The believer moves in several spheres, and all of them demand responsible actions. Believers are in Christ, and relate to the body of Christ. They are in families and have responsibilities there. But they also move in the civic sphere, and have responsibilities within the state.
So Paul commands that everyone of us submit to government authorities, “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Remember, Paul is writing to people living under the Romans! No matter what form of government exists, we are in the human race, and our obligations to society are divine obligations. Here Paul is even broader than the Church: he is not limiting his comments to every believer, or to the Church, but to every soul.
The verb is the well-known word for “submission”—a word people today do not like. The same word is used elsewhere for submission to one another in the Church and in the home (see also 1 Peter 2:13). There is a divine order ordained by God in all aspects of life. It is a functioning order, and not a statement about quality of persons or situations.
There are two main reasons for this exhortation. First, God has ordained such authority for the state. Daniel 2 is very strong in this issue—God sets up kings and governments. Even Jesus would tell his “rulers” that they would have no authority and no power unless it was given from above. And second, governments are intended for the reward of good and punishment of evil. This is generally true of governments, that on the whole they encourage good and discourage evil—although they can become wicked and oppressive (and so can employers, and husbands, and church leaders). Society has to run on this principle, so that everyone in the state lives by a conscience to try to do what is right.
So Paul’s exhortation in verse 5 is explained that if you live obediently under the law of the land you can expect to escape punishment, and you will have a clear conscience.
Taxes provides Paul with a final exhortation. Give to them whatever you owe them. Simple and straightforward. But he expands this to add that if you owe honor and respect, give that too. There are liturgical connotations here: the diligence and care you give to paying the government what you own them should not exceed the diligence and care of your spiritual service. (Of course the government often has the motivation of causing fear of prosecution to make sure you pay your taxes). The same correlation is offered in Jesus’ reply to the question about taxes: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (what has his image on it), but give to God what is God’s. What is God’s? Whatever has His image—you yourself. So he is saying give your money to Caesar but give your life to God.
The principle of love is now applied to life in society (vv. 8-10). Here Paul summarizes the second half of the commandments (as Jesus did): love your neighbor as yourself. 1 Love is the essence of the covenant law, the motivation and the effect. To describe it this way is to speak of caring service and assistance for others. That should be the only debt owed.
Please note what is happening here. Paul is quoting the commandments. But he is not putting the Christian believer back under the Law as the binding constitution of the Church. Rather, he is saying that the Christian law of love fulfills what the Law was trying to accomplish. This makes sense, because this love is part of the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit accomplishes in us the love and goodness and righteousness that the Law required.
Paul’s appeal is based on the urgency of the time (vv. 11-14). Our salvation is ever drawing nearer, so we must redeem the time. This section is almost like an alarm clock that goes off for believers who have gone to sleep in the world. John wrote that whoever has the blessed hope in him purifies himself (1 John 3:3). Paul’s point is that the believer will not remain forever in this world; time is advancing towards that “dawn” of redemption for which creation groans. So the believer should not be caught up in the works of the night, the things of darkness.
Note the implication that this is a spiritual struggle, a warfare: “put on the armor of light.” For this we need to correlate Ephesians 6:12-18.
Note what is put together here as works of darkness—orgies, drunkenness, debauchery—these most Christians would say they really have no part in. But he adds dissension and jealousy—mainstays of most Christian groups, unfortunately. He is not merely speaking of a literal wild night-life; the “night” he speaks about is the sinful nature in a fallen world—the world system driven by greed and corruption. We must always be on guard against that.
Verse 14 is the sum of the matter: “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” It is once again the mind that is central to the victory. The image of clothing is similar to Ephesians 6 with the armor of Christ, and Colossians 3:10-16. We are by faith and obedience to appropriate Christ for our daily lives, and give no priority to self-gratification—either for fleshly desires or pride or jealousy or strife. If we live to please and to serve Christ, our focus will be turned away from the self.
1. Review the steps in spiritual growth laid out in 12:1,2? How would you relate them to these other instructions in society and with neighbors?
2. What spiritual gifts do you have? How do you know? Do spiritual leaders agree with this? Now how does the Law of love work through these gifts?
3. Make an honest appraisal of your spiritual relationships. How much Christian love do you actually manifest in your relationships? Or, to put it another way, what was being a Christian cost you—in time, effort, convenience?
4. Do you think the kind of government would make any difference to Paul’s discussion of government? What do you think Paul would say about living in a democracy?
5. Think about the way the Bible uses the imagery of clothing, whether nakedness, dirty clothes, clothed in white, banquet clothes, armor, of clothing with Christ. Can you trace any patterns in these motifs?