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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Romans 13

Verses 1-7

SECTION 41 — OBEY THE RULERS OF THE STATE

CH. 13:1-7

Let every soul submit to the superior authorities. For there is no authority except ordained by God: and those that exist have been ordained by God. So that he who sets himself against the authority withstands the ordinance of God. But they who withstand will receive for themselves judgment. For the rulers are not a fear to the good work but to the evil. But dost thou wish not to fear the authority? Do the good; and thou wilt have praise from it. For he is a minister of God to thee for good. But if thou dost the evil, be afraid: for not in vain he bears the sword: for he is a minister of God, a minister of justice for anger to him who does the evil. For which cause it is necessary to submit, not only because of his anger but also because of conscience. For it is because of this that ye pay tribute. For they are public ministers of God, to this very thing: continually devoting themselves. Repay to all what ye owe; tribute, to whom ye owe tribute; custom, to whom custom; fear, to whom fear; honour, to whom honour.

Romans 12:1. Every soul: the submission must be inward, reaching down to the seat of life: cp. Romans 2:9; Acts 2:43; Ephesians 6:6; Matthew 22:37.

Superior authorities: another topic, the Christian’s duty to the civil power, specially important at Rome, the seat of empire. We must submit because civil rule is ordained by God, who has so constituted society that men are compelled to appoint rulers and thus create authority.

And those that exist etc.: a more definite statement. Not only is civil authority in the abstract a work of God, but the existing rulers have been put by God in their place of power. These unproved assertions will be discussed below.

Romans 12:2-4. Practical consequence of the foregoing.

Sets-himself-against: cognate to ordained and ordinance.

The authority has been set up by God: consequently he who sets himself against it withstands that which God has set up.

They who do this will receive judgment: sentence will be passed upon them, evidently a sentence of condemnation: same words in James 3:1.

For themselves: emphatic, as in Romans 2:5. A reason for this judgment is stated in Romans 13:3, viz. because the rulers are on the side of right and opposed to wrong.

A fear: an object inspiring fear, as in all languages: cp. Genesis 31:53; 1 Timothy 1:1.

To the good work: action personified as if capable of fear.

Minister: see under Romans 12:7. In his office of civil ruler, he is doing the work of God.

To thee: set up by God to do thee good: cp. Romans 8:28. Dost the evil: other side of the alternative in Romans 13:3 a. Not in vain: the sword which he bears is no mere ornament.

For he is a minister of God: emphatic repetition word for word. Because the ruler is an officer appointed by God, as asserted in Romans 13:1, they who do right may expect from him praise and they who do wrong have reason for fear.

A minister-of justice: one who will inflict due punishment: cognate to words in Romans 12:19; see note.

For anger: in contrast to for good.

Romans 12:5. Practical result of the truth just stated. It is necessary to submit not only for fear of punishment but because of conscience: i.e. in order to have an inward assurance that we are doing right: cp. 1 Corinthians 10:25; 1 Corinthians 10:29; 1 Peter 2:19.

Romans 12:6. Proof that our conscience binds us to submission. We actually pay tribute. Paul assumes, and all will admit, that we are under moral obligation to do so; and asserts that this admitted obligation involves submission.

Tribute: a tax on persons or subject states: same word in Luke 20:22; Luke 23:2; 1 Maccabees 8:4; 1 Maccabees 8:7.

Public minister: different from, and stronger than, minister in Romans 13:4, and denoting a public and sacred officer: e.g. in Exodus 28:35; Exodus 28:43, etc. for Aaron’s ministry at the altar. Same word in Romans 15:16; Romans 15:27; 2 Corinthians 9:12; Philippians 2:17; Philippians 2:25; Philippians 2:30; Hebrews 1:7; Hebrews 1:14; Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:21; Hebrews 10:11; Luke 1:23; Acts 13:2. Whether they know it or not, civil rulers, in proportion as they rule well, are performing and continually-devoting-themselves (same word in Romans 12:12) to a sacred ministration laid upon them by God. Paul argues that this admitted moral obligation proves that civil rulers are ordained by God.

Romans 12:7. Practical application of the foregoing.

Custom: a tax on goods: same word in Matthew 17:25; 1 Maccabees 10:31; 1 Maccabees 11:35.

Fear: the reverence due to a ruler: cp. Ephesians 6:5; 1 Peter 2:18.

Honour: outward recognition of worth of any kind: as in Romans 12:10; 1 Timothy 6:1; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 Peter 3:7. Appreciation of the dignity of office is independent of our estimate of the man who holds the office.

A very close parallel to Romans 13:1-7 is found in 1 Peter 2:13-17.

We will now examine the unproved assertions on which the above argument rests, viz. that the abstract principle of government is from God and that the existing rulers have been put by God in their place of power.

Human society is so constituted that the instinct of self-preservation compels men to set up a form of government, i.e. to commit to some men power over the rest. Everyone knows that a bad government is almost always better than no government: and this proves that God wills men to live under rule. But God has not prescribed a definite form of rule: consequently the universal principle of government assumes an infinite variety of forms. We also notice that, nearly always, opposition to the men actually in power tends to weaken and destroy the principle of government and leads towards anarchy. How frequently the murder even of a bad ruler has been followed by utter lawlessness and by infinite injury to the nation! Consequently, opposition to the individuals in power is practically in most cases opposition to the divine principle of government. Observing this, and remembering that nothing takes place without the foresight and permission of God, we may say, as Paul does, that the existing rulers, by whatever steps they mounted the throne, have been put on it by God. For God created the felt necessity for government which was their real stepping-stone to power: and He did so in full view of the persons into whose hands, throughout all ages, the power would fall. Cp. Daniel 2:37-38; 2 Samuel 12:8; Isaiah 37:26; Isaiah 45:1-5. We notice further that all bad conduct tends to weaken, and good conduct to strengthen, a government. Consequently, rulers are compelled, for the maintenance of their position, to favour the good and oppose the bad. This necessity must be from the Ruler of the world. We infer therefore that God, who has laid on men the necessity of appointing rulers, has laid on rulers the necessity of rewarding the good and punishing the bad; and has done this in order to make rulers instruments to accomplish His own purpose of kindness to the good and of punishment to the wicked. Thus rulers are, perhaps unconsciously, ministers of God.

These considerations are abundant reason for loyal obedience to civil authority. Since rulers are compelled by their position to favour the good and punish the bad, resistance to them generally proves that we are in the wrong; and will be followed by the punishment which they cannot but inflict on evil-doers. Hence the motive of fear should prompt obedience. And, since resistance to existing rulers tends to weaken and destroy that principle of government which God has set up for the good of the race, we ought to submit to them for conscience’ sake. That we feel ourselves morally bound to pay taxes imposed without our consent or in opposition to our judgment, and that all admit the right of the ruler to enforce payment, confirms further the divine origin of his authority.

The only case in which resistance to a ruler does not weaken the divine ordinance of government is that in which overthrow of one government is quickly followed by establishment of a better. The teaching of Romans 13:1-7 will make us very cautious in joining an attempt to effect such change, lest in overturning a bad ruler we overturn all rule. But where a government so far forgets its mission as to be no longer a praise to the good and a terror to the bad, and where its subjects are able to replace it by a better, Paul’s words do not forbid them to do so, even by force of arms. By so doing, they do not overthrow, but defend from desecration, the ordinance of God. Such rulers cannot appeal to Paul’s teaching: for they have put themselves outside the class he describes.

A similar exception occurs sometimes in the obligation (Colossians 3:20) of children to obey their parents. A child is sometimes bound to disobey and even resist a parent; but only when he fails to act a parent’s part. Such exceptions do not lessen the universal obligation to obedience. Nor does the occasional necessity to resist a government lessen our obligation to obey in all ordinary cases.

This section must have been written before the civil power began deliberately to oppose Christianity, as it did in the later years of Nero and at intervals afterwards. For, although the opposition of the State to Christianity did not altogether destroy the obligation to obedience, it introduced into the question difficulties which no writer on the subject could pass over in silence. This section is therefore a mark of the early date of the epistle, and thus confirms its genuineness.

This reference to the civil power may have been suggested to Paul by his readers’ nearness to the seat of imperial rule. But the immense importance of the subject sufficiently explains its mention in a letter which deals generally with the Gospel of Christ and the Christian life. It was needful to state clearly that loyalty to Christ involves loyalty to social order.

Verses 8-10

SECTION 42 — LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR

CH. 13:8-10

Owe nothing to anyone; except to love one another. For he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled law. For this, “Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not murder, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not desire,” and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up again in this word, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Love works no ill to his neighbour. Love therefore is a fulfillment of law.

Romans 13:8. Owe nothing etc.: negative repetition of “repay to all what ye owe,” in Romans 13:7. Free yourselves from all debts by paying them.

Except to love one another: a debt from which we can never release ourselves by payment. However much we have done for our neighbour, we are still bound to love him. The debt due to the officers of the State suggests another debt due to all our fellow-citizens: cp. Romans 1:14.

For he who loves etc.: reason for paying our debt of universal love.

Law: the general principle of “do this and live,” which took historic form in the Law of Moses.

Fulfilled: filled up by action what the abstract principle of law delineates in outline. [The Greek perfect calls attention to the abiding result of such fulfilment of law.]

Romans 13:9-10. Proof of Romans 13:8 b, concluding with a restatement of it.

Thou shalt not desire: as in Romans 7:7. The various precepts in Leviticus 19, are summed up again in Leviticus 19:18 in this one general precept.

Love: not an emotional affection, but, like God’s love, a principle of active benevolence. It is therefore consistent with detestation of whatever is bad in our neighbour: cp. Romans 12:9.

Love works: the principle personified, as in 1 Corinthians 13. It moves us to beneficent activity, and thus keeps us from doing harm. But this is the purpose of the above commands.

Therefore love is a fulfilment of law. It fills-up in action the outline of conduct sketched by the principle of law. Same word as fulness in Romans 11:12; Romans 11:25; Romans 15:29.

Romans 13:9 is in very close agreement with Matthew 22:39-40; Mark 12:31; and confirms these Gospels as correct embodiments of the actual teaching of Christ. See under Galatians 5:14 : cp. 1 Timothy 1:5.

These verses imply that, even to believers, the Law is still valid as an abiding rule of conduct: cp. Romans 8:4. But, since this great commandment is altogether beyond our power to obey, it is virtually a promise that God will Himself breathe into us the love He requires: a promise fulfilled in those who believe it. Consequently this commandment, which at once secures the homage of our moral sense, is to us no longer law but a part of the Gospel. It has been buried in the grave of Christ, and with Him has risen into new life.

Verses 11-14

SECTION 43 — PUT OFF THE WORKS OF DARKNESS

CH. 13:11-14

And this, knowing the season, that the hour has come for you at once to arise from sleep. For now is salvation nearer to us than when we believed. The night has advanced; and the day is come near. Let us put of then the works of the darkness, and let us put on the weapons of the light. As in the day, let us walk becomingly; not with revelling and drunkenness, not with debauchery and wantonness, not with strife and emulation; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and for the flesh take no forethought, to gratify desires.

Romans 13:11-12 a. And do this, viz “love your neighbour.”

Season: as Romans 3:26, etc.: it is defined by the hour to arise from sleep. Cp. Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6.

For now etc.: reason for rising from sleep, viz. because the time already elapsed since we put faith in Christ has brought us so much nearer to the day of complete deliverance.

Salvation: final deliverance from the conflict of life; as in Romans 5:10; Romans 10:10.

Believed: the mental act by which we received as true the testimony of Jesus, as in 1 Corinthians 3:5; Acts 4:4 etc.; as distinguished from the abiding state of those who “believe,” e.g. Romans 1:16; Romans 3:22.

The night: the present obscurity, in contrast to the eternal day. These words emphasise the foregoing metaphor.

Romans 13:12 b. Practical application of the metaphor.

Put-off: as nightclothes are laid aside in the morning: same word in Acts 7:58; Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:25; Colossians 3:8; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1.

The works of the darkness: our past acts, in harmony with the darkness in which we walked, not knowing where we were going or what we were doing: a list given below.

Put-on: constantly used of clothes and weapons, e.g. Matthew 6:25; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24; Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:14; Colossians 3:10; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

Weapons of the light: cp. Romans 6:13; 2 Corinthians 6:7.

Since the night is almost over and the day is dawning, Paul bids us wake up from sleep and throw aside the sinful acts which belong to the darkness now passing away: and, since the dawning light can overspread the land only by conflict and victory, in which we are called to share, he bids us gird on our sword as soldiers of the light.

Romans 13:13-14. Expansion, positive and negative, of the foregoing exhortation.

As in day: in the light of the dawning day, which even before the sun has risen is sufficient to guide our steps. It keeps up the metaphor of Romans 13:12.

Becomingly: with good appearance suitable to the daylight in which we walk. Same word in 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 14:40.

Revelling etc.: sins belonging specially to the night. They are the works of the darkness in Romans 13:12.

But put on etc.: parallel to put on the weapons of the light.

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ: as men put on clothing, which, though distinct from them, yet when put on becomes almost a part of them. Paul bids us enter into union with Christ so close that He will become the close environment in which we live and move. Same phrase in Galatians 3:27: cp. Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10, a somewhat different conception. Since union with Christ enables us to do God’s work even in face of enemies, to put on Christ is (Romans 13:12) to put on the weapons of the light: cp. 1 Peter 4:1.

No forethought: as in Romans 12:17.

The flesh: the material and constitution common to all human bodies and characterized by various desires: cp. Romans 6:12, Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:24. The prohibition to take forethought for the flesh is limited to one improper aim of such forethought, viz. to gratify its desires.

The metaphor of Romans 13:12 deserves careful study. The present life is compared to a night spent in rioting and sleep. The coming of Christ will bring the eternal day. Already it is dawning; and in the light of that day-dawn His servants walk. The light is in conflict with darkness; and it is our privilege to join in the battle and hasten the victory. Paul announces that morning has come; that the time for revelry has gone. He bids the sleepers to awake, to cast aside the character in which they have wrapped themselves and lain so long, unconscious of the realities of the coming day, and to grasp their sword to do battle for the light. He bids them put on, as their complete defence and their resistless weapon, the character and living presence of their anointed Master, Jesus; and urges them, since the night is past, to think no more of indulgence or revelry.

On the spiritual significance of light and darkness, compare carefully 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Ephesians 5:7-16.

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Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 13". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/romans-13.html. 1877-90.