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Debt Free? Yes and No

November 13th, 2011 by Vic

Romans 13

“Debt Free? Yes and No”

November 13, 2011


Last week Paul admonished us to honor God by being a living sacrifice.  Also give thanks for who we are and don’t think too highly of ourselves.  Then our relationships with one another will grow.


There are 3 paragraphs in Rom 13.

1. be good citizens

2. be good neighbors

3. be good workers


13:1-7  Be Good Citizens.

In Romans Paul has redefined the people of God.  Externals do not define a Christian.  We are citizens of heaven.  The Christian community is looking less and less like the Jewish community.  The government had given the Jews tax breaks and protections that the Christians may not receive.  Persecution could happen any time in the churches, so be wise.


Paul says, submit yourselves to the governing authorities for 2 reasons: God and country.  God gave authority to the leaders.  Resistance to authority divides any group.  Don’t pick petty battles.  Our submission to the state is never absolute.  It’s “under God”.  Paul says “submit yourselves” (middle voice) rather than be submissive (passive voice).  It is a choice you make recognizing God’s absolute authority.


Look at the word ‘authority’ in verses 1-3.  Then look in your Greek Bible at the 4th word in verse 4.  It is in the 3rd person singular form of the verb ‘is’.  That means it can be translated ‘he, she, or it is’.  What is the precedent for the pronoun?  Has Paul been talking about authority or persons?  The NASB says, “For it (authority) is a minister of God to you for good.”  God has established authority for your good.  Not every ruler is good, but we are designed to live under authority.

Most translations have assumed the precedent was ‘rulers’.  But the pronoun is singular.


We all live under authority.  Every church fellowship lives in a social order under government authorities.  While living in Christ under His authority we also live in this physical body under physical authorities.  We give thanks knowing that God has established all authority and is over all spiritual and physical authorities even though rulers may not see themselves as ministers of God.


The Jews had rulers and authorities in the O.T. that they recognized as servants of God.  The relation between the Jews and state were clearly defined.  Jews had their own temple police.  Even during Roman rule they were allowed to function as a state within a state.  But now Christians were different.


Roman rule was not a representative democracy like ours.  95%+ of the people had no political power to change its structure.  Paul is saying, since God is ultimately in charge, since you cannot change the government and since your position is already hazardous, live by the rules.


The hearts of rulers are in the hand of God.  Remember Nebuchadnezzar was directly disciplined by God.  If God is One, He is their God as well as your God.  God gave our leaders authority and they will be held accountable by God in the final judgment.


Remember Paul wrote this letter to be read publicly and Rome had a sophisticated spy system.  Paul writes this letter so there is no offense to the government.  Christianity is not to be subversive but be thankful.  Paul received protection from the Romans several times when the Jews tried to kill him.  Acts 5:29 says, “We must obey God rather than men” when there is a discrepancy.  Matt 12:17 says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”


Just as we as individuals can be Christlike in a faulty physical body (as Paul described earlier), so we as a church can be holy in a faulty political world.


In my opinion many protestors are not pleasing God.  Their faces reveal their heart.  Be thankful for the benefits that your government gives you.  Don’t act like a religious terrorist.  Both the rulers and the ruled are responsible to God.


Remember Paul was writing to Romans in Rome.  The common man could not change the government, so they should submit and trust God.  Our government structure is different.  We can change the government a little, so we should vote in harmony with God’s will.  Paul tells them to submit and trust God.  He would tell us to vote and trust God.  Paul trusted a big God.



Authority is necessary for the good of all.  The sword was the symbol of authority over life and death.  The government should be good for the community and the nation.  Paul repeats himself again in verse 5.  The reason you should submit yourselves is because the government carries a big stick and you know God is in control.  The authorities are God’s servants (4&6) for the short time of night (12) that is left.


Hitler in Germany and the inquisition in Spain were times when rulers misused the authority God gave them.  Remember Paul is writing to Romans in Rome.  He is writing in a context.  We must take the time to understand what this meant to Paul’s readers before we too quickly apply it to our context.


Paul is removing the Jewish distinction between sacred and secular.  One day is not more sacred than any other day.  You don’t turn your relationship with God on and off in different circumstances or on different days.  Christians must be godly in the routines of life, towards government leaders and towards neighbor.


He was telling them to be Christlike or expect to get thrown out of Rome again.  Pay your taxes so you don’t draw attention to the church.  Avoid arousing suspicions.  Render to all what is due them (vs7).   Pay your debt to society.  Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s but don’t worship Caesar as a god.


Being submissive does not guarantee peace.  But Paul does not advocate withdrawal from the corruption in the city either.  Be Christlike in the system.  It is OK to trust God.


Paul did not organize a moral majority or a Christian right.  That’s what the Jews did.  They wanted political clout.


13:8-10  Be good neighbors.

All social relationships are to be ruled by love.  How can love be a continuing debt?  Why can’t I just love you today and be done with that obligation?  Dale Satrum gave me a very profound answer.  We were talking about abiding in the Vine and the continual need to be filled with the Spirit.  He said our greatest problem is that we have leaky buckets.  We need to keep abiding.  We need to keep being filled with the love of God so we can be love dispensers.


Love is the one debt that we must pay every day and at the same time go on owing every day.  Love fulfills the law because to love means to refuse to sin.  All sin is unloving by its nature.


Social relationships for the Christian are ruled by love.  Jesus quoted Lev 19:18 as a summary of the law.  Moses said, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus defined the neighbor as the good Samaritan.  Your neighbor is someone God has placed in your life for you to be like Jesus to.  Your neighbor is not chosen by you, but placed in your life by God.


Your neighbor is the person in your life that has a need.  The words Paul chooses here suggest an unexpected quality with no forward planning connected with the identification of our neighbor and his need.  We can’t love everybody.  But we must love that one God has placed in our routines.


In Galatians, Paul says as you have opportunity, do good.


In Leviticus the limitation to our love is the phrase “as yourself”.  Your love does not go beyond the resources that God has given you.  Your love can fulfill the whole law of God.  That really makes theology easy to understand.


The Jewish scholar Hillel summed up the law with the negative golden rule: “that which you hate do not do to your fellows; this is the whole law; the rest is commentary; go and learn it.”


The gift of the Spirit is love.  When you became a Christian you received a love beyond what you had before.  I can’t give what you have received.  I can only give what I have received.


13:11-14  Be good workers

Work for the day is coming.  Don’t sleep through the revolution.  Take time to think about what God is doing in your world today, right now.  Ponder what you know about the present time.  Put some pieces together.  Orient yourself toward the things that are eternal.


A Christlike life involves thinking and alertness.  Apathy is not a safe option.  A continual renewing of the mind is necessary.  You can’t stay the same and be alive.


Put off the works of darkness and put on the weapons of light.  Prepare for the final battle.  Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is your armor.  The Greeks used this idea of putting on a person as an actor playing a part.  There was intense concentration required for an actor to really live the part of another person.  Concentrate on putting on the Lord Jesus and stop making provision for the flesh to satisfy its desires.  My mom says, “Don’t pamper the flesh.”  Paul’s admonition to stop doing what you are doing is even stronger.


Paul uses 3 metaphors to encourage growing relationships.

1. the transition from sleep to waking.  This is renewal of the mind for you and beneficial to your neighbor.  Sleep symbolizes inactivity, weakness, vulnerability, no motivation.  You are not building relationships much when you are sleeping.  We still live in a world of darkness, but as Christians we see the Light and walk in the Light.


When you first believed, you started waking up.  At the end of the day your salvation will be complete.


2. the transition from night to day.  This is gradual.  You were dead spiritually in sin.  Now you are alive and need to keep growing.  A lot of good work is done right after breakfast.


3. the changing of activities and dressing for battle.

Now you can live as children of light.  There is no doubt.  You have a choice.  There are temptations to stay in bed and avoid the new life.  I liked my childhood.  But I have to get dressed.  Growing up requires accepting responsibility.  God has given me grace to give to others.  I can’t run around in pajamas all my life and play in my own sandbox.


Life for us requires light.  The daylight dispels the darkness.


There are 6 sins that Paul felt were common temptations for Christians:


1.  The NIV says orgies, but carousing may be more accurate.  The idea is of a group of friends celebrating and it gets out of hand.


2.  Drunkenness was disgraceful even to the Greeks.  Wine was common.  It was used in water to purify the water for children.


3.  The root idea of this word for immorality is ‘bed’.  It is the desire for the forbidden bed.


4.  Debauchery is shamelessness.  This describes the man who has no shame or no restraint.  He is a slave to sheer lust and has no concern for his reputation, honor, or decency.


5.  Dissension is selfish competition with the unwillingness to take second place.  It is a hatred of being surpassed.  It is not giving thanks for who you are and what God has given you.  It is not being able to rejoice and give thanks for the abilities of another.


6.  Jealousy or envy also describes the person who cannot rejoice and give thanks for what God has given to another.


It is time to wake up.  You don’t know how long your day will be.  Put off these old ways of thinking.  Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Intensely concentrate on living like Jesus lived.  His Spirit lives within you and works on the renewing of your mind.


You are a resident alien living here with a work permit.  Your citizenship is in heaven.  Throw off those things in your life that will have no place in eternity.  Put on the fruit of the Spirit.


Be Christlike.  Put on for yourself the attitude of Christ.  Be being conformed to the image of Christ.


Spiritual formation is continually facilitated by the Holy Spirit.


Stop focusing on satisfying your desires.  You still have your physical appetites, but your purpose in life is not to satisfy your appetites.  You are to share God’s grace with your neighbor.


Be a godly citizen.

Be neighborly to those God places in your life.

Be an agent of change.  Be renewing your mind.  Get dressed.

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