Day 299 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue in Romans.
Romans 13 – This section continues to apply Paul’s call for genuine love (see Romans 12:9, and its restatement in 13:8–10). Love for God means respecting structures “instituted by God,” such as government. Paul speaks in general terms about government in its God-given functions such as deterring bad conduct, approving good conduct, and administering punishment to wrongdoers.
There are plenty of examples in Scripture of God’s servants making the difficult decision to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The gospel does not endorse blind submission to every governmental presence or policy, especially where citizens have voting rights and must choose between candidates and ultimately between governments. For every election means a choice for one governmental option rather than another. Misguided citizenship, whether too little compliance with government or too much, can be harmful to the conscience (verse 5). Paying taxes is an expression of respect for government (verse 6).
Believers in Jesus should have an open, honest, respectful, and affirming interface with governmental authorities and the forms their oversight of society takes. Such an attitude was exemplified by Jesus (Matthew 22:21).
Verses 8-10 conclude Paul’s call for proactive love across the sweep of Believer’s’ lives that began back in 12:9. “Owe” in verse 8 refers back to verse 7. Believers should not be in debt for back taxes or other forms of social irresponsibility. The gospel calls for more, and that is “to love each other.”
Properly understood and applied, all God’s commandments are good and important, as Paul already argued (Romans 3:31; 7:12). But together, they point to the expression of all laws combined: the embodiment of God’s own nature (1 John 4:8, 16) in fond personal regard for others. To break the commands mentioned in verse 9 would be to violate the love imperative; to “love your neighbor” is a form of living out in the Spirit what the law calls for. It should be observed how closely Paul connects Old Testament Scripture with what gospel belief means for Believers.
Christians love. That is what we do. In this is our entire ethic summed up. Yet we love not to earn God’s love for us, but in reflection of, and being assured of, His love.
If 12:9–13:10 gives applications of gospel-driven love, this section pictures gospel-driven hope. Knowing “the time” was also a theme in Jesus’ teaching (Luke 12:56). In these verses Paul applies insights from apostolic teaching on the end times (eschatology). Jesus has come and has died and risen, and “the day is at hand” that His reign at God’s right hand upholds (verse 12; Hebrews 1:3). Implied here is the vindication of the gospel at Jesus’ return. This calls for transformed living, casting off certain behaviors and putting on the armor of Jesus’ goodness and guidance. Jesus spoke of people loving darkness (John 3:19); Paul gives examples of dark behaviors from which God’s good news frees His people (verse 13; Romans 6:17–18). The overarching antidote to deeds that dishonor God is a union with Jesus that overwhelms sinful tendencies by satisfying the soul and filling the lives of God’s people with His wonderful expectations, perfect will, and overcoming power.
This passage (specifically verses 13–14) is the passage God used to turn around the life of the great Christian leader Augustine (a.d. 354–430).
How does this chapter help you understand love and hope?
Romans 14 – Paul takes up the matter of peaceful coexistence in church congregations. The faith of some may be mature, but others’ faith may be weak (1 Corinthians 8:7). Mutual acceptance is called for. Diet was (and in places still is) a point of contention. Paul applies Jesus’ teaching on misguided judgment of others (Matthew 7:1–5). Gospel communities should major in mutual support. Members should give God space to work with people whose devotion needs an upgrade. In all our relationships with other Believers, we are to embody the grace that God has shown us in Jesus.
Another example of potential conflict: various attitudes about the observance of “days” (verse 5). This may point to Jew-Gentile tensions in Roman congregations, as Jewish converts may have had a soft spot for continuing observance of feasts and occasions that Gentile converts felt no responsibility toward. An analogy today might be differing views on what kinds of activities one may engage in on Sundays. But since every congregation member is “the Lord’s”, we should work through these matters with mutual love and respect—serving one another with the priority of building up the church rather that enforcing our own preferences. Jesus’ death and resurrection on behalf of all those in the church—i.e., the core of the gospel message—provides the foundation for Paul’s reasoning in this entire section.
Throughout 14:1–15:7, Paul speaks of matters involving legitimate differences of opinion, not issues of overt biblical commands such as stealing or idolatry or sexual misconduct, which are matters for congregational discipline (1 Corinthians 5:9–13). Where there is personal latitude and freedom of choice, God’s coming judgment should make Believers hesitant to try to do His job for Him. We act toward others mindful of God’s supreme authority over us, as Jesus taught (Matthew 7:1).
Paul is not calling for indifference toward other members, nor suspension of all objective standards. The idea is rather to avoid hindering others’ spiritual growth, and to realize that the same activity may or may not be appropriate for everyone in a congregation. What does not vary is the gospel mandate to be “walking in love.” Don’t force God’s expectations for you onto someone else; the very highest considerations, drawing on God’s own character and gifts, should rule (Colossians 3:15). God’s approval, human affirmation (where possible; see Romans 12:18), and mutual promotion in the sight of God are the priorities.
The gospel message does “the work of God” in His people’s lives. Believers should not interfere with that. Jesus declared all foods “clean” (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15). There may still be need to restrain one’s own liberty for the sake of not impeding or damaging others. The goal is integrity in one’s personal life. Gospel faith is the means of embracing, and the measure of, what is acceptable in God’s sight. We sacrifice our own desires for the sake of others because that is precisely what Jesus has done for us.
Are there areas in your life you need to restrict yourself for the benefit of others?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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