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Living Right in a World Full of Wrong

by Jim Gillaspie

Conclusion to our Study of Romans 13

Last month we saw that this chapter has 3 main sections:
1) verses 1-6, The Authorities [covered already]
2) verses 7-10, Outstanding Debts.
3) verses 11-14, Times and Behavior.

2. OUTSTANDING DEBTS: PAY UP!

Romans 13:7-10. “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Paul says, “Pay what you owe.” We learn that we are not only to submit to the governing authorities, we are to pay taxes — or as Jesus said, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. No one likes to pay taxes today, but you would have liked it even less in Paul’s day. Taxes were collected in the provinces by “publicans” – people who were authorized by Rome to collect what Rome wanted in taxes. Whatever they could get above that amount, they could keep for themselves. Some of the publicans were very good at their jobs. They became quite wealthy, and they were hated — viewed as traitors. One of the common complaints that the Pharisees had against Jesus – was that He associated with sinners and publicans!

The NIV uses the word “Revenue” (v. 7). The KJV and some other translations use the word “custom”. This would include any other financial obligation that was levied on them. It comes from the Greek word “Telos.” It is interesting that when Jesus was on the cross, He used a form of this same word, when He said, “It is finished.” There He used the word “Teleo” which was sometimes written on the bottom of a bill that had been paid, and meant “Paid In Full.” On the cross, Jesus paid in full the penalty for our sins. He didn’t pay what HE owed — He paid what WE owe!

In Romans 13, Paul says; “Pay what you owe and let no debt remain outstanding.” Some have taken that to mean that they couldn’t buy a house or a car unless they bought it outright, for there would be an outstanding debt. But Paul didn’t say “let no balance remain outstanding.” Each month, as you make your mortgage payment, you are paying what you owe.

Paul then gives us what might sound like some bad news: we are ALL debtors. We are in debt now — and we will always be in debt! This is one debt that you can never pay off. Dave Ramsey can’t even help you with this one! That sounds like bad news, but really, it’s not. Because our greatest debt, the debt we will always owe — is not a financial debt. It is the debt of love. I owe you — and you owe me. Paul says; “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another…” In I Pet. 4:8, Peter said; “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Note that Peter said; “above all!” That’s not easy! People offend us. People irritate us. Some of them are obnoxious. Some of them dislike us. And let’s face it, they are hard to love!
During the Korean war, a military unit hired a local boy to cook and clean for them. Being a bunch of pranksters, they soon took advantage of the young man. For example, they would smear Vaseline on the stove handles, so that when he’d turn the stove on he’d get it all over his hands. They would put buckets of water over the door, so he’d get drenched when he opened the door. They even went so far as to nail his shoes to the floor during the night. (He must have been a sound sleeper!) Day after day the young Korean boy took one practical joke after another — without saying anything! Finally, the men started to feel a little guilty about what they had been doing. So they sat down with the boy and said, “Look — we know these pranks aren’t funny to you, and we’re sorry! In fact, we’re never going to play a joke on you again!” It seemed too good to be true to the houseboy. He said: “No more sticky on stove?” And they said; “Nope!” “No more water on door?” “Nope!” “No more nail shoes to floor?” “Nope — never again!” Then the young man said with a big grin, “Ok — then no more spit in soup!”

I’m sure, if you try hard, you can think of at least one person that you don’t particularly like. Maybe it is someone who has mistreated you. Or someone who has angered you in some way. How do you deal with that person? Do you just ignore them? Or do you look for ways to get even with them?

In Romans 13, Paul tells us that we have a continuing debt to love one another. And Peter tells us to love one another deeply. Jesus even said that we are to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us! (Matt 5:43-44, Luke 6:28-29.) Now ask yourself, is that the First response that comes to mind when you are mistreated in some way? Me neither! Nikita Khrushchev once remarked “The difference between Christianity and Communism is great. When someone strikes you on the face, you turn the other cheek. If you strike me on the face, I’ll hit you so hard your head will fall off.” That’s the typical response, isn’t it? You hit me – I’ll hit you, only harder! You hurt me – I’ll hurt you – only deeper! That’s the world’s response to dealing with your enemies! Retaliate and escalate! But that’s not the child of God’s way!

To understand this better, we need to define the “love” that Jesus, Paul, and Peter are talking about. Because on the surface, that sounds absolutely impossible to do, doesn’t it? “Love my enemies? I don’t even like them, so how can I love them?” The key is in the definition of love. The love we are commanded to have for others is agape — the highest form of love. The Greek language was very precise. They had several words to define “love”: agape, phileo, storge, eros. They could use a word for love, and you’d know exactly what they were talking about. On the other hand, in the English language, we use the word “love” for everything: “I love watching football. I love chocolate. I love my wife!” I just used the same word “love” to describe three totally different things. And they are obviously not of equal value or importance! We are imprecise in the way we use the word “love,” but the Greeks weren’t.
So what is different about agape love? Agape love was the highest form of love – but get this – it was not based on a feeling! It was based on a decision – a commitment – to seek the best for others. In other words, if I have agape love for you, I will make the decision and the commitment to treat you in the best way I can, whether I feel like it or not. I’ll try to do whatever is best for your good. Agape love is a commitment. When you read 1 Cor. 13, what we call the “love chapter of the Bible”, you will find that Paul tells us how Agape love acts: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….” (1 Cor 13:4-8). Not once did Paul say that agape love gives you warm and fuzzy feelings, or puts butterflies in your stomach. He described what agape love does. It is a commitment that is based on the decision to seek another’s best! Agape love is what holds marriages together when everything else is falling apart. Our feelings can be fickle, they are up and down — but agape love is constant, because it is not based on feelings.

On the other hand, the Greeks had another word for love: “phileo.” That’s where we get the word Philadelphia, “city of brotherly love.” Phileo is a word that describes, among other things, a warm, friendly relationship. You know how you like to be around your close friends? Not acquaintances, but your close friends. The people you enjoy spending time with. It makes you feel good when you are together. You are happy to see them when they stop by. You’ve been through thick and thin together. That’s phileo love. It describes a warm friendship. It also describes the “warm and fuzzy” feelings that boys have for girls – and vice versa. Phileo love would often come closer to the way we use the word “like.”

There is a big difference between “love” and “like.” A good marriage will possess them both. But when Jesus told us to love our enemies, He didn’t use a word based upon the way you feel about someone, but rather based upon a decision you make about them — to seek their best! Nowhere in the Bible does it say that you have to have warm and fuzzy feelings towards your enemies. That would be a complete impossibility. But it does say that you are to have agape love for them — you will make the decision to seek their best. And to treat them kindly, no matter how undeserving they might be.

There’s an old story about a man and his wife who went to marriage counseling. Their marriage was in trouble. Their home was a constant war-zone. It soon became apparent to the counselor that the husband was not very thoughtful or caring. So he turned to the husband, and said, “The Bible says that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church… If you will just love your wife like Jesus loved the church, you will see your marriage improve immeasurably!” And the husband said; “I can’t do that!” So the counselor said, “Well, the Bible also says that you are to love your neighbor as yourself– so just try loving your wife as you love yourself, and see what happens…” And the husband said, “I can’t do that either.” So the counselor says, “Look, the Bible also says to love your enemies — so start there!”

Some people are hard to love, but love them anyway! They don’t deserve it — but then, neither do I, and Jesus loved me anyway! You’ve heard the old expression; “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!” It’s time we pay what we owe — the outstanding debt of love!

So in Romans 13 Paul tells us to (1) Submit to the governing authorities, and (2) Pay what we owe. Now we turn to part 3.

III. TIMES And BEHAVIOR: WAKE UP!

Rom 13:11-14. “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

“Understanding the present time.” The more you study the Bible, the more you begin to understand the present time. Forty years ago, the biggest problems faced by teachers in public schools were problems like students chewing gum in class, smoking in the rest-rooms, talking when they weren’t supposed to be, and running in the hallways. But times have changed. Today, their concerns have more to do with kids using and selling drugs, plus theft, rape, pornography, assault, and bringing guns to school. In our modern head-lines, it is not uncommon to hear of children killing their parents, parents killing their babies, drive-by shootings, and you name it. It’s hard to believe that things have gotten as bad as they are – and it has happened in our lifetimes! We live in a much different world than we did in the 1950’s.

“Understanding the present time.” What is there to understand? In 2 Tim 3:1-5, Paul said, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.”

There is a destructive, evil force at work in our nation, and his name is Satan. Satan knows how to use the media. He knows how to use Hollywood. He knows how to influence Washington. Satan is very good at his job! Evangelist Billy Sunday once said; “I know that the devil is real for two reasons: Number one, because the Bible says so. And number two, because I’ve done business with him!” Till his death in 1935 Billy Sunday preached Christ as the only answer to man’s problems. He didn’t leave anyone wondering where he stood. He said on one occasion, “I’m against sin. I’ll kick it as long as I’ve got a foot, and I’ll fight it as long as I’ve got a fist. I’ll butt it as long as I’ve got a head. I’ll bite it as long as I’ve got a tooth. And when I’m old and fistless and footless and toothless, I’ll gum it till I go home to Glory — and it goes home to perdition.”

We’re not always that vocal about sin today. And we are paying the price. Our kids are growing up being taught in school that there is no God. They are being told that we are all here simply as the result of chance — there is no Creator. They grow up seeing nothing but sex and violence on TV. They grow up hearing adults argue for the woman’s right to choose whether she keeps her baby, or aborts it. They grow up hearing that there is no such thing as absolute truth — what’s wrong for one person might be right for another. What’s wrong in one circumstance might be right in another. And then we wonder why they bring guns to school, and think nothing of taking another’s life, or killing their own parents while they sleep.

Paul said, the hour is near — it’s time to wake up! It’s time to shape up! It’s time to live what we preach! He said; “Put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light…” He then mentions the kind of behavior found in the world: “orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, jealousy…” And he says we should; “behave decently,” not like the world.

Romans 13 is much easier to apply to others than to ourselves. It tells us to submit to the authorities, pay up, and wake up. It is a call to live the kind of lives that Christians ought to live: lives that will shine forth as light in a darkened world. Romans 13 is about living right in a world full of wrong.

Is it easy? NO. But Paul gives us the key in the last verse of the chapter. There, he says; “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…” There’s the answer! The word “clothe” means literally “to sink into a garment.” There is a lot wrong in this world. Things are bad, and they are getting worse. But no matter what is going on around us — let’s make sure that we live like the Lord wants us to live. Let’s make sure we stand for what is true and what is right. And we will do that — as we sink into, and immerse ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Jim Gillaspie presented this message in Sept. 2010 for the Senior Citizen’s Week at Woodland Bible Camp, Indiana.

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