Romans 13:11-14


In Romans 1-11 Paul had carefully spelled out everything which is necessary for our salvation:

Our text is found in this last section.

Chapter 13 is divided into three parts:

  1. 1-7, the Christian is subject to the government;

  2. 8-10, Love is the fulfilling of the Law;

  3. 11-14, Equipped with God's armor, the Christian lives the Christian life.

This text, the epistle for Advent I in the old one-year series, is very appropriate for Advent, the second coming of Christ. The person who has the right attitude toward the second coming of Christ also has the proper attitude toward Christmas, the first coming of Christ.

Note in the Greek text that verses 1-7 comprise a major paragraph. And verses 8-14 comprise a second major paragraph, with a subparagraph at verse 11. That clearly indicates that the editors see a connection between verses 8-10 and 11-14. But what is the connection? One school of thought says that the imperative "do" must be supplied and refers back to verses 8-10. TEV, NIV, NKJV, NASB, and AAT are of this school.

NASB is typical: "And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep." If translated thus the verse means that Christians are to continue to love their neighbor, conscious of the times in which they live.

The other school of thought, which supplied no verb, treats the beginning of verse 11 with a variety of interpretation. We quote the translations: LB has "Another reason for right living is that: you know how late it is." RSV has: "Besides this you know what hour it is." JB reads: "Besides, you know 'the time' has come." NEB: "In all this, remember how critical the moment is."

Kretzmann: As the Christian's whole life is a walk in love, with the earnest purpose to conduct himself at all times as one trying to fulfill the will of his heavenly Father, so it is also a walk in light, in righteousness and holiness which is acceptable to God.

This difference in translation and interpretation does not affect the literal sense of the passage. The preacher is free to choose either without disturbing the intended sense.

Romans 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

"Understand" indicates that Christians know without being given further information. This implies that this text is addressed only to believers.

Bruce: The prospect should fill them with encouragement, not with despair. Look at Luke 21:28.
Kretzmann: The Christians are acquainted with the time and the circumstances under which they live, and they should therefore attend closely to the lesson which the contemplation of the situation bring home to them.
Lenski: Because he uses so many terms expressing time one can scarcely miss Paul's point. The very time in which we live at this moment must rouse us to fullest activity in heeding Paul's admonitions.
Bengel: This time is full of grace. Compare Romans 5:6; 3:26; 2 Corinthians 6:2.

It is not a time of despair, as the world would have us believe. The world lives in distress, uncertainty, despair. Look at Luke 21:25-26. But the thought should make the Christian confident. Look at Luke 21:28. That does not mean that the Christian does not need to be warned. He needs to be warned constantly. In verse 11 "slumber" is figurative for the stupor of failing to watch.

Franzmann: A sleeper does not know where he is or what he is or what hour has struck; he is dead to his duties and his opportunities. He may dream, but does not know and he cannot act. The Christian life is a constant awaking and waiting life.
Bengel: One must get up, walk around, work so that sleep does not again overtake a person.
Kretzmann: The apostle refers to the spiritual sleep, which differs in no essential feature from spiritual death, the sleep of sin.
Luther: Verse 11 says the same as 1 Corinthians 15:34. There is no doubt that with these words also in this passage he is speaking of spiritual sleep, where the spirit is sleeping when it lives in sins and is content . . . . And we must take note that he is not speaking of those people who are dead in the sin of unbelief, nor about those believers who are lying in mortal sin, but rather about Christians who are living lukewarm lives and are snoring in their smugness. They have the appearance of godliness but deny the power thereof, 2 Timothy 3:5, with their body they depart from Egypt, but with their heart they return.
Stoeckhardt: To awake, to arise from sleep means to renounce the former walk in sin, regard God and His will and then to live godly and righteous according to His will. The Christian's entire life should be continual repentance.
Lenski: 'Sleep' is figurative for anything resembling delay, carelessness, indifference.

"Because" is an explanation. It gives the reason why we must wake up.

Stoeckhardt: Our salvation has drawn closer also in this sense that now nothing lies between us and our salvation any more, that we now have nothing else to expect than the beginning of salvation . . . . Nothing stands in the way of our salvation. We await only the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:7.

The longer Christians live the more careful they ought to be in their Christian living.

Romans 13:12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Note the synonyms and antonyms in this verse. Compare "day" and "night." The first in Greek denotes the very end of night, while the second denotes the very beginning of day. Night here denotes this life with all its darkness, uncertainty, sin, and death. Day here denotes the final deliverance, a synonym for "salvation" in verse 11.

Note the antonyms in the second part of the verse also: put off -- put on; works -- weapons; darkness -- light.

Kretzmann: The day is the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 1:6, 10; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Corinthians 3:13. The night which precedes this glorious day is the period of this world. The time in which we are living is night, being governed by sin and death . . . . Acts that cannot bear the light of day should be shunned at all times by Christians, but especially now that the great day of final redemption is so near. . . Paul does not speak of garments, but of weapons, armor of light, because a righteous conduct is also a steady battle with the forces of darkness. Ephesians 6:10-17.
Luther: 'Day' in the spiritual sense refers to faith, 'night' to unbelief.
Stoeckhardt: The last day is the beginning of salvation. The night which precedes the day is the time of this world. It is like night, ruled by sin and death. Inwardly Christians are already free from this night. Nevertheless, Christians, since they live in the world and in the flesh and are constantly tempted to evil and easily become lame in doing good, are admonished continually to repulse evil works before they are completed and to be diligent in all good works, to persevere in battle, continually to put off the old man and to put on the new man. Ephesians 4:22-24.

He also quotes 2 Peter 3:11-12. The figure of darkness and light is frequent in Paul and John. Read John 3:18-21. There "light" is identified with Christ, and "night" with the sinful world.

Paul is appealing to the faith of his hearers. He would not speak thus if they were dead in their trespasses and sin. He wishes for them to take decisive action. Christians don't play around with works of darkness. Christians don't treat the weapons of light lightly. Nothing is more serious for a Christians than shedding works of darkness and using the weapons of light.

By the way, in the latter part of this verse the Christian is presented as a soldier. Could it be that the figurative language in verse 11 implies that the Christian is a sentinel, a watchman, a guard, who simply dare not fall asleep?

Romans 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.

"Behave" is also translated "walk." Paul frequently uses this verb of conduct. Look at Galatians 5:16. The Christian's life is a walk. Again the verb is indicating decisive action. And again Paul is appealing to the faith of the hearer.

"Decently" can be translated as "honestly, becomingly, properly, nobly."

"Daytime" is figurative, denoting the conduct of the Christian at all times, whether day or night, and to all aspects of his living, be that of thought, word, or deed. It does not denote the fear of being caught. That is ruled out by the "decently." John 3:19-21 is a good parallel passage here. The unbeliever wants to hide his works. The believer wants people to know that his words have been worked by God Himself. The unbeliever is fearful. The believer is faithful.

Now Paul gives three sets of examples of works that must be avoided. Note the use of synonyms:

All these are works of the flesh.

"Revelry" are feasts and drinking parties that were protracted till late at night and indulged in revelry.

"Fornication" is unlawful sexual intercourse.

"Unrestrained pleasure" contains the idea of shameless greed, animal lust, sheer self-indulgence which is such a slave to its so-called pleasures that it is lost to shame. It is one who acknowledges no restraints, who dares whatsoever caprice and wanton petulance may suggest.

Do all Christians need to be warned about such sins? Read 1 Corinthians 10:12. Anyone who thinks they could not become the victim of such sins is standing in their own strength, which is fatal.

Kretzmann: The manner of living excludes three sins to which there is great temptation in Rome: intemperance, impurity, discord.
Stoeckhardt: Christians should not suppose that they are above such things . . . . They are constantly lured and enticed by their own lust.

Note the remarkable similarity between this passage and Luke 21:34-36. Also read the list at Galatians 5:19-21. They are called "the works of the flesh." And remember that Paul said: "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing." The Romans had a saying: "Resist the beginnings." Any Christian could become the victim of any of these terrible works of the flesh if he would yield to the flesh.

Romans 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

In verse 13 we had three negative commands: "let's not, not, not." In the Greek the word order indicates these words are very strong: "But, on the other hand, etc." At Galatians 3:27 the verb "to put on" is used of justification. In baptism people are brought to Christ. They are justified, forgiven. Here in Romans 13:14 Paul is speaking of sanctification.

Note that the first part of this verse is a positive injunction and the second part a prohibition. They are really simply two sides of the same coin. The thought is parallel to that at 12:1-2. The thought in the first part is the same as at Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10, simply put in different words.

Kretzmann: Our Savior and Lord, whom we have put on in baptism, Galatians 3:27, we should continue to put on day after day, we should clothe our soul in His example and model, and follow Him on the paths of sanctification. Christ lives in His believers, in their entire life and conduct, and the virtues of Christ, his holiness, pureness, chastity, love, goodness, humility, kindness, are evident in all their words and deeds.

A Christian is a new creature. By faith in Christ he has the power and strength to live the godly life. Galatians 2:20; John 15:1-8; John 17:23; Luke 1:74-75. Christ has redeemed us so that we may serve Him with fear for the rest of our lives IN HOLINESS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS. Through the Gospel Jesus declares me holy and righteous.

Lenski: Christ is put on in two ways: once as the garment of our righteousness, which is done in the instant when faith appropriates his death and merit, Isaiah 61:10; Matthew 22:12 (the wedding garment), secondly, as our armor and defense and of offense, Ephesians 6:13, which is the act of faith when using Christ as the power of our sanctification and following his example.
Franzmann: Their baptism is to become their daily dress.

The prohibition at the end of verse 14 is interesting to read in the translations:

Bengel: The concern for the flesh is here not forbidden as something evil, nor praised as something good, but is treated as an adiaphoron, which cannot be trusted, which must be held in check, in obedience, and one must guard against constant dangers.
Lenski: Any forethought we may take in providing for our bodies and their needs is never to be of such a nature that any lusts are stirred up or satisfied . . . . All false asceticism is foreign to the Scriptures, as is all derogation of the body as something to be despised, as though the sooner we are rid of it the better. But in this life the body is so responsive to sin, read 6:12, etc., also 7:23, etc., on the bodily members . . . The bodily senses so easily inflame lusts . . . . 'Flesh' is used as in Galatians 2:20, i.e., in body and bodily existence. The word is not to be understood in its ethical, derived sense: our corrupt nature, as some would understand it here.

Both Bengel and Lenski are saying that he body has its God-given appetites. They are not wrong per se. But, we must be on our constant guard not to let these appetites rule us, nor to use them wrongly. When it's a matter of sinful lust we must say: "NO!"


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 1-5. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index