A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Christian Life as One in Subjection to the State
The subject of this chapter is clearly indicated in the first verse: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers." In the third verse appears the word "rulers". There seems to be no question that the subject is the Christian and his relation to the state.
There was need for instruction on this topic in the early church, as there is need for it today. The church at that time was undoubtedly made up to a large extent of Jewish members, and the Jews had a peculiar feeling when it came to bending the knee to the Gentile ruler. Notice the account in Mark of Jesus being questioned by Jewish leaders concerning His attitude toward the Roman government. The Pharisees declared it was wrong to acknowledge a Gentile ruler; the Herodians, being politicians, thought the best policy was to acknowledge Caesar and Herod. The same question was in the minds of the early church members.
An instance of the attitude of the Roman government toward the Jews appears in Acts 18:2: "Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome." One of the reasons why the Jews were told to get out of Rome was undoubtedly because of their attitude toward the Roman government.
The church was at this time filled with Jews, and the church held the doctrine of the kingship of Jesus. Whether a man was a Jew or a Gentile in the church, he believed that Jesus Christ was King of kings and Lord of lords - and he was right. In Acts 17:7 is a little hint of this. This is an accusation brought against Christians: "These all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus." They held to the doctrine of the kingship of Jesus, and they deserve every bit of credit for doing so.
But unfortunately, some men had difficulty in reconciling the doctrine of the kingship of Jesus with the Gentile rule on earth. The doctrine might not pose difficulties to the actual Christians, but tempt those who were professing Christians, who might desire to use this doctrine as a pretext to license the exercise of human passion. Therefore it was very essential that Paul deal with this subject.
There is a connection between this chapter and the one preceding. There are some who have denied any connection. Verses 19 and 20 had taught the avoidance of vengeance and the exercise of mercy toward an offender. When Paul taught that people might respond, "If we act upon that rule, the world will be plunged into a veritable chaos, for wicked men will take advantage of us." For our Lord Jesus Christ, when he was struck, turned the other cheek; when He was insulted, did not give back insults; He did not fight evil; and He did not conquer His enemies either. They put Him to death upon the Cross. There are sometimes men who have no regard for your kindness. Thus, the charge is that if we treat men on this basis, the very foundations of human government will be swept away.
Now we come to the thirteenth chapter. The twelfth chapter is the rule for those who are Christians, those who belong to the church. But the state is different. The state is a divine institution with its own definite duties. It is not our business as a church to see that the world is not plunged into lawlessness, but it is easy for the believer to conclude this.
Now for the outline. Here is the key to the outline: Verse 1 presents the "higher powers", which can be summed up in one word, the "state". Verse 8 proposes another idea, "Owe no man anything save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law". After referring to the state itself, Paul goes down to the individuals in the state, so we will see that this section in the outline deals with the citizens of the state. Verse 11 points to "the day." What day is that? There is only one day, the day of the Lord's coming is always in mind when Paul talks that way.
All three of these topics are linked together very closely. Perhaps the outline and its exposition will help to illuminate this relationship. The outline is threefold:
1. The Christian's duty to the state (vv. 1-7).
2. The Christian's duty to the citizens of the state (vv. 8-10).
3. The Christian's duty in view of the near approach of the coming of the Lord (vv. 11-14).
There are in these three sections of the outline, three words which sum up and describe the duties which are set forth in each section: verse 1 - subjection; verse 8 - love; verse 11 - wakefulness. The Christian's duty to the state is subjection. The Christian's duty to the citizens of the state is love. The Christian's duty in view of the closeness of Christ's coming is wakefulness.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 78)