Romans Bible Guide – Day 34
March 19, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul just illustrated part of what the love and life of Jesus will look like in the context of community.
13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Points of Interest:
- ‘be subject to the governing authorities ‘ – Given Paul’s not so subtle anti-imperial message, this is a little surprising. We can speculate on a few motivations, though. Paul’s been thinking a lot about his fellow Jews, and at the time he wrote this letter, Jerusalem was a hotbed of political foment against Rome. In less than a decade, this would become a full-on revolution that led to Jerusalem’s destruction, along with massive suffering. Jesus had famously urged Jerusalem toward peace rather than armed revolt, and Paul affirms the same basic perspective – that Jesus isn’t interested in an alternative political kingdom, with its own armies and borders, but a growing worldwide community of love that lives within, but transcends the power, of nation-states.Paul might also have a more practical line of thinking in mind: that the house churches and other new faith communities spread about the Roman Empire can thrive and grow more easily while at peace with, or even with the support of the state.
- ‘those authorities that exist have been instituted by God’ – Yet even in this bit on law abiding, Paul is subversive. Roman emperors were now worshipped themselves, and Rome claimed that its gods – such as the god of Mars – had established its authority. Paul says the god he’s been talking about – the god who looks like Jesus, the faithful god of sacrificial love, the god who has beaten death, the god of reconciliation and peace – is the only ultimate source of authority. So even while he urges cooperation with civic authorities, Paul says their power is limited, not ultimate.
- ‘pay to all what is due them – taxes… revenue… respect… honor..’ – The default for good news community living is to follow civic law scrupulously, both to avoid state punishment and to have a clear conscience. But there are limits to the obedience a state can exact. After all, Paul has encouraged these communities to give their loyalty to Jesus, not Rome, as Lord. (10:9) So here Paul says to pay all of what’s due, but only what’s due. Pay your taxes and revenue, to the extent they are due. And pay respect and honor, but (only) to the extent they are due as well.
- ‘owe no one anything, except to love one another’ – Debt, then as now, was a common but dangerous problem, and to avoid it was common advice. But the verse before still echoes. Don’t owe taxes, revenue, respect, or honor either – give them to the extent they’re required the first time around.By contrast, Paul encourages a constant attention to the love these house church members give to one another, as if they are in each other’s debt. Paul’s take on love for neighbor as the summary of God’s law is consistent with the teaching of Jesus as well. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made it clear that “neighbor” could include one you’d see as an outsider or enemy as well. But here, the emphasis of “one another” has these small Jesus communities, meeting in people’s homes and apartments, in mind.
- ‘you know what time it is’ – But do we? What time is Paul referring to? Some scholars read this reference and its paragraphs as referring to Paul’s urgency considering the age he lived in. Paul and other first century believers seemed to expect that Jesus would return again within a generation or two and complete the institution of his kingdom. Turns out the details of that expectation were mistaken. Other scholars read Paul’s urgency as referring to all time. By this logic, all generations following the resurrection of Jesus have urgency to them – urgency to be right with God and live well, in expectation of Jesus’ you-never-know-when imminent return.Most persuasive to me has been new scholarship that sees the house church worship gathering and communion here. All the references to love (actually “the love” in the Greek) and living as if it’s daytime even though it’s night evoke the nighttime house gatherings early churches had, where they celebrated what they called “love feasts”: the Lord’s Supper (the wine and bread representing Jesus’ body and blood) over a meal in which members of the community were fed and cared for. By this logic, Paul affirms these gatherings and urges them to continue mutual love, but also exhorts them to steer away from the drunkenness, casual sex, and conflicts that characterized other late night gatherings.
- ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’ – Behavior that supports healthy communities and is fitting for followers of Jesus isn’t merely the avoidance of the worst parts of late night partying. It is this mystical unity of Jesus, embracing the identity and life of the most compassionate, authentic, beautiful, safe, and elevated human who ever lived, our exemplar of the humanity we were made to embody.
Taking It Home:
For you – Do you owe things to the state or to corporations other than love – debt, lies, or loyalty, for instance? If this feels constraining, ask for God’s help in reducing these kinds of obligations. And ask God where it is you find community where you can celebrate and love and make visible the life of Jesus. Ask God to give you this kind of community, or give you a greater devotion to and experience of love within your community.
For your city/church – Pray for our church’s small groups, that they would facilitate and empower community of extravagant love and safe, trusting relationships. Pray too that they would make visible the love and presence of Jesus in our society.