Reading for Thursday, Feb. 16: Romans 13
In this chapter, Paul continues with practical application of Christian theology. Specifically, he turns his attention toward Christian engagement in the civic arena.
As difficult as it might have been for these Christians to see, Paul argues that governing authorities are “established by God” (v1); therefore, they are “God’s servants” (v6). Paul understands civic rulers to function, in a way, as God’s proxies: rebelling against these authorities is to rebel against what God has instituted, invoking judgment (v2). The question here is one of sovereignty: if God is sovereign, then He establishes the kingdoms of men for His high purposes. According to Paul, our part to play is to submit to these authorities. This submission is expressed through payment of taxes, revenue, respect, and honor (v7).
Romans 13 should serve as a caution to those of us who would seek to dishonor our governing authorities. Although we may disagree quite strongly with a particular administration’s policies and legislation, our civic duty as Christians is to follow Paul’s instruction of submission, respect, and honor. It’s interesting that Paul never makes his appeal on the basis of the moral fiber of a particular governing authority. We all know Roman emperors were a pretty unsavory lot; yet, Paul encourages Christian citizens to be just that: CHRISTIAN CITIZENS, embodying the kind of character and behavior that demonstrates Christ’s lordship over their lives.
Why is this part and parcel to Christian ethics? I think the answer is simple: because Jesus demonstrated submission throughout his life. Speaking of Jesus in his childhood, Luke says in Luke 2.51, “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” Luke bookends this with the prayer of Jesus before his arrest: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22.42). And of course, Jesus also teaches the importance of rendering to Caesar that which is due him while yielding ultimate allegiance to God (Luke 20.25).
Using the economic language of v1-7 as a springboard, Paul instructs us to leave no debt outstanding, “except the continuing debt to love one another (v8).” Paul’s summation of the OT Law distills the commandments to a singular focus: love – the fulfillment of the law (v10). Since Christ is the “end” (telos: goal, aim, fulfillment) of the law (Rom. 10.4), we can make the following link: in Christ, we see the fullest expression of love. Christ’s loving relationship with the Father is manifest through His complete obedience to the Law. In turn, we take our cues from Jesus, who guides us in loving submission to the Father as well. This is why we “behave decently” (v13), refusing to “gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (v14): because this is what loving submission looks like.