Gray circle, white background

Whenever we study and seek to understand various passages in Scripture, we can experience an array of scenarios. Sometimes, the text is explicit and clear in its meaning and application. For example, in Matthew 7:12, the verse sometimes referred to as the “golden rule”, Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” This is so clear and straightforward that even the pagans understand it and seek to dutifully obey it, though in vain since they are outside of Christ. Other passages can be difficult for many Christians to understand as well as apply. A common example of such a passage is much of the book of Revelation, simply because of its prophetic nature and heavy usage of symbolic language. But when it comes to Romans 13, particularly the first seven verses, we run into a situation where the text itself is clear in its meaning but can require further contemplation and study when it comes to understanding its application.

When one studies the words that Paul penned to the church at Rome nearly 2000 years ago concerning our submission to governing authorities, a pattern clearly emerges. As Christians, we are to live lives of submission. Paul was by no means the only one in the Bible to teach on this virtue, as Jesus modeled the attitude of submission perfectly throughout His earthly ministry, always doing the will of His Father. In fact, perfect submission was so vital to our Lord that He described the will of the Father as His “food” (John 4:34). The apostle Peter likewise wrote concerning the importance of submission in the life of the Christian because “…such is the will of God” (1 Peter 2:15).

Change: we all experience it on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. In this life we find that nothing is static – things are always changing. Even our spiritual walk changes from day to day, as we continue to grow in our sanctification, defeating sin in our lives one battle at a time. If you are a young person, you will one day find that you don’t have the youthful vigor that you once did, and you won’t always have the amount of free time and carefree lifestyle that you enjoy now. Whether it’s good times or bad times, easy times or hard times, times of plenty or times of want, all of us are going through various seasons of life or transitions from one season to another.

Long ago, King Solomon made this very observation about life when he wrote Ecclesiastes 3:1–8. In this text we read the following:

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.”

The key takeaway from this passage is notably in the very first sentence: there is an appointed time for everything. The rest of these verses simply use illustrative language to drive the point home. Of course, this begs the question: who is the one doing the appointing? After all, something cannot be appointed without someone doing the appointing. If we read a little further in this chapter, we find the clear answer rather quickly. Verse 11 says “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” The answer is quite simple: it is God who appoints all our seasons of life. The reason why we can say that there are times when it is appropriate to grieve over your departed loved one or a financial loss, or to rejoice over getting a job promotion or becoming a parent, is because our benevolent and sovereign God has predetermined each of our lots. To say that each of us go through various seasons of life is such an obvious truth that we can even say it is axiomatic. What’s perhaps the more important question to ponder then is this: how are we as Christians called to respond to the various seasons that God has appointed for us?

To answer this question, I would like to present three distinct applications for us to ponder. First, let’s consider the illustrations Solomon lays out in Ecclesiastes 3, particularly the expression, “...a time to mourn and a time to dance”. Did you receive an unfortunate diagnosis in your last routine checkup? It is okay to take time to grieve over the news, even weep. Did you just purchase the house of your dreams? Then it is perfectly reasonable and right to celebrate the good news! Each of our emotions have their appropriate time and place; we only need to guard our hearts from letting our emotions take control over us or deviate us from the truth of God’s Word.

We should of course be reminded that we ought to be mindful not only of our own circumstances, but also the circumstances of others, which brings us to our second point. As members of the body of Christ, we are called to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). What does that look like? Paul answers that question in Romans 12:15, where he writes, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Do you know of a brother or sister in the Lord who just got laid off? Now is probably not the best time for laughter and lighthearted humor in your time of fellowship. Instead, show that you truly care about your friend. Sometimes it may involve giving words of comfort and encouragement, while other times it may mean just being there with them without saying anything at all. Give them your undivided attention and listen to them, even if that may mean being their soundboard while they vent their frustrations. This is also true by the way if you know of a brother or sister in Christ who is in a season of rejoicing. Whatever you do, don’t put a damper on their joy just because you aren’t feeling joyful in the moment! If you’re a single person who longs to someday marry, don’t overlook the excitement of a newlywed couple on account of your own personal struggle against discontentment. I know I made this mistake multiple times back while I was still single, and I wouldn’t want the same for you. We are to rejoice with them, not only because it’s an explicit command from the Lord, but also because it is a great opportunity for serving the local body as well as finding contentment within your own soul.

This then leads to my third and final way we respond to whatever season of life we are in: contentment. In Philippians 4:12–13, the apostle Paul had much to say on this subject when he wrote, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Before we get too deep into the application, keep in mind that Paul wrote this epistle while imprisoned! He was most certainly in what we would typically think of as a terrible season of life. Yet he was truly filled with joy as the gospel of Jesus Christ continued to be proclaimed, even by those who did so out of spite for him. It is easy to find contentment when times are good, but what if the Lord appointed for you darker providences? Would you still find contentment in your circumstances just as before? There is no greater display of this attitude than in our Lord Himself. When the Son of God came down from Heaven and took on human flesh, he endured his entire 33 years of life on earth in the lowliest of circumstances. During the three and a half years of His earthly ministry, He didn’t even have anywhere to lay His head (Luke 9:58).

If you are going through a difficult season of life or if you’re finding yourself in the midst of change, remember that Christ Himself also endured very difficult seasons and trials, ultimately culminating with His death on the cross, and He did so for you and me. He is your sympathetic High Priest, who was made like His brethren in order to make atonement for your sins (Hebrews 2:17). As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” It is my prayer that you have been encouraged today as you have been reminded of these timeless truths and can take comfort in knowing who you are in Christ.