Romans 13

Romans 13  •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 8
THE EARLIER EXHORTATIONS of chapter 12 had to do with our behavior in the Christian circle. Then from verse 14 to the end we were instructed how to behave in relation to the men and women of the world; it being plainly assumed that we shall find a good deal of hostility in that quarter. As we open chapter 13, we are instructed how to act in regard to the governments and authorities of this world. A very important point this for the early Christians, who were frequently undergoing persecution from the authorities; and for us, whose lot is cast in an age when authority is treated with scant respect.
The Christian’s attitude is to be, in one word—subjection. We are to avoid “resisting the power,” that is setting ourselves in opposition to it. The reason given for this must be carefully noted: the “powers that be” are a divine institution, and to set oneself in opposition is to oppose the God, whom they are intended to represent, and to merit judgment. In these verses (1-7) authorities are viewed in their proper character according to the divine intention, rather than as they often are in actual practice.
At once, therefore, we may call out as to the sad travesty of authority so frequently seen. But we must remember that, when these words were penned, Nero had just about ascended the imperial throne in Rome, and the man who wrote the words was soon to suffer grievous things at the hands of the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Read Acts 23:55Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. (Acts 23:5), and 26:25, noting in these instances how effectively Paul practiced what here he teaches us. Only one thing exempts us from the subjection here demanded, and that is when subjection to authorities would involve us in disobedience to God. Then we must be obedient to the highest Authority. As Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:2929Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)).
If we merely think of government as it exists in the world today we must certainly be confused. In all directions there are overturning, with power passing into the hands of strange people. Under the slogan of “Liberty” worse tyrannies and atrocities take place than those enacted under the despots of older times. But if we look away to God and His Word, all becomes simple. We are not set in the world to make governments or to alter governments, but to seek the interests of our Lord, while yielding all proper honor and subjection to governments, whatever they may be. The instructions apply to such matters as tribute and custom, as verse 7 shows. We are to pay all that is due in the way of rates, and custom, as well as income tax. What the authorities may do with our money, when they get it, is their matter, not ours. In the mercy of God we are relieved of that heavy responsibility.
Verse 8 extends the thought, of rendering what is due, far beyond governments to all men. The Christian is to be free of all debt, except the debt of love. That he can never fully pay. The object of infinite love himself, his attitude is to be love in this unloving world. In so doing he fulfills the law though he is not put under it, as we saw so clearly in chapter 6.
All the foregoing is confirmed and fortified by what we get in the closing verses of the chapter. We should be characterized by this subjection and love, because we are left in the world during the period of its night, in order that we may display the graces of the Lord Jesus Christ while we wait for the coming day. It is very easy to forget this and to settle down into a state of drowsy insensibility like the world. Hence the call to awake. The hour of our final salvation draws nearer!
We are certainly in the darkness. Do we not feel it? But the works of darkness we are to cast off, like filthy old clouts, and we are to put on “the armor of light” (ch. 13:12). We are to be enveloped in the light which belongs to the day, to which we belong. The believer is to be shining and luminous in the midst of the darkness, and the very light we wear will prove itself to be armor. The shining Christian is by his shining protected and preserved. In one word, we are to put on the character of the Lord Himself, instead of catering for the desires of the flesh.
With what power should these words come to us! And with what urgency! If the night was far spent and the day at hand when Paul wrote, how much more so today. It is indeed high time to awake out of sleep and array ourselves in our shining armor. Only we must always remember that the “putting on,” whether of verse 12 or 14, is not the assuming of something wholly external to ourselves, but rather putting on something from within, rather as a bird puts on its feathers. We saw this in principle, when considering verse 2 of chapter 12.