This chapter continues to teach the believers Christian conduct.
In a sense, Chapter 13 and Chapter 14 are in contrast to each other. While Chapter 13 teaches obedience and responsibilities toward authorities such as earthly government, Chapter 14 teaches liberty of the believer from religious rules.
This might be quite surprising for many who have pre-existing assumptions about Christians. Most people have some pre-assumptions about being a Christian. Some think that a Christian is like a religious nut who follows certain restrictive and strange religious rules and rituals but pays no respect to the society and the government. But the Holy Spirit teaches just the opposite.
Concerning the earthly governing authorities, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” Romans 13.1-2.
Concerning religious observation of rituals, the book of Romans says, “He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.” Romans 14.6. “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; Romans 14.14a.
What liberty in contrast!
Why? If God is God of sovereignty and supremacy, why does He strictly command His children to obey earthly governing authorities? If God is the One to be worshiped, why does He disregard rituals that seem to be religious and pious?
We see the answers to these questions only when we personally know God and understand the purpose and the works of God. We all live in a temporary and passing world. The things in this world find their meaning only in their connection to the eternity, not in how they appear, nor in how we feel about them. The temporary things are merely vessels in the hand of God. God uses the earthly government to demonstrate that He is the God of order and the God of eternal government. The believer therefore obeys not for the sake of man but for the sake of God.
On this point, another book in the Bible puts it explicitly: “Therefore submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake”, 1 Peter 2.13.
These directions concern the Christian’s relationship with the authorities under which he is placed. The Bible recognizes authorities as accomplishing the service of God, and as receiving authority from God, so that resisting them would be resisting that which God had established. Governing authorities are to be obeyed because God uses them as a temporary means to build His children up in the eternal King Jesus Christ and to bring his children toward the eternal King Jesus Christ.
However, we should be careful that the Bible does not teach absolute and blind obedience to the government. The apostles, for example, chose to disobey the authorities at their time when they were led by the Holy Spirit into the work of the kingdom and were convinced that the earthly authorities were acting to hinder the Kingdom of God. They disobeyed because they believed the authorities were acting against God’s will, but they were nevertheless submissive and respectful because they knew the authorities were in God’s hand.
Some attempt to trap Christians by way of posing an impossible dilemma in view of a few letters or lines in the Bible quoted out of context. They are testing life using death. But the Word of God is for the living not for the dead, and nothing outside of Jesus Christ has life. The biblical teaching of obedience to the authorities is based on a fundamental respect to the sovereignty of God, not as a disguised surrogate of the authority of the Kingdom of God. One who is led by the Holy Spirit is not to be bound by the legalistic “rules” based on pseudo-spiritual interpretation of the Bible. The God of the heavens will not subject His children to becoming slaves to the powers of this world and any teachings of this age.
Bible’s teaching of obedience to authorities is very much in contrast with its instructions with regard to religious observations. God’s children have liberty from religious observations and rules because the Son has set them free. Not only do God’s children have liberty from such, but in fact if anything acts to replace the central place of Jesus Christ in the heart of God’s children, or to lead children of God away from Jesus Christ, is an offense to God.
Friend, may you see that God has a singular, unified, and harmonious eternal purpose in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son. God never contradicts Himself. God has measured, and will continue to measure, even into eternity, everything according to Jesus Christ. If God has chosen the Ruler to measure everything, how can you not take heed whether you are up to the measure?
Chapter 13 teaches two other principles that are related but different from obedience to authority.
First, while the philosophies of this world teach people to seek the high things of this world, the children of God are to take a lowly position, not only giving honor to those who are highly and in a position deserving honor, but also respect and love those who are lowly. A Christian who does not know how to walk in company with those of low degree in a journey through the wilderness has forgotten his position and calling.
As we take such positions, we start understand why God is so concerned of how we treat each other.
Conscience, and not force, constrains the Christian to obey, to do good, to render to every man that which was due to him in virtue of his position, and to leave nothing owing to any one.
But beyond conscience is love, because love is the fulfilling of the law. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13.8.
Without conscience, man feels nothing about his indebtedness; with bad conscience, man feels his indebtedness but does not do anything; with good conscience, man strives not to be in debt to anyone; but with love, we are always indebted to others but never feel others are indebted to us.
Second, the spirit of the Christian knows the present time, and knows it is time to awake. We are sons of light. The deliverance from this present evil age, which the Lord will accomplish for us, draws near. The night is far spent, the day is at hand — God knows the moment, and so should His children. Brother J. N. Darby’s words resonate in this regard: ‘Let us then walk as children of the day, casting off the works of darkness. We belong to the day, of which Christ Himself will be the light. Let our walk be in accordance with that day, putting on Christ Himself, and not being studious of that which is in accordance with the will and the lusts of the flesh.”