Community Life Through God’s Eyes.
Romans 13:1 – 15:6.
It is rare that we are constantly aware of our individually unique identity in Christ, and still more atypical that we discover ourselves to be misfits in this world, in our interminable attempts at times to gain its acceptance and rewards that go with belonging in this interregnum. In this vein, the Apostle Paul continued his homily on what acceptable Christian behaviour looked like within the Roman believers’ inimically oppressive first century environment. There was an obvious clash of values, as they increasingly found themselves coming under the unwarranted persecutory scrutiny of Caesar’s anti-Christian decrees. Paul’s advice was to point out that they ought to be exemplary citizens and to live a life in obedient submission to all earthly authorities, as God had appointed authorities toward good governance. A tough call nevertheless if one were to be living under an autocrat or a tyrant! Paul’s object lesson was for the believers to learn to desist from evil retaliation and to be subjected to all authority; paralleling being obedient to God’s laws, for unless submission was learnt at a visible practical level, obedience to an invisible Yahweh will be entirely illusionary, leading to His judgment (Rom 13: 1-7). The Apostle does not address evil rulers here, but he referred to them generally in the preceding segment (Rom 12:17-21).
In the remaining discourse, Paul was candid in his elucidation on the Christian’s archetypal life in a relational community. To begin with, the presence of neighbourly love (agapao, a verb from the root agape, i.e., God’s love) prohibited any unlawful dealings among themselves (Rom 13:8-10), despite the prevailing debauched Greco-Roman cultural norms of the day. The Apostle expected changes to their conduct in line with the new reality of their identity in Jesus Christ – a moral lifestyle transition from darkness to light (Rom 13:11-14). To not change would be to dishonour God’s Name.
Paul understood the vagaries of power, having murderously wielded it once against innocent victims in the name of religion. He also knew what it was like to be totally powerless under the blinding judgment of the risen Christ. Consequently, he was inordinately judicious when it came to self-righteous disputes that impede Christian fellowship, as he touched on the nitty-gritty in community life. It is amazing how we elevate minor differences over food and wine, meddling in other believers’ responsibilities, arguing over the modes of the observances of high days, and criticising and censuring each other – allowing these issues to divide us in Christ (Rom 14:1-3), instead of focusing on the essentials of our faith. Paul’s plain intent was that since all believers belong to God’s heavenly family, life together in his kingdom ought to focus us on the critical elements in mutual fellowship, viz., works of righteousness, peace and joy in the Spirit (Rom 14:3; Rom 12: 4, 6, 10, 12). There is a need to cautiously guard our freedom in fellowship for the sake of building up each other, and this takes precedence (Rom 14:17-19) over dismantling someone’s life over trivial matters (Rom 14:17). Due to our self-righteousness, without seeing the Christ in one another and respecting the individual, we are in danger of disgracing God and ourselves. The foundation for such supernatural selflessness is grounded in the example of Christ (Rom 15:3), and only in Him are we empowered with the motivation to count others more worthy than ourselves, with a principal motive to edify them (Rom 15:1-2; c.f., Phil 2:1-11). Christ-like humility is not a natural trait, neither is dying to the self (c.f., John 12:24).