Romans 13 Rom. 12: 1–15: 13 God's Righteousness in Everyday Life



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Romans 13
Rom. 12:1–15:13 God's Righteousness in Everyday Life.

  • The gift of God's saving righteousness leads to a new life.

  • In this section Paul works out some of the practical implications of God's saving mercy.

  • In Gal. 6:2 P. speaks of fulfilling “the law of Christ,” by which he means the spirit and manner of “loving your neighbor as yourself” (13:9).

  • This is the subject of Romans 12 and 13.

  • If grace is the gospel reduced to one word, the agape is the law reduced to a word (13:9).

  • In chap. 12 P. spoke of “the law of Christ” as sincere and practical expressions of agape both inside and outside the church.

  • Another expression of agape is an affirmation of and submission to governments (13:1-7).

  • Some, noting the abrupt transition at 13:1 and the switch from the 2nd to the 3rd person in 13:1-7, regard this section as a departure from Paul’s teaching on agape and an independent unit of thought.

  • But, the instruction here is very much a part of the design since chap. 12.

    • In agreement with 12:2 P. appeals for a considered response “to approve what God’s will is” with respect to rulers.

    • Those “who do what is good” (v. 3) in civil duties also accomplish the good (the word is the same as “good” in 12:9-21 and so fulfill the rule of agape.


Rom. 12:3–13:14 Marks of the Christian Community.

  • The new life of believers is described in this section.


Rom. 13:1–7

  • This passage addresses the responsibility of Christians to governing authorities.

  • They are to “be subject to” (which generally means to obey, cf. 1 Pet. 3:5–6) the government because it has been ordained by God.

  • Paul is speaking here of the general principle of submission to government.

  • Note—P. was not writing for Americans nurtured by the Declaration of Independence and modern ideas of civil rights, or for any constitutional and participatory democracies.

  • Rather, P. was addressing first-century Christians who were a quite powerless minority under a Roman oligarchy.

  • On one level P. is warning the Romans not to pull the roof of Nero’s wrath down on their heads as they had with Claudius.

  • But, the context and structure of 13:1-7 reveal that this is not all that P. has in mind.

  • His purpose is more than political expediency, and this is apparent when we consider the circumstances in which he wrote.

    • The Zealot movement reached its height in Paul’s day and ultimately caused a disastrous revolt against Rome in A.D. 66 that led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

    • A long list of protests took place in the first century, including groups of Jews refusing to pay taxes, riots in Rome and Alexandria, Jewish defiance in the face of Pilate’s blunders, and a near disastrous revolt when Emperor Caligula threatened to erect and demand worship of his statue in Palestine in A.D. 39.

    • A still fledgling church would have been affected by these movements and the sentiments that provoked them.

  • The above partial historical review would suggest that P. wanted to instruct his Roman readers on the place of government in God’s plan—including the responsibilities of rulers to execute justice and of citizens to submit themselves to government rule.

  • His purpose in doing so was both to demonstrate that civic responsibility was a legitimate and necessary expression of discipleship, indeed of agape, and to thwart any separatist or antinomian political sentiments in the minds of Roman Christians.

  • Conclusions can be drawn from this—

    • 1) P. speaks to what government ought to be, an ordered civil structure ordained by God to reward good and punish evil; government is ordained of God and within the scope of Christian discipleship.

    • 2) The political problem in P’s mind was not at all the problem in the minds of modern Christians for in practice Rome was a totalitarian state; given that reality, what should be expected of Christians with regard to it?

    • P. perhaps feared an attitude like this—“if our citizenship is in heaven, why should we obey earthly authorities, much less pagan Romans?”

    • 3) P. argues that the kingdom of Christ has not yet displaced the kingdom of Caesar, but operates within it.

    • (P. does not speak specifically to this situation, but the NT does; when the claims of earthly authorities conflicts with divine authority over faith and conscience (13:5), Christians are obliged to confess, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Obedience to rulers apart from (or against) conscience is idolatry.)

  • Several other passages show that God approves of Christians disobeying government, but only when obedience to government would mean disobeying God (see Ex. 1:17, 21; 1 Kings 18:4–16; Est. 4:16; Dan. 3:12–18; 6:10; Matt. 2:12; Acts 5:29; Heb. 11:23).

  • There were even times when God raised up leaders to rebel against the government and deliver his people from evil rulers (Exodus 1–14; Judg. 2:16; Heb. 11:32–34).



13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

  • The fundamental principle of vv. 1-2 is that God is the source of all rightful authority, of which civil authority is one expression.

  • P. draws on a family of Greek words—for e.g., “be subject” (v. 1), “rebels” (v. 1), all from tassein and all of which emphasize God-ordained order.

  • “Let every person” emphasizes personal responsibility.

  • The admonition to “be subject” characterizes a wide range of Christian social relation, including government, Christ fellowship (I Cor. 6:16), marriage (Eph. 5:21), and the church’s relationship to Christ (Eph. 5:24).

  • Christian submission, however, is not slavish or blind obedience without regard to moral responsibility.

13:2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
13:For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,

  • Having established the duty of believers to submit to government in vv. 1-2, P. establishes the responsibilities of government in vv. 3-4.

  • 3 times he calls rulers to honor right and punish wrong (vv. 4-6).

  • This implies an unspoken corollary: when a state wholly perverts the ideal (by promoting evil and persecution good) it can no longer be regarded as God’s servant.

  • Then the Christian’s higher allegiance to God and good releases him or her from the claims of an idolatrous regime.

  • Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad means that civil government in general is a great blessing from God for which we should be thankful.

  • Without civil government there would be anarchy, a horrible alternative in which evil runs rampant.


13:for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.


  • Governing authorities are God's servants and carry out his wrath on evildoers, and they do so for your good.

  • Even though Christians must not take personal revenge (12:17–20), it is right for them to turn punishment over to the civil authorities, who have the responsibility to punish evil.

  • The reference to the sword most likely refers to the penalty of capital punishment (cf. Gen. 9:6).

  • In this context sword refers to civil disorders rather than military engagements though in ancient Rome where soldiers comprised the police force and the army, the distinction was not as clear as it is in modern democracies.

  • Sword does seem to denote the right of capital punishment, for a sword (as opposed to a whip, for instance) was an instrument of death.

  • In the present context, however, it is God’s servant who bears the sword, and this excludes all arbitrary and indiscriminate uses of power apart from the cause of justice.


13:Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

  • Christians should obey the civil authorities not only to avoid God's wrath (coming through those authorities, v. 4) but also because their conscience tells them that submitting to the government is right (see note on vv. 1–7).

  • It has been said that P. approached the relation of church and state (Christian & state) not as a Sadducee who lived from the advantages of the state, nor as a Zealot who lived to overthrow the state, nor as Pharisee who divorced religion from the state, nor as a Roman citizen for whom the state was an end in itself.

  • Paul wrote as a free man in Christ, and he appeals to the church to be equally free in obedience to the state, but not conformed to it.


13:For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

  • Christians must not refuse to pay taxes simply because they think some of the money is used unjustly, for the Roman Empire surely did not use all of its money for godly purposes!

  • So, too, believers are to honor their leaders, even if they are not fully admirable.


13:Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.


  • Because authority is ordained by God, submission entails the practical duties of the pay of taxes, revenue, respect and honor.

  • For Jews, census enrollment and taxation were two of the most onerous effects of foreign rule.

  • In Roman-occupied Palestine, where tax collectors unscrupulously overcharged Jews, the populace was tempted to underpay (or withhold) taxes without guilt.

  • Tacitus, the Roman historian, reported mounting unrest over taxes in Rome in A.D. 58, only a year after P. wrote.

  • P. does not support such protests—the payment of taxes is also an expression of agape for the authorities are ministers of God (v.6).

  • Greek for taxes normally referred to direct taxes or tribute, whereas that rendered revenue referred to indirect taxes, customs duties, etc.

13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

  • P. now returns specifically to the theme of love which dominates chapters 12-13.

  • The idea of owing taxes in v. 7 reminds him that there is one debt (v.8) which can never be paid.

  • The debt of love is always outstanding; it is the only mortgage that can never be burned.

  • In returning to the personal ethics of agape in vv. 8-10 P. recalls that good citizenship (13:1-7) is neither the sum of nor a substitute for true Christianity.

  • Beneath civic duties and good causes, even beneath personal world-views and life-styles, lies the essential and indispensable characteristic of Christian faith, love for others.

  • V. 8 begins with an emphatic double negative.

  • The debt of love is categorical and allows no exceptions.

    • In Buddhism love is a rather dispassionate feeling of benevolence toward humanity in general, but less is said of its expression toward particular individuals.

    • This is decidedly not true in Christianity.

  • Agape is not an abstract concept; it is a will in search of an object.

    • 4 times P. identifies that object as each other (v. 8), another (v. 8) and neighbor (twice in vv. 9-10).

    • The other person represents God’s claim on our love.

    • We normally think of our neighbor as a person who is like us, but in the parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and Final Judgment (Matt. 25:31-46) the neighbor is very much unlike us.

    • Others are out neighbors not because they are like us, not even because they are chosen by us, but because they are given to us by God with a need which we can meet.

    • Indeed, Christ himself meets us in that need (Matt. 25:40, 45).




  • Owe no one anything links back to v. 7, and thus the command does not prohibit all borrowing but means that one should always “pay what is owed” (see v. 7), fulfilling whatever repayment agreements have been made.

  • The debt one never ceases paying is the call to love one another. Indeed, love fulfills what the Mosaic law demands.


13:9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

  • Paul cites several OT commandments regarding responsibility to others, all of which are summed up in the call from Lev. 19:18 to love your neighbor as yourself.


13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
13:11-14

  • Christians sometimes make contradictory claims about their faith, for faith, like life, cannot be reduced to purely logical categories.

  • A parent, for e.g., can love and hate a child at the same moment, or so it seems.

  • Christian like assert one thing about God and then another thing quite different—but also quite true.

  • Early in Romans Paul spoke of justification as though it were entirely of God—“For if while we were enemies we reconciled to God by the death of his Son . . .” (5:10).

  • It sounds as though we had nothing to do with it; in fact, we did not.

  • That is the forensic or juridical (legal) meaning of justification.

  • But in chap. 12 P. began speaking of human involvement in the salvation process.

    • “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (12:1).

    • “Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (13:12).

  • The emphasis shifted from righteousness before God to righteousness in human relationships, from being accounted right with God to becoming right with ourselves and others.

  • There is an already and a not yet aspect to the Christian’s situation.

  • Christians are justified, but not yet conformed to the image of God’s Son.




  • In chapters 12-13 P. roots Christian behavior in agape.

  • He now adds that the final day of salvation is an equally important stimulus to Christian transformation.

  • The admonition of 12:2 not to be conformed to this age is here completed in the transformation of life by the age to come.

  • The model of the resurrected Jesus is even now the pattern for Christians.

  • The expectation of the return of Christ preserves the central truth of the faith.

  • Christianity is a relationship with the person of Christ which begins in “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (13:14) and ends in glory by being fully “conformed to the image of his Son” (8:29).


13:11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

  • The time is not clock-time, but the unique moment of time which began in God’s sending his Son (Mark 1:15; Gal. 4:4-6) and which concludes at the final revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all.

  • It is the eschatological (end-time) moment which transforms the otherwise monotony of time into an opportunity for decision and salvation.

  • P. utilizes imagery common to other NT writers in vv. 11-14 (hour, v. 11), (wake from sleep, v. 11), (night and day, v. 12) to admonish believers to faithfulness before the coming Day of the Lord.

  • In this section (12:3–13:14) the final verses call Christians to action, given the shortness of the time before Jesus returns.

  • Sleep here is a metaphor for a life of moral carelessness and laxity.

  • Salvation is viewed as a future reality here, and it draws nearer every day. the day is at hand.

  • The nearness of the end summons Christians to put off all evil works and to live in the light.


13:12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

  • The present is a time of night and sleep when the mind (see 12:2) is weak and inactive, and when ignorance, confusion and wickedness prevail.

  • But the night is far gone and the day of salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

  • P. does not say that people are getting better, or that the world is improving, or that humanity will find a way to overcome its problems.

  • The present is a time of crisis not because of anything we do, but because of what God will do in the future.

  • The sharp distinction between present and future is pictured even by the consistent use of the aorist tense in Greek.

  • It is a call to decisive action and recalls the vocabulary of conversion and perhaps baptism itself.


13:13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.

  • They are to be done with all these shameful acts.

    • The word translated orgies originated in the Bacchus cult and means carousing and revelry to excess.

    • The first 4 terms in the list are plural in Greek connoting frequency or habitual behavior.

    • These are properties of the flesh or sinful nature (v. 14).

  • Things not fitting for those who belong to the light include

    • (1) sins of addiction in drinking and partying;

    • (2) sexual sins; and

    • (3) social sins.


13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

  • Paul's exhortations can be summed up in the call to put on … Christ.

  • Christians are call to cater no longer to the flesh but to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

    • The concrete imagery (getting up in the morning and getting dressed) is an unusually common metaphor for such a profound spiritual reality, and it reminds believers that the life of faith is not a mystical experience, but a life of discipleship, intentionally following Jesus in the most common and practical matters.

    • Discipleship is following Jesus step by step in the direction he leads, as opposed to any other way, and, as the Greek says in v. 13, “walking properly.”

    • The idea that “the clothes make the person” is a theological (doctrinal) truism this case, for in putting on Christ believers discover that Christ’s character and behavior become their own.

    • This far exceeds mere morality, important morality is.

    • It means claiming that Christ’s identity as our identity, his way in the world as our way, and his promise of the future as our path in the present.




  • The metaphor of putting on clothing implies not just imitating Christ's character but also living in close personal fellowship with him.

  • Even though believers have new life, they still must constantly renounce the flesh and refuse to gratify its desires.


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