By now, if you haven’t checked out the growing God’s Word For You series of devotional commentaries from The Good Book Company, I honestly don’t know if anything I say about the latest edition, Timothy Keller’s Romans 8-16 For You, will convince you.
Nevertheless, you really should check them—and this volume in particular—out.
Like Romans 1-7 For You and the other volumes in this series, Romans 8-16 For You offers readers an engaging, thoughtful and practical look at one of the most contentious books of the Bible. And more specifically, one of the more contentious passages in one of the most contentious books of the Bible. For Romans is not a book with a, shall we say, light touch, and Keller fully embraces this in his treatment of the text.
Encourages and challenges the heart and mind
It’s important, once again, to remember: this is not a detailed commentary (though it does quote from many of them, including John Stott’s The Message of Romans, and Leon Morris’ The Epistle to the Romans). But the strength of Romans 8-16 For You is not in the thoroughness of its commentary; rather it’s in how the text encourages and challenges both the heart and mind.
One of the best examples comes toward the end of this volume as Keller digs into Paul’s practical teaching, the implications of his grand theology found in chapters 1–11: how do Christians relate to the government? This is an especially important question in our day, as western nations race back to the worldview of ancient Rome and Christians face public scorn, prosecution, and eventually persecution, for refusing to compromise on their convictions. For many, it’s sorely tempting to take our ball and go home, hunker down in the bunker, or whatever other metaphor for disengaging from the culture at large you prefer. Yet, this is exactly what, according to Keller, Paul encourages us not to do.
The command for every Christian is to submit to civil government, appears to be absolute, Keller writes, which isn’t helped by Paul’s putting “the command in negative terms, ie: what the Christian is not to do: ‘He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted,’ and to do so is to ‘bring judgment’ (v 2). The strength of this statement intensifies when we realize that Paul was talking of a very non-Christian government—the pagan Roman empire.”
Remember, the Roman emperors were no fans of Christianity. The Christians caused too much trouble. Their presence was disruptive, they kept insisting that their religion was the only right one, and that could not stand. But this is the sort of state Paul told his original readers to submit to—a state that hated them! Thus, “the default position of the Christian (every Christian) to the state (any state) is to submit.”
But, there were hints, Keller argues, that this submission was not absolute. Instead, although we are to submit and engage in civil matters—paying our taxes, voting, serving in public office, and so on—we are also to evaluate the state. “Paul’s radical principle is: we obey our government out of our Christian conscience, out of our obedience to God alone.”
So let’s consider for a moment: how does our attitude toward our governments reflect this radical principle? Do we submit begrudgingly in certain areas? Do we submit our taxes correctly, even when we know reporting everything means we may have to pay instead of receiving a return? Do we pray for our political leaders, or curse them? And when we speak out against the errors of our governments (as we should), do we do so with a gentle word, or with harshness (Proverbs 15:1)? In other words, even when we disagree, do we treat them with respect:
…we are not only to comply with civil authorities, but to do so in a way that shows them respect, honor, and courtesy. This is the same issue we face in the family and the church. We are to treat parents, ministers, and civil magistrates with deference. Even when the individuals in these positions are not worthy of much respect, we show respect to the authority structure that stands under and behind them.
Intended for application
As with the other volumes of the God’s Word For You series, Romans 8-16 For You is designed for application. Readers will find it most beneficial as they read this book with a Bible and journal alongside it, and really wrestle with the application questions provided throughout. Read it with the expectation of being encouraged and convicted, but be prepared to do something with those moments of conviction. Think with “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3) and what you read and discover lead to a change of heart, mind and actions.
Title: Romans 8-16 For You
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: The Good Book Company (2015)