Romans Chapter 13

Rom 13:1  Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Here in Romans 13, Paul tells us that every soul is every human being. The simplest explanation of ‘higher powers’ is that they are the civil governing authorities placed over us by law. The Greek word does not imply demonic powers as in Ephesians 6:12, where the context indicates demonic powers. The context here is civil governing authorities. We are not slaves to those authorities, but as a society, we willingly accept that authority, for it keeps us civilized, preventing anarchy.  

God is the creator of the authority of government; all authority comes from Him. He designed it and he gave it to the people as the proper way to live peacefully. God has also ordained, or divinely appointed those authorities. Even when chosen by plebiscite, or election by the people, they are ordained by God. God ordains the office and our respect is for the office and not necessarily for the person serving in that office. We may personally dislike the person in the office, but we honor the office anyway. That is how civil government works.

Romans 13:2  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Because God ordained those governing authorities, disobedience to their lawful authority is the same as disobeying God’s authority. According to Thayer and most other lexicons, the word translated damnation by the KJV translators is not usually so severe in other translations. The KJV probably used that word because the Vulgate, which is the Latin version of the Bible, used the word damnation (damnationem) as did Wycliffe.

While there is nothing wrong with using the word, it may seem to indicate that disobeying civil authorities is a direct path to eternal damnation. All sins are deadly and they ultimately lead to death without God’s forgiveness. But disobeying civil authorities does not immediately lead to eternal damnation. However, it is sinful as are all sins. All sins will be judged at the Judgment of God.

What will happen is that a citizen that disobeys lawful civil authorities can suffer punishment. That may include jail time, fines, etc. Most translations render the word judgment or punishment. The KJV is not wrong here for damnation is perfectly appropriate; it just sounds harsher than judgment, though both have the same meaning.

We must also note that if the civil governing authorities pass laws contrary to God’s laws, we are not to obey those laws. An example would be a law requiring citizens to bow down to an idol or worship a supreme leader instead of God. Another would be laws that force Christians to participate in lifestyles that are sinful. We are not obligated to obey such a law. The governing authorities that write such laws are disregarding God’s laws are committing sins themselves. A warning; when we disobey those ungodly laws we are still subject to punishment by civil authorities. That should not stop us from obeying God rather than men. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15). Acts 4:18-20, “And they [the governing authorities] called them [Peter and John], and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. (19) But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. (20) For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.

Romans 13:3  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

Lawful and Godly authorities will not cause fear in those who live right; but those who do evil should fear them. There is no need to fear those authorities if you are leading an upright and Godly life. We will be respected for our good citizenship.

Romans 13:4-5  For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.  (5)  Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

God ordained civil authority to maintain a good and peaceful life. In order for them to do that for which they are ordained, they must always carry a sword. That does not mean that all civil authorities are armed. It means that they have the power to execute judgment. If necessary, armed force will be used against evil doers. If you are an upright, law-abiding citizen, your conscience won’t bother you.

Romans 13:6-7  For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.  (7)  Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Lawful taxes that are not overbearing are good. They keep the civil society civil. Without taxes, there would be no governing authorities and we would all have to fend for ourselves. Pay the taxes you owe. Respect lawful authority.

Romans 13:8  Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

Refrain from debt. Have love for your Christian brethren. In the next verse Paul explains how love fulfils the law.

Romans 13:9  For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

This echoes what Jesus said in Mark 12:

Mark 12:29-31  And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:  (30)  And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  (31)  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

In other words the entire law is based on these two requirements, that you love God and love others. The entire law is summed up in those two actions.

Romans 13:10  Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

If you truly love God unconditionally you will never displease him or worship anyone or anything other than God. If you love others you will not do anything evil or unlawful to them. By loving God and loving others, we satisfy the law and its requirements.

Admittedly, this is difficult for most Christians; it is difficult for most humans. As Christians we understand the requirement to do this. Thankfully, when we fail, which is sin, the blood of Jesus covers it and we are justified before God because of the work Jesus did at Calvary.

Romans 13:11  And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.

Because of the things written beginning in Rom 13:9, and because of the fleeting amount of time we have in this body, and in this world, the hour has come to awaken from sleep and attend to the things God wants us to do in this life. That is because the day of salvation, which is the day we will leave this life and enter into eternal life, is nearer today than it was when we were first saved.

Romans 13:12  The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

The words “night” and “day” metaphorically refer to the darkness of this world and the light of Christ, respectively. Paul admonishes us to live the Christian life because the darkness of this world will come to an end. It will end for us individually when we pass away and the light heaven will be our home. That day is coming for each of us more quickly that we realize.

Meanwhile, we are to be apart from the darkness of this world while in this world. We are to be always prepared stand against the wiles of the Devil. We are like soldiers in a spiritual war. We do not battle with people, but with Satan and his minions. Thus we need armor. That is where the armor of light profits us; the armor of light refers to the protection of the gospel of Christ in our lives. Compare it with the armor of righteousness in 2 Cor 6:7, and the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:11-17.

Romans 13:13  Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.

Be self-controlled and temperate. Apply the Golden Rue to all situations. This is the way Christians should always act. This is not weak or milquetoast, but being strong and bold while being kind and loving. Christians walk daily in the presence of Christ who is our strength, our shield, and buckler. He will never leave or forsake us, even unto the end of the world.

Romans 13:14  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to satisfy the lusts thereof.

Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ means to imitate Him, to be at one with Him, to do His will, and to be fully in His will. The idea here is like an actor, who dresses the part of the person he portrays. The actor takes on the mannerisms, the voice, the facial expressions the personality, and as many attributes as he can of the one he is portraying. He tries to be as much like that person as possible in order to depict that person as closely as possible.

Like the actor, we are to become as much like Christ as is possible. The more Christ-like we are the more spiritually mature we become. Mature Christians who have put on Christ are less likely to allow the flesh to overpower them and cause them to sin by satisfying the sinful desires of the flesh. Spiritual maturity does not necessarily occur with age. It grows in us as we grow in Christ. Christians young and old become spiritually mature through prayer, Bible study, and imitating Christ.

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