“Therefore” is a linking word, as I have said. We have looked back to what it refers to. Now we should look forward to see what the doctrinal material of chapters 1-11 connects with. I am handling it in seven sections.
First principles (12:1-2). Just as God is the basis of reality so that everything flows from Him and takes its form from Him (“For from him and through him and to him are all things,” Rom. 11:36), so also our relationship to God is the basis of all other relationships and our duty to Him the basis of all other duties. Because this is so, Paul sets out the principles that should govern our relationship to God in verses 1 and 2. He reminds us that we are not our own and that we should therefore present ourselves to God as willing and living sacrifices.
The Christian and other people (12:3-21). There are three basic areas of application for the Gospel, and they each involve relationships. The first two verses have outlined the right relationship of a Christian to God. The remainder of the chapter shows us: 1) the right relationship of a Christian to himself (he is not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but rather to be humble); 2) the right relationship of a Christian to other people. The first is treated briefly, in verse 3. The second is dealt with at greater length, in verses 4-21.
Church and state (13:1-7). The Christian does not only have a relationship to other individuals, however. He also has a relationship to institutions, particularly the state. What is the believer’s relationship to the state to be? Is he to oppose it as an incorrigibly secular and godless entity? Are we to try to escape from it? Should the Christian submit to it? If we are to submit, is that submission to be without any qualification, regardless of what the state may do or ask us to do? Or are there limits? If there are limits, what are they? We know from history that these became very important matters for the early Christians, especially in the years when the emperors persecuted them, trying to abolish Christianity.
Paul answers many of these questions in the first half of chapter 13, providing a strong case for the validity and worth of secular governments.
The law of love (13:8-14). Jesus said that the sum of morality is this: 1) that we love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength; and 2) that we love our neighbor as ourselves (cf. Matt. 22:34-40).
Paul, who seems to reflect the explicit teaching of Jesus many times in these chapters, unfolds what that means in this section.
Christian liberty (14:1–15:13). The longest part of these final chapters concerns Christian liberty. At first glance this seems surprising, given the many great personal, social and cultural problems that existed in Paul’s day and exist in our own. Why did Paul not condemn slavery? Present a Christian view of economics? Or comment on war? We cannot know with certainty why Paul chose to ignore the matters he does ignore and treat others, but his decision to deal with personal liberty at least indicates how important this matter was for him. He does not allow Christians to disobey God’s moral law, and he offers no low standard of ethics. The standard is the highest: the yielding of our entire selves to God as living sacrifices. But Paul was, nevertheless, firmly opposed to one group of Christians imposing extra-biblical (or non-biblical) standards on other Christians.
The fact that Paul wrote the entire book of Galatians to defend the believer’s liberty shows how strongly he felt about this. His advice to the Galatians was to “stand firm” in the liberty Christ has given us and not to be “burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
In tomorrow’ study we will list the other two sections of our outline.