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Bible Commentaries
Romans 13

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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The thirteenth chapter divides readily into three sections. Verses 1–7 describe the believer’s relationship to the civil government under which he resides. Verses 8–14 pick up the thread of love from chapter twelve with particular reference to the believer’s duties to the citizens of the state – that is, his neighbors. Verses 11–14 in this final section of chapter 13 present the believer’s motivation to live a righteous life in the hope of Christ’s return. This last section contains admonition appropriate to all Christians in dealing with their neighbors but especially to new converts as they emerge from the waters of baptism.

The opening argument in this chapter arises at an interesting juxtaposition. Chapter twelve closes with Paul’s tender admonition forbidding Christians to take vengeance and assuring them that God will take vengeance upon their enemies. He now develops the argument in verses 1–7, explaining that one of the ways God takes vengeance is through his agents—the civil rulers of the world. Two points are clear:

1. Christians are not to be involved in civil rule because the design of civil government is to take vengeance on lawbreakers, which Christians are not allowed to do.

2. Part of the Christian’s obligation "to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (12:2) requires him to submit to the civil rulers under which he lives, insofar as he can without violating the laws of God.

Verse 1

Responsibilities Toward Higher Powers

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers: Some controversy exists over whether the apostle means to command every person in Rome or simply every Christian. Whiteside strikes the medium when he says, "These injunctions apply to all men, especially to all Christians in all times and places" (257). Paul is writing to the Christians in Rome (1:7), and what he says here applies directly to them. It is also clear that God has purposed that civil affairs be regulated by civil governments, and all men are to come under the authority of the government under which they live. This principle holds true regardless of the style of government that holds sway. All men for all of time are to be regulated in civil affairs by their national government, especially Christians.

The word "soul" here is not used in its narrowest, most specific sense of the life force of the body (Genesis 2:7) but rather in one of its most generic senses—that of the whole person. It is often used in this manner in the New Testament (Matthew 12:18; Luke 12:19; Acts 2:27; Acts 2:41; Acts 2:43; Acts 3:23; Acts 7:14; Romans 2:9; Hebrews 10:38-39; James 1:21; James 5:20; 1 Peter 1:9; 1 Peter 3:20; Revelations 16:3). As Murray observes: the force of the word "soul" in these passages is almost equivalent to the personal pronoun (Vol. 2 147).

"Be subject" (u(potasse/sqw) means to "subject oneself, be subjected or subordinated, obey" (BDAG 1042). The Christian then is to subordinate himself and his desires in obedience to the rule of the state. In all things the Christian is to submit willingly to the laws of the land except for those regulations that might require him to disobey the law of God. In such cases, he is to yield to the power of God (Acts 4:18-20; Acts 5:27-33).

Paul here guards against any misunderstandings that might arise because of the freedom enjoyed by believers. They are free from the law as a system of justification (7:6; 8:2), and they are free from the tyranny of sin (6:7, 17–18); however, they are not free from the law of Christ (3:27; Galatians 6:2) nor are they free from their obligation to obey civil authorities. They could not argue that since Christ’s kingdom is "not of this world" they have no obligation to the kingdoms of this world. To the contrary, Christians are to be model citizens within the limits of God’s will.

The "higher powers" are the civil authorities in control of the government. Macknight observes:

Here the higher powers being distinguished from …The rulers, ver. 3, must signify, not the persons who possess the supreme authority, but the supreme authority itself, whereby the state is governed; whether that authority be vested in the people, or in the nobles, or in a single person or be shared among these three orders: in short, the higher powers denotes that form of government which is established in any country, whatever it may be (Vol. 1 444).

Macknight goes on to draw an unwarranted conclusion that sometimes evil rulers should be resisted (Vol. 1 445). Paul says just the opposite here. Nevertheless, Macknight’s point is well taken. God does not necessarily approve the actions of every ruler or group of rulers. He does, however, authorize the principle of civil government.

Further, God requires His people to recognize the rule of law in their respective countries. Those who fill the seat of government will be called to account in the judgment. Meanwhile, Christians are to submit in obedience to the laws of the land without resistance—except, of course, when those laws contradict the law of Christ. In such a case, Christians are to obey God and accept meekly whatever consequences result at the hands of men (Matthew 10:26-33; John 16:2). This subjection is a fundamental principle of the gospel (Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-15).

For there is no power but of God: This clause and the next reveal the reasons that every soul must subject himself to the higher powers. The first reason is that civil government could not exist unless God allowed it to do so. Since civil governments do exist, it follows that God permits them to exist and to wield the power they have. Interestingly, civil government derives its origin not from God but rather from Nimrod’s rebellion against God’s authority (Genesis 10:8-12). Not satisfied to live under the authority of God, Nimrod was the first to make other families and cities tributary to himself. His work apparently resulted in the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. This is the earliest biblical record of civil government. When civil government arose in rebellion to God’s authority, however, God turned it to His own good use. In Old Testament times, civil governments were used to maintain order and punish criminals among the Gentile nations, whereas Israel worked as a theocracy—a combined religious and civil state ruled by God. In the New Testament, God no longer rules in a special nation as He did over Israel. Instead God has ordained the church as His kingdom and the civil governments to rule over all. The Christian, then, must subject himself to the law of his nation.

the powers that be are ordained of God: God ordains or sets apart for a special purpose the civil governments of the world. That purpose is to maintain order and punish criminals. The fact that God ordains something does not suggest Christians should be involved in its operation. It simply sets it apart as good for God’s purpose. For example, hell is ordained of God for the punishment of Satan and his evil angels, together with all of those who refuse to obey the gospel or who fall from grace. Hell is good for that purpose (Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46). Obviously, Christians do not want to be involved in hell. By the same token, civil governments are ordained of God to control society and punish criminals, but Christians are forbidden to take such vengeance (12:19).

The fact that God ordains the principle of civil government does not mean God personally selects (let alone approves of) every civil ruler. It means God appointed the work of civil governments, and by and large He allows men to run them as they see fit; however, in the past and always in connection with the accomplishment of the scheme of redemption, God has raised up certain civil rulers to carry out a certain work (for example Cyrus, the Persian: Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1; Jeremiah 29:10; Ezra 1:1; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23). It might be that God still raises up certain rulers to assist in the accomplishment of His plan; however, if He does so, He does it through divine providence, which is neither demonstrable nor provable because the age of miracles and revelation have long been over (Acts 8:18; 1 Corinthians 13:8-13). But such intervention is not the ordinary order of events. As a general rule, God has ordained the principle of civil government and has allowed men of the world to direct its affairs.

Verse 2

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: Since God has authorized civil governments to control society and punish lawbreakers, Christians must obey. If they do not, they are against both God and the government. Whiteside believes that to resist the government is more than failing to obey a law occasionally. It is to take a concerted stand against the government—in other words, to defy the authority of the government (259). The point is that to resist civil authority is to resist God and to bring down on oneself the judgment of both.

and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation: This phrase means that when men resist the powers of the state, they shall receive the legal punishment prescribed by the state. Throughout this passage (1–7), the punishments or rewards are viewed from the perspective of the government, which is God’s agent for the control of society. The implication is that believers who resist the authority of the state will eventually have to answer to God in the judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Verse 3

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil: "Good works" and "the evil" works are here to be viewed not as identical to what God calls good and evil in His word, that is, what is absolutely good or evil. Rather the perspective of the civil ruler must be maintained. The "good works" are those deemed good by civil authorities. They are obedient works—obedient to the law. Conversely, the "evil" are those the government views as evil. Those actions that break the law are "the evil." Rulers are not a terror to law-abiding citizens but to lawbreakers.

Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: If Christians obey the law under which they live, they will generally be safe from the power of the rulers; however, the point is well taken that this same Roman government about which Paul is writing later executed him. How can this fact be reconciled with what this passage clearly states? Whiteside provides an excellent answer:

But was not Paul laying down principles that would apply to all Christians under established governments in all ages? So it seems to me. Paul was stating the proper functions of civil governments. His statements are a guide to the duties and limitations of governments, and a rebuke to those who overstep the bounds of their proper functions. Governments sometimes fail to function within their proper limits, just as churches sometimes fail to function as they should. The failure of a church to function as it should does not prove that the Devil originated it, nor that all churches are owned and controlled by the Devil; neither does a persecuting government prove that the Devil controls all governments. No human government is perfect, and certainly the Roman government was far from perfection; but try to imagine the fate of the early Christians and of all other decent people had there been no government at all. All governments are pleased with law-abiding citizens. The trouble was, the Roman government had some laws concerning religion which Christians could not obey; and this caused the trouble. Monsters of cruelty like Nero made it hard on Christians. Civil governments were meant to be ministers of God for the good of the people; but they sometimes swerve from their God-appointed mission and become instruments of cruelty (259-260).

Nevertheless, ordinarily, the way for Christians to avoid conflict with the civil authorities is to do good, that is, obey the law. When they are compelled to disobey the law because it contradicts God’s law, the consequence can be awful; however, Peter says that sometimes believers must suffer (1 Peter 4:12-19). When suffering is necessary, God’s people must suffer bravely as Paul does. They must continue in such times to confess Jesus Christ before men so that He will continue to confess them before God (Matthew 10:32).

Verse 4

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

For he is the minister of God to thee for good: Civil rulers serve God in two ways. In this clause, their purpose is to provide for and to protect obedient and law-abiding citizens. They are to control and regulate all of society, commerce, and industry for the good of their citizens. Christians, for this reason, are to submit themselves to the authority of the government under which they live.

But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: If one breaks the law, he should fear the government, for God has invested civil rulers with the authority to punish crime. To "do that which is evil" is to be understood from the perspective of the civil power and in practical terms refers to breaking the law.

God allows civil authorities to punish those who disrupt the peace, safety, and security of the community. To bear the sword refers to the power to punish vested in the government—even the power to invoke capital punishment! Murray observes:

The sword which the magistrate carries as the most significant part of his equipment is not merely the sign of his authority but of his right to wield it in the infliction of that which a sword does. It would not be necessary to suppose that the wielding of the sword contemplates the infliction of the death penalty exclusively. It can be wielded to instill the terror of that punishment which it can inflict. It can be wielded to execute punishment that falls short of death. But to exclude the right of the death penalty when the nature of the crime calls for such is totally contrary to that which the sword signifies and executes. We need to appeal to no more than New Testament usage to establish this reference. The sword is so frequently associated with death as the instrument of execution (cf. Matthew 26:52; Luke 21:24; Acts 12:2; Acts 16:27; Hebrews 11:34; Hebrews 11:37; Revelation 13:10) that to exclude its use for this purpose in this instance would be so arbitrary as to bear upon its face prejudice contrary to the evidence (Vol. 2 152–153).

The civil ruler does not threaten to no purpose. His power and responsibility to punish, even with death when it is appropriate, reveals one more reason why Christians are to stay away from all governance. Christians do not have the right to send any man to meet his Maker, however much he may deserve to be killed. The Christian’s obligation is to declare the gospel to all (Ephesians 3:10) and to persuade men to obey it and be saved (2 Corinthians 5:10-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). It is not the Christian’s prerogative to exercise capital punishment upon evildoers. This passage (13:1-7) conveys to the Christian that civil government is appointed by God for a good service—that is, for the regulation of society and for the punishment of lawbreakers—and that his obligation is to obey the law of the land, except when it conflicts with the law of God.

All governance is to be left outside of the Christian’s domain. One cannot live according to the principles of Christianity laid down in the New Testament and at the same time serve as a civil ruler. The two functions are mutually exclusive.

for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil: This clause refers to Romans 12:19. God takes vengeance against evildoers through His servant—the civil ruler. In chapter twelve, He forbids Christians from taking vengeance, saying He would repay, which He does through His ministers—the civil rulers. This passage reveals the fundamental reason that Christians are not to vote for or be a ruler. Lard states:

God’s servant is the civil officer, who is the appointed avenger of the State, to punish all wrongs perpetrated against it; and it is his duty to do this by inflicting both the divine anger and that of the State upon the evil-doer (400).

Verse 5

Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

Paul reiterates two reasons why Christians must subject themselves (verse 1) to the higher powers. First, they must be subject because if they are not they will be punished like any other lawbreaker. If they would avoid the punishment of the state, they must abide by the law. Second, Christians must subject themselves because it is the right thing to do. Civil powers are God’s ministers to provide for and protect the community and punish its criminals; therefore, a Christian conscience, educated by God’s word, must be subject to the government (1 Peter 2:13).

Verse 6

Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

In summary, Paul admonishes Christians at Rome to pay taxes and all other government levies without resistance. They should recognize that civil government is a blessing God has given for the regulation of society and for all who will not accept and obey the gospel. It is sometimes true that rulers abuse the power God has granted, but they shall answer in the day of judgment. Believers are to obey the law and pay their taxes. He also admonishes them to fear the government. By giving the rulers obedient respect in law-abiding behavior, believers do not have to be afraid of suffering as an evildoer at the hands of the government.

Finally, believers are not to speak evil of their rulers (1 Peter 2:13-17; Titus 3:1). It is wrong for Christians to attack personally the character of a government official or to speak disrespectfully to or about the official.

Verse 7

Responsibilities Toward Neighbors

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

Owe no man any thing: Having clarified his statements in Romans 12:19-21 by his explanation of the function of civil government and the Christian’s obligation to it, Paul now returns to the theme of chapter twelve, the all-embracing commandment of love. Hence, there is a transition in this verse, though not an abrupt one. The apostle easily and appropriately passes from the subject of debts paid to the civil authorities to the subject of the Christian’s obligation to pay his debts to all men.

The force of the imperative with which verse 8 opens is that Christians are not to leave any of their debts unpaid. In fact, Christians are not to leave any of their obligations to their fellows unsatisfied—whether they are monetary or otherwise. Contrary to the thoughts of some, however, Paul is not saying that a believer may never incur financial obligations. He is not saying that borrowing money is a sin. Elsewhere the word of God does embrace the practices of loaning and borrowing money (Exodus 22:14-15; Exodus 22:25; Nehemiah 5:1-13; Psalms 37:26; Proverbs 22:7; Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:35). What he does say is that when a believer elects to incur a debt, it is a sin if he does not pay it as he contracted to. What is condemned is the carelessness and thoughtlessness with which some Christians contract debts and especially any indifference displayed in discharging them. David said, "The wicked borrows and does not repay" (Psalms 37:21, NKJV). Few practices bring greater reproach upon the church, as well as individual Christians, than the practice of accumulating debts and refusing to pay them. Whiteside agrees: "If a man pays promptly according to contract, he owes nothing…When therefore the time comes to meet an obligation, meet it promptly" (262).

but to love one another: The word "but" means "except." Christians are to have no unpaid debts except the obligation to love their fellow men. This is a debt that is unlimited and can never be discharged. It is not like a monetary debt that can be satisfied once and for all; rather the harder one works to pay this debt, the more it mounts up afresh. The Christian’s duty then is to be diligent always in attempting to discharge the debt of love and yet always owing it. It almost goes without saying that the love under consideration is not merely some sentimental emotion but rather is the ever-active love defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 a. It is love characterized by deeds of helpfulness and that refrains from doing harm (verse 9). Murray describes it thus:

Love is emotive, motive and expulsive. It is emotive and therefore creates affinity with and affection for the object. It is motive in that it impels to action. It is expulsive because it expels what is alien to the interests which love seeks to promote (Vol. 2 161).

Some discussion appears among writers as to whether the words "one another" limit this obligation merely to the circle of disciples. The examples Paul uses to illustrate his meaning in verse 9 are taken from the second half of the Decalogue and are inclusive of all social relationships—not merely those sustained with fellow Christians. As Cranfield notes, "Having just said ’Leave no debt outstanding to anyone,’ Paul meant ’the debt of love to one-another’ in an all-embracing sense…There is no one who is not included in ’one another’ " (327).

for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law: The "other" whom the Christian loves is the one who at a particular moment confronts him as his neighbor in the New Testament sense (Luke 10:25-37). Cranfield adds:

Fulfilment of the law involves not just loving someone other than oneself, but loving each person whom God presents to one as one’s neighbor by the circumstance of his being someone whom one is in a position to affect for good or ill. The "neighbor" in the New Testament sense is not someone arbitrarily chosen by us: he is given to us by God (328).

Our neighbor is anyone whom we chance upon who is in need of help that we can offer. To fulfil the law means that the law has received the full measure of that which it requires. In other words, the believer has "filled up by action what the abstract principle of law delineates in its outline" (Beet 328). Murray wisely observes:

We are not to regard love as dispensing with law or as displacing law as if what has been misleadingly called "the law of love" has been substituted under the gospel for the law of commandments or precepts. Paul does not say the law is love but that love fulfils the law and law has not been in the least depreciated or deprived of its sanction. It is because love is accorded this quality and function that the law as correlative is confirmed in its relevance and dignity. It is the law that fulfils (Vol. 2 160-161).

Verses 8-9

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

In these verses, Paul presents an illustration defending what he has said in verse 8. He cites commandments from the second table of the Decalogue to demonstrate that love in action is the "fulfilling of the law." The believer who loves "the other" (that is, his neighbor) does not do the evil things proscribed in these commandments. In fact, he says these commandments are summed up in the positive commandment—"Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." In Jesus’ reply to the lawyer (Matthew 22:34-40) concerning the greatest commandment, He said the law of God hangs on two overarching commandments: (1) love God with all of your being and (2) love your fellow man in deed and truth. Jesus’ specific reference when He refers to "the law" is undoubtedly the law of Moses; however, the fact is all laws from God have always hung on these two principles—the moral law, the Patriarchal law, the Mosaic law, and the law of Christ. Loving God and loving one’s fellows are the guiding principles upon which all laws of God of any dispensation are predicated. Paul asserts the same again in Galatians 5:14.

The apostle does not mean to indicate that the Ten Commandments are still binding on men today in the Christian Age. Such would be a direct contradiction of Paul’s teaching in numerous places and even earlier statements in this epistle (6:14; 7:1–4; 2 Corinthians 3:3-14; Galatians 3:25; Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:14-16; Hebrews 7:12; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 8:6-7; Hebrews 9:8-17; Hebrews 10:1-4; Hebrews 10:9-10; James 1:25). His point was simply to illustrate that the love Christians owe to all men is an undischargeable debt. It is love in action (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 a) that works no ill to his neighbor.

When believers do good and no ill to their neighbors, they have not only obeyed the demands of the law but also they have fulfilled the law. In other words, when believers love God with all of their hearts and love their fellows in deed and in truth, their obedience to the law is thus rendered complete.

It should be noted in passing that there is a small textual problem in verse 9 for those who keep track of such things. The 26th edition of the Nestle-Aland text and the United Bible Society’s 4th edition text do not include the phrase, "Thou shalt not bear false witness," for their texts are weighted toward the Alexandrian or Egyptian type texts; whereas, the Majority Text does include this phrase (NKJV Preface; footnote on Romans 13:9 NKJV). In this case, the issue makes no difference in the meaning of the passage.

Verse 10

And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.

And that: Another reason Christians are called upon to apply the teachings of chapters twelve and thirteen to their lives is that the day of judgment is approaching. Cranfield says, "’And this’ serves to introduce a reference to an additional circumstance which heightens the force of what has been said" (330).

knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: The additional reason that Christians are to be careful to obey all that has gone before in chapters twelve and thirteen is they know the time. As Whiteside comments: "knowing the character of the time in which they lived it was time for them to arouse from their indifference and lethargy. Few Christians are ever as wide awake as they should be" (263). Christians must realize that the day of judgment is coming. Jesus will return again; and when He does, only those who are alert, prepared, and busy at their Christian duties will be saved. So, Paul says, wake up! (Ephesians 5:14). For similar appeals to Christ’s second coming as an incentive to moral earnestness, compare these passages: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 10:24-39; James 5:7-11; 1 Peter 4:7-10; Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 13:33-37.

for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed:

"Salvation" is used here to refer to the final completion of the process of salvation. Salvation had become the present possession of these Christians when they obeyed the gospel (Acts 2:38; Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47; Acts 4:12; Acts 16:30-33; Romans 10:1; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Corinthians 2:15; Ephesians 2:5; Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:20-21); however, as long as one abides on earth, his salvation is conditional upon his continuing faithful to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Galatians 5:4; Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:38-39; James 5:19-20; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Acts 8:18-24). Only when the believer dies in a faithful condition or when the Lord comes again to collect the faithful will one’s salvation become eternal (Philippians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:8-9; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 1:5).

Paul, by these words, in no way indicates that he expects Christ to return in a short space of time. He simply points out that the judgment day is an event fixed to occur at some unknown time in the future and that our service for the Lord is limited by the aging and dying of our bodies. It is obvious that with each day that passes we are nearer to the time of our final reckoning. It is high time for all believers to be alert and busy in their preparations to meet God (2 Corinthians 5:10; John 5:28-29).

Verse 11

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: The metaphors of day, night, light, and darkness dominate this verse and naturally derive from the image in verse 11 of awakening out of sleep. "The night is far spent" clearly denotes this present age, and "the day at hand," the coming of God’s final manifestation of His kingdom in the eternal age. Paul warns of the nearness of the end of time. His picture is of a man awakened from sleep in the early hours of the day just before dawn. The night is fading away, and as the skies begin to gray, "the wings of the morning" approach.

What does he mean to convey by his insistence on the nearness of the end? Is Paul saying, as so many would-be scholars assert, that the early Christians led by the apostles expect the imminent return of Christ? No. The true explanation is rather that the early church is correctly convinced that the ascension of Jesus signals the coming of the last days—the end time or the Christian Age. On the day of Pentecost, some fifty days after Jesus’ crucifixion, the church is established, and Peter declares that the "last days" have begun (Acts 2:1-47; especially verses 16, 17, and 47). All the great events of history have already been completed. There will be no more chapters. All that remains of significance is the second coming of Christ to usher in the eternal kingdom. Whether the Christian Age lasts for a few years or for many centuries, all of it must be viewed as the epilogue to the dream of all the ages— the coronation of Jesus as our King and High Priest. It will be only an interval provided by God’s patience in order to allow men time to hear and obey the gospel; however long the interval lasts, it is in a real sense a short time—its continuance solely dependent on God’s patient mercy and grace. Such recognition of the nearness of the end is not at all the same as certainty that the end will come, at the most, within a few decades.

The urgency of Paul’s message is thus understood. The night of this life is fast waning. The dawn of Christ’s return is approaching rapidly. It is nearer than ever before; therefore, whatever time is left must be spent by the believers in faithful watching for Christ’s second coming with alert minds and with active hands. Christians must exhibit the appropriate eager yearning and the proper sense of urgency with all the active and resolute engagement in the works of faith and obedience and love for which the New Testament calls. This is the duty of all Christians for all time—even until Jesus does come. To apprehend truly the nearness of Christ’s return is to be turned sharply in the direction of faithful obedience to all the exhortations in chapters twelve and thirteen. Murray eloquently adds his testimony to these truths:

Sleep, night, darkness are all co-related in our ordinary experience. The same is true in the moral and religious realm. And what the apostle is pressing home is the incompatibility of moral and religious slumbers with the position which believers now occupy in the great drama of redemption. The basic sanction of love to our neighbor as ourselves applied in the Old Testament as well as in the New (vss. 8–10). But the consideration that Paul is now pleading is one that could apply only to the particular "season" contemplated in the present passage and urged as the reason for godly living. The day of Christ, though not yet come, is nevertheless throwing its light backward upon the present. In that light believers must now live; it is the dawning of the day of unprecedented splendor. It is high time to awake to the realization of this fact, to be aroused from spiritual torpor, to throw off the garments of slumber, and to put on weapons that befit the tasks of such a "season" in redemptive history. Each calendar day brings nearer to us the day of final salvation, and, since it is life in the body that is decisive for eternal issues, the event of death points up for each person how short is "the season" prior to Christ’s advent. As "we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. Romans 14:10) and Christ is ready to "judge living and dead" (2 Timothy 4:1; cf. 1 Peter 4:5; James 5:9) indulgence of the works of the flesh is contradiction of the believer’s faith and hope (Vol. 2 169–170).

let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light: By using first person plural pronouns, Paul includes himself with those he addresses. He, too, needs to be reminded of his duty (1 Corinthians 9:26-27; 2 Peter 1:12-16). These admonitions are thus always timely for God’s people—all of God’s people. By "the works of darkness," Paul means most probably those works characterized by darkness (or which belong to darkness) in an ethical sense (1 Corinthians 4:5; Ephesians 5:8; Ephesians 5:11; Colossians 1:13). They are works of the darkness of this age; however, in verse 13 when he mentions some of the works of darkness that are to be cast off, they are such as are commonly practiced in the dark. Maybe his point is that even pagans do not do these things in the light; therefore, how can Christians engage in them at all? Most probably his meaning is the former idea.

When the apostle refers to the "armor of light" we are to put on in place of the "works of darkness," he uses the word "armor" instead of "works" to underscore the truth that living the Christian life is always a battle. Most likely he refers to all of the Christian’s armor—both offensive and defensive (Ephesians 6:12-18).

The works of darkness are clarified in verse 13 where they are named. The "armor of light" is explained in verse 14.

Verse 12

Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.

Let us walk honestly, as in the day: To walk "honestly" (eu)sxhmo/nw$) means "in a becoming manner, with propriety, decently, gracefully" (AGLP 183). Elsewhere Paul counsels believers to adorn the doctrine of God (Titus 2:10)—that is, to make the Christian life attractive. This is the idea of walking honestly. Christians are commanded here to walk (live) in such a manner as is becoming to the gospel (Philippians 1:27). They are to walk honorably, decently, gracefully as those who realize that in Christ they belong to God’s new order, as those whose lives are already illumined by the brightness of the coming day revealed in the New Testament.

not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: The remainder of this verse provides three pairs of examples of the works of darkness that are to be shunned by those walking in the light of day. The relationship between each of the nouns in each pair is close. In fact, each pair may be understood as suggesting one composite idea—drunken revelry, lascivious whoredom, and jealous quarreling. The plural of the Greek nouns in the first two pairs suggests frequent repetition. Jealous strife and brawling often result from the drunken revels and debaucheries in which those who walk in darkness engage. Cranfield quotes Chrysostom as commenting, "For nothing so kindles lust and sets wrath ablaze as drunkenness and tippling… Wherefore I exhort you, flee from fornication and the mother thereof, drunkenness" (334).

Verse 13

But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ: The figure of putting on as a garment this or that quality is common in scripture. Paul speaks of putting on the new man (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10); putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11) and the weapons of light (Romans 13:12); putting on the breastplate of righteousness and putting on faith and bowels of compassion (Ephesians 6:14; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). But all of these pale into insignificance when compared to this present figure of putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is used one other time (Galatians 3:27). Interestingly, the phrase in Galatians is in the indicative and the background for it is in Romans 6:1-10. In obeying the gospel in baptism, the believer is in one sense immediately clothed with Christ by virtue of God’s gracious decision to declare him righteous on account of his obedient faith. Yet in another sense—a moral sense—he must ever be putting on Christ again and again in faith and confidence, in grateful loyalty, and obedience as he struggles to be like Christ; consequently, in this place Paul states it as an imperative.

To put on Christ, the believer must identify with Christ not only in His death but also in His resurrection. He must labor to be united with Christ in His resurrection life (5:10–11). Macknight says this figure of "putting on" signifies two things: (1) "to acquire great plenty of the thing said to be put on" and (2) "that the virtue or quality put on adheres closely like a garment to the body" (124). He continues:

To put on Christ, is to follow his doctrine, precepts and example, and to adorn ourselves therewith as with a splendid robe not to be put off; because it is the garb intended for that eternal day which is never to be followed by any night. A remarkable example of the use of this metaphor we have in Judg. vi. 34 [where] "the spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon" (Vol. 1 455).

Believers are to accept it as their duty to mold and shape their lives after the pattern or example of Jesus described in the gospels. We are to be completely yielded under His authority, letting Him be the Lord and guide of our lives. His life is to become ours.

and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof: "The flesh" here refers not to the physical body but rather to the sinful desires or propensities of the body (7:5, 18, 25; 8:5–8, 12–13; Galatians 5:19-21; Galatians 6:8; Ephesians 2:3). The believer is not to make provision to gratify the sinful desires of the flesh. "Provision" refers to careful planning beforehand or forethought. The believer in putting on the Lord Jesus Christ must not map out in his mind beforehand ways to gratify his sinful desires. He must not give himself opportunity to sin (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Romans 13". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/romans-13.html. 1993-2022.
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