Monday, April 08, 2024

2024.04.08 Hopewell @Home ▫ Romans 13:1–7

Read Romans 13:1–7

Questions from the Scripture text: Who are commanded in Romans 13:1? What are they to do? To whom are they to be subject? Why—from where did their authority come? Which authorities are appointed by God? What are the people described in Romans 13:2 doing? What are they actually resisting? What do they bring on themselves? To whom are rulers not a terror (Romans 13:3)? To whom are rulers a terror? Of what (not “of whom,” but “of Whom”!) does the apostle ask if you want to be unafraid of them? What does he say to do? What will the one who does good receive from (the highest) authority? Whom does the ruler serve (Romans 13:4, whether he knows it or not)? For what does God use him? What should you do, if you do evil? Why—how is the ruler not wielding the sword, if you are doing evil? How is the ruler always being used by God upon the one practicing evil? [when will the instrumentality of the ruler be removed, and how will the wrath come then, 2 Thessalonians 1:9?] For what two reasons does Romans 13:5 say to be subject to earthly rulers? What else are we to do for these two reasons (Romans 13:6a)? Remembering what foundational reason (verse 6b)? To whom are we to render their due (Romans 13:7)? What four sorts of things may be due? To Whom are all four ultimately due (cf. Matthew 22:20–21, Mark 12:16–17, Luke 20:24–25)? 

What are we to do with our magistrate? Romans 13:1–7 prepares us for the sermon in the midweek prayer meeting. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that before the magistrate, just as with all other men, we are to do only whatever God says is good. 

“Let each soul,” Romans 13:1. The wrath of God in Romans 12:19 has reminded us that whether we interact with persecutors (Romans 12:14), those who do us evil (Romans 12:17), or even enemies (Romans 12:20), we always do so not only as men interacting with men but as everlasting souls interacting with the living God. It is difficult enough to love an enemy, but what about an enemy that has power over you? This would have been a pressing issue for the church in Rome, under Nero’s hostile, imperial (even insane) nose. The apostle gives an answer so clear that for two thousand years, believers’ remaining flesh has been pretending it away as “difficult to understand.” Be subject (Romans 13:1). Do what is good (Romans 13:3). Be afraid (Romans 13:4, but only if you do evil). Be subject (Romans 13:5). Give whatever is owed (Romans 13:7). 

The chain of command, Romans 13:1-2a. “governing” authorities in Romans 13:1 means the authorities who are “over you.” Which authorities that are over me should I be subject to? In the household, the church, or the state the answer is the same: “all of them.” Every chain of command goes all the way to the throne of glory. It all belongs now, not only to God, but even under Him, to the God-Man. He is both the God the Word and the image of God to us. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). As commanded, He has asked for and received the nations as His inheritance (Psalm 2), and any enemy-authority is being put under His feet (Psalm 110).

How to be unafraid of authority, Romans 13:2-4a. Just as Romans 13:1 reminds us to remember the height to which authority goes, Romans 13:2-3 remind us to remember the duration to which go penalties and rewards from authority. Every magistrate is a lesser magistrate; in His mediatorial kingship Christ alone is Chief Magistrate of any family, nation, or state. So whether not being subject to authority, or whether misusing one’s lesser authority, either error is “resisting the ordinance of God” and “receiving judgment upon themselves.” Failing to recognize Christ’s authority over and in the existing authority is not merely something that will bring judgment but evidence of already being under judgment. 

Alternatively, the way of being unafraid of authority is to do good. Just as “all men” may not know what good is (cf. Romans 12:17), so also the ruler might not know. But his authority does not come from himself, and it does not serve him. Though he may think himself a terror, the believer is unafraid of suffering for doing good (Romans 13:3, cf. 1 Peter 2:12–20), for the Chief Magistrate will praise him for it (end of Romans 13:3), and God Himself is doing him good even through whatever the wicked lesser magistrate does wickedly (Romans 13:4a, cf. Romans 8:28, Romans 8:35–39). The more conformed our actions are to the Son (cf. Romans 8:29), the more sure He permits us to be that we are in Him, and the less afraid we are of any authority.

When to be afraid of authority, Romans 13:4-5. Of course, the contrapositive is true. If we do good, then we ought to be unafraid of anything. But if we do evil, then we ought to be afraid of literally everything. Even Christians who are doing evil should know that however the magistrate’s sword falls upon them, even if the magistrate be wicked in wielding it, he is still a servant under Christ being used to chasten us. 

And those who do evil without Christ must fear all the more, for whatever wrath they receive in this life is the slightest hint of the wrath that they will one day endure. For now, however painful the magistrate’s sword may be as an instrument in Christ’s hand, it is nothing compared to the pain when the wrath comes not instrumentally but immediately from the Lord’s presence and glory forever (2 Thessalonians 1:9). 

Just as with doing good being beneficial both later (“you will have praise from the same”) and now (“God’s servant to you for good”), so also refusing to do evil is beneficial both later (“because of wrath”) and presently (“for conscience’ sake”). For the Christian, the greater distress is not what the magistrate might do to me now, or even what the Lord might do to me, but whether he is sinning against God. What a blessing is a good and clean conscience! 

What to do with the magistrate? Romans 13:6-7. And so whether as a lesser magistrate, or under another lesser magistrate, the Christian has a compass by which to set the direction of His life: do good. Do whatever God’s law says is good. Do not come to the question from the standpoint of, “how much of what I want to do am I free to do instead of what the magistrate says?” This is neither subjection nor freedom. Rather, come to the question from the standpoint of, “How does God command me to love Him, brother, neighbor, and enemy right now?—even if that enemy happens to have been set over me by God?” 

Believers are to pull the principles of Romans 12:17–18 into the question of how to respond to the magistrate. This includes biblical definitions of what is good (what God’s law says) and what is peace (first and foremost, peace with God and within the soul, and secondly between others for the sake of our Lord). 

In the case of the magistrate, we remember that the Lord has set him over us, and we pay taxes (Romans 13:6). To the Jews (and Gentiles) in Rome, this was the most distasteful part of being under Roman rule, and two thousand years and five thousand miles away, the same holds true. But it is to God that tax, purpose (“customs” is singular and translating “telos” and may well indicate that it is due only to God), reverence/fear, and honor are ultimately due (Romans 13:7). He is over us under God’s providence, but God is ultimately over us in His providence, and the disposition of the heart must be chiefly toward the Chief Magistrate, while appropriate taxes, respect, and obedience are rendered to the lesser magistrate.

This, too, is how Jesus answered the question. Matthew 22:20–21, Mark 12:16–17, and Luke 20:24–25 all include both parts of the question, “whose inscription and whose image is this?” But it was Caesar who was ignorant of what God’s scripture (inscription) says and the responsibility that being made in God’s image puts us under. “Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s” indeed meant taxes, respect, honor, and obedience. And this was a smaller part of giving oneself to God as a living sacrifice. What should we do with the magistrate? Only that which we can do in Christ’s Name, by Christ’s Spirit, unto Christ’s glory; for it is to our God and Savior that all things are due. From Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever!

Who are the authorities that God has set over you in the household, the church, and the civil sphere? Before them, and in response to them, what should you do? What authority, if any, do you have in any of these institutions? How must you exercise this authority?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for giving Christ all authority in heaven and on earth. By His grace and Spirit, grant that we would preserve the honor, and perform the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals. For, we ask it in His Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP2  “Why Do Gentile Nations Rage?” or TPH424 “All Authority and Power”

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