A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 13:12b-14. Our relationship to the day: 2). Understanding what is appropriate to the time.
The *So* or ‘therefore’ in the middle of the verse 12 marks the transition from Paul’s statement about the time to his corresponding exhortations. It is not enough to understand the time; we have to behave accordingly. Paul issues three appeals. The first two are couched in the first person plural, so that he includes himself (*So let us…Let us…*), while the third changes to the second person plural and is his direct summons to his readers (*Rather, clothe yourselves…*). All three are double sentences, the negative and positive aspects of the appeal forming a radical antithesis.
The first continues the metaphor of night and day, darkness and light. It concerns our clothing, and what (in the light of the time) it is appropriate for us to wear. *So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light* (12b). The picture is that, because of the hour, we must not only wake up and get up, but get dressed as well. We must take off our night clothes, *the deeds of darkness*, and put on instead, as suitable daytime equipment for the soldiers of Christ, *the armour of light*. For ‘the Christian’s life is not a sleep, but a battle’.
From appropriate clothing Paul proceeds to appropriate behaviour. Possibly, *Let us behave decently* or ‘becomingly’ *as in the daytime*, that is, as if the day had already dawned, and turn from the kind of things people do under cover of darkness: *not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy* (13). Opposed to decent Christian behaviour is lack of self-control in the areas of drink, sex and social relationships.
Paul’s third and concluding antithesis might be said to concern our preoccupation, what it is which engrosses our attention as Christian people. The alternative set before us is either the Lord Jesus Christ or our fallen self-centred nature: *Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature* (14). In Galatians Paul has written that those who are in Christ by justification and baptism ‘have clothed’ themselves with Christ (Gal.3:27). In Romans this clothing ourselves with Christ is something we still have to do or to keep doing. Is the clothing regarded as an adornment? If so, perhaps the thought is that we are to wear the characteristics of his teaching and example, and put on ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’ (Col. 3:12). The context, however, suggests protection rather than adornment. ‘Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ’ (JB). In any case, it is not Christlikeness only that we are to assume, but Christ himself, laying hold of him, and ‘living under him as Lord’.
In contrast to the beautiful and protective clothing with is Christ, Paul refers to our ugly, self-centred nature (*sarx*). It has not been eradicated; it is still there. It also still has claimant desires. Our instruction is not only not to gratify its desires, but *not to think about how to* do so, not make any ‘provision’ for them (RSV), rather be ruthless in repudiating them and putting them to death (8:13; cf. Gal.5:24).
Romans 13 began with important teaching about *how* we can be good citizens (1-7) and good neighbours (8-10); it ends with *why* we should be. There is no greater incentive to the doing of these duties than a lively expectation of the Lord’s return. We will be rightly related to the state (which is God’s minister) and to the law (which is fulfilled in loving our neighbour) only when we are rightly related to the day of Christ’s coming. Although both the state and the law are divine institutions, they are provisional structures, relativized by the last day when they will cease. That day is steadily approaching. Our calling is to live in the light of it, to behave in the continuing night as if the day had dawned, to enjoy the ‘now already’ of the inaugurated kingdom in the certain knowledge that what is still ‘not yet’, namely the consummated kingdom , will soon arrive.
Tomorrow: Romans 14:1-15:13. Our relationship to the weak: welcoming, and not despising, judging or offending them.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.