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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 13

 

 

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Verse 1

‘Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God, and the powers that be are ordained of God.’

‘Every soul’ simply means ‘everyone.’ Thus everyone is to be subject to ‘the higher powers’, that is the appointed governors and their staff. And this is because men cannot come to power except God allows it, and thus those who do come to power are to be seen as ordained of God. This view is in accord with Scripture, for in Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:32 we read, ‘the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whoever He will’, something which presumably Jesus had in mind when He said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (Matthew 22:21). He saw it as Caesar’s due that he be rightfully treated in secular matters.


Verses 1-7

The Christian’s Attitude Towards The State (13:1-7).

Having called on Christians ‘not to be conformed to this world’ (Romans 12:2), and having indicated that vengeance for wrongdoing lay in God’s hands (Romans 12:19 - notice the use of ‘the wrath’ in Romans 12:19 and Romans 13:5), and that Christians should be concerned to be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18), Paul now feels constrained both to affirm the need to conform with the systems of justice that were in place (as he had never intended otherwise), and to assure Christians that God was controlling justice through ‘God-appointed’ justices. ‘Not being conformed to this world’ must not therefore be seen as meaning that we are free from all the world’s restraints. Indeed it rather means that we will see the authorities as have been placed there by God. For it is by them that God’s present wrath is executed, and through them that the societies that they represent would know peace.

It is noteworthy that Paul nowhere else deals with this question. (Compare, however, where Peter does in 1 Peter 2:13 ff; 1 Peter 4:15 ff). That may have been because here he sees the church in Rome as at the hub of the Roman Empire, so that their attitude towards the government might be crucial in relations between church and state. Or it may be because he was aware of rumblings in Rome against the current political leadership, and did not want Roman Christians to succumb to them, with its consequent effect on the attitude of the authorities towards Christianity. The reference to paying taxes to whom taxes are due may suggest a connection with the tax rebellion by the inhabitants of Rome which, according to Tacitus, occurred in the middle 50s AD. But however that may be Paul, clearly considers it important to lay down advice on how to react to the Roman authorities.

Christianity at this stage mainly enjoyed the protection of Rome because it was seen as a branch of Judaism and thus as a religio licita, a religion whose rights were protected by the Roman Empire. This had been so from the mid 1st century BC when the Jews had been seen as allies of Rome, and not as a conquered people. They were thus free to practise their peculiarities (e.g. the Sabbath) without hindrance, protected by the Law. Christians, therefore, at this stage mainly enjoyed the same protection. (Even Caligula, although under strong pressure from advisers, forbore setting up his image in the Jerusalem Temple). It would only be later that the Roman authorities, sadly egged on by Jews, differentiated Christianity from Judaism thereby making Christianity a religio illicita, an unofficial religion that enjoyed no protection and that could be persecuted at any time.


Verse 2

‘Therefore he who resists the power, withstands the ordinance of God, and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment.’

The consequence of what has been said in Romans 13:1 is that to resist the secular power is to go against the ordinance of God. In consequence those who do withstand the ruling secular power will themselves receive judgment. The reference to judgment here is probably to the judgment exercised by the higher powers who will naturally deal with those who resist them. And it is to be seen as being of God. On the other hand many see this reference to judgment as signifying the final Judgment, partly on the grounds that in Romans that is what judgment in other circumstances refers to. But it should be noted that those references are in a context where the judgment of God is very much in mind. Here the focus is on judgment by the higher powers.


Verse 3

‘For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And would you have no fear of the power?’

And the logic behind this is that rulers are set up by God to control and prevent evil. Thus those who do good will have nothing to fear. It is only those who do evil who will be in terror of the authorities. And this is right, for in the face of justice all should be in fear of the consequences of doing evil. Paul was, of course, writing as one who had himself experienced the justice of Roman appointed governors, and was aware that on the whole Roman justice worked well. He does not deal with the case where the higher power is itself doing gross evil.


Verse 3-4

‘Do what is good,

And you will have praise from the same,

For he is a minister of God to you for good.

But if you do what is evil,

Be afraid, for he bears not the sword in vain,

For he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil.’

In a balanced sentence Paul takes up what he said in Romans 13:3 a and its contrast between someone doing good and doing evil. Those who do good will have praise from the one in authority, because he is a servant of God to them for good. But those who do evil have reason to be afraid, for he holds the sword of authority, (or possibly controls the executioner’s sword), and while he is a servant of God, it is in order to be an avenger for wrath to him who does evil. In other words he acts on behalf of the wrath of God and the wrath of the state. Again Paul is assuming a governing authority which is genuinely aiming to maintain justice.

Note the parallel contrasts:

· ‘Do what is good -- but (on the other hand) if you do what is evil.’

· ‘You will have praise from him -- be afraid because of his sword.’

· ‘A minister of God for good -- a minister of God as an avenger for wrath.’


Verse 5

‘For which reason you must necessarily be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.’

And it is because the appointed ruler is a minister of God for good that obedience to the requirements of the state, where it does not affect our loyalty to God, is to be seen as necessary. It is a duty not just a convenience. Indeed as Christians our loyalty to the state is for three reasons, firstly because it is an instrument of God for good, secondly because it is the instrument for ‘the wrath’ (of God) against evil, and thirdly because Christians should respond positively towards one who is ‘a servant of God’, for conscience’ sake.

To be in subjection is to respond to legitimate requirements. It does not indicate subservience. The point is that, acting as God’s servant the state authority has a right to make certain demands, and unless they go against the conscience they should be obeyed. Compare Titus 3:1.


Verse 6

‘For this cause you also pay taxes, for they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing.’

And this is the reason why we can expect to pay taxes. It is because, in a similar way to the Levites, the authorities are ‘ministers of God’s service’, in this case as those who are continually devoted to maintaining justice. Thus just as the Levites received the tithe, so is it right that the state should receive taxes. And that is why the Christian should pay both taxes and respect to those in judicial authority.


Verse 7

‘Render to all their dues; taxes to whom taxes (are due), tolls to whom tolls (are due), fear to whom fear (is due), honour to whom honour (is due).’

In words which echo those of Jesus in respect of paying tribute money, ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ (Matthew 22:21), Paul calls on the Romans to ‘render their taxes (tribute) and tolls (customs duties)’. Christians should pay their taxes without complaint, recognising that they are in effect paying them to God. And they should also pay the authorities due respect and honour.

Of course in those days protest marches and civil disobedience were in the main not permitted, and would have been seen as rebellion against the state. In our day they are an accepted part of democracy. Thus there are certain things that we can view differently. But the overall principles still apply. Violent protest is, however, still not approved of by God.


Verse 8

‘Owe no man anything, except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law.’

Having spoken of the Christian’s debt to the state Paul now turns to the question of the Christian’s debt to all men. ‘Owe no man anything’ is not saying that we should not enter into debt on a considered basis, but rather that we should pay our dues. We are not to be dilatory in fulfilling our obligations. But he then points out that there is one debt which we are to owe and which is continual, and that is our debt to love one another. As regards this debt we can never call ‘time’. And the reason for that is that love is the fulfilment of the Law. In other words, if we truly love we will automatically fulfil the requirements of the Law as regards our attitude towards others, for we will desire the very best for them. Note Paul’s indication that we are to fulfil God’s Law in terms of its deepest meaning. But it is as the consequence of our love for Christ and for God, not in order somehow to obtain merit by doing so.


Verses 8-10

The Christian’s Responsibility To Love (13:8-10).

Paul now turns his attention from the Christian’s duty to the authorities, to the Christian’s duty towards the outer world. Jesus Himself stated that the two greatest commandments in the Law (Matthew 22:35-40) were to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5) and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18), and in the context of Leviticus the latter included loving those who came to live among us (Leviticus 19:34). Paul now takes up this second commandment and expands on it, because in context he is speaking of Christian responsibility to his fellowman.


Verse 9

‘For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is summed up in this word, namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

He points out that all the commandments, some of which he lists, are all really summed up in the command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. For all the things described in the commandments, adultery, murder, theft, coveting, etc. cause hurt to others, and if we love we will not want to hurt. Of course, the Law is a detailed guide as to what we should do in order to reveal our love to others. It has thus become a guide rather than burden (compare James 1:22-25).


Verse 10

‘Love works no ill to his neighbour, love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.’

For love is such that it ‘works nothing ill’ for our neighbour. Rather love seeks the very best for them. That is why love is the fulfilment of the Law. It should, however, be noted that if we did not have the Law, especially as expanded by Jesus, we would not have recognised the many ways in which we could harm our neighbour. The law is holy and just and good. It is we who render it helpless as a means of making us acceptable with God.


Verse 11

‘And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep, for now is salvation nearer to us than when we (first) believed.’

‘And this --.’ Many would add ‘do’, i.e. ‘and do this’, but while that thought is certainly included, the emphasis is more of ‘have this in mind’ or ‘have this attitude because --.’. This may be seen as referring back to what has just been said concerning love for one’s neighbour as a life to be lived out daily, but more probably it has in mind the content of the whole passage Romans 12:1 to Romans 13:10 with its emphasis on committing oneself to God as a living sacrifice, and being totally transformed, living a life of love. Paul’s aim is to relate this to the vital time in which they and we are living, the period prior to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the consummation of all things (compare Hebrews 9:28).

The same urgency should be with us today. We live in the time prior to that day when Christ will sum up all things in Himself (Ephesians 1:10). Thus with the Day dawning it is a time for stirring ourselves, and awaking out of sleep. This idea of awaking out of sleep was present in the teaching of Jesus (Mark 13:35-36; Luke 12:35-36), and repeated by Paul (Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6). And the idea of awaking out of sleep is that we should rise early and get on with what has to be done, which includes the spreading of the Gospel. It means stirring ourselves into activity because the daytime has come. And this is in the light of the fact that our salvation ( the final redemption of our bodies and enjoyment of the life to come) is nearer now than it was at that time when we began to believe.

The Scripture sees salvation as past, present and future. In the past we entered into salvation when we were accounted as righteous by faith, when we became reconciled to God through Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). From that moment Christ began in us His saving work. In the present it is a day by day experience as God ‘works in us to will and do of His good pleasure’ (Philippians 2:13). We are ‘being saved’ (1 Corinthians 1:18). But in the future it refers to the final completion of our salvation when we are presented perfect before God, and have been made ‘like Him (Christ)’ (Romans 8:29; 1 John 2:2).


Verses 11-14

Living In Crisis Days (13:11-14).

Paul commenced this section in Romans 12:1-2 with the call to present our bodies as a holy and acceptable living sacrifice, not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewing of our mind. Now he calls on us, in the light of the possibility of Christ’s second coming, to awaken out of sleep, and to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Note the parallels. ‘Present your bodies a living sacrifice’ with ‘awaken out of sleep’. ‘Do not be conformed to this world’ with ‘cast of the works of darkness’. ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ with ‘put on the armour of light’. These parallel statements form an inclusio for the whole section.

In the days when lighting was primitive the dawning of the day was the time for getting down to work. Night in the main resulted in a cessation of work. But night turned into day and then the world awoke to go about its daily business. During the night men partied and drank to excess, they indulged in illicit sex and loose behaviour, they fought and were jealous, but when day approached that was all put aside for the business of the day. They donned their working clothes, or their armoured coats, and went about their duties. Paul pictures the Christian life in terms of the dawning of a new day. We are to arise, and then deliberately ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’, and set about the task of daily living.

That to be a non-believer was to walk in darkness, while to be a believer was to walk in the light, was a favourite picture in the teaching of Jesus. He declared that we are to walk in the light, and be the sons of light (those whose lives are lived in the light), thereby knowing where we are going and being in no danger of being tripped up, while to walk in darkness would mean that we would stumble, and would not know where we were going (John 8:12; John 11:9; John 12:35-36; John 12:46; Luke 16:8). Similarly in the teaching of Paul we are ‘sons of light’, and have been transported out of the tyrannous kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Ephesians 5:8-9; Ephesians 5:11-13; Colossians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8).

We should note here that Paul presents a number of consecutive but contrasting pictures in pairs, as follows:

It is time to awake from sleep --- salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

The night is far spent --- the day is at hand.

Let us cast off the works of darkness --- let us put on the armour of light.

‘Walk becomingly as in the day ---, not in revelling and drunkenness, etc.’

‘Put on the Lord Jesus Christ ---and do not make provision for the flesh’

And if we combine them in another way we then obtain two powerful contrasting sequences. ‘It is time to awake from sleep -- the night is far spent -- let us cast off the works of darkness -- not walking in revelling and drunkenness -- do not make provision for the flesh.’ In other words the night of our past lives is over. And on the other hand, ‘salvation is nearer than when we first believed -- the day is at hand -- put on the armour of light -- walk becomingly as in the day -- put on the LORD Jesus Christ.’ The Christian is to walk in the light of God’s ‘day’.


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 armour of light.’

The time for sleeping is over, We need to be aroused ready for the new day. The night is nearly past, and in consequence we must put off the works of darkness. The day is dawning in us, we should therefore put on clothes suitable for the day, that is, ‘the armour of light’. The works of darkness are those activities which are performed in the darkness so that no one will see what we are doing, things of which in our best moments we are ashamed. But, as Jesus warned us, we must remember that one day they will be brought to the light of judgment (Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17; John 3:17-20). They are defined in Romans 13:13.

In view of the fact that it is placed in contrast with ‘the works of darkness’, the ‘armour of light’ must therefore include something which results in works performed in the light because they are truly of God (John 3:21). It is to walk becomingly as in the day (Romans 13:13). It is to put on the truth as it is revealed in Jesus. It is to live in the light. It therefore includes living in the light of God’s scrutiny, which protects and guides us as we open up our lives before Him (1 John 1:7). When clothed in the armour of light as a result of His Spirit guided word, we are made aware of encroaching evil so that we can avoid it or repent of it (John 3:18-21). If we constantly come openly to His light, and repent of sin, we will have nothing of which to be ashamed (1 John 1:7-10). The idea is positive as the following contrasts make clear. Indeed putting on the armour of light can be seen as the same as ‘putting on the Lord Jesus Christ’ by faith (Romans 13:14; compare Galatians 2:20). We do so by looking to Him to live through us. We do so by absorbing and understanding His word, and letting Him possess our lives. Such armour makes us successful in the battle of life (compare Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and wards off the powers of darkness.


Verse 13

‘Let us walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling (disorderly behaviour) and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy,’

One consequence of putting on the armour of light is that we will walk becomingly as in the day, as men do walk when they are under scrutiny. It is to walk in godliness and purity and true love, eschewing excesses which take place when it is dark. It is to put on the LORD Jesus Christ. Such works of darkness which have to be eschewed include revelling and drunkenness as people let themselves go at parties, they include free unrestricted sexual behaviour, they include being at loggerheads with others, and what results from jealousy of others.

Christians therefore are to‘walk becomingly, as in the day.’They have left behind the darkness of night and live in the light of the Day of the Messiah which has dawned. This picture of the Christian life as ‘walking in the light’ is a common one in the New Testament. It was introduced by Jesus in John 8:12 when He said, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life’. There He is revealed as present as the light which is to guide those who follow Him in their walk. And His purpose was that all should come to His light. It was for any who would respond. As He repeated in John 12:46, ‘I am come a light into the world, that whoever believes on me may not abide in darkness’. Thus He called on believers to ‘Walk while you have the light --- while you have the light, believe on the light, that you might become the sons of light’ (John 12:35-36). All this points to seeing Him as the light, in consequence of which, having received from Him the light of eternal life, we are to walk continually in His light and in the light of His teaching. In accordance with this we should therefore all be walking in His light, living our lives in the radiance of the light of His presence, and knowing that all things are open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do.

Paul also uses the same idea elsewhere. ‘You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, walk as children of light, for the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth’ (Ephesians 5:8-9). And he adds, ‘You are all the children of the light, and the children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness’ (1 Thessalonians 5:5). Note the paralleling of ‘the light’ and ‘the day’. To walk in the day is to walk in His light. So those who walk as children of the day, as children of light, will produce the fruit of goodness and truth, because if their lives are being lived in His continual light, and in the light of His word, that light, like the sun, will shine on them and produce fruitfulness, and it will allow nothing of the darkness to survive.

John continues in similar vein. However, in his case he recognises, as Paul did in Romans 6-7, that in walking in that light there will be things revealed that need forgiveness, so he assures his readers, ‘If we walk in the light as He is in the light, (openly admitting our sin daily), we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son goes on cleansing us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7).

Walking in the light is thus to be very much a part of the Christian life. But because of the cleansing of the blood of Jesus we do not need to be afraid of the light. Rather we should embrace it, and, as we come continually to Him day by day, ask that the searchlight of His presence might shine on us continually. Then it will lead the way before us so that all that is of darkness is put away. In that way we will be ready for that Day.


Verse 14

‘But put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not make provision for the flesh, to (fulfil) its lusts.’

Having directed his reader’s thoughts to how they are to respond to God’s light Paul now makes the idea more concrete. They are to ‘put on the LORD Jesus Christ’ Himself. They are to ‘put on His righteousness’ by faith, allowing that righteousness to permeate through them (Romans 3:24-28). They are through Him to reckon on themselves as dead to sin and alive to God, through Jesus Christ our LORD (Romans 6:11). They are to so submit themselves to Him that what He is might shine and operate through them. They are to let Christ dwell in their hearts by faith (Ephesians 3,17), as they live by faith in the Son of God Who loved them and gave Himself for them (Galatians 2:20). They are to lay claim to the fact that Christ is in them the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). They are to align their lives with His, gladly allowing Him the control (Matthew 11:28-30). Comparing this with Galatians 5:16-24. Having in view the contrast with the flesh, it is to be led by the Spirit and to walk step by step with the Spirit, for it is the Spirit Who will make Christ real in and through them (compare Romans 8:1-16). And in so doing they are so to arrange their lives in such a way that they are kept free from anything which could arouse the desires of their sinful natures, making no provision for them in any way. That may involve such things as keeping the television off when suggestive programmes are on, and avoiding going to places where we know that there will be temptations. It may involve avoiding much of what is on the internet. The idea is for Christ to shine through them, thereby revealing themselves as ‘of the day’.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/romans-13.html. 2013.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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