1 - 7 The Authorities
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
In Romans 12 you discovered you have to deal with people around you, both believers and unbelievers, in different ways. You also saw how to behave towards everyone. In this chapter we see proper behavior towards those in authority, the government.
V1. These instructions are without any exceptions, so no matter what type of government is in power, we are told to “be in subjection to the governing authorities”. The reason is that the authorities have been appointed by God. If you want to be subject to God, you must listen to the government and the police.
V2-4. Not doing this will bring judgment on you. You don’t have to fear the authorities if you’re doing what is good. The authorities will praise you if you do what is good. But if you do what is wrong, they will deal with you in an unpleasant way. Government is “an avenger who brings wrath” on those who practice evil. It has the right and the duty to do this. It must protect its subjects against injustice and violence. It has received means to do this, including administration of justice, imprisonment and capital punishment.
V5. But you shouldn’t be subject just out of fear, but because the government is God’s minister. It is representing God on earth and exercises authority on His behalf. If you see this, then you will be subject to it because of your conscience.
It’s not always easy to be subject to the government. It wasn’t easy for Paul either. He wrote this to the believers in Rome who were living under a cruel tyrant, the emperor Nero. ‘But that certainly wasn’t a government as God meant it to be’, you may think. ‘Why should one have to be subject to it?’ Today, too, there are governments of which you could say the same thing.
Another thought about the government that applies more to those living in the so-called free western world is: ‘If the decisions made by the government are wrong decisions, we must oppose them.’ This reasoning is all around you. Civil disobedience is encouraged, but we shouldn’t become involved with such things. Through all this it is important to maintain our view of the government as the institution God has placed over us and to which we must be subject. God has given authority to it.
But we cannot be obedient in things that require us to act contrary to what God says in His Word. Acts 5 says: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) But even if we cannot obey in some matters, we must still be subject to the government by not showing a rebellious spirit. You can see a rebellious spirit all around you. People with such a spirit disagree with all kinds of laws. They feel taken advantage of and start protesting.
Here is an example of a law you couldn’t obey: the prohibition of Christians coming together. The Lord wants us to gather together (Heb 10:25). Other examples of laws we could not obey may include no distinction being made between marriage and just living together, or that homosexuals must be given the right to behave according to their disposition. At the same time it remains in all such situations important to consider for yourself that the government is there because God has established her.
Perfect government will only be here in the millennium when the Lord Jesus reigns. Then everything will be perfectly righteous and according to perfectly righteous laws. At the moment, this isn’t the case and you need to take care not to oppose the government.
V6. The taxes you pay are in relation with government. Whether you like it or not, part of your salary is kept back. It’s a matter for the government to decide what to do with it. In the same way, it is expected that you will do everything the government asks of you. For example, how do you act on the road? Do you observe the rules the government has established?
V7. A Christian knows what it means to give. To give doesn’t always mean it happens voluntarily. In verse 7 “render” is an obligation. Do not shirk your duty, but give all their dues. Don’t cheat on your tax forms; respect those who are appointed above you; give them the honor and the esteem due them. In all this you can show that you’re a Christian who respects God’s will. Then God will give you what’s due you.
Now read Romans 13:1-7 again.
Reflection: How can you, in your situation, show you recognize the authorities as an institution of God?
8 - 14 Put on the Lord Jesus
8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of [the] law. 11 [Do] this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.
V8. Getting into debt is easy to do. It is even presented as an attractive option. You don’t have to deny yourself a little luxury. Borrow some money at a low rate of interest and your life will be more pleasant. With reasoning like this, many people have incurred deep debts. A Christian is permitted to have only one real debt, and that’s a debt that will never be repaid here on earth – to love one another. Loving others is the fulfillment of the law.
V9-10. The law prohibits a number of things that could be to someone’s disadvantage. But love hurts no one. So, one who loves others will not injure them.
‘But’, you say, ‘I don’t live under the law any longer. It was clear from Romans 7 that I have been freed from the law.’ This is true and these verses do not contradict this. They say if you love others, you will do nothing prohibited by the law. In this way you fulfill the law. Love is not an achievement you reach because the law asks you to do this. Love is the expression of the new life that seeks to do good to others. If you seek another person’s well-being and not his ill, then clearly you will fulfill the law automatically, so to speak.
V11-12. Next we are given an extra reason to fulfill this responsibility of loving each other – the coming of the Lord Jesus. In his first letter, Peter also connects these two things: the coming of the Lord and loving each other. In 1 Peter 4 he first writes about the end of all things and then about loving each other (1Pet 4:7).
Thus, it is time to wake up from your sleep, to stand up. Wipe clean your eyes and look how much the night has advanced because it is a pitch-black night in the world. Night indicates the spiritual darkness that has come in by sin. But the day is close; the day will break when the Lord Jesus appears in this world. In Malachi 4 He is called “the Sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2). David, in his last words, speaks of Him as “the light of the morning [when] the sun rises” when “a morning without clouds” begins (2Sam 23:4). Every eye will see Him then (Rev 1:7).
Every day brings you closer to that moment. You’re now closer to it than when you first believed. If your “salvation is nearer” now, this implies in a certain sense you’re not saved yet. Your salvation isn’t complete yet, for the salvation of your body is still in the future. Romans 8 says we’re saved in hope (Rom 8:24).
So when it says here that you’re not yet saved, this has to do with the dangers that exist and the battle still to be waged. To overcome in this battle you must obey the orders of headquarters. Listen carefully to the orders here. You have to “cast off” something and “put on” something else.
First let’s consider the casting off. We are to “lay aside the deeds of darkness” because they belong to the night. Every kind of sin is a deed of darkness. Is there anything left in your life you know to be sin? Break with it! You can do this by mentioning this sin to the Lord and telling Him you’ve been wrong about it. Ask Him to help you not give in again to that sin. In Proverbs 28 there is a great encouragement to confess transgressions that says: “He who confesses and forsakes [them] will find compassion” (Pro 28:13).
When you’ve done this, there will be room for the “armor of light”. You can put this armor on. These weapons are different from the ones used by the world. The weapons of light are spiritual weapons. The Lord Jesus calls Himself the light. You’ll get these weapons from Him and He will instruct you on how to use them to overcome. In the Gospels you can see how He used them. The devil tempted Him for forty days and nights. Then finally he tried his last three temptations, but the Lord Jesus beat the devil, saying: “It is written.”
V13. Once you have cast off and put on, then comes an exhortation to walk in a proper way. The characteristics mentioned in verse 13 can be abundantly found in the world, but they are not appropriate for you. You don’t belong to the darkness where the sins of verse 13 reign supreme; you belong to the day. In your life “the Sun of righteousness” has already risen. You may walk in the light of that Sun who is the Lord Jesus.
V14. Then you’re exhorted to put on not only the armor of light, but also the Lord Jesus Himself. He is named here with His full name. To put Him on means the same as (maybe it sounds irreverent, but this is the meaning) putting on a jacket that can be seen by others. By thinking highly of yourself and being busy with yourself, dirty spots are going to mar and ruin that beautiful jacket. When the Lord Jesus comes, then it will be too late for everyone who did not choose Him. But you and I may display Him to the world today. What a blessing it would be if this brought others to know Him and accept Him as their Savior and Lord.
Now read Romans 13:8-14 again.
Reflection: How do you notice that it’s night in the world and how can you let your light shine?