As you read chapter 13, did you think about power?
"Power" defined - possession of control, authority or influence over others.
There are all kinds of power in the world:
(Powers and authorities go beyond laws.)
We see abuses of power in the world today:
These and all abuses of power are possible because of the Power of Darkness in the world today. Darkness is sin and evil. The power of the Devil. In the darkness good and evil may look alike. It is often hard to tell the two apart. "Are you doing that for my good or is there something in it for you?" "What is your motive?" "Will I gain or get hurt from this?" A lot of confusion, sin, suspicion, looking out for "number one" are the results of darkness. The Prince of Darkness is working in the world today, as he was when Paul wrote Romans.
The power first addressed in this chapter is the governing authorities. Paul is telling the Christians in Rome to obey the government - from the policeman all the way up to the emperor - who in that day was Nero.
As an adolescent, Nero was tutored by the celebrated writer and orator, the Stoic, Seneca. In 54 AD at the age of 17, Nero became emperor of the Roman Empire, not because his father had been emperor, but because he had a manipulative, ambitious mother (Agrippina) who had scandalously married her own uncle, the emperor Claudius, and persuaded him to name her son, Nero, as the heir-apparent instead of his own younger son. The Senate was reluctant to accept Nero as emperor since there were strong rumors about an incestuous relationship between Nero and his mother. And Nero had already begun to show signs of a diseased character with a mixture of fear, egotism and contempt for nearly any sort of moral standards. Not to mention the fact that the Emperor Claudius had died after eating mushrooms, possibly poisoned by his wife, Nero's mother. But Nero was being tutored by Seneca, the Stoic, who taught Nero the finer points of eloquence and morals and polished the young 17-year-old's character as far as Nero's will would allow. The Senate knew Nero had two powerful people influencing him - his mother and Seneca. And upon Seneca's good and high morals, the Senate put their hopes and declared Nero emperor.
In the first years, things went well. In his inaugural address, written by Seneca, Nero promised to clean up the abuses of his predecessor and return Rome to the golden age of Augustus. Although he did love to sing and act publicly, he later learned to race chariots - a social no-no for the aristocratic, noble class of Rome. Seneca and imperial aids were able to hide Nero's baser acts from the public eye for several years. His early years were distinguished by a mild and lenient government much appreciated by the Jews who had been banished from Rome by the previous emperor Claudius. But now with Nero as emperor, the Jews returned, which also included the Jewish Christians. (Nero's wife was sympathetic to the Jews.)
Acts 18:2 records that Claudius threw the Jews out of Rome. Therefore, Aquila and Priscilla were in Corinth during Paul's second missionary journey. Paul wrote the book of Romans from Corinth during his third missionary journey when he indicated that Aquila and Priscilla were back in Rome, according to Romans 16:3.
Things on the surface were going great for Rome with Nero as emperor. It was during this peaceful time, about 56-58 AD, that Paul wrote this letter to the Romans. Seneca, gradually over the course of a couple more years, got fed up with Nero, and vice versa, and Seneca started stepping back and having less influence on the young emperor. It is about this time (around 61 AD) that Paul is sent to Rome after his arrest, two-year imprisonment, and appealing to the emperor.
It was after Paul had been in Rome for awhile under house arrest that in 64 AD, no longer under the influence of Seneca, Nero began his outward revolt against morality. He literally wanted to shock the public with his immorality. It became clear to the public that their emperor was mentally unbalanced. It was during this year (July 64) that the great Roman city fire took place in which Nero supposedly fiddled through or sang through (several years after Paul wrote the Roman letter).
I didn't tell you all of this to suggest to you that Paul might have written this chapter differently had he written it after these shocking events. Quite the contrary, I think he would have written it the same. Because even though the emperor might be the epitome of the Devil himself, the government is still the governing authority in the land. God delegates authority to whomsoever He wills. And though in many cases the governor or emperor himself may not be of God, the CIVIL government is of God. Without government, there is chaos, fighting, rapes, starvation, death. In places like Bosnia & Herzegovina and Somalia where there is little or no civil government left today, we see the wisdom of God in allowing governments to have authority over us.
The beauty of Christianity is that it will work under any type of government, not just a democracy. God is not tied to a ballot box. Christianity is meant to fit in under most circumstances. If we obey the government, we can still let Christ rule our hearts. If we find ourselves to be a slave or a corporate giant, Christ can rule our lives. If we are a "tax-and-spend Democrat" or a "trickle-down Republican," Christ can still be King of our lives.
Is our government today what our founding fathers wanted it to be? Is it what you want it to be? Why? Before we all start paying higher taxes, I suppose we should stop and count our blessings that our government is what it is today. But we do see political corruption, criminals with more rights than the victims, a bloated bureaucracy, homeless people, a broken medical system, etc. But, if our government today isn't what it ought to be, whose fault is it? The Democrats? The Republicans? Should we rebel? Demand another election? Could it be our fault? We can't change the government! We can pray for the government.
We only have the power to change ourselves. We can't force others to do it our way. But wait, who IS the government? We the people. What has the power to change people? The Gospel. Could our fellow Americans and government be what they are today because we haven't done our job well? We can't change the government, we can only change the people through God's love.
Is it just coincidence that Paul follows his paragraph on government with a paragraph on loving your neighbor? Paul says we owe LOVE to our fellow man. He follows that with an exhortation to put on the ARMOR OF LIGHT and PUT ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Perhaps this is what we don't do well. If we understood this concept better and were able to implement it, we could influence others and thus influence our nation. I do believe it is the good, godly influence of the Christians that has kept our nation as sound and good as it is today, but I see signs that I interpret as we should be trying harder.
We are listening to the prince of darkness when we allow our neighbors to walk around in darkness without us having the courage to light their way. I know many of them have looked at the light and have seen their evil deeds exposed (that's what light does), and, instead of changing, have walked away from the light (John 3:16-21). We must have the courage to let our light shine anyway. Not a light that points and yells, "Sinner!", but a light that shines God's love and the attractiveness of a cleansed heart.
We would be a model to them on how to "put on Christ" - not put on religion - but, put on Christ. We should be ready to show them how to put on Christ like you put on a coat--a coat of blood that has the power to wash away ALL sin. The wearer of this coat does no wrong to a neighbor, she conducts herself becomingly, and she loves her neighbor as herself. A neighbor is anyone with a need. When we put on love, when we do it right - neighbors notice. Our neighbors are examining our lifestyle, our dedication to see who or what is the Power in our lives. We know that Power is what can change the people and thereby our nation.
Our nation as we know it today may not be here in five or ten years. Governments come and governments go. In whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we must remember our citizenship is in heaven. The Christians' Ruler is clearly not unbalanced like Nero or interested in national monetary debts and balanced budgets like Clinton, nor is our Ruler power hungry - although He has all power. Our eternal ruler is Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. In John 8:12, Jesus says, "I am the light of the World; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the LIGHT OF LIFE." Our ruler is LOVE, giving His beloved Son for our soul.
John 3:16-21 (partial, leaving out the negative about those who don't like light exposing their sin) - "For God so loved the World that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not condemned... And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, ... He who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God."
We need to put on that ARMOR OF LIGHT that others may clearly see God's love for man and thus want to come to the light.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR