Devotional guide Romans #5: Romans 13-16

Devotional guide Romans #5: Romans 13-16 August 12, 2022

Monday: Read Romans 13:1-7

The key to understanding Rom 13:1-7 is that Paul was demanding that they pay their taxes. That this is context is quite apparent from 13:6-7. The problem appears to have been that some in the church (maybe the oppressed Jewish members—remember they were kicked out of Rome in the late 40’s by the emperor Claudius—who were disgruntled with Rome) refused to pay taxes. Also, note that Roman taxation could be oppressive for those who did not have much to begin with.

The problem is that many readers today take Paul’s statement and demand absolute obedience to the government. Something that is absolutely incredulous. I hardly doubt that Christians in N Korea would attempt that reading.

Biblical scholar Michael Gorman comments, “Romans 13:1–7 is among the most difficult, potentially disturbing, and even possibly dangerous of all Pauline texts.”[2] Paul is not demanding absolute loyalty and submission to the government. There is a significant difference between “obey” and “submit.”

Gorman summarizes this passage with, “Pay your taxes but give allegiance to God.”[3]

Paul does affirm that God wants order and He has established governments to maintain that order. And this is what some modern readers abuse. The fact is that we all know, and Paul did as well, that governments are ultimately corrupt and that they use their power to their own ends. For the Christian, there is only one King to whom we are to give absolute loyalty and that is Jesus: the “King of kings” (1 Tim 6:15).

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • The stories of Daniel and his three friends in Daniel 3 and 6 are perfect illustrations of what Paul is teaching here. Daniel’s three friends refused to obey unjust laws. Daniel disobeyed an unjust law. And they all suffered the consequences for doing so.
  • There are some who, when confronted with the abuses and exploitative nature of their government, attempt to defend their government and demand absolute loyalty to it by citing Romans 13:1-7. As I noted, this passage does not say that we are to obey our government at all times. The context is an encouragement from Paul to the Christians in Rome to pay their taxes. To use this passage to demand that all Christians must obey their government at all times can be abusive. Of course, only those in positions of power, who are not suffering at the hands of an oppressive government, can make such demands.
  • Though some use this passage to affirm absolute loyalty, I know of no one (though I am sure someone is out there) that would affirm that we should have obeyed Hitler.
  • This text is not about obedience, but submission. This means that if you disobey an unjust law, or you are arrested for protesting injustice, then you should be prepared to accept the consequences—like Daniel and his buddies.
  • That is how this passage was understood by the early church: “the earliest allusions to Romans 13:1-7 in Christian writings come from accounts of men and women facing judicial execution, who calmly stated their obligation to ‘render honor’ to authorities even as they refused to comply with the magistrate’s orders to recant.”[4]

Tuesday: Read Romans 13:8-14

Paul summarizes the Gospel: “he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (8). It is good to be reminded that biblical love is one that lays down its life for its neighbor. To do this is not to abandon the OT law, as though the NT supplants the OT laws, but to practice them! The law is summarized in love!

Paul, then, in 13:10 provide what is essentially the opposite of the Golden Rule (Matt 7:12): “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

When Paul talks about “knowing the time” (11), he is noting that the kingdom of God, or the coming age as it is sometimes called, has already arrived and that we should live according to it: i.e., “know the time.” When Paul refers to the “hour” (11), or “day” (12), or even the “day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2), he is talking about the presence of what Jesus and the Gospels call “the kingdom of God.” The opposite of the kingdom is the “night” and “darkness” (12). Since more sins occur at night and under the cover of darkness, Paul uses darkness to indicate the present age and its corruption, which stands opposed to the kingdom of God.

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Here again, we are presented with verses that many have heard before. And yet, we so often fail to actually do them. The reason for choosing such a small passage for our devotional time today is not to provide you with an easy assignment. Instead, it is to remind us of the greatness of the task before us. This passage should be meditated upon and even memorized.
  • Read through these 7 verses again and ask the Lord to show you how you can do this better.
  • “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh” (14). One way to do this is to make a notecard, or a note on your phone with Rom 13:8, 10 on it. Then at the end of every day read the note with these verses and ask yourself how could you have loved your neighbor better today. Pray for forgiveness, if necessary, and ask for the Lord’s Spirit to help you do better tomorrow.

Wednesday: Read Romans 14:1-23

Though many approach Romans 14:1-15:13 as additional material but not substantively related to the book of Romans, this section is central to the whole letter. The reason Paul wrote was to provide a response to this problem.

Paul labels the two groups the “weak” and the “strong.” The “weak” were likely Jewish Christians who struggled with allowing Gentile believers into the full fellowship of the Church even though they were not circumcised. These Jewish believers likely also had difficulty eating with the Gentiles.

The “strong” were Gentile believers, and some of the Jewish believers, who believed, as Paul teaches, that there is no distinction among believers in the church (see Gal 3:28) and that the Gentiles should be allowed to be into full fellowship with everyone without having to be circumcised.

In addition, the dispute among these groups also dealt with the eating of non-kosher foods. The “weak” believed that the food laws of the OT should be followed. The “strong” did not.

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • As you read this section (and I know it is a bit longer), note carefully what Paul commands the weak to do and what does he command the strong to do?
  • Note that Paul never says who is right and who is wrong. There is no question that Paul’s belief put him on the side of the “strong.” But Paul never says, “you weak need to get your act together and realize that Jesus has brought Gentiles in by faith. So, you guys are wrong and better get on board.” He doesn’t do this even though the argument in the book of Romans basically says this. What does this say about contemporary disputes in the church?

Thursday: Read Romans 15:1-33

In 15:1-13 Paul concludes the body of his letter. Paul states his conclusions negatively in 1-6 and then positively in 7-13.

This conclusion addresses the previous discussion on food and the weak versus the strong. Both groups are to accept one another (7).

This conclusion also brings to the close the larger section that began in 12:1. Paul commands that they all should aim to serve the other and not just please themselves (1-2).

In addition, this conclusion appears to summarize the whole letter. Paul notes that God has brought together Jews and Gentiles into one family (8-13).

The chapter closes (14-33) with Paul describing his own ministry and his travel plans. Paul has never been to Rome but he hopes to visit them on his way to Spain (28-29).

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Again we must not gloss over too quickly Paul’s conclusion in 15:1-13. The application of Paul’s discussion on the “weak” and the “strong” is significant—even if we might not use the labels “weak” and “strong” today.
  • Do you think we could say that the “weak” were those who thought that we should not integrate our churches, and the “strong” were those who believed that all peoples were one in God’s kingdom?
  • Or, perhaps even more challenging for some, might we say that the “weak” are those who do not affirm women as equal in authority and position with men and the “strong” are those who do?[5] Think of other such examples.

Friday: Read Rom 16:1-27

You might think that today’s reading is like a genealogy and that the list of people whom Paul greets is of no concern to me. The list, however, has a number of items of significance.

First, there is Phoebe (1). Paul’s address to her indicates that she was a deaconess.[6] She was apparently the one who brought the letter of Romans to Rome. This suggests that she was a businesswoman who was able to travel independently. Scot McKnight suggests that she was the one who read the letter to the Roman churches. And as such, she would have been the one to answer any questions the recipients may have had about the letter.

In addition, note the prominence of women in the greetings.

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Paul’s affirmation that “God will soon crush Satan under your feet” (20) is very significant. The statement links with Gen 3:15, which is the first prophecy in the Bible. Genesis 3 affirms that the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the serpent—or perhaps more clearly, the kingdoms of the world—will result in the crushing of the head of the serpent. Though we might think that this is what Christ did on the cross or through His resurrection, Paul affirms that it is the work of God’s people. This means that we must not take our walk with Christ lightly. We have an adversary who will do everything he can to hinder the work of God’s people. Read cf Luke 10:17-19; Ps 91:13; Rev 12:10-11. For those in a group study, discuss the significance of this for God’s people with others.
  • Do you find it odd that Tertius, who was likely Paul’s amanuensis—meaning the one who wrote down what Paul dictated—added his own “hey guys” to the book of Romans (22)? Can he do that?

NB: I am sorry that the podcasts are not following along with the devotional guide. We are behind because we have had more conversations on Acts and Romans. The podcasts are still going to be helpful but they will be behind your study guides

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[1] This guide is meant to be done either as a group study over the course of 2 or 4 meetings (Day 1-5; 6-10; 11-15; 16-20), or as a private devotion over the course of 4 weeks (or a calendar month—5 lessons per week).

[2] Gorman, Michael J. Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition. 5720.

[3] Gorman, Romans, loc 5797.

[4] Horsley, In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance (Kindle Locations 1447-1450).

[5] This is certainly a disputed point. I am simply raising the question. This line of reasoning may be abused: for example, someone might abusively say that the “weak” are those who deny “such and such” a privilege/act and the “strong” are those who affirm it—consider something that is clearly forbidden in Scripture.

[6] The masculine form of “deacon” is used because it appears that the feminine did not exist at this time.

About Rob Dalrymple
Rob Dalrymple is married to his wife Toni and is the father of four fabulous children, and two grandchildren. He has been teaching and pastoring for over 32 years at colleges, seminaries, and the local church. He has a PhD (Westminster Theological Seminary) in biblical interpretation. He is the author of four books (including: Follow the Lamb: A Guide to Reading, Understanding, and Applying the Book of Revelation & Understanding the New Testament and the End Times: Why it Matters) as well as numerous articles and other publications.  You can read more about the author here.

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