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The Hundred-Ninety-Third (Romans Part 22)

We started going through chapter 13 of Paul’s letter to the Romans last week, and only got through the first six verses because there was so much to unpack!  In that section, Paul was focused on a believer’s relationship to governing authorities, and we found that while on the face of them the words he used suggested that we just comply with whatever the authorities demand, his actions certainly didn’t coincide with those words.  A deeper look at the Greek words, and a marrying up of Paul’s actions with his statements, made it clear that Paul’s point was that we are not to raise up some force to attack the government but also if that authority’s demands go against any of YHWH’s commands we are not obligated to follow them.  

Starting at verse 7 this week, we see that Paul transitions from a discussion of paying taxes in the previous verse to how we should handle all earthly debts, both spiritual and physical.  He starts by saying again that we are to pay taxes to whom they are due.  In other words, when the governmental authority requires us to pay to it in order for it to execute its service to the people, whatever that may be, we are to comply.  Now, can we use whatever codes, rules and regulations are in place in order to make sure our contribution is the right amount and nothing more than it needs to be?  Absolutely.  By no means is the government a charity where you should “give generously,” as Paul talked about in the previous chapter.

The next debt Paul talks about gets a little confusing if you look across all the different scriptural translations of that particular Greek word.  Lots of them say revenue, the majority of them, including the KJV, say custom, and some of them say tolls or government fees.  The Greek word though, is telos, which actually means consummation.  HELPS Word-studies uses the illustration of an old pirate’s telescope, saying the root of this word, tel, means reaching the end, or the aim.  The extending of the pirate’s telescope until it is fully extended and is able to work the way it was designed is the illustration of achieving the aim, or goal, of what that tool was made for.

So, how do we get the word customs or taxes from that?  Well, there’s another instance in scripture where this Greek word is used in that context, and we’ve actually looked at that event before.  It was when Peter was asked if Yeshua paid the temple tax (Matthew 17:24-25).  Yeshua asks him who the earthly governments collect telos and taxes from, and Peter replies that they collect it not from their own but from others.  Given that Paul was just talking about taxes, with a Greek word that meant specifically property taxes, it makes sense that he would also include a reference to other types of taxes and that’s where the word telos comes in.  

It is hard to ignore though, that telos is used 41 times in scripture and only two of them are meant to reference taxes.  In all other occurrences of this word in scripture, it is translated to some form of the word “end.”  It stands to reason then, that Paul’s use of this word, and even Yeshua’s for that matter, implies a consummation or end of anything, rather than only meaning taxes.  But, you might ask, what would it mean if that were the case?

To answer that, let’s look at the word Paul uses to categorize this particular list.  Some translations use the word “dues,” while others use the phrase “what is owed,” but the Greek word Paul uses is opheile.  This word comes from the word opheilo, which according to HELPS Word-studies, was originally used to refer to legal and economic debts of an individual.  Later, this word transitioned to also include moral debts, both to the gods (as the Greeks had many false gods) and to other people.  In other words, Paul is referring to not only debts like taxes and those required as a part of entering into a legal contract, but also debts like moral responsibility to help those in need or in the case of the Greeks provide the required sacrifices to their gods.

These words, opheilo and opheile, are used all over the place in scripture.  Yeshua used it in His parable of the unforgiving servant to refer to both the monetary debts of the servant and of the fellow servant (Matthew 18:21-35).  It was also used by Yeshua during His woes to the scribes and Pharisees, calling them out for saying swearing by the temple means nothing but swearing by the gold of the temple makes someone a debtor (Matthew 23:16).  Paul even used it to talk about husbands being obligated to love their wives (Ephesians 5:28), and to fulfill their “marital duty” to their wives (1 Corinthians 7:3).

As you can see, and as we will confirm when we look at the rest of Paul’s list, Paul is not talking just about monetary debt, so when he uses the word telos, it’s highly likely he intended it to be more encompassing than just taxes.  If we enter into an agreement with someone where they provide us some funds in order to start our lawn maintenance company, for example, and in that agreement we will provide free lawn care for that person, we’d better fulfill that debt.  If we tell our friend that if they run into trouble they can give us a call, we’d better answer when they do.  If we tell our spouse that we are with them forever, through thick or thin, to work together on anything that comes our way, we’d better do that.

Paul didn’t just mean money debt when using the word telos, but here’s the real kicker: we have a debt above all debts, an obligation above all obligations, and we absolutely better fulfill that one.  And guess what?  That obligation is one we must fulfill over and over again, day after day.  Our Savior, Yeshua the Messiah, gave all for our sins.  Because we know this, that His death was atonement for all our sins, and because believe in His resurrection, we have an obligation to live according to the Holy Spirit and not according to the flesh (Romans 8:12-14).  By our acceptance of Yeshua as our Lord and Savior, and through our love for Him, we are obligated to live according to His commands (John 14:15).  

Yes, Paul goes on in this list to include giving respect and honor where they are due, but the most important due that we are obligated to give is to YHWH and Yeshua.  I mean, they are literally the only reason we’re even here right now and will be around for eternity, so the very least we can do is fulfill their law, keeping their commandments.  Paul even makes this connection in this chapter: we are to be obligated to each other in love (Romans 13:8-10).  The interesting part about him including this is the fact that he probably wasn’t even present when Yeshua said this (Matthew 22:39-40).  And certainly the book of Matthew hadn’t been written yet, so he couldn’t have read it there like we can today.  So, he either got this from one or more of the other apostles (who, by the way, were less than enthused to work with an ex-Pharisee that previously helped murder believers), or he was led to it by the Holy Spirit.  

Even if he was present when Yeshua said that particular statement, he definitely would not have been of the mind to record it so he could use it later.  At that point, Yeshua was a clear enemy to him as He was to the other religious leaders of the time.  No, this is a clear indication that Paul was being led by the Holy Spirit in this letter to the believers of Rome, and the fact that it echoes the words of Yeshua Himself makes it all that more important that we heed this word and fulfill our obligation.  

The close of this chapter is Paul putting a point on the importance of fulfilling this obligation to love our neighbor.  His statements here are just as true today as they were when he wrote them, because each hour that passes brings us nearer to our salvation (Romans 13:11).  This word for salvation, soteria, is another one that’s used all over scripture, and generally it means deliverance.  You may be confused when you read other verses using this word because it seems like deliverance may have already occurred (Luke 19:9), but in this case Paul is talking about our physical deliverance, our transition from these sinful bodies to our sinless bodies in the resurrection or transformation (1 Corinthians 15:51).  Our spiritual deliverance from sin occurred when we repented and accepted Yeshua as our Lord and Savior.

Paul continues his metaphor of sleeping by associating deeds of the flesh with darkness and Yeshua with light (Romans 13:12-14).  He only lists a few things out of the more complete list he provided the believers in Galatia (Galatians 5:19-21), but the point is still the same and follows his previous statements about indebtedness.  Giving in to these desires of the flesh is not fulfilling our obligation to walk according to the Spirit.  This is the obligation that we agreed to when we entered into our covenant with Yeshua by accepting His death as the atonement for our sin, and therefore accepting His promise of eternal life.

We are always to make sure we’re fulfilling the obligations we have agreed to, but this week especially, take a moment to think not only about obligations we currently have but also those that we have had throughout our life.  If you think back and find that you did not fulfill (or are not fulfilling) some of them as you should have, repent from them and ask for forgiveness from YHWH (and from the individual, if possible).  Then, ask YHWH to help you so that you won’t make that mistake again in the future.

We hope you have a wonderful week!  Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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