XIV. God’s Kingdom in Society (Romans 13:1-14)


XIV. God’s Kingdom in Society (13:1-14)

13:1 God has ordered human history to operate according to a system of covenants, with the husband as the head of his wife, the parents as the head of their children, elders as the head of their congregations, and the government as the head of its citizenry. These heads are not to be dictatorial or to “lord it over” those whom God has placed under their authority (see, e.g., Matt 20:25). Rather, they are to exercise their headship for the good of those who submit to their legitimate authority. Since God has placed governmental rulers over us, we should submit to the governing authorities, recognizing them as God’s agents. Still, Paul offers a radical political statement in saying that our governments stand under another authority—that of God. While there is an institutional separation between church and state, there must never be a separation between God and government. The closer God is to a government and its citizens, the more ordered the society will be. The further God is from a government and its citizens, the more chaotic the society will become.

13:2 In light of Paul’s statement that even governments are under God’s authority, we see that this verse applies to individuals and governments equally. The one who resists the authority of God—whether that’s a person rebelling against the government or the government rebelling against God—is opposing God’s command and will bring judgment on themselves.

13:3 This is a concise definition and summary of the role of civil government: resist evil and promote good. The problem lies in defining evil and good. Much of the time, what the government promotes as good aligns with the Bible. But when it doesn’t, we must do what is good before God and trust him with the political results. God and his Word give us the definitive standard of what should be viewed as right and wrong. The biblical responsibility of civil government is to maintain a safe, just, righteous, and compassionately responsible environment in which freedom can flourish.

13:4-5 Twice in this passage Paul calls the governing authorities God’s servant, which reinforces their role (13:4). Whenever God is removed from government, a vacuum is created in which government seeks to be God. In a democratic republic like ours, we citizens get the honor of choosing many of God’s servants; thus, part of the responsibility of governing lies with us. We the people can be servants to God’s servants, pointing them to truth. If we don’t, then “one nation under God” will become “one nation under chaos.”

13:6-7 As Paul closes this brief section on government, his words intentionally echo those of Jesus. Paul commands us: Pay taxes to those you owe taxes, and give honor to those you owe honor (13:7). Jesus said, “Give, then, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21). We owe government leaders our taxes. We owe them earthly honor. But both Paul and Jesus remind us that we must never give them our hearts. They cannot have our ultimate allegiance, since we are created in the image of God and not in the image of government rulers. God is above all.

13:8-10 All of our debts should be repaid. Well, all but one: the debt that can never be fully paid is our debt to love one another (13:8). Biblical love, as Paul showed in chapter 12, is the decision to compassionately and righteously seek the benefit and wellbeing of another. We owe that to others without end, because that kind of love is the underlying factor in all of God’s horizontal commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet (13:9). This is why Paul, again echoing Jesus, calls the command to love your neighbor as yourself . . . the fulfillment of the law (13:9-10). The way Jesus put it was to say that “all the Law and the Prophets depend” on two commands: (1) Love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind; (2) love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:37-40).

13:11 We must live in light of Jesus’s imminent return, which is nearer than when we first believed. Doing so means we wake up from sleep, the spiritual lethargy that plagues so many people in our churches. God didn’t save us just for heaven after we die, but to experience his salvation in history. To experience that salvation is to be spared from the consequences of our sins.

13:12-13 Too many Christians trust God enough to take them to heaven, but not enough to guide their lives daily. Thus, their lives look like the darkness around them, filled with drunkenness and sexual impurity and quarreling and jealousy (13:13). Paul reminds us that Jesus is returning quickly, and when he does, both the darkness and the deeds of darkness will be judged without mercy. So stop being spiritually sleepy, and put on the armor of light (13:12).

13:14 We put on the armor of light in two ways—one positive and one negative. Positively, we put on the Lord Jesus Christ, living by faith in him, studying his Word, and seeking to reflect him in our actions. Negatively, we don’t make plans to gratify the desires of the flesh, which would counteract being clothed in Christ. Imagine you just put on your best suit or dress for church. As you’re walking to service, you notice a shortcut—but it’s through a back alley and involves climbing through two dumpsters. Do you take that route? No! That dirty environment would foul your pristine clothes. Put on the purity of Christ and don’t climb through the dumpsters of sin.