Today, in Romans 13, we see Paul’s encouraging words to the Christian community in Rome. These people, mostly Jewish converts, had migrated to the capital of the Roman Empire over a couple of decades’ time, but had no real senior leadership. Paul wanted them to be able to live peacefully and spread the gospel, so he cautioned them against rebellious behavior and urged them to treat everyone around them with godly, caring love.
Governmental authorities hold power over us because God wants order, so that His people can live and worship in peace. As Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 19, verse 11: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” Jesus surrendered Himself to the Sanhedrin and to the Roman governor because He followed God’s will. Paul reminds the Romans that all authority comes from the Lord, therefore “the authorities that exist have been established by God.” Just think about the possibility of having no human authorities: the re-sulting chaos would make it very difficult for the Lord’s people to worship Him and to spread His gospel!
Paul urges the Roman believers to submit to their human authorities for their own peace and safety, as well as to honor God’s plan. In a time when governments were put in place by the sword, through war and repression of tribes, clans, and nations, those who rebelled or even spoke against the established order were dealt with quickly and harshly. Those who submitted and humbled themselves, doing as the authorities required, would have no reason to fear this sort of violent repression. The established authorities can do believers good by punishing wrongdoers, thus serving the Lord for the good of the governed. Believers should obey the authorities and follow the rules, not only to avoid punishment, but to honor God’s plan for order in their lives.
Paul reminds believers that those who spend their time governing and keeping the public order need the support of tax revenues, since they have no other means of support. He tells the believers to give up the taxes they owe, and to pay off any other debts and responsibilities. He also reminds them to show respect and honor where they are due.
Paul goes on to tell the Romans to pay all their debts, especially the debt of love that we owe to each other in Christ Jesus. He lists the commandments against adultery, murder, theft,
covetousness, and the other human interaction commandments as coming from the same primary rule. All of God’s commandments for living together in peace are based on this one premise: to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Sincere, caring love does only good to those around us, thus demonstrating the full intent of God’s laws. If we love one another, we will fulfill all of the Lord’s commands for human interaction.
Finally, Paul tells the Romans that the Lord’s people should live exemplary lives, in accordance with God’s plan. We need to complete His plan for us, especially now, as we may be nearing the end times. Time to put away selfish strife and let His light shine through us to all of the world. Don’t give in to carnal desires, but resist doing things that we would be ashamed of, and act like those who are filled with the Spirit of Christ, who will help us to overcome all temptations. In this way, we can all aspire to our highest calling: to be sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, and brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.