Vv 1-7: Christian obligation to the government: Forbidding the
Christian from taking vengeance and allowing God to exercise this right in the
last judgment [cf Rom 12:19-21] might lead one to think that God was letting
evildoers have their way in this world. Not so, says Paul -- for God, through
governing authorities, is even now inflicting wrath on evildoers (cp Tit 3:1;
1Pe 2:13-17; Jer 27:17; 29:7; Mat 22:21; John 18:36; Acts 4:19,20; 1Ti
SUBMIT: Here and in v 5 Paul seems to avoid using the
stronger word "obey", because the believer may find it impossible to comply with
every demand of the government. A circumstance may arise in which he must choose
between obeying God and obeying men (Acts 5:29). But even then he must be
submissive to the extent that, if his Christian convictions do not permit his
compliance, he will accept the consequences of his refusal.
AUTHORITIES: Gr "exousia", a general term with no
technical meaning: the "powers".
AUTHORITY: Gr "archon": those who are "first", leaders,
or rulers. Sw 2Co 10:8; 13:10); 2Th 3:9, about ecclesial authorities, which may
be included here.
THE AUTHORITIES THAT EXIST HAVE BEEN ESTABLISHED BY
GOD: While the Christian has his citizenship in heaven (Phi 3:20), he is not
on that account excused from responsibility to acknowledge the state as
possessing authority from God to govern him. God permits the developments of the
state -- even the tyrannical and those who have usurped the authority of other
rulers: Dan 4:17; Deu 32:8; John 19:11; Rev 13:7.
ESTABLISHED: Gr "tasso" = to arrange in an orderly
manner -- a military term.
HE WHO REBELS AGAINST THE AUTHORITY IS REBELLING AGAINST
WHAT GOD HAS INSTITUTED, AND THOSE WHO DO SO WILL BRING JUDGMENT ON
THEMSELVES: Refusal to submit to one's government is equivalent to refusing
to submit to God. Those who resist God's ordained authority can expect to suffer
condemnation by the government. This is really the indirect judgment of God (cf
Mat 26:52). For example, capital punishment was ordained in Gen 9:5,6, and it
has not been abolished by God.
WHAT GOD HAS INSTITUTED: "With my great power and
outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it,
and I give it to anyone I please" (Jer 27:5).
FOR RULERS HOLD NO TERROR FOR THOSE WHO DO RIGHT... THEN DO
WHAT IS RIGHT: This seems to take no account of the possibility that
government may be tyrannical and may reward evil and suppress good. A few years
after Paul wrote these words, Nero launched a persecution against the believers
at Rome; multitudes lost their lives, and not because of doing evil. Later on,
other emperors would lash out against Christians in several waves of persecution
stretching over more than two centuries.
One way to deal with the problem is to assume that Paul is
presenting the norm, that is to say, the state as functioning in terms of
fulfilling the ideal for government, which is certainly that of punishing evil
and rewarding or encouraging good.
Another, and better, possibility: consider the principle of
Rom 8:28, whereby God finds ways to bring good out of apparent evil, so that
even in the event that the state should turn against the people of God and
persecute them cruelly and unjustly (as in 1Pe 3:12-17), God will bring good out
of that evil too, in the long run. Sometimes God may speak more clearly out of
prison cells and graves than out of the lives of believers who live securely and
at peace with their rulers!
AND HE WILL COMMEND YOU: Possibly the "he" here could
refer to God -- who is, after all, the ultimate ruler and authority in any
HE DOES NOT BEAR THE SWORD FOR NOTHING: Even ecclesial
elders did similarly: ie Peter with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Or Paul:
"Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit" (1Co
THEREFORE, IT IS NECESSARY TO SUBMIT TO THE AUTHORITIES,
NOT ONLY BECAUSE OF POSSIBLE PUNISHMENT BUT ALSO BECAUSE OF CONSCIENCE:
There are two reasons a Christian needs to be submissive to his government. One
is that the government may punish him if he is not submissive. The other is that
God may punish him. God's punishment may be during the Christian's lifetime or
after that at the judgment seat of Christ.
"Conscience" refers to the believer's knowledge of God's will
THIS IS ALSO WHY YOU PAY TAXES, FOR THE AUTHORITIES ARE
GOD'S SERVANTS, WHO GIVE THEIR FULL TIME TO GOVERNING: It is the duty of the
believer to pay his taxes (cp Mat 17:24; 22:21). Building on his allusion to
conscience, the apostle explains the payment of taxes on this very basis. The
clearer the perception of the fact that the governing authority is God's
servant, the greater appears the reasonableness of providing support by these
payments. The man in authority may be unworthy, but the institution is not,
since God wills it. Without financial undergirding, government cannot function.
GOD'S SERVANTS: For the third time Paul speaks of
rulers as God's servants, but this time he uses a different word, one that means
workers for the people, or public ministers. But the relationship to God is
added in keeping with the emphasis made in v 4. Their work is carried on under
God's scrutiny and to fulfill God's will. These public servants give their full
time to governing; therefore they have no time to earn a living by other means.
This is a reminder of the truth that "the worker deserves his wages" (Luke
GIVE EVERYONE WHAT YOU OWE HIM: Some of the reluctance
to pay taxes to the Romans that was associated with political unrest in
Palestine may have infected Jewish believers at Rome, accounting for Paul's
specific allusion to the subject.
TAXES: Sig tribute paid to a foreign ruler (it appears
in Luke 20:22 in the incident concerning paying tribute to Caesar).
REVENUE: Pertains to indirect taxation in the form of
toll or customs duties. It forms a part of the word for tax gatherer.
RESPECT: Veneration due to the highest persons in the
state. Or possibly, the "fear" due to the very highest authority, God
HONOR: A somewhat lesser term of respect, due to all
Vv 8-10: The obligation of love: Although Paul has previously
stressed the need for love (Rom 12:9,10), he now returns to this theme, knowing
that he cannot stress too much this essential ingredient of all Christian
service. The connection of the present paragraph with the foregoing section is
indicated by the use of the word "debt", which has the same root as "owe" in v
7. There is a neat transition to the very highest demand on the child of God. He
owes submission and honor to the civil authorities, but he owes all men much
LET NO DEBT REMAIN OUTSTANDING: This translation avoids
the danger of giving a wrong impression, such as might be conveyed by the KJV's
"Owe no man any thing." It is not wrong to incur debt, for Jesus said, "Do not
turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (Mat 5:42). The NT does not
forbid borrowing, only the practice of charging exorbitant interest on loans and
failing to pay debts (Mat 25:27; Luke 19:23). On the other hand, to be
perpetually in debt is not a good testimony for a believer, and to refuse to pay
one's debts is absolutely wrong.
EXCEPT THE CONTINUING DEBT TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER: Now
comes the exception to the rule. There is a "continuing debt to love one
another", and that debt can never be marked "paid in full"! Why? Because the
believer has been the recipient of the infinite and undeserved and unearned
agape-love of the Father (John 3:16), and such love is too great ever to be
repaid! All the believer can do is live out his life, making regular "payments"
on the staggering debt, by giving love to his fellowman -- even while knowing
that such payments cannot even cover the "interest" on the principal owed! Paul
seems at pains to emphasize that there is no point where the believer can say,
"There, I've done enough!"
The usual emphasis is on one's duty to love his fellow
believers, but the wider reference -- to the whole world -- is also to be found
(Gal 6:10; 1Th 3:12).
FOR HE WHO LOVES HIS FELLOWMAN HAS FULFILLED THE LAW:
It is our obligation to seek the welfare of our fellow human beings (cf Rom
8:4). The Mosaic Law required the same thing (Lev 19:18, cf Mat 5:44; 22:39,40;
Col 3:14), and found its perfect fulfillment in the "law" of Christ. In Christ
the preeminent fruit of the Spirit is this same love (Gal 5:22,23).
Paul summarizes the "commandments" enshrined in the Ten
Commandments that have to do with treatment of one's neighbor -- all of which
are themselves summarized further by the Lord's words, "Love your neighbor as
yourself" (Mat 22:39,40; cp Lev 19:18). "Jesus rebuked the narrow nationalistic
interpretation of the word 'neighbor' in the parable of the good Samaritan. The
literal meaning of neighbor is 'one who is near.' Both the priest and the Levite
found their nearness to the stricken man a source of embarrassment (Luke
10:31,32), but the Samaritan saw in that same circumstance an opportunity to
help his fellowman. In the light of human need, the barrier between Jew and
Samaritan dissolved. Love provides its own imperative; it feels the compulsion
of need" (EBC).
LOVE DOES NO HARM TO ITS NEIGHBOR: This is an
understatement, for love does positive good. But the negative form is suitable
here, because it is intended to fit in with the prohibitions from the law (v 9).
LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW: By concluding with
the observation that love is the fulfillment of the law, Paul returns to the
same thought he began with (v 8).
What, then, is the relationship between love and "law"? In
Christ the two concepts, which seem to have so little in common, come together.
To love others with the love that Christ exhibited is his new commandment (John
13:34). And if this love is present, it will make possible the keeping of all
his other commandments (John 14:15). Love promotes obedience, and the two
together constitute "the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).
Vv 11-14: The believer's obligation is to live in loving and
hopeful expectation of the return of his Lord -- not in the excesses of sin that
are all too common in the world. In short, he should love his fellowman, but not
the "world" in which that fellowman lives!
AND DO THIS: "This" refers to all of Rom 12 and Rom
WAKE UP FROM YOUR SLUMBER: We must not be lulled to
sleep by indulgence in pleasure, nor be influenced by the suggestion that the
Lord delays his coming (Mat 24:48). "So then, let us not be like others, who are
asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled" (1Th 5:6; cp 1Co
OUR SALVATION IS NEARER NOW THAN WHEN WE FIRST
BELIEVED: Salvation is the goal of our faith (1Pe 1:9): we await the Saviour
from heaven (Phi 3:20). The believer should not be like a child looking for a
clock to strike the hour because something is due to happen then. He is content
to do his duty every day, knowing that with every passing moment the end is that
much closer to realization.
THE NIGHT IS NEARLY OVER; THE DAY IS ALMOST HERE. SO LET US
PUT ASIDE THE DEEDS OF DARKNESS AND PUT ON THE ARMOR OF LIGHT: The line of
thought closely resembles the treatment in 1Th 5:1-11. Even as darkness is
symbolic of evil and sin, the light fittingly describes those who believe in
Christ. Paul pictures the believer as one who anticipates the day by rising
early. His night clothes are the works of darkness, the "old man" (Eph 4:22),
the deeds that belong to the old life. The garments to which he transfers,
however, are unusual. They are likened to armor as in 1Th 5:8 and Eph 6:12,13
(cp 2Co 10:4) -- suggesting that his walk through this world as a child of light
involves a warfare with the powers of darkness. Even though the actual "day" of
Christ's coming, or the "day of salvation" (2Co 6:2), has not yet arrived, the
believer belongs to that day (1Th 5:8), and his transformed life -- even in this
present evil world -- is a living anticipation of the glory that will then be
revealed (2Co 3:18; 4:4).
LET US BEHAVE DECENTLY, AS IN THE DAYTIME: It is quite
plain from Paul's statement here, and our experiences will bear this out, that
the night seasons, with their seductive cover of darkness, are the times for
most sins of excess. But the believer is not a child of darkness -- the night
finds him safe at home, in bed! Sins enough are to be found in the broad
daylight; he will not go out at night looking for them!
NOT IN ORGIES AND DRUNKENNESS, NOT IN SEXUAL IMMORALITY AND
DEBAUCHERY, NOT IN DISSENSION AND JEALOUSY: There may be an intended order
here: Intemperance in drink or drugs weakens the natural inhibitions, and this
often leads to sexual sin. Such sins, augmented by a guilty conscience, may
frequently result in an attitude of contention and quarreling. The committing of
sin does not bring rest to the spirit but rather dissatisfaction; this betrays
itself by finding fault with others, as though they are responsible. And so
every ruined life is characterized by bitterness and hate, as though something
else (one's parents, one's friends, or the smooth-talking stranger in the bar)
-- but never oneself -- has brought the sinner to his or her sorry
RATHER, CLOTHE YOURSELVES WITH THE LORD JESUS CHRIST:
Paul returns to the theme of putting on the armor of light (v 12). Every
believer puts on Jesus Christ when he or she is baptized (Gal 3:27; cp Eph
DO NOT THINK ABOUT HOW TO GRATIFY THE DESIRES OF THE SINFUL
NATURE: Still, dedicating oneself positively is not all that is necessary.
There must also be a deliberate turning away from desires that indulge the flesh
(cf Rom 6; 2Ti 2:22; 1Pe 2:11).