Casting Away the Works of Darkness (Rom. 13)
Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. Romans 13:11–14
Overview – In ch. 12, Paul explains how the body “faces” inward. We are “living sacrifices” and are part of the “body” (new man/’adam). A body member is “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (12:3). We are prone to exalt certain gifts and to be a “respecter of persons” in the worst sense and to think much more highly of our kinds of Christians than others, we demean serving gifts and exalt knowledge/leadership gifts. The body example refutes this. Which part of your body would you like chopped off? Jesus said “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:44). In ch. 13, Paul explains how the body “faces” outward toward Roman society. Paul is a Roman citizen and knows history of Israel relating to pagan society. Remember Joseph (in Egypt), Daniel (Babylon), and Nehemiah (Persia). They submitted themselves to pagan rulers under God and served their world emperor (like the eagle face of the cherubim). Paul is able to say “submit” with straight face to those in even Caesar Nero’s household (Phil. 4:22). Submit to the exousia – “powers that be” in general and trust in God’s sovereign power (1 Tim. 2). Thus Christians should be better citizens than most pagans. The “powers” exercise the sword (mache) to punish evil doers – not to rehabilitate them, but to deter them with death if need be. Christians should not be trouble makers nor seek methodological revolution to bring about change which was exactly why the Jews were banished from Rome under Claudius (49 A.D. cf Acts 18:2). Rom. 13 does not contemplate righteous and necessary occasions for civil disobedience (such as in the case of Shadrack et al, 3:12), it only shows one bowing gesture of the outward facing body. There are exceptions and desperate times call for desperate self-sacrificial measures (“for such a time is this” Esther). Thus, Romans 13 should not be used to prop up Nazi-ism or Stalinism or a future totalitarianism instituted by an American President or U.N. Czar. We can do our duties by rendering what is due (tax, custom, fear or honor). Love is right motivation in fulfilling law. And in acting out of love, we remember the “the time.” There is a temporal aspect of this. In the original setting judgment was near (70 AD) and the upheavals of the Roman world are coming (68 AD). “We know the time, that it is already the hour…” (13:11). Therefore don’t “eat, drink and be merry” but get ready and be alert. Make no provision for the flesh. Keeping with the theme of Advent 1: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
Discussion and Insight – What are some ways in your life to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts”? Are there temptations you could overcome if you did not “provide” for those opportunities?
Prayer – [As you pray this the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, be mindful of the connections to Romans 13 in this prayer written by Thomas Cranmer in the 1500s.] Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.