Topic: Motives for obeying human government
Text: 13:1 – 14
Romans 13 continuous the practical section of Romans by reminding Christians of their duties to the state. Believers “are not of the world” (John 17:14), but they still have responsibilities to the state. The best citizen ought to be the believer. Individual believers certainly should use their God-given privileges as citizens to see to it that the best leaders are elected and the best laws are enacted and enforced justly. When we think of godly leaders like Joseph, Daniel and Esther, who were able to exercise spiritual ministries in (secular) governments, we see what God can do through the believer. In Romans 13, Paul gives us four motives for obeying human government.
First – For Fear’s Sake (13:1 – 4)
The “governing authorities” (verse 1) are the rulers of government, even though they may not be believers. We thank God that the Gospel reached government officials, such as Erastus, the city treasurer (Romans 16:23), and some of Emperor Nero’s officials (Philippians 4:22 – “Caesar’s household”). We must recognize the fact that even unsaved government officials are ministers of God. Even if we cannot respect the person, we must respect his God-ordained office.
Rulers are a terror to bad people, not to good people (verse 3). Thus, people who live consistent believing lifestyles need not fear. God has established only three institutions on earth: The home (Genesis 2), The church (Acts 2), Human government (Genesis 9).
Second – For Conscience’s Sake (13:5 – 7)
Fear is perhaps the lowest motive for obedience. A Spirit – led conscience lifts us to a higher level. The believer should experience the Spirit witnessing to his or her conscience (Romans 9:1). If we disobey the Lord, we know it when the Spirit convicts our consciences. Some people may have an evil conscience that is unreliable.
The obedient believer should have a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:5). To disobey constantly and refuse the witness of the Spirit in the conscience leads to a seared (or, calloused) conscience (1 Timothy 4:2), a corrupted conscience (Titus 1:15) and finally a conscience which has rejected the good (1 Timothy 1:19). Then, in verses 6 and 7, Paul instructs us to pay taxes and to pay “revenue” (the meaning is possibly “customs on material things”). He also instructs us to show proper respect and honor to all government officials.
Third – For Love’s Sake (13:8 – 10)
The third motive for obeying the government is simply “love.” Paul enlarges the circle to include not only government officials, but our neighbors as well. Keep in mind that the New Testament definition of a neighbor has nothing to do with where we live. In Luke 10:29, the law expert asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus changed the question to, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour?” The issue is not “who is my neighbour?” Rather, the issue is “to whom can I be a neighbour for the glory of Jesus?” It is not a matter of law, but love. The believer who is walking in love is the best citizen, the best witness and the best neighbour.
While the believer lives under the law of the state, he also lives under a much higher law as a citizen of heaven – the law of love. In fact, love is the fulfillment of the law, because love from the heart enables us to obey what the law demands. For example, a man does not work all day because the law tells him to support his family. He works because he loves them. Where there is love there will be no murder, dishonesty, stealing or other kinds of selfishness. Finally, let’s examine the fourth and final motive for obeying human governments.
Fourth – For the Sake of Jesus (13:11 – 14)
Now we have moved from fear to conscience to love to devotion to Jesus. “Our salvation is nearer” in the sense that Jesus’ coming for the church is nearer today than ever before. By “salvation” Paul means the total blessing that we will have when the Lord comes—including new bodies and a new home.
God’s people belong to the light, not the dark. They should be awake and alert, behaving as those who have seen the light of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). No believer wants to be found in sin when Jesus returns. Note the solemn warning of verse 11 – “The hour has come” (Also, see Hebrews 10:25).
Paul lists some sins here, sins that ought never to be named among saints. Note that drinking and immorality often go together and result in strife and division. Many homes have been destroyed by alcohol. In closing, verse 14 gives us the two basic responsibilities of the believer: Positively – to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus”— that is, make Jesus the Lord of your daily life. And negatively – “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” — that is, deliberately avoid that which tempts you to sin. Someone once said that when King David left the battlefield and returned to Jerusalem, “he was making arrangements to sin.” In the light of the soon-coming Messiah, it is our responsibility as His children to live sober, spiritual and clean lives.
Romans 13 has essentially looked at the Christians responsibility to the state. It is important to emphasize here that the Baptist Church’s distinctive emphasis on the separation between church and state does not in any way mean that the Christian has no duty whatsoever towards the state. To Paul, for the sake of fear of punishment, clear conscience, love for neighbours and Jesus, we are to fulfill our moral and ethical obligation to the state. Now, we move to chapter 14 where Paul begins to discuss those brothers and sisters who are perhaps not as strong as we are. What should be our attitude toward them?
1. God has established three institutions: the home, the church and the government. Explain
2. Explain the Law of Love as a motive for obeying human government.
3. Under what circumstance are we not obliged to obey the state and any other human institution?
4. State three motives for obeying human government.