By Andrew E. Courtis
Romans 13 provides practical commands concerning the believer’s responsibility to the governing authorities (13:1-7), to the Law of God (13:8-10), and in light of the Second Coming of Christ (13:11-14). This can be summarised by three key words: submission, service, and salvation.
1. SUBMISSION (13:1-7)
What is a Christian’s responsibility to their governing authorities? In Romans 13:1-7 three realities regarding the Christian and the Government: the source of the government’s authority (13:1-2), the sphere of the government’s authority (13:3-4) and the submission of the government’s subjects (13:5-7). Why should we submit to the government? Because governing authorities are placed in the position of authority by God (13:1b-2). The fact that God has ordained and instituted governing authorities doesn’t mean that every authority is morally good or economically sensible. In His sovereign plan there will be varying reasons for their appointment – whether it be blessing or judgment. Regardless of the authority, the duty of the citizen remains the same. How far does the government’s authority extend and what is their duty granted by God? God has appointed government to reward good and restrain evil. The reward is seen in protection and the promotion of peace, whereas the restraining of evil is seen in the application of just punishment. As citizen’s that are commanded by God, it is our duty to subject ourselves to the authorities. This is displayed by our attitude and actions. Paul provides the specific example of willingly paying taxes (13:6). Christian’s may not agree with the amount required in taxation nor may they agree with the government’s use of taxes. Nonetheless, the Christian is to “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” (13:7).
2. SERVICE (13:8-10)
Jesus summarized the entire law of God by one word, which was “love” (Matt. 22:27-30). In Romans 13:8-10, we see how this is displayed when we love one another. After talking about the believer’s obligation to pay their taxes (13:6-7), Paul broadens the principle by saying, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (13:8a). This text is simply instructing us that we ought to pay what we owe. Of course, we must be aware of the dangers involved in borrowing (cf. Prov. 22:7). However, there is one thing we are to constantly owe people and we will never be able to pay it off. He continues, “except to love each other”. This is a call to sacrificially show commitment and care to each other. By showing this kind of love, “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (13:8b). Here Paul connects that command to love with the summation of God’s law. Love is then proven to be genuine by the way in which it has a focus on others and not self. After making reference to the law (13:8b), in verse 9 Paul lists four of the Ten Commandments (no. 7, no. 6, no. 8, no. 10). The purpose of quoting these commands is to eliminate self-love. In bringing this passage to a conclusion Paul says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (13:10). As the people of God, let us love one another.
3. SECOND COMING (13:11-14)
In Romans 13:11-14, Paul sets an alarm designed to wake up sleepy Christians! He begins by saying, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep” (Rom. 13:11a). This is a strong wake up call. Sadly, too many Christians are pressing the snooze button on this urgent call. What is the occasion for such urgency? He provides the reason in the last part of verse 11, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed“. The word “salvation” or “saved” is from the Greek word that means “to rescue” or “to deliver from danger”. Here is it is used in a spiritual sense. Salvation is exclusively found in the only One who can save, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 4:12). When it comes to this salvation, we need to understand it as something in the future: Saved from the Presence of Sin (Glorification). So when Paul speaks of salvation being nearer, he is referring to the great occasion in which the believer will be glorified. Glorification occurs immediately for those who die to be with the Lord and will occur for all God’s people who are alive at the time of the Lord’s return. Adding to the urgency, Paul says, “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” (Rom. 13:12). The remaining part of this passage provides two compelling commands for the believer living in light of the Second Coming – cast off (13:13) and put on (13:14). In verse 13 there are three couplets of sin the Christian whose eyes are on the return of Christ are to avoid. Couplet one (“orgies and drunkenness“) focuses on senseless sins. Couplet two (“sexual immorality and sensuality“) focuses on sexual sins, and couplet three (“quarreling and jealousy“) focuses on social sins. The believer, whose life is lived in the light of Christ’s return covers and consumes himself with the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul concludes, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires“ (13:14).
- Why should a Christian willingly obey the government? When should a Christian disobey the government? See Exodus 1:17; Matt. 2:12; Acts 5:29
- How can we pray effectively for our government? See also 1 Tim. 2:1-2
- Discuss how the four of the Ten Commandments listed by Paul (13:9) show love to others.
- In what way does the Second Coming of Christ motivate us to holiness? See 13:11-14