A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Christian Life as One in Subjection to the State
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.
There is a harmony between the twelfth chapter and the thirteenth. Look at those two chapters as one single section. In 12:1 is stated the basis of Christian duty, the mercies of God. The last few verses in the thirteenth chapter present the great incentive to the Christian's duty, the Coming of the Lord. Paul starts out with the mercies of the Lord; and he closes with the coming of the Lord!
In between the basis and incentive, Paul sets forth Christian duty in two distinct realms. In 12:4 he shows that every member is set in his proper place in the church. So first there is the Christian's duty in the realm of the church. Then, in the thirteenth chapter, Paul shows the Christian's duty in the realm of the state. The Christian's duty in the church and in the state should be enforced and performed in just one way, in love. Compare 12:9 and 13:8.
The apostle Paul here teaches what is dogmatic as to the realm of the church and the state, and therefore the first seven verses of chapter 13 constitute a passage without parallel in the whole Bible. Paul carefully avoids two errors concerning the realm of the church and the state. The first error is that view which would confuse the church and the state, uniting them, as Roman Catholic doctrine like to do, or as is seen in the Church of England.
On the other hand, Paul avoids the other extreme of setting them in opposition to one another. He steers his course very skillfully, keeping them separate - one spiritual, the other temporal - and yet he hows that there is no essential opposition between the two. He does not oppose them; neither does he confuse them.
The Christian's Duty to the State
As to the scope of subjection, he declares it extends to "every soul." Not every church member, but "every soul be in subjection to the higher powers." That is the rule. When Paul speaks in the twelfth chapter about our relation to God, he says that is our "spiritual service." We render our service to God in the spirit; but in the thirteenth chapter we come to a different sphere. Our service to the state is not a spiritual thing; it involves "every soul" being subject to the higher powers." In place of the word "powers", the word "authorities" would be more exact.
The next phrase, "There is no power but of God," is significant. There is no government authority except through God. That is exactly what Daniel teaches. He says that God establishes kings and He dethrones kings. What happened to King Nebuchadnezzar was for the purpose that people might know that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" (Daniel 4:17).
Our Lord pointed out this truth when He stood in the presence of Pilate. Pilate said in his anger, "I have power ... to release thee" (John 19:10). Then our Lord said, "Thou couldest have no power ... except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11). Even that profession of authority was authority that God Himself had invested in the man. This applies to the Premier of Russia, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and the President of the United States - all power comes through God.
No ruler can hold his place except by permission of the God of heaven, and in that sense every power that exists is of God, as Paul says, "And the powers that be," whatever they are, "are ordained of God." That is a solemn statement which is needed in these days of lawlessness. We ought to teach people that they have no right to flaunt the authority of existing powers in governmental reign.
Paul draws the conclusion that opposition to government is opposition to God. The word "damnation" in verse 2 is too strong; "judgment" is better. That is all it is. "They shall receive to themselves judgment." If you withstand the properly constituted authorities, you receive judgment from them. Not only that, but God will call you to account, for we know we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account (Romans 14:10-12). God will take a Christian t task if he rebels against the authorities.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 79)