Bible Commentaries
Romans 13

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-14

Subjection to Proper Authority

This chapter is as clear as can be in its teaching: nothing but a spirit of rebellion could find difficulty with it - except possibly in the matter of how far this subjection to government is to extend. Plainly, if matters are simply governmental, even though their requirements are in our estimation unjust and discriminatory, detrimental to our personal comfort or welfare, the honorable Christian attitude is submission. Anything else is resistance of God's established order, and we may expect to suffer for it. Everyone knows that the governments of the day, whatever form they may take, are not guided by pure truth, honesty, and fairness, but this is in no way to affect the Christian attitude of subjection. God has set up the authority - not the particular form of it, nor the abuses of it. The only alternative, if authority were removed, is an indescribable state of anarchy, every man free to indulge his evil will to the full. Which of us would choose this?

"For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil." This is certainly the normal state. There is a point surely beyond which we must render no obedience either to rulers or anyone else except God. If they were to demand of us what is due only to God - worship, for instance, as in the case of Daniel with Darius, or his three friends with Nebuchadnezzar - we must firmly refuse. If they require us to definitely sin against God, it is for us to boldly use the language of Peter - "We ought to obey God rather than men." But this is far different even than unjust statutes or practices that are hard and oppressive. So long as a good conscience toward God is not compromised, it is better that we suffer in subjection, and commit the keeping of our souls to God, as unto a faithful Creator. We must remember that "the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: He turneth it whithersoever He will."

In general, however, if we do good, we find the authority God's minister to us for good. He is but one of God's means of recompensing on earth what we practice - good for good, evil for evil. 1 Peter 3:13-14 brings together the two points - first, "who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" This is a normal condition of things contemplated. But verse 14 allows for the possibility of an abnormal state - "But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be ye troubled." Blessed to know that no circumstance, normal or abnormal, is beyond the power of the grace of God for maintaining a calm, steadfast testimony.

Subjection of the ungodly to authority is purchased only by fear of punishment. But fear of consequences is certainly not the only principle that should restrain the Christian from disobedience - "not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake." To maintain a good conscience toward God subjection to authority is a plain necessity. We may ourselves judge, that a certain act is not intrinsically evil, but if it controverts authority, it is indirect, but nonetheless definite disobedience to God.

The payment of taxes is directly connected with this. It is by this means that government is supported, and it is the plain responsibility of the believer to pay all that is required of him, in simple honesty. We partake of many advantages of government: why should we not be thankful to pay for them? If authorities are guilty of abusing their power, by wrong use of money, etc. for this they will have to answer to God; but it gives us no liberty to withhold what is due from us. If we would so excuse ourselves, this is but the subtle working of selfishness taking advantage of wrong to justify wrong. Whether then tribute, custom, fear, or honor - what is due we must render without regard to our thoughts of the person or persons who are in authority. It is the authority - not the person - to which we owe subjection.

Verses 8, 9, 10 give us, not simply authorities, but what is due to all men. "Owe no man anything, but to love one another." This is a debt that can never be fully paid up. Paul's knowledge of the gospel and his love for men made him "debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians, both to the wise, and to the unwise," and this is the case, in whatever measure, of all saints. But it is very clear that debts in temporal things are to be avoided. "The borrower is servant to the lender" is a truth to be well considered.

"Love is the fulfilling of the law." It is the root principle from which all real obedience must stem. Law itself, however, while demanding obedience, did not supply the love to produce obedience: hence those who were under law were in a far less likely place for fulfilling the law than those who are not under law but under grace. For it is under grace that "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given unto us." This simple yet blessed principle is clearly expressed inRomans 8:4; Romans 8:4 - "That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

We have seen in verses 1 to 7 subjection to government; in verses 8 to 10 love to all men: now the chapter closes (vv. 11 to 14) with the armor of light. All of these things have a plain reference to testimony, and all are a decided protection for the saint. But subjection to authority or love to all men does not mean by any means the giving up of truth. The light of truth and honesty is to shine with undimmed brightness in all of this. If we are men who have any knowledge of the times, we know that it is high time to awake out of sleep. The world is in darkness, and utterly dead toward God. The believer is in the light, and is alive to God; but he may be sleeping - not using the light, yea hardly sensible of the infinite difference God has made between him and the world. But our salvation - that is, our deliverance out of the world, from the very sphere and presence of sin - is nearer than when we believed. If we were impressed with the realities of eternity when we first believed, how much more so ought we to be now, when we are nearer to the Lord's coming than ever before!

We who believe have salvation of our souls now: but the salvation of our bodies is a different subject, and will be accomplished perfectly at the coming of the Lord. Are we sensible of what a tremendous change this will involve? It will be a transfer from the circumstances of "the night" to those of "the day." For while we ourselves are not "of the night," but "of the day," yet we live in the world in its time of night and are surrounded by men of the world who are "of the night," and whose delight is in "the works of darkness." But these circumstances are most certainly not to govern us. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand. "Do we therefore want anything to do with "the works of darkness"? Let us rather cast them off as a filthy garment, and put on the protective armor of light.

For the light is a decided protection against the subtle workings of evil. The brighter the light the more it will repel the predatory beasts of this world. Hence, let our lights shine brightly amid the darkness. Not that the Christian's light is merely a protection: it is more than that: it is a testimony to the truth and righteousness of God as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. O that we might let the confession of Christ be constantly a shining light on all our path!

Verse 13 reminds us that this light means honest transparency of life and walk - no deceit or covering up - an affliction that we all too easily acquire and too proficiently dare to practice. But that is the very essence of the darkness, as are those vices immediately warned against in this verse - rioting and drunkenness, clambering (licentiousness) and wantonness, strife and envying.

"But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ." The context here clearly decides the meaning for us. There is another line of thought altogether inGalatians 3:27; Galatians 3:27, which tells us. "As many of us as have been baptized unto Christ have put on Christ." Baptism thus is the putting on of Christ as an outward profession - the external assuming of His Name publicly. But here in Romans 13:14, it is no initial ordinance, but the putting on of Christ in the practical daily conduct of life. We have been told to cast off the works of darkness, then to put on the armor of light, and now to put on Christ. Is it not clear that this implies that to actually put on the armor of light we must put on Christ? Thus moral uprightness, honesty, kindness do not in themselves constitute the armor of light, for the vital centre of the whole matter is the confession of Christ. If the Lord Jesus is not seen to be the regulating power of the life, all apparent goodness and morality very soon find their level as mere self-righteousness, and are not the armor of light at all.

Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ then is the positive practical power for good. On the negative side we are told to "make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." How important a matter this is! It is not warfare or contending against the flesh. This would soil me as effectively as indulging the flesh. But I am not to feed it: make no provision for it whatever. It is there, and all my energy or zeal will never eradicate it. But let me turn away from it simply. If I do not feed it, it will not thrive; while the spiritual nature, being fed with the milk or meat of the Word, will be that which grows and thrives. Solemn for us to think that in whatever measure I make provision for the flesh, in the same measure will it cause me trouble. If we deliberately put temptation in the way of thieves and robbers, will they not take advantage of it? And there is no thief more despicable than the flesh.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 13". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.