September 12, 2011

Readings and Commentary for Tuesday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 115, 2 Sam. 7:1-17, Lk. 23:26-38
Evening - Ps. 116, Zeph. 3:1-8, Rom. 13

Commentary
Romans 13

Having dealt with the Christian's relationship to other Christians in chapter 12, chapter 13 deals with the Christians relationship to those outside of the Church. Verses 1-7 deal with the Christian and the state as an institution. It is noteworthy that verse 1 tells us to be subject unto the higher powers (state). Rome was hardly a model of good government, yet Scripture tells the Christians in Rome to be subject to it, and, by extension, tells the Church in all lands to be subject to the governments of those lands. Several reasons are given for this. First, government is ordained of God. Obviously this does not mean all forms of government or all actions of governments are equally good, but it does mean the function of government is ordained by God. Second, government, when carrying out its legitimate functions, even if it does so poorly, serves as the minister of God. To resist it, then, is to resist God. Third, it is the legitimate function of government to be a terror to evil (12:3). This is what people in the U.S. mean when they say "that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men." Government exists to secure our God-given rights against those who would infringe upon them. In this function, the government is a "revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (13:4). Fourth, we should be good citizens for conscious' sake (13:5). We should desire to see our own countries prosper, and we should work and contribute to that purpose. More importantly, if government is the minister of God, and if submitting to its rightful authority and laws is submitting to God (13:2), then we should submit to it because we know our submission is pleasing unto God. We should submit to it, take our paces in the community, and promote the peace and prosperity of our nation willingly, happily, and heartily as unto the Lord. Ours must not be a grudging, recalcitrant citizenship. We may genuinely love and serve our respective countries, as long as doing so does not compromise the teaching of Scripture.

Verses 6-7 reiterate that legitimate service to our government is also legitimate service to God. It is our duty to support the government with lawful tribute and custom (taxes), and it is lawful to give government officials due honour and respect.

If we think of the state as an institution, and of verses 1-7 as directing our relationship to that institution, then we can think of verses 8-10 as directing our relationship with the fellow citizens of our country. The principle commended to us in this relationship is summarised in the words, "Owe no man anything." If we were to put this in more contemporary terms we might say, "Pay your debts." It is not an injunction against legitimate debt; it is an injunction against profligate spending and not paying what you owe. This is just another way of saying we are to be people of the utmost integrity and honesty in all our business dealings. Questionable practices are as wicked as outright deceit. Neither should cloud the name of a Christian in business. This does not require us to allow ourselves to be duped and robbed in business. Knowing that others will attempt to do so will keep us alert and intelligent in our dealings. "Wise as serpents and harmless as doves" comes to mind on this subject.

Obviously Paul was familiar with the teachings and words of Jesus. He quotes His famous summary of the law in verse 9, after showing how the commandments dealing with interpersonal dealings are the intent of the moral law. To love thy neighbor as thyself, does not simply require us to merely not harm others. We love ourselves by attempting to do good for ourselves, and the same spirit guides our dealing with our neighbors, whether inside our outside of the Church.

Verses 11-14 encourage us to order all of life in the light of the Lordship of Christ. The Return of Christ, either through a supernatural event, or through the natural course of our own death, will soon take us into the immediate presence of God. That thought, and thoughts about the account we will be called upon to give on that Day, should serve to keep us circumspect in our dealings until then.