton attitude.
The person who reaches the level of debauchery is at the mercy of his lust and emotions. He cannot control himself. Neither does he respect the rights of others. He is audacious and abusive with his sin. Sexual sin is the sin itself, but "lust" is a lifestyle of sexual excess. As a note of perspective, the Bible presents sexual intercourse within marriage as something beautiful:
PRINCIPLE: It is possible that some Christians can commit sexual sins to the level of debauchery.
APPLICATION: The Christian who has lost shame for his sin is in a state of complete reversionism from God. His will and openness to God are totally shut down. He does not care how others view him but is completely indifferent to public opinion regarding public decency. Since he has no self-respect, he does not care about what the church thinks or how Christians view him. The person with this sin has lost all sense of self-control with no sense of self-restraint. We find the same Greek word in Ephesians. When a person abandons the Word of God in his life, then he is on the road toward reversionism. If he stays on that road long enough, he can reach the state of giving himself "over to lewdness" or a complete lack of shame for his sin.
v. 13e - not in strife [dissension or quarreling], "Strife" and "envy" are social sins that go to church; they are acceptable within Christian circles. Yet this passage associates these sins closely with socially unacceptable sins such as orgies and shameless sex. Sins of relationship originate in darkness as much as the socially unacceptable sins. The last tandem of sins tears apart relationships. "Strife" deals with personal advancement at the possible cost of personal relationship. Four of the six occurrences in the New Testament have to do with division in the local church (1 Co 1:11; 3:3; 2 Co 12:20). For example, "strife" has to do with forming party attachments that cause infighting in a church. This person has such a spirit of competition that he becomes unbridled in his lust for power and prestige. He will not allow anyone to surpass him. If anyone does outstrip him, he takes it as an insult. He hates those who defeat hm. The self must be in the forefront and anyone else must take a back seat. Strife is the opposite of giving deference to others and thinking of their welfare first.
PRINCIPLE: A striving attitude is a contentious temper of one who loves to have preeminence over others.
APPLICATION: Strife is a state of mind toward other people. It is startling how many Christians are contentious. They could care less whether they divide a church or Christian organization. They are not satisfied unless they are in a fight with someone. The contentious person has no thought of another's perspective and doesn't care if his divisive attitude causes people to be upset with him or one another.
v. 13f - and envy., "Envy" here is jealousy that has its base in contentious rivalry. This person grudges others any success or satisfaction for what they do. It looks with jealousy on the accomplishments of others. This is a refusal to give blessings to others. "Envy" will wreck relationships (1 Co 3:3; 2 Co 12:20). "Envy" divides the church into rival parties. The Corinthian church was divided into the parties of Paul, Cephas, Apollos, and even Christ. Both sins of "strife" and "envy" here are the determination to have one's own way.
PRINCIPLE: Christians are to walk in a manner that is according to their high station in life.
APPLICATION: If "strife" was a contentious attitude toward others, "envy" is the outcome of that attitude. "Envy" grudges what others have. The person with this sin hates to see others achieve anything. He grieves for self where he is not successful by comparison with others; it is a victim mentality.
A person with envy tries to assert an attitude of dominance toward others. There is no greater test of our attitudes than how we react to the achievements of others. If watching others succeed moves us to jealousy, then it shows how small our soul really is. A bitter and envious resentment toward others is the work of the flesh. Ill will lies at the basis of this sin. Envy might originate from insecurity or a sense of inferiority by comparing oneself with others. This sin occurs when a person perceives himself as inferior to another. There is a sadness that he is not as good as someone else. He sees others as rivals rather than friends. If envy becomes a major feature of a person's life, then envy becomes constant, dreary calculations of how others are better than he is. He constantly wishes harm to others and desires to usurp them. All this comes from a feeling of being wronged. "Envy" is the sin that splits the church. It makes enemies in the church. This sin thinks more in terms of party and its slogans than in bringing unity to the church because of Christ. Any time this happens, it dethrones Christ as Lord from the church. It exalts personal preference and tastes that put others against them.
v. 14 - But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Verse 14 deals with building a platform for the sin capacity to execute its desires.
- But, The word "but" is a term of strong contrast to the sins of verses 13 and 14.
- put on [as clothes] the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul returned to the image of clothing ourselves. Here we clothe ourselves with "the Lord Jesus Christ" Himself. The idea is to endue ourselves with Christ. We do this by faith. We establish an identity with Christ by believing His promises. We unite ourselves to the closest fellowship with Him so that our lives match what we believe. We are to so apprehend the meaning of our union with Christ that His character becomes ours. He controls our thinking and actions. We must be attuned to the Lord. We put on the Lord Jesus at salvation (Ga 3:27) but we also put Him on again when we walk in spirituality. We belong to Christ; there is no option about that. The Greek calls for decisive action about making Christ the center of our lives.
PRINCIPLE: The Christian life is Christ centered.
APPLICATION: "Put on" is an allusion to dressing ourselves with proper spiritual clothing. The clothing here is the Lord Himself. We do not put on the dirty clothes that originate in our sin capacity, because that violates the Lord. Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ is to identify with everything that He represents. We are to be Christ centered. We cannot do that unless we first put off "the works of darkness" (v. 12). The name "Lord Jesus Christ" is the full title of our Lord. Previously we believed on Jesus, now we are to orient to Him on as we live our daily lives. We now share personally with the risen Christ.
COLE - BIBLE.ORG - Lesson 88: The Government and You (Romans 13:1-7)
Imagine that you are a Christian farmer, living peacefully in colonial America, when word comes that a bunch of politicians in Philadelphia have declared independence from Great Britain. You are aware of what Paul teaches in Romans 13 about being in submission to the governing authorities. What should you do? Which side should you take? What if General Washington later conscripts you to join his revolutionary army?
Or, you're living in Germany in the 1930's when Adolph Hitler came to power. You watch with growing horror as he begins systematically exterminating the Jews. Some of your Jewish neighbors, who were good friends, are herded off to the death camps, never to be seen alive again. Then you hear about a plot to assassinate Hitler and you're invited to join the conspiracy. If Hitler could be killed, it could conceivably save the lives of millions of Jews. But you're aware of Romans 13, which commands you to be subject to the governing authorities. What should you do?
How should Christians relate to their government? If you think that I'm going to be able to give easy answers to these issues, thank you for your confidence in my wisdom, but I'm afraid that you're too optimistic! Hopefully, none of us will ever face dilemmas as difficult as the ones I've described. But Romans 13:1-7 raises these and other important issues concerning our relationship as Christians with the government. When (if ever) is civil disobedience justifiable? What about armed rebellion or revolution against a corrupt government? What about capital punishment? Should Christians withhold part of their taxes to protest government misuse of our tax dollars?
At first glance, Romans 13:1-7 may seem to be out of context. Paul shifts subjects with no transition or introduction. But in the context, Paul is speaking about how believers are to live in love and to get along peaceably with all people. He has just forbidden taking vengeance and advocated treating with kindness those who mistreat us. This raises the questions, "Is it wrong to report those who mistreat us to civil authorities for prosecution? Is it wrong to use force to resist an aggressor?" So Paul shows that it is proper for the government to protect law-abiding citizens and to punish evildoers.
Also, Paul was writing to Christians, some of whom were Jews, in the capital of the Roman Empire. Claudius, the previous emperor, had expelled the Jews from Rome a few years before because he viewed them as dangerous (Acts 18:2). The Jews hated being under Roman rule. The Romans often viewed Christians as a Jewish sect, so that suspicion of revolution was always a concern in the minds of the rulers. Also, Christians easily could have taken Jesus' teaching about the coming kingdom of God to mean that they should work for the overthrow of the secular, morally corrupt government in order to help bring in Christ's kingdom. In fact, when Paul wrote Romans, Nero, one of the most evil rulers of all time, was on the throne. What a time for a revolution!
So Paul wanted the Roman Christians to be clear on how they should relate to the civil government. In Paul's day, there was no Christian consensus or Christian-based constitutional law. There was no Jewish theocracy, as in the Old Testament. But these principles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, apply to believers down through the ages, living under various forms of government. Contrary to what many Americans may think, the Bible never mandates one type of government over another. While arguably a constitutional democracy with a balance of powers is the best form of government, the Bible does not ordain it or forbid monarchy or other forms of government. We can sum up Romans 13:1-7:
Because God has ordained government authority for our good, we must be subject to our government.
This week, I'm going to work through these verses. Next week I hope to give an overview from all of Scripture on to what extent Christians and the church should be involved in politics.
First, I'll give a brief overview of Paul's flow of thought and then we'll explore four principles stemming from the text. First (13:1) Paul states that every person is to be subject to the governing authorities, because God is the sovereign who ordains all human governments. Then (13:2) he draws the implication: If you resist government authority, which God has established, you are opposing God Himself and you'll come under judgment. Then (13:3-4) Paul explains that the purpose of civil government is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers. As such, the government is acting as a minister of God in avenging wrong. Thus (13:5) there are two reasons to be in subjection to the government: Fear of punishment and conscience before God, who has ordained the government. Finally (13:6-7), Paul applies it by showing why we should pay taxes, namely, because government officials are servants of God. Thus they deserve our taxes as well as our respect.
1. The general principle: Since God has ordained government authority, we must be subject to it (13:1-2).
Paul first lays down a general principle (13:1a), "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities." Then (13:1b) he explains the reason behind this principle: "For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." He follows this (13:2) with a logical conclusion: "Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves."
God has ordained various spheres of authority for the blessing and protection of those under authority: the government, the local church, the family, and employment. Due to sin, those in authority are often prone to misuse their authority for their own benefit, not for the benefit of those under their authority. But Paul, writing under wicked Nero, does not allow for exceptions. He states categorically (13:1b), "For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." Therefore every person is to be subject to their civil government.
Some do not want to go so far as to say that God established or ordained wicked tyrants like Nero. So they say that God ordained the institution of government, not the individual rulers. But that is a weak attempt to dodge a problem that Scripture repeatedly affirms. For example, Jeroboam, who rebelled against Solomon's son, Rehoboam, subsequently set up false gods and a false worship center so that his people would not go to Jerusalem. Yet his rebellion and kingdom was "a turn of events from the Lord," to establish His prophecy through Ahijah (1 Kings 12:15).
Nebuchadnezzar's army destroyed Jerusalem, including the temple, slaughtered many Jewish people, and carried most of the survivors to Babylon. But God calls him His "servant" and says that He gave all of the land he conquered into his hand (Jer. 27:6).
Pilate was a pagan Roman governor who allowed Jesus to be crucified. Note this interesting exchange between Pilate and Jesus (John 19:10-11): "So Pilate said to Him, 'You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?' Jesus answered, 'You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.'"
Even the wicked dragon (Satan) and the beast (Antichrist) do not thwart God's purpose for the ages. They are under His sovereign authority, even when they persecute the saints (Rev. 13). Daniel's testimony to both Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar was consistent and clear: "The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes" (Dan. 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21).
When Paul says (13:2) that those who disobey government authority "will receive condemnation upon themselves," I understand him primarily to be referring to the judgment that the government brings on law-breakers. In verse 4 he says that the government "bears the sword," which refers to the authority to punish law-breakers. He also calls it "an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil." These expressions do not refer to God's eternal wrath, but to His temporal wrath inflicted by the government on evildoers so that it can uphold law and order.
Thus, because the government is God's minister to inflict punishment on those who do evil, Christians must be in subjection to the government. But this raises the questions, "What about civil disobedience against corrupt governments or bad laws? What about armed rebellion against evil, tyrannical governments?"
Regarding civil disobedience, when the government commands us to do something that is disobedient to God's Word, we must resist the government and obey God. When the Sanhedrin commanded Peter and John to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, they replied (Acts 4:19-20), "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." Later, when the command was repeated, Peter answered (Acts 5:29), "We must obey God rather than men." Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to bow before Nebuchadnezzar's idol (Dan. 3). In defiance of the king's edict, Daniel continued to pray (Dan. 6).
If the government forced us to abort babies to maintain population control, we should resist. If the government forbad us to gather as believers, we should gather anyway. If the government banned the Bible, we should own and distribute Bibles anyway. If the government commanded us not to say anything against homosexual behavior, we should teach what the Bible says anyway.
Should Christians ever take up arms against the government or attempt to assassinate a wicked ruler, such as Hitler? Were the thirteen colonies right to declare independence from Britain? These are difficult questions that must be prayerfully thought through in each situation. Godly believers differ in their conclusions.
While I would agree that it is wrong to murder an abortionist, which would be overcoming evil by evil (Rom. 12:21), I must admit that if I had lived in Nazi Germany and had had an opportunity to take out Hitler, it would have been very tempting. As you know, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was arrested and subsequently hanged because he was part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. Killing Hitler would have saved the lives of millions of Jews. I realize that by the same logic it could be argued that killing an abortionist saves hundreds of babies. So I'm being a bit inconsistent. But Hitler was so horrifically evil that, as I said, it would have been tempting to kill him.
Regarding revolution against the government, I agree with Sam Storms, who writes (on EnjoyingGodMinistries.com), "Armed revolution is justified ... only if the state has become totally opposed to the purpose for which God ordained it, and if there is no other recourse available to prevent massive evil." Obviously, this involves a judgment call. Some justify the American Revolution on the principle "that it is morally right for a lower government official to protect the citizens in his care from a higher official who is committing crimes against these citizens" (cited by Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible [Zondervan], p. 89, italics his). This view goes back to Calvin's Institutes (ibid.).
But in my judgment, I cannot justify the American Revolution on biblical grounds, although I am thankful for our nation and our freedoms. While King George was corrupt and repressive, I don't think he was so bad as to justify rebellion. Again, I realize that godly thinkers disagree on this. It's not an easy issue! But the general principle is clear and exceptions to it must be weighed very carefully: Since God has ordained government authority, we must be in subjection to it or we are in rebellion against God Himself.
2. The purpose for government is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers (13:3-4).
Romans 13:3-4: "For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil."
Paul is presenting the general purpose and practice of government: to protect those who do right and to punish those who do wrong. Granted, there have been many exceptions throughout history. Corrupt governments punish law-abiding citizens who speak out against the corruption and they reward scoundrels who help keep them in power. John Calvin argues (Calvin's Commentaries [Baker], p. 480) that God uses wicked rulers as His scourge to punish the sins of the people. In other words, we get the rulers that we deserve! But when governments function as they are supposed to, they protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers.
To do this, the government must legislate morality. You often hear that we should not legislate morality, but that is absurd. I had an exchange in the local newspaper earlier this year with an opinion piece where the author argued that imposing "personal, moralistic beliefs" challenges our freedom by disregarding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I pointed out in my response that we impose personal, moralistic beliefs all the time. We have laws against rape, wife-beating, honor killings, stealing, assault, murder, pedophilia, and many other immoral behaviors, and rightly so. We forcefully impose these "moralistic" beliefs on all in our society, even though they go against the personal beliefs of a minority.
The responses to my article were unbelievable. One man argued that "murder, rape, pedophilia, and assault are crimes, not bad morals." Hello? Another lamented, "It is true that our laws are informed by our collective beliefs. Unfortunately, those beliefs are often derived from a jumble of ancient religious texts." But he is hopeful, as he continues, "Fortunately, more and more people are discarding those antiquated religious beliefs in favor of a morality based on science and reason." He goes on to state proudly that he is in favor of women being allowed to kill their babies (he calls it "pro-choice") and that he chooses "science, reason and freedom." What delusion! Sadly, that man used to attend this church!
If God's purpose for civil governments is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers, then it follows that we should use civil authorities for protection and due process. Paul himself did this in Philippi, where he was unjustly beaten and imprisoned without a trial, although he was a Roman citizen. When the authorities realized their error and wanted to quietly usher him out of town, Paul wouldn't stand for it (Acts 16:35-40). He also invoked his Roman citizenship to avoid a scouring and to appeal to Caesar rather than face a kangaroo court (Acts 22:25; 25:11).
This means that if someone is physically or sexually abusing you, you should report it to the proper authorities. If your husband is physically abusive, call the police. If he is a church member, let the elders know so that we can implement church discipline. If you are being defrauded by a church member, first attempt to resolve the matter in the church (1 Cor. 6:1-8). If it can't be resolved, you may have to take your case to secular courts. The purpose of government is to protect law-abiding people and punish evildoers.
What about capital punishment? Paul mentions the government "bearing the sword." As far back as the covenant with Noah, God ordained that if someone deliberately takes another person's life, his life should be taken (Gen. 9:6). Under the Mosaic covenant, there were many other crimes punishable by death. But those laws applied specifically to Israel under the law.
My understanding is that capital punishment is still fitting for first degree murder. It upholds the sanctity of human life to impose the penalty of life for life. But the way that our government practices capital punishment is inept. Murderers are allowed to live on death row for decades while they file appeal after appeal, often on technicalities. My view is that if a criminal is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, he should be executed immediately after his trial. Ecclesiastes 8:11 states, "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil." To argue that a criminal should not be executed because he is insane is insane. To insist that we must execute him as painlessly as possible is insane. The issue is that he ruthlessly murdered innocent people. The punishment for that crime should be quick, painful death. Anything else cheapens the lives that he slaughtered.
The general principle is that since God has ordained government authority, we must be subject to it. The purpose for government is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish law-breakers.
3. We should be subject to government not only because it is for our good, but also because it is right (13:5).
Romans 13:5: "Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake." Paul means that we should be subject to our government not only because we fear punishment if we break the law, but also because we fear God, who knows our hearts. This makes keeping the laws of our land not just a matter of outward compliance, but also of inward obedience to God. With outward compliance, you are honest on your income tax forms because you're afraid that if you aren't, you might get caught. With inward obedience, you are honest because you want to have a clear conscience before God, who reads your tax forms before you send them in!
4. Paying taxes and giving proper respect to government officials is part of submission (13:6-7).
Romans 13:6-7: "For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor."
For the third time Paul mentions that government officials are servants of God, but this time he uses a different word that is sometimes used for those who serve in the temple and also of angels (Heb. 1:7). This may hint that these officials are performing a sacred function, although that may be reading too much into the use of the word here (Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Eerdmans], p. 804). But by saying that they are "servants of God," Paul wants us to see the importance of submitting to them, paying taxes, and giving them proper honor.
Paul uses two words for taxes. The first refers to direct taxes paid by subject nations, such as property tax and income tax. The second word refers to more indirect tax, such as sales tax and customs (Thomas Schreiner, Romans [Baker], p. 686). The point is, although we often disagree with how our government spends our tax dollars, we should pay our taxes conscientiously before the Lord. We can protest our taxes through proper channels and we can vote for those who might lower our taxes, but we aren't free to opt out of paying our taxes.
"Fear" should probably be translated "respect" here. In the context, Paul is not speaking about fearing God, but about the proper respect given to government leaders. We should confront the evil behavior of rulers. John the Baptist confronted Herod's taking his brother's wife (Matt. 14:4). Jesus called Herod "that fox" (Luke 13:32), which referred either to his deceptiveness or his destructiveness (Darrell Bock, Luke [Baker], 2:1247). Our current President promotes evil views on abortion and homosexuality. It is right to confront him on this. My understanding is that all civil authorities are worthy of respect because of their office. But honor is only due to those who deserve it because they are honorable in their personal integrity, morals, and in the way that they serve.
Our text rests on the assumption that you are in subjection to God and want to please Him. Paul is not promoting moralism, but rather submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. He is showing us how that submission plays out in our relationship to our government. So before you get right with the government, you've got to get right with God by repenting of your sins and trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Your relationship with Christ provides the basis for proper submission toward the government.
SW: Romans 13:8-14 - EXEGESIS:
ROMANS 12-15. THE CONTEXT
Earlier, Paul admonished, "Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God" (12:1-2). He then went on to explain in detail what that means (chapters 12-15). Christians are to love their enemies (12:9-21); to subject themselves to authorities (13:1-7); and to love one another (13:8-10). Then Paul says that faith must give rise to appropriate conduct. Christians must "throw off the works of darkness, and let's put on the armor of light" (13:12).
ROMANS 13:8-10. LOVE FULFILLS THE LAW
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not give false testimony," "You shall not covet," and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love (Greek: agape) doesn't harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.
"Owe no one anything" (v. 8a). In verse 7, Paul said, "Give therefore to everyone what you owe: taxes to whom taxes are due; customs to whom customs; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor." "Owe no one anything," then, continues that thought. The word, "owe" is present tense, which in Greek conveys the sense of continuing action, and could be translated, "Do not keep on owing anyone anything." Morris notes that fact along with the fact that Jesus permitted borrowing (Matthew 5:42). He concludes that Paul was not forbidding Christians to borrow or to loan, but was rather saying that we must settle debts promptly (Morris, 467).
"except to love one another" (v. 8b). While we should not be a party to financial obligations that go on and on, we do have another obligation-the obligation to love-that does go on and on. Just as we receive ongoing love from God, as God's agents we are to give ongoing love "one another." Most scholars agree that, in this context, Paul does not mean to limit "one another" to other Christians, but rather means to extend it to all with whom we come in contact-our neighbors in the broadest sense.
The idea that "one another" extends beyond the Christian community is certainly in keeping with what Paul said in chapter 12: Extend hospitality to strangers (12:13)-"Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don't curse" (12:14)-"Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men" (12:17)-"If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men" (12:18)-"Don't seek revenge yourselves, beloved" (12:19)-and "If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink" (12:20). It is also in keeping with what he says next: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (v. 9; see also Galatians. 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 5:15).
The giving of love fulfills three purposes. First, it blesses the person who receives love. Many people are desperately in need of a kind word or some small demonstration that someone cares about them. Second, the Christian who shows love for his/her neighbor becomes a powerful witness for Christ. Third, as Paul states next, love fulfills the law.
"for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law" (v. 8c). The law prescribed in great detail how Israelites should deal with each other and with others beyond their community. When a lawyer asked Jesus, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" Jesus replied, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments"(Matthew 22:36-40; see also Leviticus 19:18). Paul's comment that love fulfills the law is a restatement of this principle.
"For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not give false testimony,' 'You shall not covet,' and whatever other commandments there are" (v. 9a). Paul mentions four of the commandments (from the Ten Commandments) that deal with our relationships with other people (rather than our relationship with God). Jewett believes that Paul selects these four commandments because "of their particular relevance for life in the urban environment of Rome, where interpersonal relations were tense, volatile, and full of temptations and provocations" (Jewett, 126). Life in close quarters would make adultery, murder, theft, and covetousness especially tempting.
Paul leaves out "Honor your father and mother" and the prohibition against false witness. He then adds, "and whatever other commandments" to acknowledge that his list of four commandments is only illustrative and not exhaustive.
"are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (v. 9b; see also Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31). When a lawyer, seeking to test Jesus, asked, "And who is my neighbor" (Luke 10:29), Jesus replied with the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)-saying, in effect, that every person whom we encounter is our neighbor.
When Paul says that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, he is not commanding self-love but is acknowledging that we tend to love ourselves in the sense that we try to act in our best interest-at least that is true for healthy people. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," then, means that we should also act in our neighbor's best interest.
"Love (agape) doesn't harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" (v. 10). The person who loves his/her neighbor will not commit adultery with the neighbor or the neighbor's spouse; will not murder the neighbor; will not steal from the neighbor; and will not covet the neighbor's possessions. The reason is simple: Any action that would harm the neighbor is inconsistent with love.
Paul uses the agape love-word throughout this passage. Agape is one of four Greek words for love (the other three being philos, storge, and eros). Agape is a high form of love that is devoted to the well being of the beloved, and is the kind of love with which God loves us. In our culture, with its emphasis on eros (sexual) love, it is quite possible to misunderstand "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" as endorsing sexual license. Since the English word, love, is imprecise, we should be careful to clarify the kind of love that we mean by agape.
ROMANS 13:11-12. TIME TO AWAKEN OUT OF SLEEP
11 Do this, knowing the time (Greek: kairon-from kairos), that it is already time for you to awaken out of sleep, for salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed.
"Besides this"-or "Do this" (v. 11a). Paul calls us to do the things that he outlined above.
"knowing the time" (kairos) (v. 11b). Greek has two words for time-chronos and kairos. Chronos has to do with chronological time-clock time-the time by which we keep daily appointments. Kairos has to do with special time-special moments in time-the forks in the road that make all the difference-moments with the potential to determine destinies. Paul uses kairos here, signaling that he is speaking of a significant moment in time.
What kairos is it? It is the dawning of the new age that follows Christ's resurrection.
"that it is already time for you to awaken out of sleep" (v. 11c). Night is the time for sleep, but "the night is far gone" (v. 12). Before electric lights, people rose early to take advantage of every moment of sunlight and to accomplish as much as possible before the coming of the afternoon heat. People awoke late at their own peril. Paul says, "the day is near" (v. 12). He wants believers to be awake and alert to greet the coming of the dawn.
"for salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed" (v. 11d). It seems clear that Paul is referring to the Second Coming and that he believes it to be imminent. Two thousand years later, we can see that it was not immanent. Paul, however, never claimed that Jesus would appear in his lifetime, but said instead that Jesus "comes like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2). He did not predict the time of Christ's coming, but counseled Christians to keep souls and bodies sound and blameless so that they would be ready (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Paul does not speak of salvation as present, but says only that it is "now nearer". In some sense, salvation is both present and future.
ROMANS 13:12. LET'S THROW OFF THE WORKS OF DARKNESS
12 The night is far gone, and the day is near. Let's therefore throw off (Greek: apothometha-put off) the works of darkness, and let's put on the armor of light.
"The night is far gone, and the day is near" (v. 12a). Christ has come, and has pierced the darkness. The day has begun to dawn, but light is not yet shining full force. That will occur when Christ comes again. In the interim, we live in an in-between world where our "behavior must be appropriate for the day, not the night" (Wright, 727).
"Let's therefore throw off (apothometha-put off) the works of darkness, and let's put on the armor of light" (v. 12b). It is not enough to put off works of darkness. We must put on armor of light to prevent the darkness from returning. We must be armored for battle, because we can expect frequent temptations-a constant probing of our defenses-dangers arising from unexpected quarters-a lifelong battle against evil.
ROMANS 13:13. LET US WALK PROPERLY, AS IN THE DAY
13 Let us walk (Greek: peripatesomen) properly, as (Greek: hos) in the day; not in reveling (Greek:komois-carousing) and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity (Greek: koitais-sexual immorality) and lustful acts (Greek: aselgeiais-unbridled lust), and not in strife and jealousy.
"Let us walk (peripatesomen) properly (euschemonos- honestly or decently), as in the day" (v. 13a).
The Greek word peripateo literally means "walk around" (peri means "around"-as in our English word "perimeter"-and pateo means "to walk.").
From very early times, Jews used the word "walk" to speak of the manner in which one conducted one's life:
Paul admonishes us to behave honorably, honestly, decently. For one thing, such behavior is appropriate to who we are-to whose we are. We are "children of light, and children of the day. We don't belong to the night, nor to darkness" (1 Thessalonians 5:5). Secondly, such behavior is important to our Christian witness. Nothing turns people away from Christ like a person who claims to be a child of the light but who behaves like a child of darkness. Nothing attracts people like a person of faith who loves them as Christ taught us to love-and whose personal life bears the stamp of integrity-the stamp of Christ.
Paul lists three pairs of sins that we must be especially careful to put off:
The first two pairs of sins, reveling/drunkenness and debauchery/ licentiousness would be familiar to Roman Christians. The ruling classes of Rome were famous for drunken orgies, and lower classes copied such behavior insofar as they were able. The church at Corinth was beset with similar problems (1 Corinthians 5-6).
Paul includes a similar but more complete list of perilous sins in Galatians 5:19-21.
ROMANS 13:14. PUT ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, for its lusts.
"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 14a). Paul puts "Lord" first in this threefold title, placing emphasis on the Lordship of Christ. When we "put on" Christ (in the sense that we make him Lord over our lives) temptation loses much of its power. When we look first to Christ for guidance in major decisions, he helps us to avoid dead ends and blind alleys. When we seek to honor Christ in our relationships, he will help us to avoid hurting others and destroying ourselves. Temptation continues, but we can face it in the confidence that Christ will help us to overcome it.
"and make no provision for the flesh (sarx), for its lusts" (v. 14b). Sarx is an ugly-sounding word that depicts an often ugly reality--a focus on bodily indulgence rather than on Godly service. In the New Testament, sarx is most frequently used as a contrast with that which is spiritual (John 3:6; 6:63; Romans 7:18; 8:3-6). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul contrasts "the works of the flesh" (adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, etc.) with "the works of the Spirit" (love, joy, peace, etc.) (Galatians 5:16-23).
To make a space in our lives for the sarx-flesh would reveal a lack of resolve to live a Godly life. In doing so, we would be taking the first step onto a slippery slope that would almost insure that we would succumb to fles