Can you imagine living in the Roman Empire as a Christian? The Romans were polytheistic, meaning they believed in and worshipped many Gods for various economic and social conventions. The harvest and temple economy was a product of the Roman religious system. Also, Rome tended to view their emperors as diety. Hence the famous “Dominos Et Deus Noster”, which means lord and god in english, was a self-given title for Domitian. A particularly vile and hated man amongst the Jews.
A follower of Jesus would pray for the Emperor and his neighbors. He would help his church feed the poor in events called “Love Feasts”, which scared the emperor to death because of their new allegiance with the impoverished Roman commoners. But, Christians also would not participate in the economy on Sundays. While Mr. and Mrs. Roman were out working hard in the fields, the Christian’s would be in someone’s house eating a nice meal they prepared the day before.
Also, the Romans would visit the temples of their God’s to sacrifice for fertility, harvest, war and the like. The christian’s obviously wouldn’t practice idolatry. But what would happen if a drought came or a sickness came on the city? The Romans would be in the temples sacrificing to their God’s, praying for help, while the Christians are in their church not participating in the economy or social aspects. In the Roman’s eyes, the Christians would bring wrath upon the city of Rome. Which makes Paul’s remark in verse 1 so amazing.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Romans 13:1-2
God put Rome in power. It would not be so if had not allowed it to be. God establishes authority and rulers. He is working and putting something together that is far more complicated and bigger than one ruler or king or president. He can work with anything. He is God after all.
And he asks us to not rebel against the authority he has put in, but to live like Jesus in spite of any circumstance. To love others and God is the highest calling.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:6-7
This is interesting, considering we living the U.S. were Church and State have a separation. But Paul asks the Church to pay taxes. The government works on behalf of the people, so they should pay the government what they owe. Pretty simple. If the government does not ask for money, rather for respect, then give them respect.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10
So what debt do we always owe as followers of Jesus? The debt to love others. In fact, if we love others we have fulfilled the law. For a law is there to protect the neighbor and love does what is in the best interest of a neighbor.
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. Romans 13:11-14
Paul is calling us to understand that we are in a particular time. The day of the Lord is near when he will return this world to is appropriate state. Due to that, we should more assuredly shake off all that holds us back. We should put on Jesus. That is a weird thing. He is not a coat or a hat. How do you put on Jesus? Paul understands our only chance for a right relationship with God through Jesus. When we approach God without Jesus we are spiritually impoverished, but when we approach God with Jesus we are rich. Clothing yourself in Jesus means removing the righteous rags we hold on to, and in humility and trust seek God through faith in Jesus. Trust that he will do what he said.
During these days of political turmoil, what do you find most difficult about Paul’s teaching on the Christian’s response to political leaders? What do you believe is an appropriate response to more government involvement with the Church?
How does being a Christian in Roman culture help you to appreciate or devalue our situation? How would Paul’s charge be different if you were persecuted for your faith?
How are laws satisfied by “love your neighbor”? How does a culture that has forgotten this command impact society?
I challenge you this week to wake up early every day and pray for your President, your country and God’s kingdom to be established.