A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 13:1-14
In the last two blog posts of this Bible study series on Romans, Paul has begun talking about how we are to live out our Christian faith in a way that is good and pleasing to God. Now in Romans 13, Paul tells us how we can please God and be obedient to his laws, and that can only happen through LOVE. Love fulfills the law.
Christians are called to live differently from the rest of the world, and this all starts with LOVE.
The Bible tells us there are two greatest commandments.
This blog post is all about these two commands and how they enable us to please God and fulfill his requirements.
Paul discusses two themes in Romans 13, and although Paul discusses them separately, they really are encompassed under the same truth: love fulfills the law. You will read this phrase a lot in this post, but it’s a truth that all Christians need to realize and acknowledge in order to live a life that is pleasing to God.
In Romans 13: 1-7, Paul discusses how we should live under an earthly authority, or government, and in Romans 13: 8-14 Paul goes further to discuss how loving one another will fulfill God’s requirement of obeying his commands.
Obedience to God Requires Submission to Government Authority
In verse 1, Paul begins with a very clear-cut statement. He says,
‘Everyone must submit to governing authorities.’NLT
The NKJV puts it this way,
‘Everyone must submit to governing authorities.’NKJV
This is often a hot topic, even for Christians. Paul doesn’t say, only submit to governing authority if you agree with their laws, or only if you voted for them.
At the time of Paul’s writing this letter, the governing authorities were persecuting Christians and killing them for their faith. And in this context, Paul said that we must submit to authority!
All Authority Comes from God
Why does he say this? He says this because all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
In verse 2, Paul says that anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.
You might argue that there must be some exception! God wouldn’t want us to submit to corrupt and evil leaders, the kind that promote violence and sin, would he?
Paul gives us a blanket statement instructing us to submit to governing authority, but does he mean that we should submit in all circumstances?
God’s Purpose in Appointing Leaders
You can see throughout the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, that God appoints a nation’s leader, not only to bless the people, but sometimes to judge them, or to ripen a nation for judgment.
For example, (Deuteronomy 7:1-6) God commanded the Israelites to drive the Canaanites out of Canaan, but later (Jeremiah and Lamentations) he will use the Babylonian empire to take Israel captive. We won’t get into why God works in this way in this study, but for this discussion, it’s important to understand that God intends for us to submit to those he places in authority over us.
Now you might argue, what if that government bans Christianity, or orders us to sin, what then?
What the Bible says about not submitting to Governing Authorities in these circumstances:
- God commands us to love and obey him above all others. So, if we were commanded to stop worshipping God, we would of course not stop.
The early church hid their meetings in the catacombs. They went underground. There are some circumstances when lying or not following orders is not wrong, and this is one of them.
There is a story in the Book of Exodus, where the Pharaoh ordered all the Hebrew baby boys to be killed. He ordered the midwives to kill any Hebrew baby boy that they delivered. They lied and said they would. But when later questioned about it, they said that the Hebrew women were just so good at delivering babies, that by the time they got there, the women had delivered their babies and had hidden them. The Bible says that God was good to the midwives and the Israelites continued to multiply (Exodus 1:15-21).
For their own safety the early church hid the fact that they still worshipped God, read the Bible, and preached the gospel. And I believe that this exception also applies to us if we were ordered to do something that is a contradiction to God’s Law. In these situations, we are commanded to obey God before man (Acts 4:19).
2. The early church refused to recant their faith and were martyred because of it. This is still happening today. But the Bible says that God will avenge all those who are persecuted and killed in his name.
How Governing Authorities Are Used by God
God uses governing authorities as a check on man’s sinful desires and tendencies. Government can be an effective tool in resisting and disciplining man’s sinful nature.
In verses 3-4, Paul says that the authorities don’t strike fear in people who are doing good, but only in people who are doing wrong. He says, do what is right, and they will honor you. The idea that Paul is trying to convey here is this: Christians should be upright citizens. Even though we are loyal to God before man, Christians are to be good citizens: honest, law-abiding, and most importantly, a people who prays for their leaders.
Keep a Clear Conscience & Be Good Citizens
Verse 5, Paul says that we should not submit to authority just to avoid punishment, but rather to keep a clear conscience.
In verses 6 & 7, Paul talks about paying taxes. We are to pay our taxes because it is a requirement of the law, and because government workers need to get paid for their service. Paul even goes so far as to say that they are serving God in what they do.
And lastly, Paul instructs us to respect and honor those who are in authority.
How Love Fulfills the Law and God’s Requirements
In verses 8-14, Paul now discusses specific actions and behaviors that Christians should stay away from, and he says that this upright standard of righteousness can be achieved if we love our neighbors as ourselves.
What does it mean to love our neighbor? It means to put others (and not just the people we like) first, or in other words, not be selfish. Paul is telling us that selfishness is the root and reason we commit all of the things he now lists – adultery, murder, stealing, and coveting.
If we can learn to love others as we love ourselves, we will not want to murder, steal from, or covet our neighbor’s things.
The First and Greatest Commandment
‘Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”’Matthew 22:37-38 (NLT)
How does love fulfill God’s requirements? If we love God more than anything else, we will want to please him and obey his commands. When pleasing God is our first priority, we will want to do whatever it takes to obey him.
The Second Greatest Commandment
‘And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”’Matthew 22:39 (NIV)
Loving God first, and second loving our neighbors as we love ourselves is what God commands of us, and the reason? Because loving in this order brings about true peace, joy, and unity. This is the life that God intended when he created us from the beginning.
In verse 11 Paul warns us that time is running out and so getting right with God and living Godly lives is all the more urgent.
Paul wrote Romans about 28 years after Jesus’ ascended to heaven, and he was expecting Christ’s return at any moment. In Luke 21:34-36, Jesus told the disciples to be ready because his return would come suddenly like a trap. He told the disciples to stay awake at all times.
Be Prepared for Jesus’ Return
Paul warns us to be ready. He says, ‘the night is almost gone, and the day of salvation (of Jesus second coming) will soon be here.’ How does Paul say we should be ready?
Paul says to remove our dark deeds like dirty clothes, essentially saying: get right with God and stop sinning!
He also says to put on the armor of right living, which Paul talks about in more detail in Ephesians 6:11-17.
Put On the Whole Armor
How do we put on this armor? First, our shoes are the peace that comes from God’s Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our shield is our faith in Jesus Christ. Our helmet is our salvation. And our sword is the Word of God. And lastly Paul says in Ephesians to pray in the Spirit at all times.
It is by putting on this armor of God, that we can resist living like the world. When we are persistent in walking with the Lord, we won’t even think about ways to indulge our sinful natures.
But when we begin to ignore him even for a day, and that day leads to the next day, and to the next – before we know it, we have drifted away and are back to living for ourselves.
Christians often talk about trying to live our lives in a way that pleases God, with the knowledge that God’s grace and forgiveness is always enough for when we fail. Our goal is often to be ‘good enough’ and do the bare minimum. But this way of thinking can lead us to believe that we have our whole lives to get right with God – that we can worry about being serious in our walk with Christ later.
But if we have Paul’s mindset, that time is running out – we might not put off living for God in the present. It’s not that we risk losing our salvation, but do we want Jesus’ return to come at a time when we are not living our lives for him completely?
Examine Your Heart
Love truly fulfills the law and God’s requirements. Love ensures that we please God. When we genuinely love God more than everyone and everything else, we will want to please him, obey him, and serve him.
When we obey his second command of loving others as we love ourselves, we will not want to do harm to others. We will consider others needs and we will serve one another in love!
Loving God by Charles Colson – This book takes a probing look at the cost of being a follow of Christ and the true meaning of the first and greatest commandment, which strips away shallow cultural Christianity. If you desire a life that is deep, rich and meaningful, it is accomplished by loving God.