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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

Romans 13

Verse 1

[Paul, having shown how the faith-life offers itself as a daily sacrifice of love in spiritual and social spheres, now gives an outline of the sacrifice of self which it is to make in civil and business affairs. This he does in two sections, the first of which sets forth the Christian’s relationship to government (Romans 13:1-7), and the second his civil relations to men, business, etc., under government (Romans 13:8-10) As in spiritual matters he was to first limit himself by humility (Romans 12:1-8) and then give himself in love (Romans 12:9-21), so he is here to limit himself by submission to the state (Romans 13:1-7), and then give himself in love to his fellow-citizens (Romans 13:8-10). But conditions at Rome made this instruction as to the Christian’s duty to be loyal and submissive to government particularly opportune, for (1) the Jew believed that, as a citizen of the Theocracy, it was at least derogatory to his character, if not an act of treason toward God, to acknowledge allegiance to any earthly government (Deuteronomy 17:15). This belief had already fomented that unrest in Palestine (Acts 5:36-37; Josep. Ant. 8:1:1) which ten years later broke out in rebellion, and necessitated the destruction of Jerusalem. This unrest had already resulted in banishment of Jews and Christians from Rome about seven years before, in A. D. 51 (Acts 18:2; Suet. "Claudius" c. 25; Dio Cassius 60:6). This unrest was sure to permeate the church (Ewald), for a considerable percentage of the churches, the world over, were Jews, and this influence in the church was great. There is nothing in Acts 28 to contradict the idea that there were Jews enough in the Roman church to have influence in it (contra, see Weiss and Alford). (2) The world generally looked upon the Christians as a mere Jewish sect, and the suspicions of disloyalty which attached to the Jews would readily attach to the Christians (Calvin). History confirms this. Nero had no difficulty in turning suspicion against them. How circumspectly, then, should they have walked. (3) Moreover, many Christians entertained notions similar to the Jews. They belonged to the new Theocracy, and held that loyalty to Christ absolved them from all allegiance to earthly government. Rome, as the center of the world-power, at once inspired and hindered the false dreams of well-intentioned but deceived disciples. History proves that the world-power of the Roman capital seduced Christians into attempting to form of Christ’s kingdom a temporal world-power like that of the Cæsars--viz., the Roman Catholic hierarchy--and Paul tells us that this evil influence was already at work, though hindered, in his day (2 Thessalonians 2:6-12). (4) On general principles, the atrocities so soon to be perpetrated by Nero were apt to put revolutionary and even anarchistic ideas in the heads of the most staid and sober. Nero’s persecutions began about a year after this Epistle was written (Tholuck). These conditions made Paul’s words timely indeed, but they are not, however, to be regarded as savoring of the temporary. His words are abiding and eternal truth, and contain fundamental and organic instruction for all ages.] XIII. Let every soul [all humanity, whether in the church or not] be in subjection to the higher powers [Be subject to all civil powers--power higher than that of the common citizen, whether monarchic, oligarchal or republican. This injunction includes hot persons and offices, and asserts that there is no inherent and essential conflict between the claims of God and those of the state. One can render, and must render, what is due to each-- Matthew 22:21]: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. [Having asserted and commanded duty toward the state, the apostle next states the ground or reason of that duty, the justification of his command, in two heads: (1) Abstractly considered, governments are of divine origin; (2) concretely considered, God has ordained the present system of government, and has chosen the officers now in power; not directly, according to the exploded notion of the divine right of kings, but indirectly by the workings of governmental principles which God sanctions, by the operations of general providences of his ordering. Thus the government in force and the ruler in power in any country at any given time are, de facto, God-appointed. The apostle s first statement, that governments, viewed in general and abstractly, are ordained of God, is readily accepted as true; but this latter concrete statement, that each particular government and governor is also of divine appointment, is harder to receive. The reason is that God’s providences working evil to the evil, as well as good to the good, often place evil men in power as a cure to the evil in man which helped to place them there.]

Verse 2

Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God [This is the enunciation of the general principle without any accompanying exceptions. Pressed to its limits, this precept would prevent any revolution from succeeding, for the leader of the revolution could never be permitted of God to rule, as his rulership would then be countenanced by God as of his ordaining, and thus, in countenancing and ordaining both opposing governments, God would be divided against himself. The principle and its exceptions would best be understood by comparing the life of a government with that of a man. Each life is an emanation from God, and therefore each is protected by the general, fundamental law, "Thou shalt not kill." But this law in each case presumes that each life, whether governmental or individual, will so comply with the precepts and purposes of God, and so fulfill the ends for which it was created, as to deserve to live. If it does things worthy of death, it shall be put to death (Genesis 9:6). Paul, therefore, in laying down the rule, has in mind the age-long principle which, in our common law, finds expression in the maxim, "The king [government] can do no wrong." Only the most obvious, evident breach of this maxim can justify revolution. Each life must, as it were, be rigidly protected from lynch law, and must be given the calm deliberation of a judicial trial. When this is not the case, the one who assails the individual life becomes a murderer, and the one who attempts the life of the state "resists the ordinance of God." Every revolt, for a time, shakes public confidence in a divine institution, so there must be no resistance until the demand for it becomes practically unavoidable; otherwise we incur the resentment of God, for our conduct has tended toward anarchy and confusion. We should therefore exhaust legitimate expedients, such as protests, political reactions etc., before we resort to revolutionary extremes]: and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment. [Commentators, unable to define the preceding precept, and regarding it as ostensibly a prohibition of all revolution, or practically to that effect, have consoled themselves by limiting "judgment" to the punishments which the state inflicts, thus arriving at the conclusion that rebels have a right to rebel if they are willing to suffer the temporal punishment attendant on failure. But the context forbids this mollifying modification. If we resist the ordinance of God, we shall undoubtedly taste the judgment of God, and rightly, too, for what terrific misery, poverty, suffering and loss of life attend on revolution! Shall not God award justice to those who lightly and for personal ambitions fill the world with such horrors?]

Verse 3

For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. ["For" explains why the punishment comes upon the rebel. It is because government exists to promote the good and suppress the evil (1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17). If it does otherwise, "it," as Burkitt sagely remarks, "was not ordained for that end." A good man may suffer through misunderstanding, the machination of evil men, or even maladministration, but he can never suffer as a good man. Even Nero punished Christians as evil-doers (2 Timothy 2:9). History presents no instance where any government set itself to put down righteousness and exalt evil as such; though there are myriads of cases where human ignorance, prejudice and bigotry mistook the wrong for the right, and made havoc of the good, supposing it to be evil. Paul himself, as an executive of the Jewish Government, had been party to such an error (Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1-2; 1 Timothy 1:13). Intentional punishment of the good and countenancing of the evil would be governmental insanity and suicide. When it becomes apparent to the populace that the government has fallen into this state of aberrance, revolution is inevitable; but till the information becomes general, the individual must submit, for slight mistakes do not justify momentous changes and vast social upheavals, and peace for the many may well be purchased at the discomfiture of the few. But if armed or physical resistance is forbidden, moral resistance is strictly and unequivocally enjoined. The government must exact nothing contrary to or inconsistent with Christian duty. If it does, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 4:18-20; Acts 5:28-29); for under no circumstance can God’s children be justified in doing wrong (Matthew 10:28; Romans 3:8). Allegiance ceases when the law of the land seeks to subvert the law of God; and Paul teaches nothing to the contrary. As the martyr Polycarp said to the governor who bade him denounce Christ, and swear by the fortunes of Cæsar: "We are taught to give honor to princes and potentates, but such honor as is not contrary to God’s religion." "It was the student of Paul," says Moule, "who, alone before the great Diet, uttering no denunciation, temperate and respectful in his whole bearing, was yet found immovable by pope and emperor: ’I can not otherwise; so help me God.’"] And wouldest thou have no fear of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same [comp. 1 Peter 2:14]:

Verse 4

for he is a minister of God to thee for good. [The law-abiding have no fear of the laws, and have just reason to expect the recognition and consideration which are the rightful dues of honesty and probity. "Commendations by magistrates," says Lange, "in opposition to punishments, were common even in ancient times." "When Paul wrote these things," says Grotius, "rage did not riot against the Christians at Rome." Seneca and Burrhus were still in power, and good men were the objects of governmental protection. "How much to be regretted it is," observes Lard, "that rulers do not more generally recognize the fact here stated by the apostle. Instead of this, however, they appear seldom even to dream that they are placed in office merely as God’s servants. Rather, they seem to think that they are placed there solely for their own benefit. The fear of God is often not before their eyes, nor yet the good of the people a tithe as much as their own. Too frequently they serve merely self, with no regard for God, and but little for any one else. Such rulers serve not God, but Satan."] But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil. [As we understand it, the idea which the apostle is seeking to convey is that duties to God and duties to the state are parallel, rather than antagonistic. If the Christian is true to his religion, he need fear neither the state nor God, for God rules, generally speaking, in and through the state, as well as in his providences. If, on the other hand, we do evil, we have reason to fear both God and the state, for the state is merely one of the forms of God’s administration. The Romans made much of the sword as symbol of the power of life and death. Her magistrates and officers, holding the power of capital punishment, caused the sword (and the ax) to be borne before them in their public processions. Thus Paul declares that the office-holder is a servant of God to foster the good by praise and commendation, and to suppress the evil as an avenger appointed to inflict wrath--i. e., punishment--upon it.]

Verse 5

Wherefore [because of all that has been said-- Romans 13:1-4] ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. [1 Peter 2:13 . The Christian has a double incentive for keeping the civil law; for if he resists the government he will not only be punished, but he will sin against God; thus both fear and conscience move him to obedience.]

Verse 6

For [epexigetic, introducing a detail or illustrative fact proving the principle] for this cause ye pay tribute also [i. e., among other acts of submission]; for they [the recipients of the taxes] are ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing. [I. e., acting continually as servants of God in his civil administrations. The apostle cites the conduct of subjects in the payment of taxes, for no matter what theories the Jews or the Judaistic Christians might have as to the rights of government to his allegiance, he never failed to pay his taxes, being moved thereby by the very influences here named by the apostle; viz., fear and conscience. He feared the penal consequences of refusing to pay, and he conscientiously felt that the government deserved some compensation for maintaining peace and order, especially since, as Paul notes, they made this their business, gave their whole time to it, and made no other provision for their livelihood than their salaries as public functionaries, all of which is implied in "attending continuously," etc. Christians in our age have well-nigh universally forgotten that the tax assessor and the tax collector are ministers of God, and many evade making true returns with as little compunction as they would were the tax officials the servants of the devil. This sin has become so universal that it is well-nigh regarded as a virtue.]

Verse 7

Render to all [civil officials] their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. [Kypke points out the distinction between tribute and custom. The former means direct taxes; poll, real and personal; custom refers to tolls, imports, indirect taxes on goods and merchandise, known to us in the familiar tariffs on imports and exports. In Paul’s time they appear to have been principally on imported goods, and were levied at the gates of the city at the time of entry (Matthew 9:9). As the Christian paid his taxes, so he was to go on discharging his other duties, fearing those in authority as those whom God placed over him, and honoring all those in governmental position because the officers are part of God’s ordained plan, and those who hold them have been placed there by his general providence. Some hundred years later Paul’s words about taxes were being strictly obeyed, for Tertullian, representing that time, says that what the Romans lost by the Christians refusing to bestow gifts on the idolatrous temples, they gained by their conscientious payment of taxes (Apolog. 42, Vol. I., p. 494).]

Verse 8

[Having shown that the Christian must recognize the rights of those above him ("the higher powers"), the apostle now proceeds to enjoin upon him the recognition of the just rights of his fellow-beings who are all about him. If the state has a right to demand dutiful conduct of him, his neighbors, fellow-citizens, and the human race generally, may likewise exact of him the ministrations of love.] Owe no man anything, save to love one another [The indebtedness here meant includes, but is not confined to, pecuniary obligations. The precept does not prohibit the contraction of a debt, but it constrains us to be prepared to pay it when due. "Owe no tax, no custom, no fear, no honor, and pay all their dues" (Lard). The obligation to give the gospel to those that have it not is one of the Christian’s greatest debts (Romans 1:14-15). Love also is, as Bengel observes, "an eternal debt." "This," says Trapp, "is that desperate debt that a man can not discharge himself of; but must be ever paying, and yet ever owing. As we say of thanks, ’Thanks must be given, and yet held as still due:’ so must this debt of love." Moreover, it is an ever-increasing debt, for it is like the payment of interest; only in this case each payment of interest is such an exercise and turning over of the principal as tends to its increase, thereby enlarging in a kind of arithmetical progression the payments of interest]: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. ["The perfect pepleroken (hath fulfilled) denotes that in the one act of loving there is virtually contained the fulfillment of all the duties prescribed by the law. For a man does not offend or kill, or calumniate or rob, those whom he loves. Such is the idea developed in the two following verses"-Godet.]

Verse 9

For this [Paul here begins the statement of a first premise, and in the eleventh verse, with the words "and this," he begins the statement of a second premise. The first premise is that the Christian (or faith) life, freed from the complications and onerous burden of the multitudinous laws of the Jewish (or law) life, is governed by the principle underlying all these laws most happily reduced to a simple commandment; viz., "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Rom 13:9-10). The second premise is that salvation, which is so dimly suggested to the Jewish (or law) life as to be no incentive at all to good deeds, is clearly and distinctly promised to the Christian (or faith) life, and is comprehended by it to be as rapidly and as surely approaching as the dawning day. From these two premises the conclusion is drawn that we should lead the faith-life becomingly, by putting on Christ. If we supply the word "reason" after each "this," the meaning will be clear. Surely the simplicity of the Christian life, and the sureness and exceeding greatness of the salvation which is its reward, are sufficient reasons for our leading it becomingly], Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. [The Ten Commandments are divided into two divisions of four and six. The first four relate to duties to God, and are taken no notice of here, for they do not pertain to justice to our fellowman, and hence are outside the sphere of Paul’s present argument. The second division, or second table of the Ten Commandments, contains six precepts which relate to man’s duty to his fellows: four of them are given here, and two relating to honoring parents and bearing false witness are omitted (Exodus 20:12-17). Though not named, they are included in the phrase "any other commandment." The order, too, is not that given in the Hebrew Bible, but follows one of the versions of the LXX. The order in which the commands are here given is likewise found at Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; James 2:11; and also in Philo, and Clement of Alexandria. It is surmised that the LXX. changed the order because of some of their traditions. Many commands as to conduct towards neighbors are summed up by Moses in this love commandment in a manner somewhat similar to Paul’s (Lev 19:9-18; comp. Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39-40; Galatians 5:14; Galatians 5:22-23). The last of the ten forbids covetousness, a passion which presents almost as broad and powerful an impulse for the breaking of all the commandments as love does for keeping them, for the love of money alone is a root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), though it is but one phase of covetousness. The truth is that covetousness gives wider scope to self-love than any other passion, and self-love is the motive which leads to all breaches of law. Love of neighbor is the opposite motive, counteracting all lawlessness, and tending to the manifestation of the perfect life. But we have no perfect example of this ideal, altruistic love save in the Christ himself. Plesion means near, close by: with the article it means "neighbor"; i. e., the near by. We readily acknowledge the one who is permanently and literally near by as our neighbor; but Christ taught us that the one who is temporarily near is also a neighbor (Luke 10:30-37), and so likewise are those who are constructively near; that is, those with whom modern means of communication have made us acquainted, so that, knowing their needs, we are thereby prompted to sympathize and impelled to help-- Acts 16:9-10]

Verse 10

Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. [All divine law, whether of Moses and the prophets, of Christ or the apostles, is fulfilled by love, for those things that law requires are the natural, normal acts of a loving heart. "Love," says Leibnitz, "is that which finds its felicity in another’s good." Another has defined it thus: "Love is holiness, spelt short." How easily, then, will it keep all precepts, whether toward man or God! "The expression implies more than a simple performance of the precepts of the law; true love does more than this: it adds a completeness to the performance. It reaches those lesser courtesies and sympathies which can not be digested into a code or reduced to rule. To the bare framework of law, which is as the bones and sinews, it adds the flesh which fills it, and the life which actuates it" (Webster and Wilkinson). "Nor is it possible to find for human life, amid all the intricate mazes of conduct, any other principle that should be at once as simple, as powerful and as profound" (Sanday). "How many schemes would it crush. It would silence the voice of the slanderer; it would stay the plans of the seducer and the adulterer; it would put an end to cheating and fraud, and all schemes of dishonest gain. The gambler desires the property of his neighbor without any compensation, and thus works ill to him. The dealer in lotteries desires property for which he has never toiled, and which must be obtained at the expense and loss of others. And there are many employments all whose tendency is to work ill to a neighbor. This is pre-eminently true of the traffic in ardent spirits" (Barnes). Love is the spirit of gracious addition, while covetousness, theft, etc., are the spirits of subtraction. Love emanates from God, whose name is Love, but selfishness is of the devil, who asserts himself even against God. Love, therefore, is the basis of all godlike action, the motive power for every noble deed.]

Verse 11

[At Romans 12:1-2 Paul began this hortatory division of his Epistle by reminding his readers of the past mercies of God, making of those blessings which lay behind them a strong motive, impelling them by every sense of gratitude to go forward in the Christian life. He here closes his exhortation with an appeal to the future rewards of God, summed up in that endless and glorious day of salvation which lay before them, attracting them by every sense of heavenly aspiration to continue on in the faith-life. Thus the spiritual forces of memory and hope are made use of by the apostle to push and pull his readers heavenward.] And this [see note at Romans 13:9], knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep ["The imagery seems to be taken originally from our Lord’s discourse concerning his coming (Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:33; Luke 21:28-38), where several points of similarity to our verses 11-14 occur" (Alford). For other uses of the imagery, see 1 Corinthians 15:34; Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; Matthew 25:1-13 . Sleep is a figurative expression denoting that moral inattention, indifference and carelessness which permits sin. Out of this torpor the Christian is evermore striving to rouse himself, and into it the worldling is as constantly seeking to resign himself, that conscience, fear, and other awakening influences, may not disturb him. To be fully aroused is to be keenly and thoroughly conscious of all spiritual facts and responsibilities, all truths and possibilities. Some need to make the effort to come back to consciousness: all need to keep up their efforts to prevent the return of drowsiness. The warning here is addressed to Christians. "Whiles the crocodile sleepeth with open mouth," says Trapp, "the Indian rat gets into his stomach, and eateth through his entrails. While Ishbosheth slept upon his bed at noon, Baanah and Rechab took away his head. Security ushereth in destruction. Go forth and shake yourselves as Samson did when the Philistines were upon him; lest Satan serve you for your souls, as Captain Drake did the Spaniard at Tamapasa in the West Indies for his treasure; he found him sleeping securely upon the shore, and by him thirteen bars of silver to the value of forty thousand ducats, which he commanded to be carried away, not so much as waking the man. Or lest Christ himself deal by us as Epimonidas did by the watchman whom he found asleep: he thrust him through with his sword; and being blamed for so severe a fact, he replied, ’I left him as I found him’"]: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. [Paul meant that his readers were nearer that state of final blessedness which we call salvation than they were when they were converted. The thought that each day takes from us forever an opportunity of service, and that it also brings us that much nearer the time of accounting, is a most powerful incentive to action; "one of the most awakening exhortations," says Plumer, "that can be presented. The Judge standeth before the door. Eternity is at hand." (Comp. Hebrews 10:25) In and of itself "nearer" does not necessarily imply that Paul expected the speedy approach of Christ; but the context, full of suggestion of a day about to dawn, does imply close nearness. In fact, the need of the immediate awakening suggested by "already it is time," lies as--much in the rapidity as in the certainty of Christ’s coming: a coming so rapid that the interval had appreciably diminished since Paul’s readers had entered on the new life. Now, the second coming of Christ may be viewed under two aspects; i. e., either as racial or individual. In either case it is speedy, but the comparative speed, or the proportion of speed, is measured far differently, for the centuries of the life of the race are long compared with the brief span of life apportioned to each individual. Viewed racially, the long night of heathenish darkness was drawing to a close. The day began to dawn when Christ was born. An increase of light came when he gathered his first disciples, and now the full light, and consequently the salvation accompanying the second coming of the Christ, was spiritually (rather than temporarily) nearer than when believers first began to gather to the Master. While such a construction is well suited to the large ideas of Christ’s coming, we yet prefer the more personal construction which limits the range of view to the individual. For the members of the church at Rome the day began to dawn at the hour of their conversion, and since then the advancing years had brought them nearer their salvation. There is, moreover, no direct mention of the Lord’s coming; but it is clearly implied. This implication, however, suits the idea of the individual Christian’s entrance into the Lord’s presence by death as readily as does the Lord’s approach to all in the hour of final judgment. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23 . We naturally look upon death as a going on our part; but may it not likewise be truly a coming on the part of Christ? (See John 14:3; Luke 12:37) Surely to the individual Christian salvation speedily grows nearer after conversion, and this night period of sin and sorrow soon gives place to the day of salvation, the state of eternal blessedness and peace and joy unending, and the brevity of the individual life is far more of a stimulus than the brevity of the race life. The commands of our Saviour to watch for his coming are a constant tonic if viewed as addressed to the individual, but they lose in power if viewed from the standpoint of the race. There are many apparently unfulfilled prophecies which delay our expectation that he will come for final judgment in the next year or two at least, but there is nothing, prophetic or otherwise, which justifies any one in feeling assured that he may not come for us individually before nightfall. "Stir up yourselves, therefore," says Trapp, "and strain toward the mark. There is a Greek word (nuosta) signifying the end of the race, which is derived of a word that signifieth to spur or prick forward. Surely as they that run their horses for a wager spur hardest at the race’s end, therefore, since our salvation is nearer now than ever it was, we should run faster now than ever we did. When a cart is in a quagmire, if the horses feel it coming they pull the harder; so must we, now that full deliverance is hard at hand. Rivers run more speedily and forcibly, when they come near the sea, than they did at the spring: the sun shineth most amiably toward the going down. ’It is even high time for you and me,’ said old Zanchius to his friend Sturmius, who was elder than he, ’to hasten to heaven; as knowing that we shall be with Christ, which is far, far better.’"]

Verse 12

The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. [In this figure "night" stands for the Christian’s earthly life, which is constantly being shortened and quickly becomes "far spent." "Day" stands for eternity, that unending day which is swiftly approaching. The passing of the night calls for a cessation of sleep, the dawning of the day demands ever-increasing wakefulness and activity. The Christian’s former, unregenerate habits are called "works of darkness," not only because righteousness is emblematically viewed as "white," and sin as "black," but because sin is ashamed of light and consequent exposure (Job 24:13-17; John 3:19-21). Moreover, they are pictured here as a foul night-dress to be "cast off" as a repulsive thing (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 2:11; Colossians 3:8-9; 1 Peter 2:1), and in their place the Christian is to don the works of righteousness, or all the duties of his new life (Ephesians 4:23-24; Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Colossians 3:10), as defensive armor against temptations, and offensive weapons for an aggressive campaign against the powers of evil, and as the fitting harness in which to report to Christ for present service, the proper garb in which to have him find us should he come suddenly and without warning, for we are his soldiers, and on duty. Some five years before this Paul wrote in similar strains to the Thessalonians, emphasizing the escape from darkness and mentioning the armor (1 Thessalonians 5:4-8), and about four years after this we find him again using this figurative language in addressing the Ephesians, mentioning the darkness, and emphasizing the armor-- Ephesians 6:11-18]

Verse 13

Let us walk becomingly, as in the day [i. e., as if the day of salvation and the presence of God (Revelation 21:3) were already here]; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. [Here are three couplets of vices. The first pair relate to intemperance in eating and drinking (Luke 21:34). The "revel" (komos) was a drunken carousal; it usually burst forth and paraded the streets, filling the night air with noisy songs, and annoying pedestrians with its buffoonery. Being a favorite entertainment among the devotees of Bacchus, the Romans were accustomed to it from their youth up, and found it hard to resist the old-time fun and frolic once so acceptable. The second pair described the varied forms of sexual lust, libertinism, lascivious dalliance, etc. "Chambering" means literally lying abed. It describes the more definite, and "wantonness" the more general, acts of lewdness and abandoned sensuality. The third pair portray the various forms of venomous and hateful feelings leading to discord, open rupture and brutal violence--feelings the very opposite of love of which the apostle has been discoursing. While these vices may be found singly, they normally go in pairs, and also naturally fall into the order here given. Beginning with revelry in the early evening, how many a poor, sinful youth has passed thence to drunkenness, and thence in turn to sexual uncleanness, and thence once more to strife and passion with his fellows, till, when the night was passed and morning broke, he was found either a murderer or murdered, to the disgrace of his friends and the broken-hearted sorrow of his kindred. Plain speech was needful in Paul’s day: alas that it should be so badly needed still!]

Verse 14

But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ [Kypke’s researches reveal the fact that this bold figure of speech, so little used by us, was very familiar to the writers who were read by those of Paul’s day. If a man chose any hero or teacher as an example for his life, or as an object for his imitation, he was said to "put on" that hero or teacher. Chrysostom says it was a common figure. Thus Dionysius Halicarnassus says of Appius and the other decemvirs: "They were no longer the servants of Tarquin, but they clothed themselves with him." Lucian speaks of one "having put on Pythagoras," meaning that to the fullest extent he accepted the great mathematician as his teacher and guide. Some centuries after Paul, Eusebius says of the sons of Constantine, "They put on their father." "The mode of speech itself," says Clark, "is taken from the custom of stage players: they assumed the name and garments of the person whose character they were to act, and endeavored as closely as possible to imitate him in their spirit, words and actions." The initial step by which we put on Christ is by being baptized into him. This great truth Paul had revealed only a few months before he wrote to the Romans (Galatians 3:27). Only after the inward change wrought by being born of the water and of the Spirit (John 3:5; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5) are we capable of making the vesture of our outward conduct such that men may see Him and not ourselves in our daily life (Romans 6:1-11; 2 Corinthians 3:2-3; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 2:11-3:10). He becomes to us, then, the wedding garment which guarantees our acceptability to God (Matthew 22:11), and causes us to cast aside our garment of legal righteousness as a filthy rag-- Philippians 3:6-11], and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. [We are allowed to make reasonable provision for the just needs of the flesh (Matthew 6:33; Ephesians 5:29; 1 Corinthians 11:34; 1 Timothy 5:23), but our provision must, as it were, go on tiptoe, and be exercised with extreme caution, so as not to waken in us those slumbering dogs of lust which, if aroused, will tear our spiritual life to pieces. Pool aptly says of our fleshly life, "Sustain it we may, but pamper it we may not." Fulfilling the lusts of the flesh was the main object of life in pagan Rome.]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Romans 13". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/romans-13.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.