Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
Paul’s message, simply stated, is that human government is ordained by God, and that’s all I should have to say about it. Yet even though human government is ordained by God, human government exists in a corrupted world environment, and we should not pretend to be shocked when it turns out to be corrupt: It happens. What is really instructive in this teaching is that the government Paul was referring to had a nasty habit of persecuting Paul and his readers; yes, maybe we should reflect on that for a while.
If I had been Paul, I might want to write something quite different on this topic, but if I had, or if he had, then a great disservice would have been done to the Gospel. God did not call us to serve His kingdom so that we could engage in political action, for His Kingdom is not of this world. Instead, He has called us to share the Gospel, to share His love with those who have not yet heard it, to nurture and mentor other, younger Christians to maturity in the faith, not to protest stupid court decisions or corruption in Congress or the White House… or wherever it may exist in your location. I will add that if we did a better job of serving His purpose in a free society, it is quite likely that a very different group of people would be elected to represent us, without our ever needing to bring up politics.
By the way, when I teach such self-explanatory texts as this one, this is often where I toss out a question, a rhetorical one of course: When you are driving your car around town, do you observe the speed limit, or do you prefer to behave as the pagans do?
That one gets a groan from the group every time… not to mention laughter.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Taxes: Nobody likes taxes, except the ones somebody else must pay. Here in America, we have a horrible tax system, and I will boldly declare that if the entire Tax Code went up for a vote as is, and if it didn’t already exist, no one would vote for it; no one has even read the whole thing, and the people who enforce it don’t even understand it, and if you don’t believe me, ask a tax lawyer!
Now ask yourself, how was the tax system Paul lived under? Well… it was horrible as well. Money is not supposed to be our primary concern in this life; our priority is supposed to be on things that are above, so why should the inequities of the tax system be our priority? Paul’s message is pay them what they want and get on with serving our Lord in peace and love, for that is what we are here for.
Yes, I know… I’m gritting my teeth too, but that only goes to show that we have a long way to go to attain maturity in the faith.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
In this short passage, Paul is nothing short of profound; deep in fact. Yet it is so simple that we might just fly past it and not notice how profound it is; a second grade child can easily understand it, and it requires a mature adult to miss it− that is how simple it is.
Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
If we think of love as a mere emotion or feeling, maybe we can miss this, but godly love is not an emotion, it is a commitment to put the interests of other people ahead of our own, and love in action puts the interests of everyone ahead of our own. If we actually do this, then we will not do anything to offend or hurt them, and if we love God we will not do anything to hurt or offend God. We will not do this because somebody told us that we must, we will do this because we want to.
In short, this is the transformation that Paul spoke of in 12:1-2; this is love in action from 12:9-16.
There are times when I grow weary of people telling me that the Bible never tells us how we should accomplish the Christian life; yes, dear reader, I grow weary of such remarks:
I happened across these verses just the other day as I was finishing up in Philippians for some recent posts; this is similar to several other passages written by Paul and others, and tells us how to be transformed…
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
There is a principle in these two verses that I think people tend to miss, one that is critical to healthy and happy living. These two verses are quoted often, I’ve even heard them quoted to “prove” that we shouldn’t use bad language, but to me, that sort of thing really misses the point. Let’s see if we can find a little more than meets the eye here.
Notice that verse 8 begins with the word “finally.” This should clue us in to the fact that Paul is summing up everything he’s been teaching, and this should tell us there is a larger context here. Paul tells us that we should take note of whatever we find along our life’s path that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and think about them. Notice that excellent and praiseworthy are set apart so as to sum up the others. Notice also the way he says we should think about them: “Think about such things.” This tells us more that we should be focusing on these kinds of things, which rather expands the focus from the specific instance, to the category at large. To put it another way, we are to focus our minds and attention to things that are excellent and worthy of praise, rather than on things that are not.
Don’t rush through this, for it is very significant advice. Ask yourself what is not included in this, and I think you’ll end up with a list of things that we usually think about; our problems, our feelings about things, our little resentments, our little hurts and things that aren’t uplifting. Surely the kinds of things Paul wants us to be thinking about wouldn’t include our circumstances, illnesses and pains, but would instead include the kinds of things that would inspire us to greatness, and to service of humanity and to God. Now you can see how Paul has been able to have such a positive attitude in his imprisonment.
He wraps up with this statement:
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
This is one of those “if – then” statements. Put into practice the things Paul has taught and God will be with you. By implication, if you don’t put them into practice, you’ll likely find yourself far from God. Now if I was to make such a remark, your eyebrows would surely rise, for who am I? But by the time he was writing this, Paul had proven himself as the Apostle of Christ, the things that he has taught the people have been from God and for the sake of His purpose; they are the things that will put each of us firmly within God’s purpose and will. Paul has taught us how to be in fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ, and when we dwell in this place, His presence and peace are surely with us.
Jesus said the same thing as Romans 13:10 (Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law) in Matthew 22:37-40, specifically in verse 40 after His reply to what was the greatest commandment: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”