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Lecture 11 - Romans Chapters 13-16
The Will of God as to the Believer’s Relation to Government and to Society; and the Closing Sections
The position of the Christian in this world is necessarily, under the present order of things, a peculiarly difficult and almost anomalous one. He is a citizen of another world, passing as a stranger and a pilgrim through a strange land. Presumably loyal in heart to the rightful King, whom earth rejected and counted worthy only of a malefactor’s cross, he finds himself called upon to walk in a godly and circumspect way in a scene of which Satan, the usurper, is the prince and god. Yet he is not to be an anarchist, nor is he to flaunt the present order of things. His rule ever should be: “We must obey God rather than man.” Nevertheless he is not to be found in opposition to human government, even though the administrators of that government may be men of the most unrighteous type. As we come to the study of this thirteenth chapter, it is well for us to remember that he who sat upon the throne of empire when Paul gave this instruction concerning obedience to the powers that be, was one of the vilest beasts in human form whoever occupied a throne-a sensuous, sensual brute, who ripped up the body of his own mother in order that he might see the womb that bore him-an evil, blatant egotist of most despicable character, whose cruelties and injustices beggar all description. And yet God in His providence permitted this demon-controlled wretch to wear the diadem of the greatest empire the world had yet known. Paul himself designates him elsewhere as a savage beast, when he writes to the young preacher Timothy, “God delivered me out of the mouth of the lion.” While the powers of the emperor were more or less circumscribed by the laws and the Senate, nevertheless his rule was one that could not but spell ruin and disaster for many of the early Christians. What faith was required on their part to obey the instruction given by the Spirit of God in the first seven verses of this chapter! And if under such government Christians were called upon to be obedient, surely there is no place for sedition, or rebellion, under any government. “The potsherds of the earth may strive with the potsherds of the earth,” and one government may be overthrown by another; but whichever government is established in power at a given time, the Christian is to be subject to it. He has the resource of prayer if its edicts are tyrannous and unjust, but he is not to rise in rebellion against it. This is a hard saying for some of us, I know, but if any be in doubt let him read carefully the verses now before us. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Ver. Romans 13:1).
This is not to seek to establish the doctrine of the divine right of kings, but it simply means this: That God, who sets up one man and puts down another for His own infinitely wise purpose, ordains that certain forms of government or certain rulers shall be in the place of authority at a given time. As the book of Daniel tells us, He sets over the nations the basest of men at times as a punishment for their wickedness; but in any case, there could be no authority if not providentially permitted and therefore recognized by Himself. To resist this authority, the second verse shows us, is to resist a divine ordinance. But it would certainly be far-fetched to say that they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation, if by “damnation” we mean everlasting punishment. The word here, as in 1Corinthians Chapter 11, means judgment, but not in the sense of eternal judgment necessarily. Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Even a Nero respected such as walked in obedience to the law. The reason he persecuted the Christians was that they were reported to be opposed to existing institutions. He, then, who would not be afraid of those in authority is called upon to walk in obedience to the law- to do good, and thus his righteousness will be recognized; for, after all, the ruler is the minister of God to each one for good. But he who does evil, violating the institutions of the realm, may well fear, for into the magistrate’s hand has been committed by God Himself, the sword, which he does not bear in vain, and he is set by God to be His minister in the government of the world and to execute judgment upon those who act in a criminal way. So, then, the Christian is called upon to be subject to government, not only to avoid condemnation, but also that he may himself maintain a good conscience toward God. Let him pay tribute, even though at times the demands may seem to be unrighteous, rendering to all their dues, paying his taxes honorably, and thus showing that he desires in all things to be subject to the government.
It will be observed that all the instruction we have here puts the Christian in the place of subjection, and not of authority; but, if in the providence of God, he be born to the purple, or put in the place of authority, he, too, is to be bound by the word of God as here set forth.
The balance of the chapter has to do with the Christian’s relation to society in general, and that in view of the coming of the Lord and the soon-closing up of the present dispensation. He is to maintain the attitude not of a debtor but a giver; to owe no man anything, but rather to let love flow out freely to all. For every moral precept of the second table of the law, which sets forth man’s duty to his neighbor, is summed up in the words: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” He who thus loves could, by no possibility, ever be guilty of adultery, murder, theft, lying, or covetousness. It is impossible that love should be manifested in such ways as these. “Love work-eth no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” It is in this way that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, as we have already seen in looking at Chapter Romans 8:1-4.
Every passing day brings the dispensation of grace nearer to its end and hastens the return of the Lord. It is not for the Christian, then, to be sleeping among the dead, but to be fully awake to his responsibilities and privileges, realizing that the salvation for which we wait-the redemption of the body-is nearer now than when we believed. The night when Satan’s sway bears rule over the earth has nearly drawn to its close. Already the light of day begins to dawn. It is not, therefore, for those who have been saved by grace to have aught to do with works of darkness, but rather, as soldiers, to have on the armor of light, standing for that which is of God, living incorruptly as in the full light of day, not in debauchery or wantonness of any kind, neither in strife and envying; but having put on the Lord Jesus Christ, having confessed themselves as one with Him, to take the place of death with Him in a practical sense, thus making no provision for the indulgence of the lust of the flesh. It was these two closing verses of this thirteenth chapter that spoke so loudly to the heart of Augustine of Hippo when, after years of distress, he was fearful to confess Christ openly, even when intellectually convinced that he should be a Christian, lest he would find himself unable to hold his carnal nature in subjection, and so might bring grave discredit upon the cause with which he thought of identifying himself. But as he read the words: “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” the Spirit of God opened his eyes to see that the power for victory was not in himself, but in the fact that he was identified with a crucified and risen Saviour.
As he gazed by faith upon His blessed face and the Holy Spirit showed him something of the truth of union with Christ, he entered into the assurance of salvation and realized victory over sin. When in an unexpected way he came face to face with one of the beautiful but wanton companions of his former days, he turned and ran. She followed, crying, “Austin, Austin, why do you run? It is only I.” He replied as he sped on his way, “I run, because it is not I!” Thus he made no provision for the flesh.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Romans 13". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34