Grace For The Journey
Today we are in Romans 13:8 as we continue our study of this book. Remember that all that Paul says in this chapter is based upon what he has said in chapter 12:1 and 2.
Our relationship with God, other Christians,
And all other people is based on having
The right response to what God
Has done for us in Jesus Christ.
The only reasonable response to
Our salvation through faith in Christ is
To present ourselves as living
And holy sacrifices acceptable to God.
We are transformed into living sacrifices
Through a mind that is changed by
The truth of God’s Word which is then
Put into action by our will
In doing what God desires
Instead of continuing in selfishness.
We saw throughout chapter 12 the consequences of these changes in our relationships . . .
- As God’s servant, we will find our proper place and function within the Church, the body of Christ.
- As we step forward to serve the Lord, we discover both how He has gifted us and the ministries He desires for us to involved in.
- We are to be developing a love that is reflective of God Himself. A love that is without hypocrisy which abhors evil and clings to what is good.
- We develop a brotherly love toward other believers. This is a love that puts a priority on the needs of others even at the cost of self-sacrifice.
- New qualities develop in our lives resulting in our being diligent, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints and practicing hospitality (Romans 12:9-13).
- Even toward those who are against us there are changes. Instead of cursing them and seeking our own revenge upon them, we seek to bless them as we learn to overcome evil with good. It is not easy to love our enemies as Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 5:43-48), yet in doing so we demonstrate Christian maturity and the working of God within our lives.
- Our relationship with government changes too. Non-Christians obey the laws of the land because of the fear of the consequences if they do not. Christians learn to submit themselves to the governing authorities and obey the laws because they recognize that in doing so they are actually submitting to God who establishes every such authority. The only exception to this submission is when there is a conflict between obeying government and obeying God. We must say the same thing the Apostles said to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” If suffering results from this, we submit ourselves to it just as the Apostles did and continue to obey God’s commands (Acts 5:40-42).
As we saw in our study yesterday of Romans 12:1-7, God’s purpose for governments is for them to promote what is good and punish those who do evil. When a government fails in these tasks, it risks God replacing it with another government. This could be through God’s direct actions, such as with Nebuchadnezzar in ancient Babylon; or through a deliverer He appoints to the task, such as the many judges of ancient Israel; or through the actions of another nation, as is recorded many times in the Bible and is currently occurring in Iraq by Allied forces.
This submission to government includes paying our taxes. Remember that Paul said this when Nero was Caesar and taxes were not only high and often unjust, but made even worse by the tax collectors who became rich themselves by overcharging people on their taxes. We also render to all those in authority not only whatever financial tax or custom is due, but also the proper respect and honor due their office. In our own nation we have the freedom and the responsibility to be involved in government, but sometimes disrespect of government officials and authorities seems to be the normal behavior.
The Christian should stand out by
Their respectful behavior toward all,
Even if they do not like
The actions of those officials.
We might work hard to see such a person replaced by someone more acceptable to us, but we still show respect because of their office, even if they personally are scoundrels. Jesus, Paul, the prophets, and the apostles all had encounters with government officials who were less than honorable, yet they always paid the proper respect due the office that the man held (Matthew 26, Mark 14; Acts 23, etc.).
Loving Our Neighbor.
Paul continues in verses 8-14 in explaining the consequences of becoming living sacrifices for God in our relationships with others. Verses 1-7 speak to the issue of our relationship with government. Here in verses 8-10 he explains our relationship to our neighbor, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.”
Our obligation to government includes taxes and honor. Our obligation to our neighbor is summed up in the word “love.”” This is the verb form of “agape” which we studied earlier . . .
It is the love of commitment and sacrifice
For the other person’s best interest.
It is the love God has for us,
And the love we are
To have for other people.
Paul emphasizes this obligation to love by contrasting it with the statement that we should not owe anyone anything except that love. This does not mean that we are to refuse to have obligations to other people as much as it means that we will discharge all our debts. We are obligated to render tax, custom, fear, and honor to governmental authorities, and we discharge that debt by giving such authorities those very things.
Christians And Debt.
Some have taken this to mean that Christians should never go into financial debt. That idea would probably help a lot of people stay out of financial trouble, but while the Scriptures gives many warnings about financial debt, they do not prohibit such debt elsewhere, so that cannot be Paul’s meaning here. Deuteronomy 15:8 specifically commands the Israelites to generously lend to the poor for their needs, but they were also commanded not to charge usury (interest) on such a loan (Leviticus 25:36), though they could charge interest to foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:20). In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), Jesus speaks favorably of placing your savings in a bank where it could be loaned out with interest.
The Bible does not forbid making loans or borrowing money under certain restrictions. The issue here is that all debts are to be paid back. It is the wicked that borrow and do not pay back (Psalm 37:12). Such should not be true of the Christian regardless of what has become common practice in abusing our nation’s bankruptcy laws. It is this obligation to pay back that is the basis for the many scriptural cautions about borrowing. Provers 22:7 states, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”
There are many examples of unsecured loans resulting in the borrowers impoverishment and enslavement to the lender. (An unsecured loan is when you borrow money without sufficient collateral to pay off the loan if you default). In Bible times that enslavement could be literal (2 Kings 4:1; Nehemiah 5:4-5). While a creditor cannot enslave you in this nation, they can make your life miserable, (especially if who you owe is the Federal government).
All people need to be cautious about borrowing money, but the Christian especially so because God requires us to fulfill all our obligations including paying back what we owe. As a Christian matures, they will normally have better financial stability simply from the fact that their focus of life changes to godliness, and the temptation to join in the materialism around us diminishes.
When you spend according to
God’s principles and priorities,
You will not be spending
Beyond your means.
In addition, Jesus promised that
God would meet our needs for life
If we would seek first His
Kingdom and righteousness
One other factor that will help keep a Christian out of debt comes from the love we are to have for each other. When a fellow believer is in true need, the rest of us are to express our love in tangible ways. 1 John 3:17 asks the rhetorical question, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” John continues in verse 18 commanding, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”
Believers are to help one another with their real needs. A caution here is that we meet real needs, not perceived wants. Helping those with financial problems may also include examining how they spend their money and teaching them God’s commands concerning finances, and then hold them accountable so that thy learn to live by godly principles instead of selfish or foolish desires. All of this is the practical demonstration of fulfilling what Paul says here in the second phrase of Romans 13:8 is our obligation. We are obligated to love one another, for he who loves others has fulfilled the law.
Christians And Love.
This idea of love fulfilling the law is not a new concept, but one which Jesus has previously stated. In Matthew 22;36-40, Jesus was asked by a Pharisee which was the great commandment. Jesus answered, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Paul is saying the same thing here in Romans 13:9-10.
All of God’s commands about how you are to treat other people will be fulfilled if you “love your neighbors as yourself.” Most of God’s commands are prohibitions. There are things that cause harm to others, so we are not to do them. Paul gives specific examples of this from the10 Commandments in verse 9, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet.” You cannot both love a person and also do any of these or any other thing God prohibits. They are opposite of each other.
At the same time, God also gives commandments which are the positive things he wants us to do in our relationship with one another to cause good. What Paul said back in chapter 12:13 that we are to be “contributing to the needs of the saints and practicing hospitality” are examples of this. If we are loving our neighbors, then we will also be striving to accomplish these positive commandments too. So it is that in loving our neighbors, we fulfill the law of God.
Some might become concerned that Paul is talking about law here and even mentions several of the 10 commandments specifically. We should note first in relation to this that Paul is writing to a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome, and that explaining the Christians’ relationship to the Mosaic Law would be very important for those who were Jewish. What Paul says here in Romans 13 gives them a clear understanding that their focus no longer has to be about trying to know and keep track of all the details of the Mosaic Law so that they could keep them and in that way please God.
The Christians’ focus is on actively loving God,
One another, and all people including their enemies.
Through this active love, they fulfill God’s will.
There are those that look back to Paul’s statement in Romans 6:14 that we are “not under the law, but under grace,” and conclude that the Christian has no relationship to the law of God. That is not true. I dealt with this issue when we went through Romans 6, so I will not do so again in detail here, but in short, we have a different relationship to law as Christians. We have no obligation to earn God’s favor by keeping the Mosaic law, for Jesus has fulfilled that law and we are justified by our faith in Him. However, even the Mosaic law is still important to the Christian for we learn much about God’s character, will. and moral principles through it. But more importantly, the Christian is under the “law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21) which includes all the commands that the New Testament gives to us and which we are to teach others (Matthew 28:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2).
A final question we might ask in this section is, “Who is our neighbor?” Jesus was asked that question in Luke 10, and He responded with the story of the Good Samaritan. Our “neighbor” is anyone we meet. The Christian in becoming a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God also learns to love his neighbor as himself.
Living in Holiness.
Paul concludes this chapter in verses 11-14 with a call of urgency to put into practice the admonitions he has made in these two chapters. As living sacrifices, we are to increasingly become like our Lord Jesus Christ (Roman 8:29), and we do not know how long we will have to do that before our opportunities to serve the Lord end and judgement comes. Now is the time to obey God in all these matters. What does this involve?
Paul’s admonition here is as relevant, if not more relevant, today than it was when he first penned these words. Why? First, because many Christians today are as or more complacent now than then. And second, we are even closer to our Lord’s return.
A great problem for Christians is how quickly we can become complacent in our lives. We get caught up in the day to day stuff of living and are soon sidetracked off the purpose of our existence. Our focus gets skewed onto other things such as work, hobbies, improving our homes, having fun, and the things of this world. None of these are wrong or bad in themselves, but they do compete for our attention as well as our time, resources, and energy.
Paul refers to the complacency caused by all these distractions as “being asleep.” Sleep is a period when our “consciousness is practically suspended.” We are inactive and unaware of what is going around us and so we do not respond to it.
When we are spiritually asleep,
We lose consciousness of
God’s priorities and claims
Upon our lives.
We lose our awareness of
What God is doing around us
And what He desires to do
In and through us.
We become less and less
Active in His service
As we fail to respond
To His calls to do so.
Paul calls on the Romans, and upon us to wake up! Don’t remain in such spiritual stupor. Get out of bed and get moving. The writer of Hebrews likened his call to action to a race in which we are to lay aside every encumbrance as well as the sin that so easily entangles us so that we can run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Spiritually waking up is not just refraining from sin,
But also actively serving the Lord and fulfilling
His will for your life even if that means
Setting aside things that may even
Be good, but are not the best for us.
Why should we wake up? Paul gives two related reasons – Knowing the time, and knowing the nearness of the Lord’s return.
There are two Greek words for “time.” The first is “chronos” from which we get words such as “chronology, chronometer, and clock.” This is the measure of the passing of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. That is not the word found here. It is the second Greek word for “time” is “kairos,” which is used here. It speaks of “time in the sense of epoch, era, or age.” This is the word Jesus used when rebuking the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 16:3 that they could discern the coming weather from the appearance of the sky, but they could not discern “the signs of the times.” They were so spiritually blind that they could not tell that they were living in the times of the Messiah, who was actually standing before them.
There are many particular ages which the Bible refers to, such as the “days of Noah” (Matthew 24:37), the “ancient times” of the patriarchs (Joshua 24:2), the “times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30), and the “present age” (Titus 2:12). The “time” that Paul is speaking of here is the present time which precedes the return of Christ.
The urgency of Paul’s admonition is found in him telling them that it was “already the hour” for them to “awaken from sleep.” They could not risk remaining complacent or ignoring his admonition. Neither can we, for what he said to them is still true today. “For now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” Paul is talking to Christians who had already been converted, so he is not referring to them coming to salvation, but rather to the culmination of their salvation. Foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification had already taken place (Romans 8:29-30). They were now awaiting the final aspect of salvation, glorification. Years have gone by since they were saved, just as is true for many of us, so obviously we are closer to the culmination of our salvation now than when we first believed. The time of our Lord’s return is closer today than it was yesterday. In fact, James 5:9 tells us that he “right at the door.” The night of man’s spiritual darkness is almost gone and the day of Christ’s revelation is at hand. The imminent return of Jesus is to be a cause for Christians’ to rouse themselves out of their slumber and live right.
The fact that Jesus could return at any time is a cause of both comfort and urgency in the Christian. It was a personal comfort for Paul, and he, James, and John used it to motivate believers to holiness.
Paul did not know when Jesus would return, for no man knows the day or hour when that will be (Matthew 24:36), but Paul’s writings demonstrate that he expected it to be within his own life time. Paul consistently includes himself among those that could be present at Jesus’ return. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Paul speaks of the Lord’s return and the rapture, or catching away, which will occur at that moment. The dead in Christ shall rise first, “then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” Paul places himself among those who might be alive at that time. That was a comfort to him with which he wanted the Thessalonians to encourage each other. Earlier in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, Paul commented how the Thessalonians had “turned from idols to the living and true God, to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Here Paul includes himself with those who expected to be delivered from God’s coming wrath upon the earth.
In Philippians 4:20-21, Paul tells of his own motivation in walking in holiness by including himself among those whose, “citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory. . . .”
The Apostle John was also motivated to holiness by the promised return of Jesus. In 1 John 3:2-3 he says that everyone who has hope in being changed to become like Christ when He appears purifies himself, just as He is pure. A few verses earlier John had encouraged his, “Little children, abide in Him so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” Interestingly, though John is old when he writes this, he includes himself as those who might be present at Jesus coming.
The apostle James both encouraged and warned based on the imminent coming of the Lord. In James 5:7-8 he encouraged them to , “be patient” and “strengthen your hearts” as they strived to live godly lives in the midst of suffering because, “The Lord is at hand.” James then warned in verse 9, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”
The Lord’s coming is anticipated joyfully by those walking in holiness, but those who should be, but are not living godly lives wait for it with some trepidation because they know they will be put to shame. Here in Romans 13:12-13, Paul does not want believers to be found in a shameful position when the Lord returns, so he admonishes, “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. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.” Paul includes himself because he recognizes his own danger of stumbling. Every Christian needs to walk humbly with God, for pride precedes a fall (Proverbs 11:2; 16:8; 29:23), and as Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 10:12 in talking about the nation of Israel’s failures, “Therefore let him who things he stands take heed lest he fall.”
We are to “cast off” which is to “throw or take off” the “deeds of darkness,” which is a general reference to all sin. We are to do the opposite and “put on the armor of light.” The armor of light is the protection that comes from walking in holiness. Check out Ephesians 6:10-18 to see Paul’s full explanation of spiritual armor. Paul contrasts here what is taken off with what is put on. Sin is exchanged for holiness. Throw off the darkness of sin and put on the protection of God’s holiness. Stop doing the kinds of things that you want hidden from view, the kinds of things that are done in the night. Instead, do the things that are proper that you are unashamed to have the full light of day shine upon.
Paul gives several specific examples of the kinds of behaviors that are improper deeds of darkness . . .
1) “Carousing” from “komos,” which can also be translated as “revelry, rioting, and orgies.” This would be the type of parties in which the participants lose control of themselves.
2) “Drunkenness,” from “meth,” which is, “intoxication by alcohol or other drugs to the point of losing control. Drunkenness and carousing are usually associated with each other.
3) “Sexual promiscuity,” refers to “marital relations with those you are not married to.” A common sin then and now.
4) “Sensuality,” can also be translated as, “indecency, licentiousness, lasciviousness, and shamelessness. Another sin common to ancient Rome and our own times. In its extreme form this is lewdness, but its milder forms are often excused as being “stylish.” This can be a problem for men or women, but it is more common for women to dress themselves in a way so as to flaunt their physical features so that they will catch the attention of men. That is a deed of darkness. We are to take to heart the God’s instruction to dress with “proper clothing, modestly and discreetly”(1 Timothy 2:9). Too many women who profess to be Christians are taking their cues on how to dress from the fashion pages instead of the Bible’s pages. They dress in a way so as to call attention to the sexual nature of their bodies, as does a harlot, instead of dressing with modesty so as to call attention to their character qualities of having a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:4). Ladies, if you don’t know what it means to dress modestly, then talk with one your older lady friends and let them teach you. And men, the principles also apply to you. Learn to present yourselves in a respectful manner instead of trying to imitate immoral people who society says are “cool,” “sexy,” or “macho.”
5) “Strife” and “jealousy” are often found together because the selfish ambition and envy of jealousy usually causes the quarrels, rivalry, contention, and fighting of strife. It was these two sins that caused the problems in Corinth in which the church became divided (1 Corinthians 3:3). They still cause the same problem in many churches today.
What is the solution to these evils? How can a person accomplish what Paul says to do here? It is summed up in the last verse . . .
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” This does not mean that it is wrong to have a house, clothes in the closet, or food in the pantry, but it does mean that the fleshly desires of your body are not to control you. Too many Christians try to straddle the fence and have one foot in God’s kingdom and one foot in the devil’s. They want to be holy, but not so holy that they cannot also enjoy the pleasures of this world has to offer. But the two are incompatible. They struggle and fail in the Christian life because of this. As Paul says in Galatians 5 that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit of God are in opposition to each other. If you walk by the Spirit, you cannot carry out the desires of the flesh, but if your mind is set on the flesh, you will be hostile to God (Romans 8:7).
The problem arises when you
Are more concerned about satisfying
Your fleshly desires than in living for the Lord.
It is this wrong focus that leads to spiritual lethargy in the first place. As already mentioned from Matthew 6:33, God wants our attention to be given first to His kingdom and righteousness, and so He promises to meet those needs if we will put Him first. When our focus is on ourselves first, we soon not only find ourselves giving into temptation, but actually planning, often with self-justification, to sin. Gluttony is aggravated by having your favorite foods in the house and preparing more than you actually need to eat, at the same time, you can’t get drunk if you never let alcohol come near you. Sexual lusts are increased by exposure to provocative material, so called “adult entertainment,” and situations that lend themselves to them. On the other hand, sensuality is eliminated when you are more concerned about what people think of your character than what they think of your body.
Going back to Paul’s arguments in Romans 6 . . .
If you are a Christian, then you
Have had a change of masters.
It is time to stop obeying
Your old master of sin
And start obeying your
New master of righteousness.
Or to use Paul’s analogy here, it is time to take off the old clothes of sin and put on the new clothes of righteousness given to you by Jesus Christ. Like Paul in Galatians 2:20, you are to be crucified with Christ and it is now Christ living in you. When people see, you they should also see Christ. If you are striving to be a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, then you will put on the Lord Jesus Christ and stop making provision to fulfill the lusts of your flesh.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”