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26. The Laws of the Land (Romans 13:1-14)

What is dual citizenship? Dual citizenship means that an individual is a citizen of two countries at the same time. In America, dual citizenship is not something that can be applied for. It occurs automatically for some individuals. For example, if a child is born in the U.S. to foreign parents, the child automatically has U.S. citizenship as well as citizenship of the parents’ home country. Similarly, the Bible calls you to dual citizenship. If you were born in the U.S. you are an American citizen, but when you were born again you became heaven’s citizen. You are responsible to live out both citizenships. The problem is some Christians are prone to extremes: either focusing on their earthly citizenship or their heavenly citizenship. Yet, Paul argues that both citizenships are essential since you have dual citizenship. In Rom 13:1-14 Paul instructs you in your obligations as an earthly and heavenly citizen.1

1. Submit To Government (13:1-7)2

God is glorified and His will is fulfilled when you submit to His governing authorities. In 13:1a Paul writes: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing3 authorities.”4 The command begins with the words, “Every person” (pasa psuche lit. “every soul”).5 This includes believers and unbelievers, rich and poor, great and small, without exception.6 But Paul’s primary concern is that believers “submit” to governing authorities. The verb “submit” (hupotasso)7 means “to place oneself under.”8 After reading this blanket command, some look for exceptions. However, here Paul provides the general rule, not the exceptions. Of course, there are at least three areas in which a Christian should resist authority: (1) If he or she is asked to violate a command of God.9 (2) If he or she is asked to commit an immoral or unethical act. (3) If he or she is asked to go against his/her conscience.10 But when a believer resists authority he/she must be willing to accept the consequences (see 13:2). Submission is never easy and frequently there are grave ethical dilemmas.11

Fortunately, in 13:1b Paul gives the first reason you must submit to government. He writes, “For there is no authority except from12 God, and those which exist are established by God.”13 This is the first of four uses of the word “authority” (exousia), which means “delegated authority.”14 Paul’s entire argument is based upon a fundamental premise: God is sovereign and He possesses ultimate authority. However, no one has authority independent of God. (Underline the word “no” in 13:1b).15 He alone delegates human authority to people. This means that every government is to be acknowledged and obeyed by virtue of its existence, not because it meets your preferences. The term that is translated “established” or “ordained” (tetagmenai from tasso)16 is in the perfect tense, referring to a past action with continuous results. Paul means that all governments (past, present, and future) that exist are ordained by God, whether good or bad.17

Now perhaps you are asking the question, “What about Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein? Did God ‘ordain’ these authorities?”18 The Scriptures teach an interesting paradox: on one hand, Satan is actively involved in the political process (Luke 4:6-7). The book of Daniel teaches that there are wicked spirits who are assigned to various leaders. Yet at the same time, the Bible clearly teaches that God rules in the affairs of men. In Psalm 75:6-7 Asaph says: “For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation; but God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another.” Proverbs 21:1 says: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” In other words, God is sovereign over whoever is in authority. Remember, Nero was in power when Paul wrote Rom 13. Nero hated Christians, had them rounded up, dipped in tar, and lit as torches for his parties. He covered Christians in animal skins and threw them to wild dogs.19 He ordered Rome set on fire and then blamed the Christians, setting off the first wave of official persecution. We’ve largely forgotten how wicked pagan ancient Rome really was. Sorcery and black magic abounded, abortion flourished, homosexuality was accepted as normal, and the masses worshipped Caesar as Lord. No government in America has ever been as pagan as the government of ancient Rome.

In 13:2 Paul shares the first consequence if you fail to submit to government. He writes, “Therefore whoever resists20 authority has opposed the ordinance21 of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Paul is saying that when you resist government you are resisting God! To put it positively, submission to government is an expression of your submission to God. Therefore, whether you think a law is fair or not, you have no right to disobey simply because of your preferences. If you choose to disobey Paul states that you will receive condemnation upon yourself. “Condemnation” (krima)22 or “judgment” refers to both God’s judgment and government’s judgment. Government penalizes people for their wrongdoings. What government fails to judge properly in this life, God will make right in the final judgment.23

In 13:3 Paul gives a second reason why you should generally be submissive to governing authorities. He explains, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.” Rulers uphold the law. Hence, if you are honoring the law, you have nothing to fear under a good government. But when you do evil, you have much to fear. Have you ever experienced the surge of fear that shoots through you when you speed through a speed trap and then look down at your speedometer? It’s a frightening thing. (I know from first-foot experience!) Now if you never speed, you have nothing to worry about, right? Right! But if you drive I-5 like the German autobahn, be worried . . . be very worried! The consequences of judgment or “praise” are true of every scale of crime. Choose your consequences. It’s up to you.

Paul gives a second, surprising consequence if you fail to submit to government. He writes in 13:4: “for it [rulers] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Two times in 13:4, Paul calls rulers a “minister” (diakonos), which is also the word for deacon. So you are to look upon governing authorities as part of God’s ministerial staff. They are a part of the team He assembles to work in the world today. The task of this minister is to serve God by dealing appropriately with those who do good and also with those who do evil. In case there is any doubt in your mind, Paul puts the word “God” (theou) in the emphatic slot in both phrases of 13:4. Governing authorities are God’s ministers, so you are commanded to submit to them. You have dual citizenship.

In 13:4 Paul also alludes to “the sword” that government bears. Notice he doesn’t refer to “the whip” or “the jail sentence”—he says “the sword.” In New Testament times the sword was an instrument of capital punishment to behead criminals.24 Roman officials had sabers carried in front of them as a constant reminder that they held the power of life and death.25 Now, it may be true that Paul’s words carry a much broader meaning, but it’s also true that capital punishment is certainly included in this concept. He seems to be saying that the state or the government, not the individual, has the authority to take another person’s life.26 Hence, there is no conflict here between Paul’s words in 12:19-20 about not taking vengeance, and his use of the sword to restrain evil. Rom 12 is personal; Rom 13 is constitutional. In Rom 12 vengeance is at work; in Rom 13 justice is at work. Thus, I understand 13:4 to teach that government has the right to execute capital punishment. God established the death penalty before the Law back in Gen 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”27 It has nothing to do with our opinions about it—whether we find it distasteful or arrogant to assume that society has the right to take a person’s life. All of that is an irrelevant discussion. God has addressed the matter. The Bible says that anyone who deliberately and premeditatively takes a life, his or her life shall be taken. In fact, not only is capital punishment biblical, but public capital punishment is biblical so that those watching will say, “I don’t want that to happen to me” (Num 16:30-34; Josh 7:24-26).28 The principle here is: God highly values human life. Murder is a unique crime, a crime against the “image of God” in man.29 The natural deterrent to upholding this intrinsic value is to practice the death penalty.30 It is a necessary function of society to harness the evil of people.

Admittedly, capital punishment isn’t always administered justly and we must fight to correct the injustices. But the institute of capital punishment is necessary to punish evil and help instill fear of authority.31 This truth is further confirmed in Rom 13:4, when Paul calls governing authorities “an avenger” (ekdikos).32 If a person killed another person, in the Old Testament, even accidently, that person’s family had the right to exercise the “eye-for-an-eye” vengeance (the blood avenger).33 Paul seems to be relating the Old Testament custom to the authority of civil government.

In case you are confused, Paul summarizes his command (13:1a) and his reasons to submit to government (13:1b, 3). In 13:5 he writes, “Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection,34 not only because of wrath, but also for conscience sake.” In light of all that Paul has said (13:1-4) he hopes that you will be “in subjection.” Paul repeats the two reasons to submit to government in reverse order. The external motivation that promotes submission is the fear of punishment. The internal motivation that promotes submission is a desire to maintain a pure and undefiled conscience.35 You have dual citizenship.

Paul closes this section in 13:6-7 with specific applications: “For because of this [God’s ordaining of governing authorities] you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting36 themselves to this very thing” (13:6). How can you demonstrate your submission to the government? By paying taxes!37 One reason for paying taxes is that rulers are “servants of God.” This is the third time that governing rulers are referred to as God’s “servants” or “ministers” (cf. 13:4). Yet, here Paul uses a different word for “servant” (leitourgos). This term is used for temple servants in the Old Testament.38 Paul also uses this word of himself a “minister [leitourgos] of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles” (15:16). Many governing officials may not realize it, but God has put them where they are to serve Him.39 Civil servants, then, are performing God-ordained functions full-time, and you should pay your taxes to support their ministry.40 This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take deductions or pay more than needed, but it does mean that you should pay your share willingly. How honest are you in paying your taxes? How many trips down to Portland have you made to purchase items to avoid sales tax? Did you report sales tax on items you bought out-of-state (e.g., Internet site purchases)? Did you report all the tips you made? If you are willing to pay your taxes, it is likely that you will be submissive in other areas as well.

But what about when my taxes are being used for things I disagree with? What if I don’t believe in spending money on foreign aid? What if I feel it is wrong to support the military. What if I believe it is criminal that state or federal funds are used to pay for abortions? Stop and ask yourself what Roman taxes were going toward in Paul’s day? The answer is the luxurious lifestyle of the Caesars, abortion, and the construction and maintenance of temples devoted to the worship of the Roman Emperor. You may not like the taxes you are asked to pay, you may not deem them fair, you might not agree with every way that our tax dollars are being spent, but you have no right to decide which taxes you want to pay and which ones not to pay. God has not given you the authority to make that decision.

In 13:7 Paul writes, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”41 Paul states that you are to pay direct taxes and indirect taxes (customs). But he also says that you are to fear and honor your governing authorities. “Respect” (lit. “fear”) refers to your awareness that they have God’s authority to punish the evil-doer (13:4). “Honor” refers to your realization that God places value and significance upon such people. Notice, Paul does not qualify the word “all” (pas). This means all civil servants, at every level, are to receive honor and respect. This respect is not just for the office but to the person as well. This respect is “due them,” regardless of their party affiliation, regardless of how they live their private life, and regardless of the sly way they catch you speeding.42 Perhaps you’re thinking you can’t honor your president or governor. Can you pray for this person? As you pray for this person, you’ll find it easier to honor the governing authority. Remember, you have dual citizenship.

There are many other relevant applications in this section: (1) Don’t ignore your responsibility to vote.

This is one of the greatest sins in the Christian church. We whine and fret over the direction of our country, but we refuse to vote. What insanity! Christians who don’t vote are abdicating their responsibility and must answer to God.43 The Bible says that Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, was honored “because he sought the good of his people” (Esther 10:3). Shouldn’t we also work for the good of our nation? Don’t look at voting only as a responsibility; however, look at it as an opportunity—an opportunity hundreds of millions of people in our world wish they had. (2) Encourage your governing authorities. Instead of being critical every time they do something you don’t like, contact various civil servants and let them know that you are praying for them (1 Tim 2:1-2). When they do something right, drop them an e-mail, a handwritten note, or even pick up the phone and call directly. Let them know how pleased you are and that you are grateful for them. (3) Consider public service if you have been given abilities appropriate to the task. If you are a young person, God may want to use you as a “minister” on His full-time staff. If your child or grandchild expresses an interest in politics, don't discourage him or her. Rather, challenge such a one to serve the Lord on the frontlines. How wonderful it would be if one of your children was instrumental in helping to turn around our country!

[Not only are you to “submit” to your governing authorities, you must also . . .]

2. Live To Love (13:8-10)

Paul calls you to live out a lifestyle of love with everyone God brings you in contact with. In 13:8-10 he writes: “Owe44 nothing to anyone except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this,45 ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,’46 and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” There are several observations worth noting in these three verses. First, the NASB’s translation “owe nothing to anyone”47 can be misleading because it seems to prohibit any form of debt or borrowing. However, this verse does not mean that you may never incur financial obligations or that you may not borrow from others in case of need. The New Testament does not forbid borrowing, only the practice of charging inflated interest on loans and failing to pay debts.48 A strong argument can be made for the view that one is not really in debt unless his liabilities exceed his assets, unless he has borrowed beyond the means to repay, or unless he has fallen behind on payments.49 The NIV’s translation, “Let no debt remain outstanding” avoids the literal interpretation but gives the correct interpretation of Paul’s thoughts.50

Second, you should strive to love, but you should never consider the debt “paid in full.” Unlike house payments, car payments, credit card debt, and even college debt, love is a debt that continues forever. Therefore, when faced with a difficult situation, you can never say, “I’ve loved that person enough. I’m going to stop now. I have nothing else to give.” You must always remember Rom 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love for you has been, and always will be, absolutely unconditional. Regardless of how you treat God, He showers you with mercy, grace, compassion, and patience. He lavishes love upon you. How can you not love your fellow believers? But you may say, “You don’t know my wife. She disrespects me in front of the kids. She deprives me sexually. She doesn’t keep the house clean. She has let herself go physically.” I hurt for you . . . I really do. However, you have a debt of love to your wife that will never be paid. Perhaps your children are rebellious and they have caused you nothing but grief. They have publicly humiliated you. Every day of your life is an all-out war. You feel like you are losing your mind. My heart truly grieves for you. Nonetheless, you owe your children a debt of love. This clarion call to love applies to an unruly boss, a cantankerous coworker, an annoying neighbor, and a gossiping church member. Despite how you are treated, God is calling you to a supernatural love for others.

Third, love fulfills the law. When you love your neighbor as yourself, the purpose of the law is brought to completion. However, Paul doesn’t want you to focus on the law; he wants you to focus on love since love should be the mark that distinguishes you as a Christian (John 13:34-35). Since the world believes Christianity is responsible for racism, sexism, homophobia, the Crusades, and religious wars, we must break the stereotype of intolerance and narrow hate that seems to mark us. Naturally, we can only accomplish this as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.51 He is the one who works in and through us and grants supernatural love. Today, don’t think vaguely about loving everybody; think about loving one or two particular people, the difficult ones whom God has set before you.52 As you do so, you will fulfill the law and demonstrate your dual citizenship.

[You are obligated to submit to government and to live to love. Your third and final obligation is to . . .]

3. Refuse To Sin (13:11-14)

Paul uses the issue of the urgency of Christ’s return as a chief motivation to live the Christian life.53 In 13:11 he writes, “Do this, knowing54 the time,55 it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep;56 for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” The word “Do” is not part of the original text. The first phrase in 13:11 literally reads, “And this knowing the time.” “This” (touto) refers to the duties prescribed in 12:1-13:10.57 These duties can be categorized under two headings—love and service. We are to love and serve knowing our time is short.58 Have you ever noticed that we are obsessed with time! The first cognitive thought in our mind every morning is, “What time is it?” Have you ever counted the number of clocks you have in your house? (I counted over thirty last night in mine.) Think of your kitchen: coffee makers, oven, and microwave. What about your cell phones, laptops, DVD players, watches, and alarm clocks. We are fixated with time. But, are we measuring time correctly? We seem to be most concerned with what time it is now. God seems to be more concerned with what time is drawing near!59

Paul often uses the word “sleep” (egeiro)60 as a picture of believers who have been lulled into worldliness.61 He sounds a spiritual alarm because many of us are asleep. We might say many believers are “sleep-walking.” They are alive, but they are caught up in the ways of the world. Paul says, “Wake up, Christian!” The term “salvation” (soteria) refers to Jesus’ coming62 and our glorification and reward.63 Paul wants you to live with your eyes set on the prize because Christ’s return could come at any moment.64 We need to be ready all the time because at any time Jesus may return.

In light of the urgency of Christ’s return, Paul writes in 13:12, “The night is almost gone,65 and the day is near.66 Therefore let us lay aside67 the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” “The night” refers to the time of Jesus’ absence; “the day” refers to His return.68 Again, Paul’s point is that Jesus’ return is imminent (i.e., it could happen at any time). Therefore, Paul commands us to “lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” In other words, we are to take off our soiled clothes and put on spiritual armor. This life should be viewed in light of the next.69

I’ve always had what I call my daily “uniform.” My uniform is what I like to wear in the privacy of my own home. It’s what I immediately slip into when I come home. Usually, my uniform consists of clothes that I would NEVER wear in public. For years my uniform consisted of a pair of sweats and my favorite shirt. My favorite shirt was a baby blue, mesh, v-neck pajama top that my dad handed down to me. I loved this shirt because it was my dad’s shirt and because it was so comfortable. However, when I got married I didn’t get rid of my uniform. In fact, I began sporting this shirt around our apartment, to which Lori exclaimed, “Either you lose that shirt or I will!” By this time, my favorite shirt was faded and full of gaping holes. Yet, I loved it and wasn’t about to get rid of it. Fortunately, for the sake of our marriage, Lori finally honored her threat and tossed my poor shirt.

Do you have a “uniform” that is unsuitable for the light of day? Sadly, you may be married to Christ, but still committing “deeds of darkness” that need to be done away with. Paul says, “Get rid of your old pajamas and put on the armor of light.” You’re in a war! That’s why you need armor. Putting on this armor will permit you to plan as if Christ’s return is years away, but live as if He’s coming today.

In 13:13 Paul warns about the deeds of darkness: “Let us behave properly70 as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.”71 Paul lists three couplets of the old uniform: (1) Party sins (“carousing and drunkenness”). Drinking to excess has become rather popular among believers today. My question is: If you knew that Jesus Christ was going to return today would you abuse alcohol? Would you allow yourself to become intoxicated to the point that you may unintentionally do something foolish? (2) Bedroom sins (“sexual promiscuity72 and sensuality”). If you knew that Jesus Christ was going to return today would you be sexually immoral by sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend or someone who is not your spouse? Would you look at porn or call a 900 number? Would you carry on an emotional affair or flirt with someone of the opposite sex? Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “I’m not a party animal, nor am I sexually immoral. I can check both of those sins off. I’m not guilty.” However, Paul is not done. (3) Social sins (“strife and jealousy”). There are many who would be shocked at the thought of drunkenness, immorality or sexual looseness, but seem not to be shocked at all by strife and jealousy.73 Paul probably adds these sins to humble us all and prepare us for Christ’s return by living a life that is above reproach.74

Paul cannot end on a negative note. So he concludes in 13:14 by saying: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,75 and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”76 The righteous life is putting on Jesus like a suit of clothes.77 It is abiding in Him and living out His life.78 Paul instructs us to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” The term that is rendered “provision” (pronoia)79 implies forethought, planning, and activity. In Greek literature outside the New Testament, the term is used of a premeditated crime. Sin seldom just happens; most of the time it is premeditated. Sin is a link in a chain of events. When we surrender to the lusts of our flesh, it is often not a sudden collapse, but rather the culmination of a process. The sins of our flesh are those sins about which we have given much thought and for which we have made provision. If we are to be victorious over sin and the flesh, we must cease to make provision for it.80

If you are a student of church history, you will not want to forget Rom 13:14. This verse led to the conversion of Augustine. Discouraged by his inability to overcome sexual sin (cf. 13:13), he one day heard a child at play call out, “Take up and read.” Picking up a copy of Romans, his eye fell on this verse. God convicted him of the reality both of his sin and of salvation, and he was converted.81 If you are a student of Scripture and want to make your mark on history, you will not want to forget this verse. Rom 13:14 has the power to set you free from a life of sin. Today, put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask Him to help you overcome your sin. Make no provision for whatever sin is plaguing your flesh. Stop gratifying your flesh; instead, gratify your inner man with Jesus. You have dual citizenship. You are a citizen of earth, but you are a pilgrim, a sojourner who is just traveling through. You are on your way to your heavenly home because you are first and foremost a citizen of heaven. So act like it! Jesus has given you all the power you need.

Scripture References

Romans 13:1-14

Daniel 2:21; 4:17

1 Peter 2:13-17

Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-42

Acts 16:16-40; 18:12-18; 21:27-26:32; 28:17-31

Luke 20:20-26

1 Timothy 2:1-2

Study Questions

1. Do I treat my governing authorities with the same respect I treat God, who appointed them (Rom 13:1-7)? Do I see governing authorities as God’s “ministers” (13:3, 4, 6)? When was the last time I thanked God for the safety I enjoy daily or thanked those authorities who provide it for me at the risk of their own lives? How well do I apply 1 Tim 2:1-2?

2. Is there any area of civil life in which I have exercised a cavalier or disobedient spirit (Rom 13:2, 4, 6)? Have I experienced any consequences for my actions? What one area of deliberate sin/rebellion is God convicting me of in relationship to the Laws of my land? Am I willing to obey God in this area?

3. Do I sense a debt to love my fellow believers (Rom 13:8-10)? Why or why not? Why is it difficult to love other believers? What relationship is there between love and evangelism (see John 13:35)? Do I try to rationalize my failure to love on the basis of “technicalities” instead of simply obeying the law of love?

4. How often do I think about the return of Christ (Rom 13:11-12)? Have I made any plans for the future that are more important to me than Christ’s return? Have I been thinking that the Lord Jesus may not return soon? Read Matthew 24:48. If Christians invested less in this world and more in “the next,” what impact would that have on fulfilling the Great Commission?

5. If Christ appeared today is there any lifestyle, thought, or activity that I would be ashamed to have brought into His light (Rom 13:13-14)? How can I practically “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (13:14)? What safeguards do I need to put in place in order to not fulfill my fleshly desires?

Copyright © 2011 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. All Scripture quotations, unless indicated, are taken from the New American Standard Bible, C 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, and are used by permission. 

1 It is possible to understand Rom 13:1-7 as a self-contained literary context. However, the subject of “owing” in 13:7 seems to be continued in a different sense in 13:8. Believers owe an obligation to the state; believers also owe an obligation to other human beings. Verses 8-10 are a unified thought, as are 13:11-14. They continue the discussion from 12:1-21 of the Christian’s responsibility to love others.

2 Stott surveys the historical models of relations between church and state: “Relations between church and state have been notoriously controversial throughout the Christian centuries. To oversimplify, four main models have been tried—Erastianism (the state controls the church), theocracy (the church controls the state), Constantinianism (the compromise in which the state favours the church and the church accommodates to the state in order to retain its favour), and partnership (church and state recognize and encourage each other’s distinct God-given responsibilities in a spirit of constructive collaboration). The fourth seems to accord best with Paul’s teaching in Romans 13.” John R. W. Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994), 339.

3 For the term huperecho (“governing authorities”), see Phil 2:3; 3:8; 4:7; 1 Pet 2:13. BDAG s.v. huperecho 2: “figuratively to be in a controlling position, have power over, be in authority (over), be highly placed.”

4 Some English versions begin with the word “Let” to clarify the imperative (e.g., NET, ESV, NRSV, NKJV). This is a helpful inclusion.

5 Pasa psuche (“every person”) is in the emphatic first slot of the sentence. For other uses of this phrase, see Acts 2:43; 3:23; Rom 2:9; Rev 16:3.

6 While many commentators believe that Paul is speaking only to believers, Moo is likely correct when he states: “The basis of Paul’s own authority—an apostle of the gospel—as well as the audience of the letter indicates that his immediate reference must be to Christians. But we should probably not limit the reference to Christians only. Submission to governing authorities is especially incumbent on Christians who recognize that the God they serve stands behind those authorities, but it is required even for those who do not know this.” Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 794-95.

7 See Paul’s other uses of hupotasso: Rom 8:7, 20; 10:3; 13:5; 1 Cor 14:32, 34; 15:27-28; 16:16; Eph 1:22; 5:21, 24; Phil 3:21; Col 3:18; Titus 2:5, 9; 3:1.

8 This is not the only call to submission in the NT. There are at least five other commands for submission:


Submission Command

Scripture References

Believers are to submit to fellow believers

Eph 5:21

Believers are to submit to church leaders

1 Cor 16:16; 1 Pet 5:5

Prophets are to submit to other prophets

1 Cor 14:32

Servants are to submit to their masters

Tit 2:9; 1 Pet 2:18

Wives are to submit to their husbands

Eph 5:24; Col 3:18; Tit 2:5; 1 Pet 3:1, 5

9 Three biblical stories will help validate this principle. In Daniel 3, Daniel’s three friends were commanded to bow down before an image of gold. They refused, and rightly so, for they could not serve God and bow down to an idol. But the way in which they declined to do so demonstrated a submissive spirit. They did not refuse to obey all of the king’s commands, only this one. They knew that disobedience might cost them their lives—and they were willing to pay this price. A similar example is found in Daniel 6 where Daniel will not cease praying to his God. Daniel refuses to comply with a specific law and even the king agrees with him and hopes for his rescue. In Acts chapter 5, the Sanhedrin demanded that Peter and John stop preaching in the name of Jesus. But in Acts 5:29, “Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” Though they could not and would not stop preaching about their resurrected Lord, they did not challenge the authority of this body. Their answer was evidence of their submissive spirit and intent: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Submission usually is demonstrated by our obedience, but even when we must disobey we can and should do so in a submissive spirit and manner.

10 R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven. Preaching the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), Electronic ed.

11 Rom 13:1a directly applies “to the governing authorities,” but applies in principle to any authority (e.g., parents, teachers, employers). This is a very important word for children and teens to hear. God expects you to submit to your parental authorities. As long as you are in the home you are responsible and accountable to obey your parents. The only exception to this rule is if your mother or father asks you to do something sinful.

12 The phrase hupo theou (“from/by God”) expresses agency. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 389. Thus, Paul’s point is that no authority exists except for those whom God put there by His agency (see the NASB margin = Lit. “by”).

13 Boa and Kruidenier write, “As an aside, it should be noted in the name of thoroughness that Paul does not contradict himself between what he says here and in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. In the latter passage, where Paul commands believers not to air their dirty laundry in front of civil magistrates, he is not encouraging them to bypass the duly constituted legal process for redress of grievance. Rather, he is asking the Corinthian believers, ‘Why do you have any grievance at all?’ This is not a matter of being unwilling to obey the governing authorities. It is a matter of the shameful condition the church was in when they could not find among themselves enough wisdom to settle differences without having to ask for the help of unspiritual, civil judges. To admit that, with God’s help, in the body of Christ we cannot solve our differences, is to admit defeat. It would be better to suffer the wrong than to admit to the world the inability to solve the dispute (1 Cor. 6:7-8). A private defeat with a believer’s name shamed is better than a public defeat with God’s name shamed.” Kenneth Boa and William Kruidenier, Romans. Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Holman Reference, 2000), 393.

14 See also Paul Barnett, Romans: The Revelation of God’s Righteousness (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2003),


15 Three times in Daniel 4 we read the refrain, “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men” (4:17, 25, 32). See also Isa 30:30; Jer 5:31; John 19:11; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; Col 2:10.

16 BDAG s.v. tasso 1: “to bring about an order of things by arranging, arrange, put in place.” Paul’s only other use of tasso is 1 Cor 16:15.

17 René A. Lopez, Romans Unlocked: Power to Deliver (Springfield: 21st Century Press, 2005), 256.

18 Stott, Romans, 240 rightly comments: “We need to be cautious, however, in our interpretation of Paul’s statements. He cannot be taken to mean that all the Caligulas, Herods, Neros and Domitians of New Testament times, and all the Hitlers, Stalins, Amins and Saddams of our times, were personally appointed by God, that God is responsible for their behaviour, or that their authority is in no circumstances to be resisted. Paul means rather that all human authority is derived from God’s authority, so that we can say to rulers what Jesus said to Pilate, ‘You would have no power [exousia, authority] over me if it were not given to you from above.’ Pilate misused his authority to condemn Jesus; nevertheless, the authority he used to do this had been delegated to him by God.”

19 Lopez, Romans Unlocked, 257.

20 The word “resist” (anthistemi) is the opposite of “submit” (hupotasso) in Rom 13:1 (the Gk. word tasso with the negative prefix anti rather than hupo). The only other NT uses of this verb are Acts 18:6; Jas 4:6; 5:6; 1 Pet 5:5.

21 The only other NT use of diatage (“ordinance”) is Acts 7:53. There is a play on words between “established” (Rom 13:1b) and “ordinance,” so we might paraphrase, “God has ordained them, so when we rebel against them we are actually rebelling against the ordinances of God.” See also Grant R. Osborne, Romans. The IVP NT Commentary series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 344.

22 Cf. Rom 2:2-3; 3:8; 5:16; 11:33. In 2:2-3 Paul adds the expression, “of God” in both instances.

23 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 462; Osborne, Romans, 344.

24 John the Baptist and James were executed by the sword (Matt 14:10; Acts 12:2). Paul was willing to die by the sword (Acts 25:11), and likely did in the days of Nero.

25 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), Electronic ed.

26 Capital punishment is not a violation of the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exod 20:13 KJV). The proper translation of this verb is “You shall not murder” (e.g., NASB, NIV, NKJV). If you kill another person in the course of a war for your country, that’s not murder. Perhaps you are carrying a load of guilt because of killing a member of the enemy during the war. Maybe you thought all along, “This is terrible. I’ve killed somebody. I’ve broken the sixth commandment.” No, you haven’t, because you were representing your government who has the power to bear the sword. When David was fighting for the Israelites and he killed Goliath, that wasn’t murder; it was part of a battle. But later in his life David personally had Uriah the Hittite killed for personal motives—because he committed adultery with Uriah’s wife and wanted to get him out of the way. That was murder, even though he was killed in a battle, because the motive behind it was personal in nature. Do you see the difference? So, if you have killed in the service of your country, I don’t want you to let the Devil make you feel guilty about that.

27 Eaton rightly remarks: “I am not suggesting that modern nations have to run the country on wholly Mosaic lines, yet there will be a ‘Mosaic’ element in civic life despite the fact that the Christian church is released from the Mosaic law. The law was in many ways a lower standard than that which was given to Abraham. The Bible makes much of this very point. Christians are children of Abraham. But modern nations—operating at a national level—still have much to learn from Moses! We shall not uphold justice on wholly Mosaic lines, and yet a nation still needs to maintain justice—sometimes forcibly.” Michael Eaton, Romans: A Practical Exposition, forthcoming.

28 Tony Evans, The Promise (Chicago: Moody, 1996), 229.

29 Eaton, Romans: A Practical Exposition, forthcoming.

30 Contra Barnett, Romans, 288 who believes Paul’s use of “the sword” is metaphorical. Osborne, Romans, 345 rightly writes: “The power of the sword was reserved for Roman officials. This was why the Sanhedrin had to deliver Jesus to Pilate, for only the Roman government could execute a person. So while bear the sword primarily connotes the death penalty, it also generally describes the duty of the state to punish people who commit crimes in general.” See the excellent discussion on capital punishment in Sam Storms, “Romans 13:1-14”:; accessed 11 July 2011.

31 Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988), 44.

32 The only other NT occurrence of ekdikos is 1 Thess 4:6, where God is the avenger.

33 See Num 35:19, 21, 24-25, 27; Deut 19:6, 12; Josh 20:3, 5, 9; 2 Sam 14:11.

34 Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 809-10 also makes this helpful qualifier: “Balance is needed. On the one hand, we must not obscure the teaching of Rom. 13:1-7 in a flood of qualifications. Paul makes clear that government is ordained by God―indeed, that every particular governmental authority is ordained by God―and that the Christian must recognize and respond to this fact with an attitude of ‘submission.’ Government is more than a nuisance to be put up with; it is an institution established by God to accomplish some of his purposes on earth (cf. vv. 3-4). On the other hand, we must not read Rom. 13:1-7 out of its broad NT context and put government in a position relative to the Christian that only God can hold. Christians should give thanks for government as an institution of God; we should pray regularly for our leaders (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-2); and we should be prepared to follow the orders of our government. But we should also refuse to give to government and absolute rights and should evaluate all its demands in the light of the gospel.”

35 BDAG s.v. suneidesis 2: “the inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong.” The standard, which the law sets, is the minimal standard for all people. The standard set by our own conscience is personal, individual, and hopefully higher than the minimum set by human government. The conscience is present in all people (cf. Rom 2:15). The conscience of one may be stronger than that of another (see 1 Cor 8:7, 10, 12). Some consciences have become hardened and insensitive due to sin (1 Tim 4:2), while the consciences of others are sensitized by obedience (Heb 5:14). We must never defile our conscience by doing what it considers evil, nor should we offend others by practicing what their consciences condemn as evil (1 Cor 8). Paul also urged others to follow this lead (1 Tim 1:19; 3:9) and believed that a clear conscience was a prerequisite for love and service to others (1 Tim 1:5; 2 Tim 1:3; Heb 9:14; 10:22). Paul’s conscience was a very important matter to him. He sought to serve God with an undefiled conscience. In light of a future bodily resurrection Paul said, “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16).

36 Paul’s only other uses of proskartereo (“to devote”) are Rom 12:12 and Col 4:2. Johnson writes, “If Christians would exercise the same concern over prayer that the IRS does over collecting taxes, no telling what might happen in today’s church!” Alan F. Johnson, Romans. Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 2000), 235.

37 The command to pay taxes was part of Jesus’ teachings (see Matt 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26; Matt 17:24-27).

38 See Num 4:37; 1 Sam 2:11, 18; 3:1; Ezra 7:24; Neh 10:40; Isa 61:6.

39 Eaton, Romans, 237.

40 Douglas J. Moo, Romans. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 423.

41 Lopez, Romans Unlocked, 258-59 sums it up: “Around this time (A.D. 57-58) taxes were enormously high (cf. Suetonius, Lives [Nero] 6.10 §1, p 101) and complaints emerged about tax collectors’ extortions (cf. Tacitus, Annals 13.50-51, pp 89-91; Schreiner, Romans, 678). Hence believers, weary of such practices, may have resorted to cheating the government. Paul quickly curtails such a thought by commanding (like Jesus in Luke 20:25) Christians to: Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due. No matter how unethical the government may be, believers are always encouraged to support God ordained institutions. Even the widow, who gave two cents to a religious system operated by the corrupt Jewish rulers, was praised for it instead of being persuaded against it (cf. Mark 12:38-44). Entities that aid the functions of society like firefighters, police, court officials and others, carry out God’s will and are entitled to support. Though some officials may be corrupt and misuse funds, this should never be used as an excuse to cheat the state. Proper channels exist to address and correct such abuses, while continuing to fear and give honor to whom honor is due (cf. v 8).”

42 Peter wrote the epistle of 1 Peter when Nero was at his absolute worst. Yet, like Paul, he exhorted Christians to live by these same truths. In 1 Peter 2:13-17, he wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

43 Some Christians argue that we are citizens of heaven and thus should not get involved at all in politics. But we are also citizens of this earth and since we are given a say in who rules over us, to be silent is to allow the ungodly to win the day. The Bible does not address the issue of voting directly because democracy was not then practiced.

44 Cf. Paul’s other usages of opheilo: Rom 15:1, 27; 1 Cor 5:10; 7:36; 9:10; 11:7, 10; 2 Cor 12:11, 14; Eph 5:28; 2 Thess 1:3; 2:13; Phlm 1:18. This word is used a number of times in the NT in several forms. Most often, it is not employed in the sense of a financial debt or obligation. Usually it is used in a broader sense of obligation or duty, which would best be conveyed by the word “ought.” In this context, the word “owe” or “ought” is being used of our obligation to love other people (see Rom 15:1; 1 John 3:16; 4:11).

45 Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 815-16 comments: “Paul cites as illustrations of the commandments he has in mind abbreviated references to the seventh, sixth, eighth, and tenth commandments from the Decalogue. His addition ‘and if there is any other commandment’ makes clear, however, that he includes other commandments: probably, as the context would suggest, all those commandments of the law that relate to our relations with other human beings. Various Jewish authors refer to the commandment to love the neighbor in Lev. 19:18, but it was given no special prominence in Judaism generally. Probably, therefore, the central position that Paul gives the commandment echoes Jesus, who paired Lev. 19:18 with Deut. 6:5 as the commandments on which ‘all the law and the prophets hang’ (Matt. 22:34-40), Paul undoubtedly also follows Jesus (see the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37) in interpreting the ‘neighbor’ in the commandment to refer to other persons generally and not (as the original text of Lev. 19:18 might indicate) to the fellow Jew.”

46 Paul lists the sixth, seventh, eighth, and tenth commandments respectively (see Exod 20:13-15, 17; Deut 5:17-19, 21).

47 This is a double negative in Greek: “Owe no one, no thing.”

48 See Matt 25:27 and Luke 19:23; cf. Exod 22:25; Ps 37:26; Luke 6:35.

49 When one takes into consideration what the entire Bible has to say about lending and borrowing, this is exactly the conclusion one is forced to accept. For borrowing and lending are not only allowed in the Bible, they are sometimes even commanded. Jesus Himself said, “Do not turn away from the one who borrows from you” (Matt 5:42 NIV).

50 See also Lopez, Romans Unlocked, 259; Eaton, Romans, 240.

51 Love is the first aspect of the fruit of the Spirit and the key to the rest of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).

52 Christopher Ash, Teaching Romans Volume 2 (London: Proclamation of Trust, 2009), 189.

53 It’s evident that loving others (Rom 13:8-10) has much to do with “knowing the time” (13:11). When we consult parallel texts we see that loving others is linked with considering the time of Christ’s return and with forsaking our former lifestyle (Gal 5:13-26; Eph 4:22-24; 5:6-16; Col 3:1-17; 1 Thess 5:1-11; 1 Pet 4:1-11; 2 Pet 3:8-15).

54 The term “knowing” (oida ) is also used by Paul in Gal 2:16; 4:8; cf. Rom 5:3; 6:9; 1 Cor 15:58; 2 Cor 1:7; 4:14; 5:6,11; Eph 6:8-9; Phil 1:16; Col 3:24; 4:1; 1 Thess 1:4.

55 Gk. kairos does not refer to chronological succession of time but kind, season, or quality of time. In the NT, it often has an eschatological usage (Mark 13:33; Luke 21:8; Acts 1:7; 1 Thess 5:1; 1 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 1:5; Rev 11:18).

56 The image of waking from slumber to welcome the dawning of the glory of God is probably derived from Isa 60:2: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”

57 C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols. ICC series (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975), 680; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 820; Thomas Schreiner, Romans. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 695; Osborne, Romans, 351. Contra Lopez, Romans Unlocked, 260 who argues for the immediate context of 13:8-10 (cf. 1 Cor 6:6; Eph 2:8; Phil 1:28).

58 Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).

59 Brian Bell, “Love your Neighbor & Know the Time!” (Rom 13:8-14):; accessed 14 July 2011.

60 Cf. Eph 5:14: “For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” 1 Thess 5:6: “. . . so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.”

61 See also Lopez, Romans Unlocked, 260.

62 Schreiner, Romans, 697; Osborne, Romans, 352. Stott, Romans, 351-52 sums it up best when he says, “‘Salvation’ is a comprehensive term (e.g. 1:16), embracing our past (justification), present (sanctification) and future (glorification). In this verse clearly our future and final salvation is in mind . . . what Paul has earlier depicted in terms of the freedom of glory, our final adoption as God’s children, and the redemption of our bodies (8:21-23). This inheritance is nearer now than ‘when we were converted’ (jbp). Every day brings it closer.”

63 Eaton, Romans: A Practical Exposition, forthcoming: “Paul is thinking not so much of death (although that determines how much of this life we shall have in which to lay up treasure in heaven); he is thinking more of the ever-imminent coming of the Lord Jesus Christ back to earth.”

64 See the very helpful discussion on imminence in Boa and Kruidenier, Romans, 411-12.

65 Gk. prokopto (“is almost gone”), cf. Luke 2:52; Gal 1:14; 2 Tim 2:16; 3:9, 13. See BDAG s.v. prokopto 1: “to move forward to a final stage, of time be advanced, be far gone.”

66 Barnett, Romans 291 remarks: “Perhaps Paul is adapting Jesus’ teaching about wakeful watchfulness throughout the night (Mark 13:35-37).”

67 Gk. Apothometha (“to lay aside), cf. Paul’s usage in Eph 4:22, 25; Col 3:8.

68 Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 820-21 offers this insight: “In a society governed by the sun rather than by the convenience of artificial lighting, people rose at dawn. Only slackards would keep to their beds after the first glow of daylight. Early rising was especially necessary in the Near East, where the bulk of work needed to be done before the heat of midday. Paul wants no slackards among his readers. Christians are to be alert and eager to ‘present their bodies as a living sacrifice.’ But Paul does not use the darkness/light, night/day imagery simply as an illustration drawn from daily life. For in using these contrasts, Paul is drawing on a broad tradition in which these contrasts were used as metaphors for moral and eschatological conditions. Basic to Paul’s application is the OT/Jewish ‘the day of the Lord,’ adapted by the early Christians to denote the time of Christ’s return in glory and the believer’s final redemption. ‘The day’ of v. 12a is certainly a reference to this ‘day of the Lord/Jesus Christ.’ The ‘night,’ then, probably also hints at, by contrast, ‘the present evil age’ (cf. Gal. 1:4).”

69 See 1 Thess 5:1-11.

70 The adverb euschemonos (“properly”) is only used by Paul in the NT (Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 14:40; 1 Thess 4:12).

71 Barnett, Romans, 294, a distinguished NT historian writes, “Paul is directing these exhortations to Gentile believers, some of whom knew from first-hand experience the drinking binges, sexual orgies and quarrelling Paul refers to. These occurred both in high-class banquets and low-class bordellos. The New Testament writers frequently refer to such activities implying their currency in contemporary society (see e.g. Eph. 4:17-5:20 Titus 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:14, 18; 4:3-5).”

72 The word translated sexual promiscuity (koite) literally means “bed.”

73 Eaton, Romans, 243.

74 Moo, Romans, 440, Paul may include these sins because he is thinking ahead to the next subject he will address: the divisions in the Roman community (14:1-15:13).

75 Paul gets excited about the full titles of Jesus- the Lord Jesus Christ! Paul gets very formal, using all three titles of our Savior: “LORD” looks at His power to rule, His authority, His power to control and to change lives. “JESUS” looks at His love for us, His desire to be our personal Savior, and our very best friend. This name also looks at His humanity and that He never calls upon us to do anything that He has not done and that He has not given us the power to do. “CHRIST” looks at His power to deliver. The name Christ is the translation of the word “anointed.” He is the Messiah and has delivered us at salvation and continues to deliver us in sanctification.

76 Schreiner, Romans, 700 comments: “From this brief foray in other Pauline texts we can conclude that the alteration between the indicative (you have been clothed with Christ and laid aside the old person) to the imperative (put on Christ and lay aside the old person) is characteristic of Pauline thought. Thus the imperatives that dominate this text should never be sundered from the indicatives. Romans 13:11-14 reminds us, however, that the indicatives do not rule out the need for imperatives. Even though believers have already ‘put on Christ’ (Gal. 3:27; Col. 3:10) and put off the old person (Col. 3:9), they must also put on Christ (Rom. 13:14) in the concrete circumstances of everyday life. The desires of the flesh (Rom. 13:14) still threaten believers, and thus a conscious effort is needed so that no provision is made for them.”

77 Colossians 3:12-13 explains what “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” looks like: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

78 Eaton, Romans, 243. Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans, 229 writes, “A literary parallel to this use of ‘put on’ is quoted from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 11.5, where ‘to put on Tarquin’ means to play the part of Tarquin.”

79 Gk. pronoian (“to make provision”). This word is found only in Acts 24:2b-3. Tertullus, an attorney who was the spokesman for the Jews who opposed Paul, spoke these flattering words to Felix: “Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for the nation, we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness” (Acts 24:2b-3).

80 Jeremiah 6:15-16a says it well, “‘Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be cast down,’ says the LORD. Thus says the LORD, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” May we not be like Israel!

81 Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 474.

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