Friday, May 04, 2007

Romans 13:11-12

And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 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.

There are four places in the New Testament where God tells believers to wake up: Ephesians 5:14, 1 Corinthians 15:34, 1 Thessalonians 5:6, and Romans 13:11.

Paul begins with, “Do this, understanding the present time.” Do what? Wake up and love! Now is the time for Christian love. We love not to fulfill the law, but because it’s time for love! We live in an overlap between the time of the dominion of darkness and the Kingdom of God. Awake from your slumber; the time we have to serve the Lord in love is now limited. Our days are few in number as it is, and we’re one more day closer than we were yesterday. We need to make the most of every opportunity as we serve Him in our fading time. See 1 John 2:8. It’s still dark, but the daytime is near. One commentator said on this passage, “Faith is indeed nothing but living in light of what is to come.” We live for Christ, because He is coming.

Put off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (faith in Christ, hope in Christ, and love for Christ). Notice the parallel nature of Paul’s writings here and in Ephesians 5-6 and in 1 Thessalonians 5. WAKE UP AND PUT ON YOUR ARMOR. Why? We are at war and the battle is raging; we’re fighting for our lives, and it’s not peace-time yet. This is typical of Pauline writings; he loves the military analogies, and he loves to issue double commands, one being negative (don’t do this) and one being positive (do this). He is reminding us that we are in moral, spiritual, and ethical warfare. To be encumbered by sin and unarmed without armor would be like a soldier on the frontline failing to do his duty, disobeying his commanders. Without the armor of light, the transformation that accompanies union with Christ, we are not armed for the fight of faith. The Christian’s life is not sleep, but a battle. So be conscious that we are in spiritual war.

And quickly the good news for us, amidst this battle, is that salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. What a treasure! Salvation is nearer now, and now, and now, and now. The time of our eternal rest is closing in. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So Paul’s command is to love, in light of the fact that we are in a war and in light of the fact that the end is near.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Romans 13:9-10

The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet" [Exodus 20:13-15,17; Deuteronomy 5:17-19,21], and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself" [Leviticus 19:18]. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

The sum of the commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. The 613 commandments of the law can be summed up by the 10 Commandments found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. These 10 commandments can be summed up by the two commandments found in Matthew 22:36-40. These two commandments can be summed up by one word: LOVE. A basic definition of love here might be: “seeking the best interest of another.” And notice that, for Paul, love and law are not contradictory. Love fulfills the law; obeying the law is done out of love. “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “you will obey My commands.” Love compels you to do exactly what the law requires.

Paul lists the “second tablet” laws, those which involve our relationship to mankind (the “first tablet” laws involve our relationship to God), and he sums them up with Jesus’ penultimate commandment (Matthew 22:37-39). The first and greatest (ultimate) commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” So if we LOVE both God and our neighbor, then we will not break any of the laws, and thereby fulfill the law.

Lastly here, notice that we can only love according to God’s command by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Because the practical action demanded in the command to love is impossible for us to measure up to its standards, we need grace. Both the law and the gospel call us to love rightly, wholly, genuinely; and none of us “love” that way consistently, thus we need grace. That’s why Paul spends 11 chapters on grace and mercy before he begins to lay out this beautiful representation of what it means to live the Christian life. The foundation for this kind of living in love is found only in the gracious mercy of God, given to us and present in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit. And it’s not that our goal in loving is to fulfill the law. Rather, we love because Christ fulfilled the law by love and we want to glorify Christ by imitating Him.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Romans 13:7-8

Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Paul commands those in his audience to obey, to give what is owed. And notice that we need to respect and honor those in authority. That’s especially hard to do when they don’t meet our expectations in their job. God put them there to serve; we must honor and respect them.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.” People have understood this to mean that we should not go into financial debt, but that’s not what Paul is saying. Rather, Paul is aware that the borrower is slave to the lender, and thus he says that we should pay off our debts in a timely fashion. There is nothing wrong with borrowing books from the public library. That’s what it’s for! But return the books on time; avoid late fees. By repaying debts in a timely manner, you are being a good witness; by delinquency or negligence in debt payments, you are being a bad witness.

Let no debt remain outstanding – except that of love. We can repay a debt and scream, “I’m debt free,” as Dave Ramsey listeners often do, but we can never pay someone a debt of love and scream that. We will never pay enough love forward to be out of the debt of love. In fact, the more we pay on our debt of love, the more love we have. Think about it: When you pay a credit card debt with cash, you end up with less cash. But when you pay the debt of love with love, you end up with more love. If we ever think we are free of the debt of love, we will certainly be bad witnesses. This principle drives the apostle Paul in his ministry. What ever he does, he wants to avoid being a bad witness. Romans 1:14 – He is obligated (literally a debtor) to all people to share the Gospel with them in love. And because of this obligation, he is eager to do it! But how did we become debtors to love? We freely received the love of God by the grace of God, and thus we are obligated to share the love of God. Because the love of God is given by the grace of God, we dare not try to pay God back. It can’t be done. So we are debtors to the world. Love your neighbor as yourself; love your neighbor as Jesus has loved you. See Matthew 10:8, John 13:34, 1 John 3:16, 4:11.

But it’s more than just that. Paul is commanding us to pay every debt out of love. When you owe someone honor, honor them as a form of love. Return your library book on time as a form of love. Let all of your payments be paid as forms of love, out of love. That’s the idea. Paul says, “He who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” See Galatians 5:14. How is that that loving one's fellow man fulfills the law? We'll look at that next time in v9-10…

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Romans 13:1-6

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.

God delegated authority to human government following the Genesis Flood. He granted man the right to take the life of a murderer (Genesis 9:6). Paul says that everyone must submit to the government, because all existing authorities have been established by God. Human government is instituted and ordained by God. But it’s more than that. No man or woman could occupy the position of authority they have apart from the sovereign, decretive, permissive will of God. See John 19:11, Daniel 4:17,25,32, and 2 Chronicles 20:6. If you rebel against that authority, you are bringing judgment on yourself. Submit to authority out of reverence for God, not solely out of reverence for the ruler. See Matthew 10:28 and 1 Peter 2:13-17. It is not wise to fight against that which God has established. See Acts 5:34-39.

A question generally comes up here, wondering if every leader – Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. – should be considered “appointed by God.” And the answer, tenderly spoken, is, “Yes.” See Proverbs 21:1 and Daniel 2:21. Look at how Judah and Israel were split after Solomon’s reign. 1 Kings 12:1-15 says, “So the king [Rehoboam] did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam.” Consider the circumstance of Nebuchadnezzar or Pilate. See Jeremiah 27:6 and John 19:10-11. Furthermore, these authorities are “to do you good.” Even “evil empires” offer “good” services to their people. Even communism provides land for its people… What would you do if 9-1-1 didn’t answer? What if roads were never paved and potholes never repaired?

According to Paul, unless you are a wrong-doer, there is no reason to fear the government. What are some differences between Paul’s definition of government and ours? How about the different types of governments (democracy, constitutional republic, monarchy, communist dictatorship, tyranny, etc.)? Is there reason to fear any of these governments if you don’t “do wrong”? “Wrong-doing” is objective, not subjective, and Paul is essentially commanding civil authority to be subject to God’s moral law. I wonder if he knew that Caesar would hear his instructions on this. I wonder if Caesar did hear his instructions on this. Caesar might have appreciated them, as they do say that God has placed authorities in power to do good to the people. This would not have offended Caesar. With what we’ve noted so far, there are clearly vast implications on the world and its people. Any thoughts?

Paul says, “Do right and be free from fear; in fact, be commended. The government is God’s servant to do you good.” Submitting is a matter of both avoiding punishment and conscience. One role of government is to install fear of punishment into the culture as a deterrent of crime. Can you imagine the implications of true anarchy? Consider that even a case of anarchy is “established by God for His sovereign purpose.” Then again, we also submit to the government not out of fear of punishment by the authorities, but due to our Christian conscience convicting us. Both should keep us in obedience, but unfortunately the second one often does not. Examples might include speeding, taxes, etc.

So to summarize, we submit to civil authority (1) because it’s instituted by God, (2) because it is good for us that there is civil authority, (3) because if we don’t, we get punished, and (4) because if we don’t, our consciences condemn us for breaking the higher moral law of God. Now, there are exceptions in which we do not have to submit to government, and the guideline is that we live a life of love for others. If others stand to benefit, civil disobedience is perhaps permissible. Notice these Biblical examples:

(1) Exodus 1 – the Hebrew midwives disobeyed pharaoh’s command to kill the baby boys; civil result = no penalty other than rebuke / God’s blessing = families of their own; (2) Joshua 2 – Rahab disobeyd the command to reveal the location of the Jewish spies; civil result = no penalty / God’s blessing = salvation for her and her family and everlasting commemoration in Scripture; (3) Daniel 3 – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused the command to bow down in worship of the king; civil result = fiery furnace / God’s blessing = life and witness; (4) Daniel 6 – Daniel disobeyed Darius’ decree that the people could pray only to him for 30 days and not to other “gods”; civil result = lion’s den / God’s blessing = life and witness; (5) Matthew 2 – The wise men, warned in a dream, refused to obey Herod’s command that they report back to him the location of infant Jesus; civil result = no penalty / God’s blessing = spiritual life?; (6) Acts 5 – The apostles disobeyed the Pharisees’ command that they not teach in Jesus’ name; civil result = flogging, rebuke / God’s blessing = rejoicing that they had experienced persecution and additional witness opportunity. Notice that all of these civil disobediences are done humbly and in love, without aggression or arrogance.

The government does not bear the sword for nothing; the government is God’s servant as an agent of wrath to punish the wrong-doer. We might experience this in the form of paved roads and a speeding ticket. Others get it in the form of police protection and capital punishment. What are your thoughts regarding capital punishment? I think our justice needs to be carried out much more swiftly than it currently gets done.

Finally, Paul confirms that it is right to pay taxes to the government, as those serving as agents of God in civil authority do so full-time, and thus deserve to be paid. Policemen, firemen, judges, Congressmen, etc. need to be paid, because, even if they are as anti-Christianity as you can possibly imagine, they are carrying out God’s decretive will and serving Him and us in that way.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Romans 12:16-21

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position [or willing to do menial work]. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is Mine to avenge; I will repay" [Deuteronomy 32:35], says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head" [Proverbs 25:21-22]. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Live in harmony with everyone would be better rendered, “Be as one mind with each other.” Believers need to agree together, to cherish the same views, to be unanimous. There must be no discord or disagreement. “Who is in favor of glorifying God?” Everyone agrees. “Who wants to follow Christ and fight the good fight of faith?” Everyone steps forward and says, “I DO!” “Who hates sin and error?” Everyone answers, “We do!” This is the kind of agreement that needs to exist among believers. We must not pursue different ends and aims. This does not mean that there can never be honest and peaceful disagreements about points of doctrines as we grow in the Lord and wrestle with God’s truth. None of us understand God’s truth as we ought. See Philippians 2:5; the more we agree with Christ, the more we will agree with each other. When there is disagreement regarding truth, then it is because one of the two parties (or both) do not agree with Christ (they are either willfully or ignorantly out of harmony with the God of truth and the truth of God on a particular issue). If we hold the same view as God does, then we will agree with each other.

Paul again demands humility, as it is a basic Christian attribute, especially in terms of relating to other believers who might not be as esteemed as you. Do you have trouble mingling with unattractive Christians? How about Christians of other skin colors or languages? Blind or deaf Christians? Paul demands that we have the same concern for all the brethren. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have closer friends than others, but it means that we guard against the spirit of favoritism within the congregation. Furthermore, we mustn’t be conceited, thinking too highly off ourselves. We shouldn’t be ashamed or unwilling to do the “dirty” work in any given setting. In fact, Paul’s language here suggests that we should not merely avoid avoiding the dirty work, but that we should step forward and do it with pleasure and a good attitude. See Matthew 5:16; the humble mind strives to win over everyone, that God’s name would be praised and glorified. John Piper quotes Martin Luther on this topic:

Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make
its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it
cries, heal its rashes and sores? …What then does Christian faith say to this?
It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised
duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine
approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am
certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this
child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I
confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its
diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it
that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I
am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so,
though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost
nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am
certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight’ …God, with all his angels and
creatures is smiling—not because the father is washing diapers, but because he
is doing so in Christian faith.

We are only what we are by the grace of God. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).

And to finish up chapter 12, Paul switches gears a little bit and explains how we should relate to the world. He’s explained briefly how we should relate to other Christians. Now he wants us to realize that our relationship to the world, the way the world perceives our quality of life, is fundamental to our witness to the world. The basic principle is this: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). It’s hard to live by, but by rejecting revenge, pursuing peace, living for good, and overcoming evil with good, we sum up Paul’s teaching, as well as the whole Law and the prophets, as Jesus said. Paul is concerned that our personal relationships, our kindness and our goodness and the qualities of compassion and mercy, forbearance, and non-retaliation, would show through in the way that we relate to the world so that the world thinks for a few fleeting moments, “Christians really are different.” We should do things that even Pagans understand as morally good. We should pursue peace with the world, but Paul acknowledges that it’s not always possible. So don’t be the instigator. Don’t pick a fight. And when there is a fight, don’t fight fire with fire; fight fire with water. Overcome evil with good.

Lastly, let God issue punishment while you overcome evil with good. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Rather than seek revenge on those who persecute you, do good to them! That is unbearable treatment. And Paul quotes Proverbs 25 making it appear that this is your revenge. But we should avoid the mentality that you’re getting back at them. Though doing good is the most effective thing you could do, don’t look at that as revenge. See Proverbs 24:17-18. Consider Jesus asking the Father to forgive those crucifying Him. Consider Stephen praying for those stoning him. Consider the sons of martyred missionaries revisiting those who killed their fathers not to seek revenge, but to come in love with the message of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ.

The motive for overcoming evil with good is found in Christ. He overcomes our evil with good in two ways, and Paul has labored to explain them both: First, He dies for our sins and is raised from the dead, thereby justifying us. Second, He always intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father and provides the indwelling of the Holy Spirit thereby sanctifying us. As we said in Romans 1-8, Jesus is the basis of both our justification and our sanctification. He is overcoming our evil with good. And thus, we should strive to do the same.

God’s right to punish evildoers in anger (the emotional response) and wrath (the justly controlled focus of anger directly applied) has drawn questions from those thinking that God is merciful. How can a merciful God exert His wrath on mankind in eternal hell? And we’ve talked about that in Romans 9 especially. God owes justice, but He never owes mercy. His response of justice is always justly measured out; His mercy is given in different measures to different people. And there is nothing wrong with that. But how does God work out is vengeance in this world? We might expect Paul to explain how that works, and so we learn in chapter 13 that God works through the government to justly issue judgment in the world. We’ll learn more about that next time.