Romans 13

Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice through submission to the government and living a life of love.

Romans 13:1-2

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. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

The thirteenth chapter opens with a call for those who are living a life of “spiritual worship” by offering their “bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1-2) even in relationship to the government.  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) is the expectation.  The reason being,  “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1b).  For Paul, the ones who are placed in positions of power are placed there by God.  This is true whether the powers are good or evil.  An example of good might be David (Acts 13:22).  An example of an evil king placed there by God might be Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:8-9; see Jeremiah 52:10-11 and Daniel 3:1-7).  The strong admonition regarding resisting authorities is, “Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:2).  This attitude is seen regularly in the Scriptures  (see I Timothy 2:1-2; Titus 3:1 and I Peter 2:13-17).  However, one must remember that these are delegated powers of God; He is the final authority  (see Ephesians 1:20-21; Philippians 2:9-10, and Colossians 1:16 and 2:10).

It is entirely possible for “the laws of the land” to be in conflict with “the laws of God.”  If this happens, what is a Christian to do?  When faced with this dilemma by being told not to preach, the apostles Peter and John had a very direct answer: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).  A few days later, while they were preaching, they were arrested and brought before the council.  The apostles were confronted with the fact that they had been told to stop preaching.  Their response?  “We must obey God rather than men” (see Acts 5:17-32).  When there is a conflict between what God requires and the laws of the land, a Christian will follow God’s will and take the judgment handed out by the government.   This concept can be seen in practice in imprisonments suffered by Peter (Acts 12:1-5) and Paul (Acts 16:19-24),  and in Old Testament in cases such as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:8-30) and Daniel (Daniel 6:1-28).  When there is conflict between what God wants and what the government demands, Christians are always expected to follow God.

Romans 13:3-4

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, 4for 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.

In Romans 13: 3-4, Paul offers a gnomic statement, a statement of general truth.  This statement does not always hold true as seen in Paul’s life.  Ironically, he was put to death by the Roman government that he spoke about.  Although the event is not recorded in the Bible, tradition tells us that the sword of the Roman government executed Paul.  The striking difference here is between the attitude of the average Jew and that of Christians.  The Jew was in constant rebellion against Rome.  Even a religious order, the Zealots, was formed to fight Roman domination.  Christianity, on the other hand, had the marching orders of, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

Romans 13:5-7

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay 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.

The practical application of subjection to the governmental powers is summarized in Romans 13:5-7:

ü Be in subjection to the powers that be – Romans 13:5

ü Pay your taxes – Romans 13:6

ü Pay to all in government what is due them: – Romans 13:7     

ü Taxes to whom taxes are owed

ü Revenue to whom revenue is owed

ü Respect to whom respect is owed

ü Honor to whom honor is owed

Romans 13:8-10

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The 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.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

The next section emphasizes the way that living a life of sacrifice can be done in a single word: love.  The message is, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8).  It is Paul’s belief that any and every part of the law can be summed up in the word “love” (Romans 13:8b-10).  This agrees with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22:36-40.

Romans 13:11-14

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. 12The 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. 13Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

The final thought in chapter 13 has to do with the urgency that each Christian should feel.  Using terms such as “wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11) and “The night is far gone; the day is at hand” (Romans 13:12) Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that it is important to “walk properly” (Romans 13:13).  To do this, one must avoid sin and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).  In Galatians 3:27, Paul reminds us that, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  In our study of Romans 6, Paul made it clear that those who have been baptized into Christ have chosen a different lifestyle, even to the point of stating, “So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ” (see Romans 6:11; the student is encouraged to read Romans 6:1-14).  Paul describes this classic battle that is going on in each Christian in Galatians 5:16-24.  He encourages us to put on the armor of God to be successful in fighting this battle (Ephesians 6:10-18a).  Just as a soldier must be ready to fight the battle at any time, the follower of Christ must feel the urgency of being ready at all times.

Review Questions:

  1. As a Christian deals with a law, how does he/she decide whether or not to follow it?
  1. What should the attitude of a Christian be toward a government that is less than godly in the way it works?
  1. What are the three applications of being subject to the powers of government that are listed in Romans 13:5-7?
  1. While the law was made up of a multitude of commands, what word does Paul say summarizes the life of sacrifice?
  1. What are some of the terms that Paul uses to point out the urgency involved in the Christian life?

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