Romans 13:1-10
Debtors To Love

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In April 2000

1.  We have the following words in The Epistle To The Colossian Disciples.  "The father delivered us from the power of darkness and moved us under the rule of his beloved son.  We have obtained redemption, that is the forgiveness of sin, by his son," (Colossians 1:13).  We now live by making Christ the true king, who brought us forgiveness of sin.  We are not under the power of darkness but live under his rule -- This could be called the most fundamental basic self understanding of a Christian.

2.  But, on the other hand, the Roman empire dictated over the Roman world in which the early Christians lived.  The every day life of the masses was without a doubt put under imperial control.  But, how was a person who made Christ king supposed to live in such a society?  This was a problem they couldn't get around.  The society we live in is different from the one of the period of the Roman imperial government.  Yet, there is nothing different in living encompassed by a specific governmental power at odds with Christ which sometimes requires an unconditional obedience.  Still, we can't help but ask the question though in different settings, which is, how should I live while under this specific circumstance?  What is the Bible saying to those of us today?  That's what we want to listen for in this message.

Please Obey The Authorities Who Stand Above [You]

3.  Please look beginning at chapter thirteen and verse one.  Paul began to speak in the following manner:  "Everyone ought to obey the authorities who stand above them.  For there is no authority that does not come from God and every authority that exists today is established by God.  Therefore, those who defy the authorities are disobeying God's decrees and those who disobey are inviting the judgment of God upon their own selves," (verses one and two).

4.  Paul's message is very simple.  Being too simple, [some] even feel resistance to it.  There may even be some who strangely feel that the real world wasn't even apparent to Paul.  Paul said the following, "In reality, the authorities aren't this way for those who practice good, but are a dreadful entity for those who practice evil," (verse three).  However, aren't the authorities sometimes a dreadful entity even for those who practice good?  Isn't this a truth that has been repeated over and over in history?  How much innocent blood of so many has been shed by the rulers of this temporary world?  How should we react to these words of Paul which have been so overly simplified?

5.  So then, as we're in the middle of reading this passage, I think we might need to refer to several points first.

6.  First, this has not been a comprehensive discussion on the issue of church and state or on the relationship of a believer with the ruling authorities of this world, which means, that nothing is covered exhaustively here.  In the first place, this is not the place to consider the purpose of this epistle.  Therefore, we can't really react to this description as a universal principle as if what is written here is all there is.  The imperial government of Rome is thoroughly at the background to what has been written here in the text.  It is different from the world we have today where the citizens apportion out the duties regarding the authority of the state.  In our case, an unconditional submission towards ruling authorities might be taken as an abdication of [our] duties [as responsible citizens], depending on the situation.

7.  Secondly, at the point in time in which Paul wrote this, the church was not yet experiencing full scale imperial Roman persecution.  Thus, his way of writing is very different from The Revelation Of John which was written at a later time period.  In Revelation the Roman empire is called "Babylon the Great" and is depicted as a great harlot deserving of condemnation.  In addition, the emperor Nero is described as a beast who has been granted authority from the dragon, Satan.  Had it been a different time period, [scholars] believe that Paul, too, would have probably had a different writing style.

8.  While working within reference to the above parameters, I would like for us to consider what this passage still means to us.

9.  To begin with, did Paul write an excessively optimistic message because the satanic side of the state's authority was not at all apparent to him?  No, that was not it.  For example, his co-workers Aquila and Priscilla were forced to leave Rome by an order issued from the emperor Claudius.  [He issued the order] just because they were Jews.  Among the co-workers close to him, Paul really saw the tyrannous past.  Also, at Philippi Paul himself had the experiences of receiving the penalty of being beaten by a whip without any investigation [into the grounds to his guiltiness] and of being cast into prison.  It happened on account of the fact that the leaders did not [yet] know that Paul was a citizen of Rome.  Paul experienced in his own person what someone might encounter through the authorities when one was not a Roman citizen.

10.  However, in spite of the fact that it is such a worldly authority like that, he still says "Please obey the authority which stands above you."  Why is that?  It was not because he saw "the authority which stands above you" as absolute.  That's not why, rather he says that "because I do not see it as absolute."  What Paul sees there is neither the dictating emperor any more, nor rank pulling officials behaving arrogantly.  They are but lowly servants being used by God.  They did not know it but, even if they had intentions to rule over others, the truth is they were errand boys for God within the divine plan.  Paul says, "The authorities are servants of God to make you practice good," (verse four).

11.  The important thing is that, no matter what power it is, we look at the greater rule of God behind it and we end up taking this opportunity to do good.  Hence, Paul in verse three says to "practice good."  For Paul, even though there is the sword of the authorities it itself is no longer the thing to dread; because he knew that what is truly to be dreaded is the wrath of God.  That there is a sword against those who practice evil is beneficial in order to escape the wrath that is truly to be dreaded.  The important thing is it ends up a help in avoiding evil.  Thus, we ultimately live with fear for God and in obedience to Him under the given circumstances.

12.  In this way, a brand of humor can even be felt in the words of Paul as he looks at this world's authority.  Please take a look at verse six.  Paul says, "That's the reason you pay tribute.  The authorities are persons in service to God and they are diligent in that endeavor."  In understanding that sometimes the authorities of this world even have tyrannical behaviors, he asserts that "They are, in fact, being used by God.  In that certain sense then, aren't they doing good?"  Then after that, amusing words follow.  It's unfortunate but in translating this into Japanese its liveliness doesn't carry over.  "Please fulfill your responsibilities to everyone."  If we altered the words according to its basic meaning, this would be "Please pay every thing so that no debt remains for anyone."  What follows are its details.  Pay tribute.  Pay taxes.  And that's not all.  Pay "the fear [or respect you owe]."  Please pay "the honor or respect [you owe]!"  If a person can make a statement like that, it is not a sacrifice any more that one is compelled to do by some irresistible force.

13.  This kind of humor stems from freedom from pressure.1  Here we have Paul with some leeway.  In avoiding control a person without room to spare will squeakily shout to a shrill.  He or she will first think of using violence to escape control.  Also, they will take to destructive acts.  Back in that time many religious fanatics went that way.  But, nothing good emerges from that.  Paul says you should not go that same path.  Paul's latitude, to no surprise, was none other than the freedom from pressure of a person obedient to Christ.  It was the latitude of a person obedient to the Christ, who was truly crucified and killed under the tyrannous authority of this world, but [a latitude] to a Christ, who defeated this world because of that, and to such a winning Christ who is the true king of kings and the Lord of lords.  [That's the kind of freedom Paul had.]   The important thing is to have this leeway of freedom first.  That is the meaningful detail of the message "please obey, please pay."

To Live As Debtors Of Love

14.  Therefore, the obedience to the authority of which Paul is speaking about is not defined as a passive kind of what they call "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em,2" but instead we understand that it is a follow-up to the words, "Do not be defeated by evil, but overcome evil with good."  That passage, as I've read to you previously, begins with the words, "There should be no lies in love."  Thus, his speech returns back again to a love without deception.

15.  Please look from verse eight onwards.  "Other than loving one another, there should not be a debt towards anyone.  He who loves another is fulfilling the law.  'Don't commit adultery.  Don't kill.  Don't steal.  Don't covet.'  If there be any other commandment besides, it is summarized in the words, 'Love your neighbor as your own self.'  Love does not commit evil on a neighbor.  Thus, love is a fulfilling of the law," (verses eight through ten).

16.  Before, Paul spoke on the details that had to do with "please pay all debts."   Here again, he says "You shouldn't have debts."  Yet, there is but one exception.  It is "to love one another," he says.  We do well to have a debt in this regard.  No, even better, he means that this debt will never cancel out no matter what we do.

17.  I think that the act of loving others expressed by an unpayable eternal debt shows several important things to us.

18.  First, when it comes to loving others we are just not good enough at it.  In this world everything and anything is said in the name of "love."   The increase in temporary feelings that grow cold with the passage of time are meaninglessly coming out of peoples' mouths in the name of "love."  Only a projection of one's greed passes through one's lips in the name of "love."  [People who] impose their way in for their own self-satisfaction and get to meddling pass it off in the name of "love."  Feeling sympathy for someone only to make him or her feel sorry for you and nicer to you is spoken in the name of "love."  The Bible says that the fulfilling of the law, which is none other than the will of God, is very "love" itself.  The Bible says that it is summarized in the words, "Love your neighbor as your own self," and expresses it very simply as "Love does not commit evil on one's neighbor."

19.  However, the more I ponder over these words, I can't help but think of the gravity and greatness of them.  Is it really possible to love your neighbor as yourself?  Even though he had expressed it from the negative perspective, can there truly be behaviors that do not include sin against a neighbor?  Don't we get in other people's faces and bring them pain without realizing it?  Since we are like that it is surely impossible that we are good enough at loving others.  For starters, in the moment we think "though I love you so much, though I do so much for you," love ends up disappearing from it.

20.  And secondly, the act of loving is more than anything an indebtedness "to God."  That is, love is not produced by humans, but first of all it means that God has loved us.  Until chapter eleven of this epistle this word "love (agape)" has not been used in reference to human love. It is the word that has been used in reference to God's love revealed in Christ.

21.  God first loved us.  He loved us sinners.  God loved us [when] we were against him.  He loved us [although] we deserved to be condemned and destroyed.  "It's not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to atone for our sin.  Here is where love is," (First John 4:10).  In addition, we do not pay this debt of love to God, but pay it to each other by loving one another.  We pay only a small part of the impossibly unpayable debt of love when we love one another.  "O beloved ones, since God has so loved us, we too ought to love one another," (First John 4:11).

22.  If we are conscious of the fact that we are debtors, we must not say "I have no love" for those around me.  A debtor with respect to love laments that he or she not only does not have love for others but even for himself or herself.  And they ought to seek God in prayer to be loving persons.

23.  How should we live?  We, who ask that question, have not been left alone in a godless world.  We are under the rule of the One who died for us and rose again from the dead.  The temporal rule of this world and the circumstances surrounding us do not have ultimate and decisive meaning [for us].  The important thing is to ask what does it mean to follow Christ the king - and to live as a debtor of the love Christ bore on him.

End Notes

1 "Yutori" means "leeway, allowance, elbowroom, room, margin, latitude, freedom from pressure."

2 "Nagaimono ni wa makikareroh" concisely means "Bow to the impregnable."

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