Romans 13 is another chapter that many will argue over. While some think this chapter is about church authorities or angels, most believe he is talking about the government and civil law. Some think that Christians should not be part of any government job that will cause them to take the life of another. Others oppose this idea. Some think that you can’t be on a jury that involves the death of the accused, while others see no problem with this.
I believe the first seven verses of this chapter talks about the attitude that Christians should have toward our government. Let’s read through these verses and then break them down.
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
Verse 6 should remove any doubt that Paul is talking about talking about the government and not church authorities because we are not taught to pay taxes to the church or to church authorities or angels. but we certainly pay taxes to the government.
Some have wondered why Paul would bring up being subject to governing authorities. While I cannot read Paul’s mind or know the mind of God, I can certainly offer some logical suggestions. We need to remember that the Jews absolutely hated the Roman government, and they longed for the days their people used to have under King David and Solomon. They hated paying taxes and would love for Rome to be overthrown and for them to have their own authority. They already had their own King, Herod.
You might remember how the Jews tried to use taxes to trap Jesus.
Luke 20:21Then they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: 22 "Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" 23 But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, "Why do you test Me? 24 "Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?" They answered and said, "Caesar's." 25 And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." 26 But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
They had no idea that Jesus would be able to answer their question this way because they were hoping He would either say “no or yes” because if He said, “no, it’s not lawful”, they could report Him to the Roman government. If He said, “yes, it’s lawful”, then they could use this to turn the people against Him since they hated paying taxes. As we read, Jesus answered it both ways leaving them speechless.
Paul wrote Romans around A.D. 57-58 and the number of civil disturbances had been increasing. We know that Claudius made all Jews leave Rome at one point (Acts 18:2). There were men like Barabbas (Lk. 23:18-19) and Theudas (Acts 5:36) who were doing their best to fight against the government. We know from history that the Jewish revolt against the government led to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as predicted by Jesus (Mt. 24).
Paul is letting these Jewish Christians know that they need to let go of their hatred for the government because it too has been ordained by God.
Another possible reason for Paul including this teaching was for any Christians that might be confused about their freedom in Christ (Gal. 5:1). Since Christians are taught to try and settle matters that come up outside of court (1 Cor. 6:1-6) and might look to Peter and John who told the Jewish leaders, "We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:2), they might think that they are not subject to civil law or should consider themselves as part of any government. However, this is not true.
While I think most understand that we are not to blindly follow all the laws of government such as those that go against the will of God, we can certainly obey all laws that don’t violate the will of God. Though our text is the longest treatment of this topic of submitting ourselves to the laws of the land, we have other verses that also support this idea.
1 Timothy 2:1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
We are to pray for our kings and all who are in authority, which shows that kings or governmental leaders have authority.
Titus 3:1 Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work,
1 Peter 2:13Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
1 Peter 2:17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
All these verses teach us that we are to honor the king or in our case, we could say the president, and we are to submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake. As I already said, this doesn’t include ordinances that would cause us to sin against God. As Christians, we are to live for God and always put Him first, but we must also live on this earth and be subject to the governing authorities whether they be corrupt or righteous. As Paul wrote:
Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
These governing authorities are not angels or church leaders, he is talking about the government such as Rome. He calls these governing authorities ministers and servants of God in verses four and six. This might sound strange to some especially since we have governments that are very corrupt such as Rome. However, Paul already established back in Romans 9 that God is in control of the rulers of this world such as Pharaoh (Rom. 9:16-18).
Mr. Roper states the following:
“Paul was not the first biblical writer or speaker to declare that earthly rulers are subject to God’s universal sovereignty. Speaking for Lord, Solomon wrote, “By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule” (Prov.8:15,16). Cyrus, a pagan Persian ruler, was called God’s “shepherd” and God’s anointed” (Is.44:28;45:1). Daniel told the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar that God “removes kings and establishes kings,” that “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind” (Dan. 2:21; 4:17). When Jesus was on trial before Pilate, He told the Roman governor, “You would have not authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (Jn. 1911) (Truth for Today Commentary Romans 8-16, p. 304).
God is in control. Even Rome was allowed to exist and play its part in God’s plan. Rome had to happen to fulfill the birth of Jesus from the place of His birth, thanks to the census, to the kind of death He would die by. If Rome had not taken away the Jews authority to kill people by the Law of Moses, Jesus would not have died on the cross.
Just because God allows a corrupt nation to exist for a time doesn’t mean that He approves of everything they do. God used some corrupt sinful nations to take over His people many times throughout the Old Testament when His people started living sinful lives. God can use horrible nations and sinful leaders to carry out His will as well. Whether they know or not, they are being ministers and servants of God when they do these things. Of course, their powerful nation doesn’t stand if God doesn’t allow it to stand.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
These are strong words that teach us the importance of the following the law of the land. If we fail to keep the law of the land, it’s the same as resisting that which God ordained, and we will give an account for it. If you thought it was hard enough to live according to what the Bible says, here is another part we might not think about.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
If you are a law-abiding citizen who is doing your best to keep all the laws that are not in conflict with God’s law, then you will have nothing to be afraid of. Usually, the government only goes after the rebellious lawbreakers, but even if they are so corrupt that they are going after an innocent Christian who is simply holding fast to God’s will, he still doesn’t have to be afraid because even if he is put to death, he will die a righteous death.
Even corrupt governments will still usually go after those who practice evil. Paul lets us know that the government can bear the sword against evil doers. In other words, the death penalty for certain crimes is lawful. Even when Paul was being falsely accused by the Jews for bringing a Gentile into the temple, Paul tells Festus:
Acts 25:11"For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar."
If he was guilty of a crime worthy of death, he was willing to die for it because he understood that there were certain offensives that would cause one to be put to death. When this is done, it’s not murder, it’s killing someone for what he did.
As Paul points out in verse six, taxes are what pay for such governmental authorities. It was true then, and it was true now. It’s why we are to give to our God and pay taxes to our country. We are not supposed to cheat on our taxes or refuse to repay customs, which is really just another tax.
Perhaps something that is more challenging than paying taxes is giving fear and honor to those governing authorities. The NKJV uses the word fear, but a better word to use here is respect. We have all had people in office that we did not like. We don’t like their policies or the bad things they have made happen. While we may have no respect or honor for such people, we still need to respect and honor the office.
Regarding our verses, some Christians will teach that Christians should not serve in governmental office. They would say, they shouldn’t be in the military, a police officer, or any position that might cause them to take the life of another. They would even say that you cannot be on a jury that when the death penalty is on the table. However, the Bible doesn’t teach against such things. These same people who are opposed to these things think it’s ok for a non-Christian to hold these positions and to even kill to protect others. If it is the case that it’s ok for a non-Christian to do it, then it’s ok for a Christian to do it as well as per following the law of the land.
I want you to consider what Mr. Weir wrote:
“Was Peter's sword decorative, for protection, or just a bluff? Peter, striving to see that Christ was not arrested, was told by the Lord: "... Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matt. 26:52). This simply shows that it is the sword of personal vengeance or personal retaliation that is condemned (Rom. 12:19-21), but there is also the sword of civil law and order, which is approved (Rom. 13:3-4).
Where those who served in law-enforcement or the military in the first century and who wanted to serve the Christ instructed to give up their professions? All who study the Scriptures are aware that there is no hint of any such instruction or demand. If such must be done in order to be pleasing unto God, Peter missed a tremendous opportunity to instruct Cornelius and the Gentiles regarding this matter (Acts 10). Neither is there any indication that Paul spoke of this matter to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. The silence of the Scriptures does not automatically prove they continued serving the state, but neither does it suggest these men had to give up their service to their civil rulers in order to serve the Christ. Even more convincing in its implication that one can both serve God and in the Armed Forces is the occasion on which soldiers came to John desiring baptism and wanting to know what to do. John's answer was: "Extort from no man by violence, neither accuse any one wrongfully; and be content with your wages" (Luke 3:14b). With what wages were they to continue to be content? Anyone can surely see that John means the wages of a Roman soldier. Did not John, God's faithful servant, lead the soldiers astray if it was expected of them to give up their profession upon their obedience to God?
Can an individual use deadly force to protect himself or his family? The Bible teaches, "But if any provideth not for his own, and specially his own household, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tim. 5:8). Surely protection from law-defying, law-breaking evil-doers is a part of providing for one's family! Such has nothing to do with personal vengeance or retaliation. It is appalling to think that one would sit passively while he and his family are assaulted by uninvited evil-doers” (Denton Lectures, Romans, electronic).
These are all great points that show that a Christian can continue to serve in any office even if it means that one may have to take the life of another. At the same time, if this is an issue that bothers the conscience of that Christian, then he needs to get out of that office. It’s certainly not an issue that we should divide over.
Next, Paul talks about our attitude toward all people.
Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
When Paul tells us not to owe no one anything, do you think this means that we are should never go into debt such a taking a loan from a bank or from an individual? The answer is, no. The only way we would be in the wrong is if we agree with a bank or an individual to pay for a loan and then we don’t. Notice the following two verses:
Psalm 112:5 It is well with the man who is gracious and lends; He will maintain his cause in judgment.
Psalm 37:21 The wicked borrows and does not repay, But the righteous shows mercy and gives.
Here we see positive things being said about those who are willing to lend, but those who borrow and don’t repay are called wicked. Those who call themselves Christians who don’t pay their debts are being a bad example of what a Christian is supposed to be.
One thing that we will always owe is loving one another. We can never reach the point in our lives and say that I have loved enough. Paul said:
Romans 1:14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise.
Let us never forget that we always have a debt of love. Love is the most important part of Christianity, which is why Paul says it fulfills the law. I will never forget the conversation Jesus had with a Scribe in:
Mark 12:28 Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of all?" 29 Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is:`Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 `And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. 31 "And the second, like it, is this:`You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32 So the scribe said to Him, "Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 "And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." But after that no one dared question Him.
When we love God, we will keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15). When we love our fellow man, we are doing exactly what God does.
1 John 4:11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Back in our text, Paul begins to quote some of the ten commandments. What’s interesting is that the first four commandments of the ten commandments have to do with our relationship with God, but the last six has to do with our relationship with man. All the commandments that Paul mentions are part of the six, and they are self-explanatory. He also mentions how we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We learn from the parable of the Good Smartian that anyone who is in need is our neighbor. Could you imagine how much better our world would be if we all loved our neighbors as we loved ourselves?
Finally, our chapter ends with an admonition for Christians to remain faithful to God especially in regard to what Paul just talked about in this chapter and the previous one.
Romans 13:11 And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
Paul is emphasizing the fact that Christians must not be asleep in their pursuit of righteousness. It is easy to become a lazy Christian thinking that you have plenty of time before Jesus comes again or before you die, but we will never know when that day will happen. Therefore, it is time for us to stop being asleep and to wake up because the day of death and the day of the Lord’s return is always closer than it was the day before.
Some think that Paul is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 24. While I can see the possibility of that, Paul is not specific here, but the overall message is to wake up and live for God today because you never know when Jesus will return or when your life will end.
He pleads with them to cast off the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light. Of course, a great description of this armor of light can be seen in Ephesians 6:10-18. As Christians, we are to walk in the light and not darkness. Paul gives six examples of the dark way.
1. Not in revelry, which means: in the Greek writings properly, a nocturnal and riotous procession of half-drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honor of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before the houses of their male and female friends; hence, used generally, of feasts and drinking-parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry (Thayer).
2. Drunkenness - wine; perhaps any intoxicating drink…intoxication(Thayer).
3. Lewdness – Sexual excesses, sexual promiscuity (Thayer)
4. Lust - plural "wanton (acts or) manners, as filthy words, indecent bodily movements, unchaste handling of males and females (Thayer). especially as indecent and outrageous sexual behavior debauchery, indecency, flagrant immorality (Friberg)
5. Strife - conflict resulting from rivalry and discord (Louw-Nida).
6. Envy - intense negative feelings over another’s achievements or success, jealousy, envy (BDAG).
If Paul wanted, he could have listed more or just added, “and the like”, but the point is clear, get away from the sins of darkness that will cause you to be lost and put on the Lord Jesus and live for Him.
When you read Romans 6 and Gal 3:27, you quickly see that when you were baptized you put on Christ, but that is not the end. You must continue to put on Christ by putting on that armor of light so you can keep sin away and hold your head high as you continue to fight the good fight of faith.
Let’s always do our best to live a prepared life so that we are always ready for the day of our deaths or the return of Jesus.