Romans 12:14 – 13:14


Relating to those who do us harm (Romans 12:14-21)

This is one of the most difficult paragraphs in the New Testament.  It is difficult, not because it is hard to understand but because it is hard to live!  When I read this paragraph I am reminded of two little boys who got into a fight.  One of their mothers separated them and asked her son why they were fighting.  He replied, “Well, he hit me, so I hit him back.”  The mother quoted to her son the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:39 where He said, “…whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  The boy thought about that for a moment and then said, “Quote me another one; I don’t like that one!” 

The key verse in this passage is verse 18 that expresses God’s ideal for the relationships in our lives.  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”   But the reality is that we do not live in an ideal world.  We live in a world where there are conflicts, disagreements, and arguments.  What are we to do with those who refuse to live in peace with us and who even choose to attack us?  What should our response be when we are wronged and harmed by another person?  This passage has two basic things to say to us about that.  One is negative, focusing on what we are not to do and the other is positive, focusing on what we are to do in such situations.

  • WHEN SOMEONE HARMS US WE ARE NOT TO STRIKE BACK IN ANGER -  This concept is mentioned in 4 different places in  the 8 verses of this passages...

                        ‑‑v.14a ‑ "Bless those who persecute you; bless and  curse not."

                        ‑‑v.17a  "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone."

                        ‑‑v.19a  "Never take your own revenge..."

                        ‑‑v.21   "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome  evil with good."

            Those statements do not mean that Christians are to be the doormats of world.  They do not mean to be good Christian we must sit back and let anyone do anything he/she may desire do to us.  However, they do mean that followers of Jesus should not be dominated by a vengeful, get even type mentality.  They mean that when someone does something, either inadvertently or on purpose, that harms or offends us, our immediate response should not be to find way strike back or get even or do even worse to that person.  And there is a good reason we should avoid that kind of spirit.  A vengeful, get even type mentality will inevitably do us more harm than person at whom we are striking back.  A vengeful spirit will eat us up on the inside and make us sullen, sour, unproductive people.

  • WHEN SOMEONE HARMS US WE ARE TO SEEK THE BEST FOR THEM - Jack MacGorman in commentary on Romans makes this astute observation: "THE WORLD AT ITS WORST RETURNS EVIL FOR GOOD.   THE WORLD AT ITS BEST RETURNS GOOD FOR GOOD AND EVIL FOR EVIL.  BUT THE FOLLOWER OF JESUS CHRIST IS COMMANDED TO RETURN GOOD FOR EVIL."  [LBC]  The clear teaching of this passage is that we're to do good to all people, even to those who do not do good toward us.

                        --v.14 ‑ "Bless those who persecute you; bless and  curse not." (Give them a blessing instead of a curse!) 

--v. 20 ‑ "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and  if he is thirsty, give him a drink..."

Just as there is a practical reason for not being characterized by vengeful spirit, there is also practical reason for doing good to those who do harm to us.  The most effective way of getting rid of an enemy is to make the one who is an enemy a friend.  We must be careful not misinterpret statement about heaping "burning coals upon his head" in verse 20.  The Scripture is not saying we should be kind to our enemies so they will suffer more.  The idea is be kind so that our kindness may move our enemy to repentance and reconciliation.  Most commentators say the "burning coals" refers to the burning shame a person feels when evil is met with kindness.  The practical reason for returning evil for good is that doing so may have positive influence on those who are the recipients of the good.


Relating to government (Romans 13:1-7)

At first reading it may seem strange that Paul inserts passage about Christians and government at this point in Romans.  But it is not strange at all.  In this section Paul has been dealing with some basic life relationships:

            --12:1-2 deals with relationship with God

            --12:2-13 deals  with relationship with fellow believers

            --12:14-21 deals with relationship with enemies

In this section Paul deals with another life relationship – relationship with government.  Basically, three principles about government are set forth is these verses:

·         Christians should recognize the special origin of government – The last part of verse 1 says, “…for there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”  That does not mean that God is responsible for the evil acts of civil leaders.  It would be absurd to attribute to God the acts of such people as Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein.  And that statement does not mean that whatever government decrees is an expression of the will of God.  But it does mean that the concept of government comes from God, Himself.  God established the home to give order to our personal lives, the church to give order to our spiritual lives, and government to give order to our collective lives.

·         Christians should recognize the function of government – Why did God establish the institution of government?  Verse 4 says that government “…is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”  In other words, the primary function of government is to encourage good and discourage evil.  No doubt you have heard the statement, “You cannot legislate morality.”  There is a sense in which that statement is true.  You certainly cannot make people more moral by merely passing laws.  However, there is another sense in which that statement is not true at all.  That’s because virtually every law passed by government has moral implications.

·         Christians are to cooperate with and support government – This passage begins and ends with this concept.  Verse 1 says “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities…” and verse 7 says, “Render to all that is due them:  tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”  It bothers some people that Paul does not qualify this command in any way.  But there is an implied condition.  And that condition is that we are obligated to cooperate with government as long as doing so does not cause us to disobey God.  When Paul wrote Romans, Rome was still neutral toward Christianity.  As a matter of fact, as we saw in our study of Acts, on several occasions the Roman government protected Paul from angry mobs.  However, later in the 1st century when Rome turned against Christians and attempted to force them to worship Caesar, Christians by the hundreds chose to die rather than obey.  Tradition says that even Paul, himself, was put to death by the Roman government.  But the general  principle is that we are to cooperate with government whenever possible.


The debt of love (Romans 13:8-10)

God expects that His  people  be characterized  by love for others.  It is amazing the  number of times the New Testament touches upon the subject of love.  The Greek word for the highest kind of love is used more than 250 times in the New Testament.  This statement about the debt of love in Romans 13 touches upon some of the major New Testament themes about the subject of love. 

·         Christian love is an on-going, never ending obligation – Some people take the phrase in verse 8 that says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…” to mean that Christians should never borrow money.  But that is not the subject of this paragraph.  The point of this phrase is that while we can pay-off any other debt, we will never pay-off our obligation to love.  Origen, the 3rd century theologian put it this way:  “The debt of  love is permanent, and we are never finished with it … we must pay it daily and yet always owe it.”  The point is that there is never a time when we have loved others enough.  We can never come to the point of saying, “I have fulfilled my obligation to love others, the debt is paid in full.”

·         Christian love is inclusive not exclusive – The phrase “For he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law…” at the end of verse 8 is important.  The word translated “neighbor” in that phrase is not the normal Greek word for neighbor and it is different from the word translated “neighbor” in verses 9 and 10.  This word means “another of a different kind.”  The idea is not just neighbor but a neighbor who is different or unlike you.  One writer put it this way:  “Love for neighbor can too easily be misinterpreted as love for the likeminded person who is congenial to me.  Love is not Christian if it cannot include love for the person who differs from me in every way.” [Barrett]  The point is that Christian love is not exclusive; it is inclusive.  We don’t have the privilege of picking and choosing whom we will love.  We are to love all people, even those who are unlovable toward us.  That’s a concept Jesus taught time and time again.  (See Matthew 5:43-48)

·         Christian love does what is best for others – The first part of verse 10 gives one of the Scripture’s most beautiful definitions of love, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor…”  That statement is significant because it takes love out of the realm of feeling and makes it a concrete action.  Real love is doing!  The reason most of the world is confused about love is because most people  think of love in terms of feeling rather than doing.  It is impossible for us to have the same emotional feelings toward everyone, but it is not impossible for us to act right toward everyone.


A call to action (Romans 13:11-14)

The image behind this paragraph is that of a soldier on duty.  Danger is approaching.  The battle is about to be joined.  In preparation for the coming battle we are to:

·         Wake-up“…it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep…” (v.11)  The idea is not to be spiritually dull or lazy.  Be on the alert.  (See I Peter 5:8)

·         Clean-up“…lay aside the deeds of darkness…” (v.12)  No soldier should go into battle carrying extra baggage.  Paul lists in verse 13 six specific things Christians are to lay aside:

o   “carousing and drunkenness” – Sins of intemperance or the lack of self-control

o   “sexual promiscuity and sensuality” – Sins of impurity

o   “strife and jealousy” – Sins of discord.  It is interesting that we find these two words on this list.  While we readily condemn things such as carousing, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, and sensuality.  We often tend to minimize such things as strife and jealousy.  Sins of the spirit are just as hurtful and just as wrong as sins of the flesh!

·         Load-up“…put on the armor of light…” (v.12) and “…put on the Lord Jesus Christ…” (v.14)

This passage played a special role in Christian history.  Augustine, the 4th century philosopher/theologian, was walking in a garden on day.  His life was miserable.  He was living in an immoral relationship with a woman who was not his wife, he was depressed, and he spent his days in endless philosophical speculation.  As he walked in the garden he heard a voice saying, “Take and read.  Take and read.”  On a nearby bench was a copy of the Scripture.  It was open to this particular passage.  Augustine picked in up and read Romans 13:13-14 and immediately gave his life to Christ.  In time he became the single most notable Christian theologian with the exception of the Apostle Paul.