As we saw in the last article, the opening passage of Romans 13 concerns the believer’s attitude to civil and governmental authority. Now, from verse 8 of this chapter, right through the 14th chapter and on to the middle of the 15th, Paul is dealing with a series of important matters affecting the mutual relationships of the Christians in the church, and their testimony to the world. I imagine the disciples in Rome sitting up carefully at this point to pay close attention to the apostle’s words. In the passage beginning, ‘Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law’, they would readily recognize that Paul had very significant practical instruction to put before them. There was an immediate link with the doctrine he had been expounding about the law of Moses, and grace. The Ten Commandments are summed up in the words, ‘”Love your neighbour as yourself.” … love is the fulfilment of the law’.
Then comes a sharp reminder of the need for a shake up on Christian moral responsibility. We have an adversary who lulls us to sleep on these issues. So, says the apostle, with a note of urgent appeal, ‘… do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissention and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’
Strong, challenging words which would make the church in Rome sit up and take careful notice, surrounded as they were by all sorts of evil which ultimately corroded the very fabric of Roman society and brought about its imperial downfall. But, in striking contrast, the apostle had also lovely encouraging words to impart. Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we want to know more about how to reach that blissful state we can go to Paul’s letter to the Colossians where he says, ‘clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’ (3:12). There is Christlikeness.
But we must press on into chapter 14 of Romans now. First comes exhortation about a truly spiritual flexibility of attitude towards ‘him whose faith is weak.’ It may concern the foods he feels free to eat; or be about having regard to special days. Whichever it is, ‘To his own master he stands or falls. … For none of us lives to himself alone … If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.’
And further, he asks, ‘Why do you judge (or look down on) your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgement seat … each of us will give an account of himself to God’. Yes, these inter-personal matters between Christians in a church of God are important, and the apostle underlines their importance again in verses 13 to 16, summing up with a most important statement, ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men’. This is a profound declaration about the character of the kingdom of God, and of all who aspire to be in it. It is Christlikeness again.
Paul does not leave this question of mutual Christian respect in matters of food and drink until we reach the middle of Romans chapter 15. Some readers might even think he rather harps on it; but he is stressing the truly spiritual nature of consideration and love for one another. We remember the Lord Himself said, ‘”all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”‘ So now here Paul echoes his Master in the words, each of us should please his neighbour for his good. And then the powerful reminder, For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘”The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’