Several years ago, my wife and I had a house build, but only the downstairs. I took the next year-in-a half to finish the upstairs. As I spent my nights and weekends working, there were times when my son, who was only three, would come by my side and mimic what I was doing. I have a fond memory of him picking up his little plastic hammer and trying to nail a 2×4. As we come to our text (Romans 13:1-14) Paul is urging the church to become model citizens. As my son was watching and learning from me, so too the world watches the church and, depending how we live, can learn what a life of faith looks like.
As followers of Christ, we are put on display for the world to see. I believe it is a mistake to divorce this chapter from our understanding of the great commission. Everything we do should be seen through that lens. About his own ministry Paul wrote, “For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1 Cor 4:9). The church is also a spectacle for the world to see.
While the world will give itself a pass and overlook its own sins, it will not be so kind to the followers of Christ. However, this gives the church the opportunity to put the righteousness of Christ on display. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
As we seek to reveal Christ to a fallen world, submitting to authority becomes a priority. Paul is urging Christians to submit to governing authorities while recognizing that the Lord is sovereign over the geo-political landscape of our times. Thus, he writes, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1).
Paul, however, is not urging Christians to blindly follow immoral leaders who will lead them to disobey Christ (Acts 4:19). But he is commanding them to trust God in all things. While standing before Pilate, Jesus Himself said, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11). And when Christ was nailed to the cross He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Ultimately, the purpose of trusting God’s sovereignty is to reveal the love of God. Paul affirms this reality when he writes, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). While on the cross, Christ was submitting to the governing authorities, and putting the power of God’s love on display as He died for the sins of the world.
We are often afraid of losing our rights. But while on the cross, Christ gave up all of His rights, so that through Him the love of God would conquer the world. As we are watching Christ, the world is watching us. Let’s pick up our little hammer and learn to live like Him.