Paul wrote to the church in Rome during a season which an edict had just been issued to deport all Jews and likely Christians as well. The cultural climate was not conducive to being a Jew or a Christian. As we read this chapter, let that be the backdrop we view Paul’s admonitions.
While reading this chapter, Paul presumes that the “governing authorities” are ruling with a moral and civil government code that was largely influenced by the Jewish law. When we read “rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil” and if we “do what is good” there would be cause for fear; it is on a moral basis of common good for those governed, unlike many of the laws and edicts being administered today.
We are seeing in our nation the erosion of such civil law paradigms. People and businesses are being persecuted, mild persecution as compared to what is happening in nations such as N. Korea and most Muslim nations, but nonetheless persecution. The law in such cases had become a “cause of terror” to those who are doing “good works”. The challenge for the saints of God in the current demise of morally based laws that have been previously based on a Judeo-Christian world view; is how do we balance that out, while at the same time being ardent followers of the Word of God?
Again, keep in mind the decadence of the Roman Empire at this time. Christians and Jews were being crucified, thrown into the arena with lions and tigers as sport for the citizens of Rome. Paul exhorted them to obey the laws of the land and give honor to those who enacted the laws, enforced them and upheld laws. Paul believed it would prove to be more profitable for the blended congregation of believing Gentile and Jew. He even exhorted them to be faithful to pay taxes, customs (import fees), respect and honor to those in such positions.
Further, the apostle felt the congregation would be better served if they didn’t go into debt; with one exception, love. Paul said that was the only debt we couldn’t repay. That exhortation was immediately followed up with a reference to the Mosaic Law, citing 5; yet compressing them all into 1 law, “love your neighbor as yourself!” This love is characterized by legitimate and bona fide care for our neighbors and thereby “the fulfillment of the law” is realized.
Paul concludes this chapter by admonishing the Church in Rome and to the Church of all succeeding generations at a global level to WAKE UP and not slumber. There’s less time now than there was 10 years ago, 1,000 years ago or then. This isn’t a “dispensational” statement; it’s a statement of reality. The grammatical structure of this paragraph indicates that “works of darkness”, “revelry, drunkenness, lewdness, lust, strife and envy are agents of slumber. To counter this spirit of slumber in the Church, we’re exhorted to “put on the armor of light”, “walk properly”, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and “make no provision for the flesh”.
Putting on the light refers to being dressed in righteousness; walking properly speaks of living a life without reproach; to put on the Lord Jesus Christ means to act like Jesus would and when there is no provision for the flesh, we prepare to succeed rather than fail morally, ethically or spiritually.
The culture is being more and more antagonistic toward people of faith; yet when our lives are characterized by the admonitions Paul issues, we become beacons of light in the encroaching darkness of the world.