NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER THIRTEEN (Lesson XIII)
The Apostle Paul also had a wake-up call for the Ephesians: “The light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, ‘Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light’.”12 This was Paul’s warning for those who had become complacent in their Christian walk with God. That’s because from the moment Christ disappeared from the view on the day of His ascension the countdown began on His return. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that with over 2000 years having passed from that day till now, the time left between and departure and return has shortened considerably.
John Calvin called Paul’s words here an exhortation. In other words, an attempt to incite them into action. We should all be aware that the rays of eternal life are already shining on us, as it were, at the dawn of Christ’s coming. We ought, therefore, do out in the open what needs to be done for everyone to see. But at the same time, don’t be guilty of doing things in the open that are only done in the dark. When we are not careful and do things not expected of a believer, we cancel out all the good things we’ve done up until then.
That’s why we, who always stand in the sight of God and of angels, and whom Christ, the true Sun of righteousness has invited into His divine presence, must be aware that He sees everything we do, good or bad. So be careful, be conscious of the fact that you are walking in a world full of moral pollution. Keep your heart and hands clean so you do not become contaminated. Calvin says that the importance of these words is this: Since we know that the seasonable time has already come in which we should awaken from the sleep of indifference, let us get rid of whatever is done in the dark because the light is coming in which all we say and do will be seen by everyone. It’s daytime! Get up! Get busy! Get going!3
John Bengel illustrates what Paul is saying here. When a believer hears the alarm bells of faith, it means the morning has dawned. They must shake off sleep, get up, and get ready to go to work. To just lay there will only invite sleep to take over again. The message of the Gospel always aims at higher and higher degrees of competence and presupposes that the old way of doing things is not getting the job done. Something newer must be implemented and followed, something that corresponds with the knowledge that our salvation is nearer now than ever before.
In Bengel’s mind, the Apostle Paul believes that the path a Christian follows, once begun, proceeds onward continually and draws nearer and nearer to its goal. Paul had long ago written both his epistles to the Thessalonians. Therefore, when he wrote of the nearness of salvation, he wrote about it constructively. But now, years have passed and he must repeat his message with greater urgency.4 We find in the Book of Hebrews where the day of salvation is spoken of as being near.5 But here, salvation is as near to us as daybreak. The believer who starts out with great energy and enthusiasm must not tire now that they are much closer to their goal. They are nearer to the finish line because they’ve made progress. So now is not the time to recede, but proceed!6
Adam Clarke tells us that some Bible scholars think that this passage should be understood this way: We have many advantages over those who lived in Paul’s day. Salvation is nearer – the whole Christian faith system is more fully explained, and the knowledge of it more easily acquired than before. Because of that, greater progress in religious knowledge and in practical righteous living is now expected and required of us. Unfortunately, many have been too neglectful in taking up the challenge to go all out for Christ. Deliverance from the persecutions like those in Paul’s day is more common today, so it has been easier to grow comfortable in this world. So Paul’s message for us today is that we must be cautious not to develop a lackadaisical attitude toward the urgency of his call to action.7
And Robert Haldane echoes those same thoughts by noting that a considerable amount of time had passed since the church at Rome was organized and the brethren who were first called to the knowledge of the truth were now approaching the day when they would be called from this earth to their place of rest to await their entry into the land of promise. The closer we get to leaving this world and entering into a state of glory ought to have a greater impact upon Christians today. It should make them think less of this world, and more of that land in which they are about to become eternal inhabitants.8
Charles Hodge gives his interpretation of what Paul is saying here about the Day of Salvation being so near. He explains that there is nothing in the Scriptures, nor in this immediate context, that would make us believe that Paul thought the return of Christ was at hand when he tells his readers that their salvation was nearer than when they believed. The third and most common, as well as the most natural interpretation of this passage, is that Paul simply meant to remind them that their personal time of deliverance from this world of sin and sorrow through death was near. Furthermore, that any sins and temptations they had to deal with along the way would soon disappear like the morning dew does at the rising of the sun.
The salvation, therefore, intended here is the consummation of the work of Christ in their own lives and their deliverance from this present evil world and introduction into the purity and blessedness of heaven. Eternity is at hand! This is the solemn consideration that Paul urges on his readers as a motive for increased devotion and determination.9 In other words, for those who die in the faith and go to there eternal rest, their days are over. There is no returned to complete unfinished work. The Day of Resurrection is not the end date for everyone, only those who are living at the time. Our time to finish this journey here on earth may be only years, months, weeks, or even days away. That’s why Paul’s message is so relevant for us today.
Albert Barnes offers his insight on Paul’s call for believers to awaken. He believes that Paul has chosen a beautiful illustration. The dawn of day, the approaching light of the morning, is the time to open one’s eyes and get ready to face the day. In the darkness of night, people sleep, but in the brightness of day, people get up and get busy. The world had been stuck in the night of paganism and sin. At that time it was to be expected that they would sleep the sleep of spiritual death. But now the morning light of the Gospel has dawned. The Sun of Righteousness has arisen. It is time, therefore, for people to stop sleeping and get up to greet the day. It is no longer time for sleep, but spring into action.10
The same idea is beautifully presented by Paul when he wrote the Thessalonians.11 The meaning is, that up until now many believers have allowed themselves to fall asleep in a world dark with sin. But we are supposed to walk in the light of the Gospel. We know our duty. We are sure that the God of light is around us, and is a witness to all we do. We are soon going to meet Him, and it makes sense that we should get busy and to do those things Jesus commanded us to do. They are deeds which allow the bright shining of the light of truth to shine through us for all the world to see. So get up! Get going! Before you know it the day will be over when we can no longer do what we were saved to do. Who wants to meet our returning King with empty hands?12
Preacher Octavius Winslow speaks about what he calls the believer’s progress in the divine life. He suggests that believers commune with their own heart as to their progress in holy living. It is impossible to know exactly how far we’ve traveled on our heavenward way, the stages we have completed, the goals we have reached if we don’t communicate with ourselves. The sea captain examines his ocean-chart, the traveler the milestones along the road to mark the progress they have made toward home. How much more should each pilgrim do the same as they make their way toward that heavenly city of eternal light!
Winslow continues by pointing out that everything in nature is advancing – nothing is stationary. You don’t plant trees and expect them to remain the same. They grow and get bigger. Progress is the universal Law of the universe. So why should the renewed soul of a heaven-bound traveler be the only one to stand still? Should the living water poured into the soul of the regenerate be left to grow stagnant? Is the kingdom of grace alone exempt from the operation of this Law of progress? So ask yourself this question: How high is my sun in the spiritual heavens? How near is it to its glorious setting? How far away am I from the haven of rest for my soul, where I will be sheltered from the storm as I await my glorious resurrection? Paul says it is high time to awaken out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.13
Charles Spurgeon preached a similar message. He was concerned at how deep in sleep some professing Christians had drifted! How utterly insensible they had become to the sins and sorrows of those around them. Yes, they believe God has His people and they are very glad they are His children, that is, as long as He doesn’t bother them while they take a nap. They don’t seem concerned that the world around them is under the control of the wicked serpent, causing multitudes to perish in their sins. They are sad to see it happen, but being sorry is about as far as they will go. It doesn’t cause them any sleepless nights, and it doesn’t interrupt their dreams. They are not interested in it enough to make them uncomfortable. After all, God is in control so they really have nothing to do with what’s going on. As long as all is well with their souls, that’s what really matters.
Spurgeon then goes on to make this point: Christ is preparing heaven for us, and His Spirit is preparing us for our arrival. Well, then, if we are getting ready for heaven, we ought to be more awake, for sleepiness does not apply to heavenly beings. Heaven is the home of activity, not the dormitory of unconsciousness. When our bodies are raised from the dead, they will enjoy life and energy, and be forever free from fatigue and sluggishness. Let us, as we are getting ready for our celestial gathering be more full of life and energy.14 In other words, heaven will take care of those things that make us tired and weary down here, but it will not be a place where people lay around doing nothing. You may wear yourself out doing what He wants you to do here on earth, but once we arrive in heaven there will be enough energy to keep us going for eternity.
1 Ephesians 5:14
2 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 186-190
3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15
5 Hebrews 6:9
6 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 348-349
7 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 261
8 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 589
9 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 639
10 Cf. Acts of the Apostles 17:30-31
11 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8
12 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Works of Octavius Winslow: “Self-Communion,” Text Psalm 4:4
14 Charles Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Wake Up! Wake Up! #1445, On Romans 13:11, Vol. 24, p. 7