Romans 13



Submission to Authorities (13:1-7)

1 All authority comes ultimately from God. No matter whose authority we’re talking about—whether a king’s, a president’s, a general’s, or anyone else’s—their authority comes ultimately from God (Proverbs 8:15-16; John 19:10-11).

Therefore, whenever we disobey someone in authority over us, we are also disobeying God (verse 2). Instead, we should submit willingly to all authorities, as we would submit to God Himself. We must obey all authorities over us—no matter whether they be government officials, military officers, administrators, our employer, or our own parents. And certainly we must obey the leaders of the church, such as pastors and elders. However, in this section of Chapter 13, Paul is talking mainly about government authorities.

God has not only given authority to our leaders but He has appointed them all to their positions, that they might promote the well-being of the people under them (see 1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Here a question arises: What do we do if the one in authority over us is evil and disobeys God’s law? Should we obey the authority under such circumstances? The answer is no. We should not obey the authority in that particular matter in which he is disobeying God’s law. When God’s law and man’s law are opposed, we must always obey God’s law (see Acts 4:18-20; 5:29).

However, most human authorities are not predominantly evil, and most of their laws do not oppose God’s law. Therefore, we can follow the general rule given in this verse; namely, that we should submit to governing authorities (see Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14).

If government officials oppose Christians and try to prevent them from preaching and witnessing, what should the Christians do? They must obey God and continue to witness and to speak His word whenever a suitable occasion arises. But, at the same time, they must be humble, cautious, and wise. They must not look for trouble; they must not oppose the government without good reason. As far as possible, Christians should obey all other government laws that are not opposed to God’s law.

2 When we (without God’s leading) oppose a government authority, we oppose God; and we shall be punished for it. But it will be God who punishes us, and usually He will use the very government authority we have opposed to carry out the punishment (verse 4).

If a government authority is evil and opposes God’s law, then we must disobey him; but we shall still be punished—not by God, but by the authority himself. And we must be ready to accept that punishment without grumbling.

3-4 In this chapter, Paul is talking mainly about good rulers, not evil ones. Good rulers don’t cause trouble for people who do what is right and who obey the law; rather, they punish only those who do wrong and break the law.

If we keep doing what is right, we will usually have nothing to fear from a ruler. For he is God’s servant to do you good (verse 4). What good does the ruler do? He maintains peace (1 Timothy 2:2) and protects us from evil men.

If we do wrong, then the ruler becomes God’s servant or agent to punish us. The sword mentioned in verse 4 is the sign of the ruler’s authority. It is also the means of carrying out the ruler’s authority. The ruler is given his sword (authority) by God, and the ruler will use it to punish wrongdoing.

The ruler does not bear his sword for nothing. That is, he does not exercise his authority for no purpose; he will not punish people without reason. Rather, the ruler “bears his sword” to punish and discourage evil.

Remember that in these verses Paul is referring primarily to good rulers who in most things do not actively oppose God. There are, of course, other rulers who are predominantly evil. But the authority of evil rulers also comes from God!72 Therefore, in most matters Christians must submit to evil rulers also. But if, in a particular matter, the evil ruler opposes God and demands that we oppose God too, then in that matter we must boldly refuse to obey the ruler.

5 Let us not obey our rulers only out of fear; let us also obey them because of conscience—that is, because of our love for God. Let us obey them from our heart (see Ephesians 6:6-7 and comment).

6 Let us also be happy to pay taxes to governing authorities. They are God’s servants; therefore, through our taxes, we help them do God’s work (Matthew 17:24-27; Mark 12:13-17).

7 We must pay to everyone whatever we owe them. If it’s revenue we owe, then let us pay it. If it’s respect we owe someone, let us pay it. If honor, let us pay it. We should owe no man anything (see verse 8).

Love Is the Fulfillment of the Law (13:8-10)

8 Having talked about our obligations to rulers and leaders, Paul now looks once again at our obligations to all men.

Let no debt remain outstanding.73 Does this mean that we should never borrow money or anything else? No, it can’t mean that; because the Bible teaches that it is good to loan things to others (Psalms 37:25-26; 112:5; Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:35). Since it is good to loan, it must also be all right to borrow! But the meaning of this passage is this: We must pay back our loans as quickly as possible. If there is a time limit on the loan, we must pay it back within the time limit—or we become, in effect, thieves of the other’s person’s money or property. How of ten we borrow money and then are slow to pay it back, or fail to pay it back at all! This is very wrong. The wicked borrow and do not repay (Psalm 37:21). If someone has shown us love by lending something to us in time of need, then we must show our gratitude by paying the loan back—on time. We must not remain in debt to anyone; that is Paul’s teaching. Whatever we owe people, whether money or something else—possessions, salaries to our workers, respect for others—we must pay it quickly.

There is one thing, however, that we can (and must) keep on owing; and that one thing is love. Love is a kind of debt. For example, we can never love God as much as He loves us; we will never be able to love Him enough to pay Him back for His love to us. Thus, we shall always be in debt to God—we shall always have a debt of love.

The same thing is true in our relations with our fellow man.74 Following Christ’s example, we must act toward other men as if we were “in debt” to them, as if we owed them love. And in doing this, we shall be obeying God’s two great commandments to love Him and to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). The entire moral law is based on these two commandments (see Matthew 22:40; Galatians 5:14 and comment).

Here one more question arises: Who is this fellow man we are supposed to love? Is he only our Christian brother? Is he only our fellow villager? No, our fellow man—our neighbor—is any person in need (see Luke 10:25-37).

9-10 Love is the fulfillment of the law (verse 10). The law teaches us how we must love. If we were able always and in all ways to love all men perfectly, then we would be fulfilling not only the two greatest commandments but all the other commands of the law as well.

Paul here repeats four of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:13-15,17). If we love our fellow man, how could we murder him? Or how could we steal from him? Thus we see that if we obey the command to love our neighbor, we will be obeying these other commands too. The command to love our neighbor as ourselves can be expressed in another form: … in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). This has been called the “golden rule.”

Love is not just something hidden in our hearts. Love is practical; love manifests itself. Love not only does no harm to its neighbor; it also does its neighbor all kinds of good!

Here another question arises. The second greatest commandment says: Love your neighbor as yourself (verse 9). Does this mean that we should also love ourselves as much as we love our neighbor?

This is a prof ound question. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself’ (Mark 8:34). But even if we deny ourselves, we still “love” and value our own bodies; that’s natural. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means, then, that we love our neighbor as much as we naturally love our own bodies. We must not love ourselves more than our neighbor; to do that is selfishness. Instead, we must love our neighbor more than we love ourselves. Only when we do this will we love our neighbor as we naturally love ourselves. Since we naturally love ourselves most of all, then we’ll have to love our neighbor “most of all” If we are going to truly love him “as ourself’ (see Mark 12:31; Galatians 5:14 and comment).

How much must we love God? As much as we love ourselves? No, much more than that. The greatest commandment says: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). If we fulfilled this command, there wouldn’t be any love left over for ourselves! And that’s the point: All of our love should go to God and to our neighbor; we should save none for ourselves.75

The Day Is Near (13:11-14)

11 The word slumber in this verse means “spiritual slumber.” The time of our salvation, which Paul refers to here, is the end of the world, when Jesus will come again and destroy the works of Satan, and when the bodies of all believers will be resurrected. That is the final step in our salvation—the resurrection or redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). To believe in Jesus was the first step; now as each day passes, that final stage of our salvation draws nearer. But exactly when that final day will be, no one knows but God (Mark 13:32).

We need always to keep in mind that one day Jesus will come again and then this world will end. Jesus could come tomorrow. He will come by surprise. That final day will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). Christ says to all believers: “Be on your guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. … Watch!” (Mark 13:33-37). In other words: “Wake up!” It’s time for us to wake up from our spiritual slumber; from now on we must remain alert and ready.

How can we remain ready? By always doing Christ’s will. If we are walking according to His will, then we will be ready.

Imagine an angel from heaven coming and saying that Christ was going to return to earth in one month. If we received such news, would it make a difference in how we lived? Would our spiritual lives be any different during that last month than they were before we got the news? For most of us, the answer would be yes. But, in fact, receiving such news should not make that much difference in our lives.76 We should right now be living each day as if Jesus was going to come tomorrow.

If Jesus came tomorrow, what would he find us doing? If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping (Mark 13:36).

12 The night of darkness and sin—the reign of Satan—is nearly over; the day is almost here, when Christ will come again and defeat Satan once and for all. Therefore, let us get up at once and put aside the deeds of darkness—that is, take off our night clothes—and put on the armor of light—that is, our day clothes (see Ephesians 4:22-24; 5:8-11; 6:11,1317; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; James 5:8-9; 1 Peter 4:7-8 and comments).

When Jesus comes, which clothes will He find us wearing? Our night clothes, or our day clothes?

13 In this verse, Paul mentions a few of the deeds of darkness. More complete lists can be found in Romans 1:29-31 and Galatians 5:19-21.

14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:2627 and comment). Jesus is our day clothing. Jesus is our armor of light (verse 12). Jesus is all that we need.

Before we can clothe ourselves with Jesus, we must first put aside our night clothes, our old sinful self (Ephesians 4:22). To clothe ourselves with Christ is to live by the Holy Spirit. If we live by the Spirit, we will not gratif y the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16). Normal bodily necessities—food, clothing, shelter, fellowship—we must make provision for. But for the desires of the sinful nature, we must make no provision.