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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Romans 13:1–14          

SLet every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing.

Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (NRSV)

Reflection
As twenty-first century Americans we have an uneasy relationship with authority. We know that we operate in all kinds of configurations of power and license: as citizens, family members, employees, participants in groups (including churches) to which we belong, to name but a few. Our national myth of individualism encourages us, however, to think of ourselves as agents of our own destinies and accountable to no one except our fates. It’s tricky.

Authority was complicated for Paul, too. Elsewhere in this letter Paul says explicitly that salvation comes from faith not law: “For Christ is the end of the law for the justification of everyone who has faith” (Romans 10:4). But his followers also were subjects of an empire, one that was quite suspicious of them. While relying on the ancient Jewish perspective that those in power were there with God’s consent, and thus were to be obeyed, Paul also posits that love must direct all of a Christian’s moral decisions.

Romans 13 provides no perfect or universal answers. It does raise questions. What about when the love imperative pits one group of neighbors against another group or against those in legitimate authority? What about when authority is misunderstood or misused? Paul and the early Christian communities had to wrestle with these issues, and so do we. Our steady discernments and discussions about them will shape our actions, and hopefully result in lives of integrity and justice—ones that look something like Jesus’.

Prayer
Holy God, in you we see that true authority—whether in creating, redeeming, or sanctifying—begins and ends with self-giving. Help us to remember that in the authority we wield and in our joyful obedience to others. Give us hearts that are soft, minds that are sharp, and spirits that are wide as yours. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
Center for Life and Learning


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