Romans 13–14: Government & Neighbors

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 7: Sunday

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist have been appointed by God.
Romans 13:1 LSB

In today’s Bible reading of Romans 13–14, Paul continues to write about relationships. He ended chapter 12 with, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” and in Romans 13, he goes right into the Christian’s relationship to govern­ment and the role of government. It’s not surprising to find teaching about government following Paul’s words about not being overcome with evil. Notice what he says the God-given ministry of government is:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of that authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword in vain, for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
Romans 13:3–4 LSB

God has ordained government to be an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Remember at the end of Romans 12 Paul com­manded us not to take revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God.

Never paying back evil for evil to anyone, respecting what is good in the sight of all men, if pos­sible, so far as it depends on you, being at peace with all men, never taking your own revenge, beloved⁠—instead leave room for the wrath of God. For it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 13:17–21 LSB

Paul follows this up by writing that government bears the sword as God’s avenger: to bring wrath on those who practice evil. Peter also writes:

Be subject for the sake of the Lord to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do good. For such is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free people, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as slaves of God. Honor all people, love the brethren, fear God, honor the king.
1 Peter 2:13–17 LSB

In his commentary on Galatians Martin Luther spoke of the double use of the law. He said its civil use was “to bridle the wicked.”

“Here you must understand that there is a double use of the law, One is civil: for God hath ordained civil laws, yea all laws to punish transgressions. Every law then is given to restrain sin. If it restrain sin, doth it there­fore make men righteous? No, nothing less. For in that I do not kill, I do not commit adultery, I do not steal, or in that I abstain from other sins, I do it not willingly or for the love of virtue, but I fear the prison, the sword and the hangman. These do bridle and restrain me that I sin not, as bonds and chains do restrain a lion or bear, that he tear and devour not everything he meeteth; therefore the restraining from sin is not righteousness, but rather a signification of unrighteousness. For as a mad or a wild beast is bound, lest he should destroy everything that he meeteth: even so the law doth bridle a mad and a furious man, that he sin not after his own lust.”1

Christians throughout the world are persecuted to the point of death. During the last few years Christians in the West have begun to face increasing govern­ment control. In Canada pastors have been jailed. Churches in the United States have been fined and held in contempt of court.

This is why we should also under­stand other important passages on the Christian and government such as those in the book of Acts. In Acts 4, Peter and John are arrested. Peter had healed a man at a gate of the temple, preached to the crowd (Acts 3), and then they both began teaching and proclaiming the gospel. After spending the night in jail, they were brought before the Jewish rulers.

And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 4:18–20 LSB

In Acts 5 Peter and the apostles continue to heal. They are arrested, freed by an angel that night, and at daybreak they’re at the temple teaching. They’re brought before the Jewish high priest and Council:

And when they had brought them, they stood them before the Sanhedrin. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly commanded you not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Acts 5:27–29 LSB

F. F. Bruce writes,

“Paul was not so unrealistic as to suppose that the established powers would always protect the interests of the gospel: he would have asserted as readily as Peter and his companions to the declaration that, when they encroached on the things that are God’s, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). There’s no reason to suppose that he had abandoned the outlook of 2 Thessalonians 2:3–12, according to which the established order of govern­ment would one day be swamped by the force of lawlessness, demanding divine honours for itself. But while the established order prevailed, discharging its divinely conferred functions, protecting right and restraining wrong, it should receive the prompt obedience of Christians.”2

In the summer of 2020 Grace Community Church in California decided to open even though the state government had banned services. John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church, and the elders of the church issued this statement about their decision, “Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church.” In it they work through the above passages and others. Please read their statement. We all need to think through what God has said. Here is an exerpt:

“Accordingly, the honor that we rightly owe our earthly gover­nors and magistrates (Romans 13:7) does not include com­pliance when such officials attempt to subvert sound doctrine, corrupt biblical morality, exercise ecclesiastical authority, or supplant Christ as head of the church in any other way.”3

In Romans 13:8 Paul transitions from how we are to relate to those in authority to how we treat others with whom we have personal contact.

His words go back to what the Lord Jesus said, as he gives some specific applications of the command Jesus called second after the great and foremost command to love God.

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other command­ment, it is summed up in this word, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Love does not work evil against a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law.
Romans 13:8–10 LSB

He focuses his instructions in Romans 14 on relationships between Christians. F. F. Bruce explains the background to Paul’s words.

“Then comes a call for special gentleness and consideration to be shown to fellow-Christians, especially those who are “weak in faith and unemancipated in conscience. There are matters such as food-restrictions and the observance of special days on which Christians do not see eye to eye. Those who have no scruples in such matter should not despise those who have; and those who have scruples should not sit in judgment on those who have none. “Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5). It is to God that each believer must ultimately render his account, and it is to God that he is responsible for his con­duct here and now. Christian liberty is a precious thing, not to be limited by any man’s dictation, but it should not be asserted at the expense of Christian charity. Christ, his people’s supreme exemplar, always considered the interests of others before his own; there­fore his people, while subject to none in respect of their liberty, should be subject to all in respect of their charity.”4

So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
Romans 14:19 LSB

In Romans 8, Paul told us the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. In Romans 13–14 he continues to explain:

“In view of all that God has accomplished for His people in Christ, how should His people live?”5

God has not left us to wonder about how we are to live in this world.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Heart [foto & Concept by paul b. toman]: Plismo. (CC BY-SA 3.0). Feature image cropped.
Roman Military Banner: Sonarpulse. (CC BY-SA 3.0). GFDL-1.2-or-later. SPQR: Senatus Populusque Romanus (the Senate and people of Rome).
1Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, A revised and completed translation based on the ‘Middleton’ edition of the English version of 1575, Philip S. Watson, ed. (James Clarke & Co. Ltd., Cambridge: 1953) 297–298.
Further reading at Ligonier on John Calvin and the Law: Nathan W. Bingham, “The Threefold Use of the Law.”
2,4F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1977) 336–337, 337.
3John MacArthur, Copyright 2020, Grace to You. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This Grace to You article, “Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church,” originally appeared here.
5F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1963) 225.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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