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Bible Commentaries
Romans 13

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-4

Of Obedience to the Government, Love toward One's Neighbor, and the Walk in the Light.

Government powers of God:

v. 1. 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.

v. 2. Whosoever, therefore, resists the power resists the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

v. 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;

v. 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.

The apostle now, in his exhortation, shows the duties which every person owes the government, and in which the Christians will lead all others with a cheerful sense of duty. Since this is the only place in which Paul treats at greater length of the duties toward civil authorities, it is probable that circumstances made it necessary for him to include this information at this point, either to curb the spirit of the Jewish Christians or to prepare all the Christians of Rome for the treatment which they afterward received at the hands of the tyrant Nero. Paul's statements are very general, and find their application in all ages of the world; they indicate exactly the divine right and the divine dignity of the government, but, at the same time, limit the functions of the civil authorities to matters pertaining to this world, to the physical well-being of the subjects and to the duties of citizenship.

The apostle's words are all-inclusive: Let every soul subject itself to authorities existing above it. Every person, without exception, within a community, state, or country is spoken of and addressed in this command. He should be subject to, submit himself willingly, without the application of force or restraint, to the existing powers or authorities, to the persons that are invested with power, to the incumbents of the governmental office. The governmental powers vested in these people by virtue of God's providence or permission gives them a position in which they excel us in dignity and authority; they are our superiors in the sense of the Fourth Commandment. This is expressly brought out: For there does not exist an authority except by God; but those that exist are ordained by God. If a government is actually in power, whether tyrannical or otherwise, its existence cannot be explained but by the assumption that it is due to God's establishment, either by His providence or by His permission. It would be impossible for any government to keep evil in check if the almighty hand of God were not the sustaining power. "Not only is human government a divine institution, but the form in which that government exists, and the persons by whom its functions are exercised, are determined by His providence. All magistrates of whatever grade are to be regarded as acting by divine appointment; not that God designates the individuals, but that, it being His will that there should be magistrates, every person who is in point of fact clothed with authority, is to be regarded as having a claim to obedience, founded on the will of God. " (Hodge.) This being the case, therefore, whosoever, everyone that, resists the power resists the institution of God. If any person refuses obedience to the government to which he is subject in any point left free by God's express command or prohibition, he rebels, not only against the lawful authority of the government, but incidentally against God Himself, who established government. And they that resist will receive to themselves judgment, the sentence of condemnation. Not only will they make themselves liable to prosecution and punishment on the part of the government, but they will be looked upon and treated as rebels by God, who will not have the authority vested by Him disregarded. History shows that the visitations of God upon rebellious peoples have been very severe.

The apostle now brings another reason for the duty enjoined in the first verse: For the authorities, those that rule, are a terror, a cause for fear, not to the good work, but to the evil. That is the purpose for which God has established government: it is to be a matter of fear, its power is to strike terror into the hearts of the rebellious, just as its dignity is to cause reverence and respect in the minds of all subjects. It is only he that does evil who must fear the civil authorities, not he that does good. He that transgresses the laws of the country, and refuses to live in accordance with the demands of civil righteousness, must expect to be treated as his behavior merits. If, then, a person does not want to live in continual fear of the government in the rightful discharge of its duties, he should be concerned about doing good, about living up to the laws of the country, about doing his duty as a citizen. Then he will have praise from the authority, or government; he will be recognized and treated as a good, dutiful citizen. For the magistrates, the persons in authority that are actually conscious of the responsibility and power vested in them, will then act so that the government will be the servant of God to every good citizen for good. For that purpose the government is established and upheld by God, for the benefit of the citizens that are law-abiding, to protect and defend them against wrong, to seek the welfare of society in every way. But if someone will do wrong, will deliberately transgress the laws of the city, state, or country in which he lives and whose protection he enjoys, then he should fear. Far the government nowhere bears the sword, the symbol of authority, in vain; it is not for nothing that the civil authorities are invested with the right to punish, if necessary, by administering the condemnation of death upon the transgressors of the law. God's minister the government's power is, both in protecting and in punishing, and, in the latter case, avenging unto anger, manifesting and exercising revenge and wrath upon him that makes it a practice to do evil. Thus the government, according to God's will, is the guardian of law and order, including external morality. And this reason is sufficient to keep the Christians peaceful and law-abiding, no matter under what form of government they are living, no matter if the persons in authority are morally corrupt. If the members of God's kingdom can but lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty and build up the Church of Christ, they are duly thankful to God. And if a hostile government uses tyrannical measures to suppress the work of the Church, Christians will not assume a rebellious attitude, but will try to gain their object by legitimate means, by invoking the statutes and the constitution of their state or country. It is only when the government demands anything plainly at variance with the revealed will of God that the Christians quietly, but firmly refuse to obey, Acts 5:29.

Verses 5-7

Subject for conscience' sake:

v. 5. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake.

v. 6. For this cause pay ye tribute also; for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

v. 7. Render, therefore, to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom, to whom custom; fear, to whom fear; honor, to whom honor.

For necessity's sake the Christians are subject to the government; they feel that they are under obligation; they know that this behavior is part of their obedience to God. And herein they are influenced not by wrath, not because they fear the inevitable punishment, which would make their obedience much like that of a slave. But they submit themselves for the sake of conscience, from conscientious motives. The Christians know that the Lord whom they are serving has established the government and made it His agency to perform His will as to the preservation of law and order in the world. So they yield cheerful obedience to the civil authorities for the Lord's sake. And the situation thus having been made plain, the admonition of St. Paul is well founded: For on this account pay taxes. Since the government is established for the benefit of society and for the protection and defense also of the believers, therefore they should cheerfully pay the money necessary for its support. For they, the magistrates, the members of the government, are servants of God, knowingly or unknowingly, and are busily engaged with this very thing, with protection against wickedness and with their efforts for the peace of the city; they are active in the service and for the benefit of all good citizens. "He that by virtue of his office serves the community has the right and duty to demand of the community the support necessary for the performance of his office. " This fact the apostle emphasizes in a specializing admonition: Pay, then, to all that which you owe, discharge what is due: to him that demands taxes, the taxes; to him that demands custom pay the custom; to him that ought to be feared render fear; to him that ought to be honored give honor. The government has a right to levy personal and property taxes, and it is the Christian's duty to pay the taxes; evasion of this duty is sinful. The government has the right to collect duty on merchandise exported or imported, and the Christian coming under such ruling will render the payment exacted. The government occupies a position of reverence and fear, and fear and reverence shall be given all its representatives. And in the last admonition St. Paul goes even beyond the magistrates, urging upon all believers to give honor to all men to whom honor is due, whether on account of their position or on account of meritorious work for the public weal. In this way every Christian performs the duties of his citizenship and serves the Lord according to the Fourth Commandment.

Verses 8-10

The obligation of Christian love:

v. 8. Owe no man anything but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law.

v. 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 neighbor as thyself.

v. 10. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.

The apostle has spoken at length of the duties and obligations resting upon the Christians in their capacity as citizens of the state and country. But he now extends the admonition to cover the relation of a Christian to his fellow-men in general. And there his injunction is: Owe no man anything, keep your affairs in such a shape that no person has a rightful claim upon you, especially as to taxes, custom, fear, and honor. In this external respect be under obligation to no one, no matter who it is in all the wide world; the duties incumbent upon us in every condition of life must be discharged properly, cheerfully, and in time. But one duty, one obligation there is which can never be discharged adequately, namely, the duty of love toward one's neighbor. It is a duty which can never exhaust its demands; as a matter of fact, the more it is exercised, the more it feels its own obligation. Paul brings evidence to support this demand: For he that loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law. If a person were actually able to give to his neighbor the fullness of a free and unselfish love under all circumstances of life, he would thereby have fulfilled the Law. For all the commandments which the apostle now quotes, the Sixth, the Fifth, the Seventh, the Eighth, the Ninth, and any other commandment that may be mentioned, they are all included under one heading, in one summary, and that is: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Note that St. Paul here, as the Scriptures elsewhere, Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; James 2:11, does not follow the conventional order of the commandments, as given in the Decalogue; the enumeration and the order of the commandments is of very minor importance, their content is the essential factor. And they all are included and comprehended in that one injunction, namely, to love one's neighbor, every fellowman, with the same love with which we regard our own interests and guard them against every infringement. And this is further confirmed by the statement: Love works no evil to one's neighbor; a person that is actually filled with the love that agrees with the will of God will engage in nothing which may cause ill to befall his neighbor, will avoid all the sins that are mentioned in the commandments. The word "neighbor" is here explained in the original text as the one who is near us. Any person in our immediate vicinity with whom we have had dealings, whom the providence of God has placed near us, is our neighbor, and towards such a one, especially if he be of the household of faith, Galatians 6:10, our love should exhibit itself in deeds of kindness, according to the will of God. And therefore the fulfilling of the Law is love, the proof and evidence for the completed fulfillment; in love the doing of all the commandments, of both the first and second tables, is included, its essence fills and covers all demands. It is an ideal which the believers strive and work for all their lives, to measure up to this standard, and by the grace of God they always make some little headway toward their goal.

Verses 11-14

The Christian's walk in light:

v. 11. 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.

v. 12. 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 armor of light.

v. 13. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying;

v. 14. but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.

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. To this end it is very necessary to avoid being tarnished by the world and its evil ways. The admonition therefore fits most admirably: And knowing this, namely, the time, that the hour is now upon us to awake from sleep. 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 brings home to them. They should not wait, lose no time, but watch with the greatest care in what direction all indications are pointing and what necessity devolves upon them. It is high time, the critical moment, for the believers to awake from sleep, Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6. The apostle refers to the spiritual sleep, which differs in no essential feature from spiritual death, the sleep of sin. To awake from sleep, to be wide-awake in spiritual matters is the special duty resting upon the Christians, to renounce all sinful walk and conduct, to direct the entire mind and heart to the fulfillment of God's holy will. This condition was attained in the believers when they were converted, when they turned from darkness to light, from unrighteousness to righteousness, from the power of Satan to God. But the work of regeneration begun in that moment or at that time must be continued through life; there must be ceaseless progress in sanctification. That is the business of the Christian, so far as his own spiritual life is concerned, ever to be alert and attentive, lest he fall back and be snared in his former sins and lusts. In this sense the entire life of a Christian is a continual conversion; in this sense, also, this admonition is always timely, for the new man in the heart must daily come forth and arise.

Why it is now, always, time for the believers to be wide-awake and alert the next sentence shows: For now is our salvation nearer than when we began to believe. The salvation of the believers is near. Just as the children of God in the Old Testament, beginning with Eve, were always watchful and alert for the coming of the Messiah and never permitted their interest to lag although a number of millenniums went by without bringing the promised salvation, thus the believers of the New Testament are ever on the lookout for their final redemption. Everything that pertains to the perfect salvation of the believers has been accomplished, and they are therefore eagerly awaiting the dawn of the final great redemption, when the final deliverance from all evil will come to them. At the time when we attained to faith, we were chiefly concerned with deliverance from the wrath of God, with our justification in His sight, Galatians 2:16. But now that we have attained to the reconciliation with God, the eyes of our faith are directed in eager longing to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:7.

In order to stimulate our watchfulness and to work proper alertness in our hearts, the apostle adds: The night has advanced, the day is very near; it is almost time for the dawn to break. The day on which our final salvation will be completed upon us, the day which brings us the full possession of the blessings of our Savior, is the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, Php_1:6 ; Php_2:10 ; 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; the prince of darkness has his work in the children of unbelief. At the present time the believers are sighing: Watchman, what of the night? But we know it is the last hour. But a little while, and the dawn of eternity will break; the day of our salvation will come, and with it our reward of mercy, our eternal salvation.

But this being true, let us, then, lay aside the works of darkness, and let us rather put on the weapons of light. Because the day of eternal blessedness is about to dawn, therefore we should take off and cast aside, like an unclean garment, the works of darkness, the works which men commonly commit in the dark, the sins which they do not n-ant the omniscient eye of God to see. 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. Instead of the filthy garment of such works the Christians should put on, clothe themselves with, the weapons of light. 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. The new man was indeed created in the believers in Baptism, but they still have the sinful old Adam to crucify and subdue, not to speak of the hostile world and Satan. Therefore the war must be waged without ceasing, particularly in view of the fact that the night of this world will be ended soon, and salvation will dawn. Therefore we hasten to the coming of the day of God with all holy conversation and holiness, 2 Peter 3:11-12, therefore we strive to be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness, Php_1:10-11 .

And again Paul shouts his warning admonition: As in the day, let us conduct ourselves honestly in our walk; let us live with all decency, in a proper, seemly, decorous manner. This manner of living excludes three sins to which there was great temptation in Rome, the capital of the world: intemperance, impurity, discord. Children of God will not walk and be found engaged in feastings, carousals, nor in intoxications; all the disorderly conduct which characterized the great heathen feasts then and now must be absent from the conduct of Christians. They will also not be found in chambering, in forbidden sexual intercourses, nor in any kind of wantonness and lasciviousness, sins of all kinds against the Sixth Commandment, many unnatural and revolting sins being practiced then as now. Children of God also cannot take part in quarrels, wranglings, and rivalry, in discord of any kind. All these works are found in the children of unbelief. But they all cannot bear the light of the great day, they cannot stand in the sight of the holy God; on their account the wrath of God will come upon the unbelievers, Ephesians 5:6. Christians, therefore, although subjected to the most insidious temptations on the part of the children of this world, seconded by their own lusts and desires, must conquer all these evil affections and sins.

As the apostle has warned the Christians against the great trespasses which threaten to stain their soul, so he also holds before them the positive side of their conduct: Rather put on the Lord Jesus Christ. 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. And thus, with the image of Christ as their greatest ornament, the believers are looking forward to that great day when they shall finally be renewed after the image of Him that created them. Incidentally, therefore, the Christians do not make provision for the flesh for the purpose of gratifying its sensual appetites or any evidence of the corrupt nature. To take proper care of the body, to keep it in health by fulfilling the demands of a sensible hygiene, that is the duty of every Christian. But the great danger is that the body is spoiled by false tenderness, by an excessive care which tends to arouse, instead of subduing, the desires and lusts. Since this would interfere decidedly with the calling of the Christians and with their preparation for the coming of the great day, therefore they will avoid this danger with its temptations and keep themselves pure.


The apostle enjoins obedience to government as an agency of God, love for one's neighbor as the fulfillment of the Law, and an open and honest behavior in view of the fact that the day of the Lord is near.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Romans 13". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/romans-13.html. 1921-23.
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