Love for lawbreakers: Reading Romans 13 with Romans 5

Jun 27, 2018 by

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I had taken a vacation from the news for a couple weeks, but I couldn’t help but notice all the discussion in my Facebook feed about immigrants being separated from their children. Everybody seems to have weighed in by now, an executive order has been signed, and in reality most have people had made their decisions beforehand.

But as I think about what is going on, so much of the confusion for Christians in this debate seems to be because of our marriage to the kingdoms of this world rather than our rightful union to the kingdom of heaven. For example, if I as a United States ambassador, were to move to Germany, I would be obligated to obey the laws of Germany, pay taxes to Germany, and honor its prime minister. Living in Germany, I would undoubtedly see and feel what it’s like to be part of German society, enjoy its benefits or endure its hardships. However, as U.S. ambassador, my primary goal is to represent my own country and its interests. Living in Germany as U.S. ambassador, I would not participate in its elections; I would not participate in its wars; I would not be involved in any way that would undermine my representation of the U.S. If I wanted to participate in all things German, this would require me to become a citizen of Germany.

Likewise, as Christians, we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. We enjoy the benefits and endure the hardships of our hosting kingdom, the United States. But we have no obligation to plunge ourselves into the methods and means of the kingdoms of this world, which more often than not compromises God’s own kingdom values (see Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7). Perhaps, when we involve ourselves we even run the risk of transferring our citizenship. Once we realize that our true citizenship is in Heaven (Phil. 3:20), and we actually begin to live that way, then so many of our interactions in this life begin to take on new meaning.

Paul writes to the church of Rome, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1). Paul wrote this during the reign of the emperor Nero, the infamous persecutor of Christians. Paul also writes to the church of Rome, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10). So these two instructions are the parameters in which we must work. Obey the government of our hosting country, and love our neighbors there.

How does this translate to the debate about immigrants being separated from their children? Have we taken on the role of government, making judgments and wielding the sword, and forgetting that we are only here in the United States as ambassadors from the heavenly kingdom? Or have we been ambassadors of God’s love? What I’ve found by reading my Facebook feed is that many Christians have embraced the principle of obedience to the government while ignoring the principle to love one’s neighbor. And while ignoring either principle has serious problems, what is most disturbing to me is our blatant opposition to loving one’s neighbor. Christianity is in a sad state when we have forgotten love, because this is a fundamental of the gospel. We need to remember the situation we were once in, before we were rescued by God — which is strikingly similar to that of both the immigrants and their children: desperate, poor, lawbreakers, in need of compassion. And while they may be crossing the border in violation of the laws of the U.S., we ourselves were once in violation of the laws of God’s (a more serious offense), and he showed compassion on us, “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

As ambassadors from the kingdom of heaven, let us focus on proclaiming the love-message of the kingdom, while not reviling the kingdoms of this world. And while the debate seems to drag on, the homeless, the poor, the orphans and the widows are actually in our own neighborhoods. Are we loving them?

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 1:7-8).

Ryan McKelvey lies in Salisbury, Md., and attends a Biblical Mennonite Alliance congregation. He blogs at They Were Strangers, where this post first appeared.

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