Simple Rules (By Les Kovacs)
Text: Romans 13-14
Observe: In Chapter 13, Paul gives the believers in Rome a few guidelines for staying out of trouble with the authorities. He tells them to obey the law because all authority has come from God and He has placed the government in place. People should not rebel against the government because it brings unwanted and unfavorable attention to themselves. They are to pay their taxes, respect their officials, and honour those to whom it is owed. All of this should be done out of love for their neighbours, because love fulfills the law, that is the Commandments given to them. Some of these Commandments can be summed up as “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Paul urges believers in Christ to act decently because salvation is nearer now than when they first believed. They shouldn’t be carousing and acting in debauchery, or in dissention and jealousy, but rather they should clothe themselves in Christ.
In Chapter 14, Paul tells them to accept one another, regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey. They are to welcome each other without judgement, because who are we to judge anyone, when God has already accepted them. Those who are stricter in their beliefs and those who are less strict in their beliefs both give thanks, prise and honour to God. They both live and die for the Lord, and we will all be judged by Him. But Paul puts more responsibility on the strong, and calls on them to not put any stumbling blocks in the way of brothers and sisters in their faith, and do that which would make them feel welcome out of love for them. They must not force anyone to do anything that is against their conscience.
Interpret: In Paul’s writing in Romans 13, he was offering divinely-inspired advice to Christians living in Rome under that government. It’s probable that some of them believed that their freedom in Christ meant they didn’t have to follow the requirements of local authorities. They may have felt that if Jesus was Lord, then they didn’t need to pay taxes to Caesar. Furthermore, the Roman Christians had a history of getting into trouble with the government. This would have made it difficult for followers of Jesus to live out their faith in Rome with effectiveness and impact. Paul is trying to help these Christians to not get into unnecessary trouble with the government, because to do so would be dishonoring to God.
In Chapter 14, we see that both “stronger” believers and “weaker” believers feel that their views are the morally important ones, and they are not wrong. The strong believe that forcing Gentiles to keep kosher is a denial of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The weak believe that not keeping kosher is offensive to God and a violation of the Jewish law. The argument is a difficult one because freedom in Christ and obedience to God’s covenants are important moral issues. But, Paul says that relationships within the community of believers are even more important. Living in Christ is not about being right or wrong on any particular issue. It is about being in right relationship with God and with one another, about “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
Application: Today, Paul’s simple advice continues to guide us in our discipleship. Although there might be occasions when we need to oppose unjust governments or laws, generally speaking, submitting to civil authority allows us to focus on being God’s servants in the world and spreading the good news of salvation. All too often, we have seen news reports of what happens when prominent Christians break the law or behave in immorally contemptable ways. It has an impact on all Christians, as the reputation of all believers plummets and our mission to spreads the gospel is made that much more difficult. The world sees the hypocrisy, is quick to point it out and passes judgement on all Christians. But worse yet, it brings dishonour to God.
None of us is perfect, but when we profess the truth of Jesus Christ, we must strive to live in a manner that pleases God. We must be in a right relationship with both God and with each other. When we accept one another, and let truth, peace, righteousness, and love prevail, we bring honour to God.
Questions: Are you still able to love a true brother or sister in Christ who might not think exactly like you?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we ask that you would help us to keep your commandments as a way to honour you. Help us to not fall into legalism, but to share with all whom we come into contact the mercy and grace that you have shown us. Your Word is holy, and worthy to be taught to any who would listen. Give us the wisdom, understanding, and compassion to share it faithfully with those whom you have called to yourself. In the merciful name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Song: Live the Life – Michael W. Smith
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.