Christians seek and rejoice to do God's will, not only because He is their Creator, but also because He is their loving Savior and Lord. And yet Christians live under the jurisdiction of some earthly authority, an authority which demands allegiance and obedience. Whom must Christians obey? Is faithful service to earthly authorities rebellion against God? Is service to God being a traitor to earthly authorities?
The answer to these questions seems complicated. First of all, almost all earthly rulers are unsaved people, in personal rebellion against God. Are Christians, therefore, acquitted of any responsibility to obey them? Secondly, Christians are only sojourners in this world. This world is not their home. In as much as they belong to the kingdom of God and have no interest in this world, do they have any obligation to serve the ruler-ship of earthly authorities who apparently are in competition with the Lord of heaven? Thirdly, Christians have a spiritual job to do on this earth. Is service to the rules and laws of men at best an interference to the fulfillment of God's will for them on earth?
Romans 13 explains the place of earthly human authorities in God's universe and in His economy of history. Romans 13 helps Christians understand why God has seen fit to allow humans to rule on earth, even though almost all of them are not saved. Romans 13 also helps Christians understand what their obligation is to these earthly authorities. In other words, Romans 13 teaches us God's will for Christians who live in a world whose society is shaped by human chains of command.
Verse 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."
The words "higher powers" refer to earthly governments, controlled by humans rulers (verse 3), people who have political authority to make and enforce laws for earthly societies. According to this verse, the straight forward and clear will of God for all men is that every person must obey the governments within whose jurisdiction they live. There are no modifying phrases in this verse, for the command applies to all men, saved as well as unsaved.
The reason for this command is that "there is no power but of God." Despite the fact that men grasp earthly authority by means of armed might, deceitful manipulation or clever persuasion, they really do not achieve their position of authority because of their own efforts. All earthly rulers attain authority and remain in power only because God has ordained that they do. No matter how mighty nations might seem to us, their power is nothing before God. He ordains them all (Isaiah 40:15-17, 22-23). Men rule only because God wills them to rule (Daniel 2:21) and what they do as rulers is ultimately in the hand of God (Prov. 21:1).
Romans 13 helps us to see that obedience to earthly powers is not disloyalty to God. Despite the ambition and pride of the human rulers who have power on earth, there is no competition between their ruler-ship and the ruler-ship of God. God is really the only one with power. Therefore, obedience to earthly governments is the same thing as obedience to God, for governments obtain and maintain their authority by the ordination of God. Christians can, in all things lawful, with an untroubled conscience be "subject to" earthly powers.
Incidentally, Matthew 22:21 does not mean Caesar was in competition with God or that Caesar had some area of authority which was separate and independent of God. Rather the idea of the verse is that Christians must be concerned more about God's things than earthly things, which are under the delegated control of secular authorities. Therefore, Christians must acknowledge as well as submit to the authority of Caesar in the area where Caesar rules.
Verse 13:2, "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."
The command expressed in verse 1 stands. Anyone who has a quarrel with an earthly authority is picking a fight with God. That is a fight which every man will lose, a fight with terrible spiritual consequences, "damnation." Anyone who rebels against their government is liable to damnation, not just for their action of rebellion, but because their rebellion reveals that they are probably not saved. If they were saved, their heart would lead them to a humble willingness to submit to God's chain of command rather than a prideful demand to assert their own will.
It is true that many times earthly governments can be unfair and repressive, even making demands which are contrary to the expressed will of God. Is Romans 13 saying that Christians must obey their rulers even when they are asked to disobey the Bible? No. Sometimes believers must disobey their earthly rulers, as we see in Daniel 6:7-11.
Why doesn't Romans 13 point out this exception? Why doesn't Romans 13 qualify the apparently inviolate command to obey earthly authorities? Doesn't He want to make sure that His will is recognized and obeyed above the will human rulers? The reason why God focuses exclusively upon peoples' obligation to obey their earthly rulers without mentioning the exceptions is found in the rebellious nature of man. God knows that there are times when people must, to their own hurt, disobey their government as they seek to obey Him. But God also knows that men are only too eager to disobey their government and that they will even use His name to justify their rebellion. Therefore, God does not include any statements in the discussion of Romans 13 which would encourage the natural disobedient and self serving interests of people.
There are no good reasons to join a rebellion against a government's authority. A believer might have to personally disobey specific laws at specific times to avoid sinning against God, but he would never be part of a rebellious campaign to correct or change his government, no matter how wicked it may be.
People rebel against their government for at least two reasons. One is that they simply do not want to trust and submit to God but wish to be in control of their own lives, pursuing their own social or political agenda. Another is that they are self serving, using their rebellion for personal gain. Sometimes people crusade against their government for the restoration and protection of human rights, filling themselves and their followers with the propaganda that their cause is necessary and morally righteous. But these campaigns are motivated by human pride and a self deluded over estimation of the dignity of mankind. What rights do humans have but to submit to God's will? What is morally right but that they endure His wrath for their abundant disobedience?
Believers might have a reason to disobey their rulers when the laws of the land in which they live demand that they personally sin against God. However, people cannot use God's will as an excuse to disobey their rulers when they believe that the government is acting in a socially or politically evil way. Even if their assessment of their government is correct, they must always seek to obey all laws possible. The wickedness or negligence of their secular authorities does not give them the freedom to disobey laws which are directed to them personally and which do not cause them to violate God's laws.
God's will for Christians is to live obediently to their government and be a faithful witness in their society. They have a spiritual mandate, not to make all things right in this sin cursed world, but to cultivate and nurture their own walk with God as well as to be a witness in word and deed. The proper Christian political attitude is to humbly submit. The proper Christian political action is to cheerfully serve. That is how Christians can pay the debt of love that they owe to all men, and prove God's will in an unbelieving world.
Christians should keep in mind that all things in God's universe, including the affairs of state, are in His hand. Christians understand that God knows all the details of the wicked things that earthly governments do and plan to do. Christians know that God could change the heart of a king if that was His will. They know that God uses those wicked rulers whose hearts He does not change and that He will judge all the nations for their sins, even though He uses them to accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 10:5-12). Christians trust God to correct all political and social wrongs in His great time and way and the trust that He makes sure that all things work out for the benefit of His people (Rom. 8:28). Therefore, their government's power can never really be a threat to their heavenly hope and they should never feel the need to protect themselves by means of rebellion or revolution.
The message of the Bible is that believers develop their character and wait patiently for God to open the door of service for them (Romans 12). If there is great political opposition to their service, especially as they bring the gospel, they do not seek to take things into their own hands, for God will use governments as He sees fit to make sure that His will is done (Romans 13). Governments punish evil doers (I Peter 2:13-15) and establish social order (I Tim. 2:1-6) which is an assist in spreading the gospel. The question is, "Do we trust God or our own wisdom and strength?"
The idea of a government ruling by authority of God to accomplish God's purposes is quite different than the modern concept of government. Today people think that the best form of government is rule by willing consent of the citizens for the purpose of serving the desires of the citizens. The conclusion is that the governmental form called a democracy or a republic is best, for it is a government ruled by means of consensus of its citizens. However, this view is just a modern version of the old sinful notion that men ought to determine their own destinies and is based upon the delusion that men are basically wise and moral enough to rule themselves.
Democracies certainly hold the promise of many blessings that are absent from ruler-ship by one person or by an oligarchy. God ordains democracies too, in order to fulfill His gospel purposes. But democracies only work to the extent they are able to limit the sinful tendencies of people by balancing one faction's needs and desires against another's. Democracies, which inherently rely on the wisdom and consent of men, fall apart when the society forgets that all men are basically wicked and need constant restraint.
Democracies are not the norm for history. The are odd and rare forms of government which, with few exceptions, have only in the last 200 years appeared in several countries. They are not dealt with in the Bible. The Bible talks about kingdoms. People are commanded to seek the Kingdom of God, for that is God's spiritual economy of government. The citizens of the kingdom of God do not make or chose their ruler. God is the absolute ruler with absolute authority, always was and always will be. A kingdom is the only political institution which properly reflects the ideal rule of the gospel.
Because people today believe that the final authority ought to rest in the hand of the citizens of a country, they also believe that governments are meant to serve the people under their jurisdiction. In contrast to that, the Bible says that governments ought to serve God, being His ministers (verse 4). Governments can be a temporal blessing to its people, as Romans 13 discusses. But we must understand that governments exist because God has raised them up for the purpose that He has in mind. Even governments which are cruel and hate God exist because He has ordained that they exist. Wicked rulers are accountable for their own sinful thoughts and actions, but those evil governments and societies are still used by God as a tool to accomplish His purposes in the history of the world.
Verse 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:"
According to these verses, one of a government's first and most important responsibilities is to "execute wrath upon him that doeth evil," in which the word "evil" refers to men's rebellion against God's will, including the evil of resisting a ruler's God ordained power. Earthly rulers exercise that wrath as a "minister of God." That is, earthly rulers are raised up by God to do a job. One of the jobs is to create the terror of God's wrath in the hearts of all men who do evil, that is, who disobey the laws of the land which are in agreement with the laws of God.
Of course there are people whose consciences are so seared that they have no fear of governmental authority but hold their government in contempt as they seek to do what is right in their own eyes, regardless of the rules of the land in which they live. But even if a person were to have a legitimate dispute with the ideology and tactics of the government under which they live, it is far wiser to recognize the terror of their government and fear the greater terror of God on Judgment Day, by whose ordination the government rules (II Cor. 5:11) rather than challenge their government's authority over them. It is far wiser to seek the mercy of God than to seek to correct a ruler, a job incidentally which God reserves for Himself. Even if a person were to be unjustly executed by their government, if they have made peace with God, the injustice of their government is of no real consequence (Luke 12:4,5), for believers have only the best to which to look forward (II Cor. 5:8).
Even though this verse proclaims "do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same," there is no guarantee that the governmental authorities will recognize and appreciate the individual acts of obedience by its citizens. Being ruled by unbelievers, it is unlikely that believers will "have praise of the same." Sometimes, God uses the submission of believers to secular authorities to do some dramatic things, as we see in the life of Joseph who willingly served Pharaoh, in the life of Daniel who served Nebuchadnezzar, as well as Darius, in the life of Nehemiah who served Artaxerxes and in the life of Esther who served her husband, king Ahasuerus. At other times, Christians are ignored, mocked or destroyed by secular authorities. However, the abiding attitude of believers is trust in God. They are content when His will rather their own is done.
Verse 13:4, "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."
We might wonder about the statement that a earthly ruler "is the minister of God to thee for good," when we consider that they are almost always unbelievers, who have no interest in promoting the glory of God or the welfare of His people. We discussed God's will for believers in that situation in our analysis of verse 2. We will just reemphasize that the guiding principle to doing God's will is "Trust in the Lord." As believers take heed to a faithful walk with God, they will react properly to whatever a government does and be benefited thereby.
Verse 4 is not saying that governments provide physical benefits, such as various social services. They certainly do that, but that is not what is in view in this verse, nor do the scriptures describe that as the role of governments. Rather the "good" refers to the same thing that it does in verse 3, namely the "good works" of citizens. It refers to the works of those who "do that which is good" in opposition to the "evil" works of some citizens. Therefore the words "to thee for good" particularly mean that governments are set up by God in order to promote good works in believers as citizens. The good works are those things which help to bring the good of the gospel.
The word "sword," (macharia used 29 times, such as Acts 12:2, Hebrews 11:37), does not refer to a tool used for education or therapy. Rather it is a weapon that is meant to kill. It is an instrument of death. Romans 13:4 is stating that a government has the authority to kill people under its jurisdiction in retaliation for all the evil they commit. A government which exercises capital punishment is doing God's will. Therefore, people who disobey the government ought to "be afraid." If a government is doing its job, people who do evil ought to expect a reaction of revenge, which can include capital punishment. This strong view is supported by the use of the word "wrath" which is the same one that describes God's wrath in Revelation 6:16,17.
Although there are evil rulers on the earth and although even the best rulers will make laws that sometimes contradict the laws of God, in general a government exercises authority to keep the worst of men's actions under control and honor them who are law abiding. Normally, people of a country have certain privileges as citizens and the laws of the land protect those privileges as long as the people continue to be obedient to the rulers. Also, in general citizens who break the laws are accountable for their behavior and are punished in some way by the government which "beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a "revenge" to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." This verse expresses the fact that in most cases, governments serve God well, even though they are not aware that they help promote God's will.
As it turns out, the struggle and conflict between earthly authorities and the people of God is more often not between governmental authorities and true believers but between apostate authorities of Christian churches and true believers (Acts 4:18,19) or between the authorities of non Christian religions and true believers (Acts 19:28,29). Paul's experience was that the political governments were more fair than the religious authorities. Many times political governments were unwittingly used by God to serve His spiritual purposes. In many cases, civil governments have no religious prejudices and are concerned with domestic tranquility, an environment which helps to promote the gospel. Yet, even governments which hate the gospel serve the gospel by cleaning the church of complacent and false members.
Verse 13:5, "Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake."
It is God's will that society be controlled by its ruler's wrath. The fear of getting caught and having to deal with a government's punishment is the only effective control over many people's tendency to fulfill their own evil desires and seek to escape accountability for their actions. To that is added the constraint of conscience, which is God's implanted word that advises a person what to do. In other words, people, and especially believers, should obey, not only so that they will avoid punishment, but also because they know it is right.
A person's conscience is an inner voice that tells him whether the things he thinks and does are right or wrong. The standard it uses to decide what is right or wrong is installed in a person at conception. That is, all people's consciences tell them that lying and coveting is wrong but selfless sacrifice and kindness is right. In addition to that, a person's conscience is modified by the habits and attitudes of the society in which they are born and grow up. That is, society adds its own behavioral taboos, not all of which agree with what the Bible says. God has important things to say about a conscience misshapen by the customs of men, but we will postpone those lessons until we get to chapter 14. In chapter 13 the word "conscience" is primarily focusing upon the inner voice that agrees with the word of God.
If a person disregards the warning of his conscience, it will weaken. With repeated neglect, it will eventually grow silent. But in general, people have an active conscience which they ought to obey and are accountable before God for their disobedience.
The word "Wherefore" means that verse 5 is a conclusion. With that in mind, the idea of this verse is that a person's behavior is constrained not only by the threat of government's wrath as the previous verses teach, but also by one additional factor introduced in this verse, namely because he knows in his heart that it is right, that is, because of the witness of his conscience. A person doesn't have to have the government remind him what is the right thing to do. It will, and God raised governments up for that purpose. But people know what is right already in their heart. The government simply is used by God to press home the point that we ought to seek and do His will. No one can truthfully say that God is their Lord and that they want to do God's will but at the same time disregard His means of government. The counsel to trust and obey is especially appropriate in regard to dealing with governments.
Verse 13:6, "For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing."
The words "this cause ... also" should make us think of the previous verse. The idea is that believers pay tribute, or taxes as we would call it today, both to avoid the wrath of the government and because they know they ought to, as their consciences' advise.
It is easy to see how the wrath of a government could be used to motivate its citizens to comply to its demands for tribute. For many people, however, the call of conscience would be either weak or nonexistent. Most people are unsaved and have little regard for the word of God. They show the spiritual rebellion in their heart as they dispute the right of their government to take tribute from them and dispute the way that their government uses that tribute. A believer does not think that way. A believer is sensitive to authority, knowing that God ordains rulers. A believer's conscience bothers him when he does not pay tribute as required by his government. People under the authority of a government reveal, by how they react to a government's demand for a portion of their worldly goods, whether their love is for the mammon of this world or the promises of God.
The words "this very thing" refer to a government's job of collecting tribute. The surprising idea is that governments collect tribute as "God's ministers." That is, collecting taxes is not first of all a government's idea, even though it is eager to do it. Rather it is God's idea and He raises up governments to do that job, among the other tasks. Therefore, people who claim to want to do God's will must pay tribute.
Governments collect tribute to support the programs and institutions of their own invention, some of which may be wasteful or even unfair and repressive. Nevertheless, this verse highlights the fact that a government's authority to collect "tribute" comes from God. In fact, they are called God's ministers for this cause, meaning that they must attend to their assigned job of collecting taxes. If they did not do that, they would be negligent and answer to God for that neglect.
Why would God use governments to collect tribute? As it turns out the collection of tribute accomplishes many spiritual objectives. Above all, the collection of tribute is a test for "ye," the people who claim to be Christians. How is it a test? For one thing, it is a test of peoples' gratitude. Do the citizens of a country recognize the benefits that come from a government's rule? The governmental imposed order upon a society is a blessing in comparison to the misery which would result from the chaos of every man doing what is right in his own eyes. The governmental pursuit of criminal activities is a blessing which results in at least some limits to the worst of men's' selfish evil designs. Believers, of all people, should have a heart that is thankful for any benefits that come from the hand of God. Believers, of all people, ought to be willing to express that gratitude by paying whatever dues they own to their government, whether it be a portion of their goods or time of service.
For another thing, the collection of tribute is a test of peoples' humbleness. Do the citizens of a country stiffen their will in the face of a governmental demand for tribute? Is their heart resentful because their government forces them to pay tribute? Is the insistence upon tribute an odious reminder that the rulers of the land control some part of their lives? Believers, of all people, should display a humble compliance to any governmental demand that is not in direct contradiction to the word of God. Believers, of all people, should have a heart that is willing to submit to their government in order to prove their submission to God, whose ministers the governments are.
Furthermore, the collection of tribute is a test of peoples' affection. Do the citizens of a country have such a love for the things of this world that they angrily resist any attempt of the government to take a portion of what they have? Do they believe that they have the right to cheat in order to give as little tribute as possible in order to hold on to what ever material goods they can? Believers, of all people, ought to pay their full expected tribute because they have no abiding love for the things of this world. They recognize that all of the things of this world really belong to God and earthly governments are tools in His hands to help Him use the things of this world to accomplish His purposes.
Not only that, and perhaps most importantly, it is God's purpose that people pay taxes, not as an imposition but as a necessary contribution to make society work so that the gospel can go out into the world. Believers ought to have a spiritual and evangelistic view of society and history. They must understand submission to earthly society is part of their reasonable service and part of their witness. Paying tribute is a way to "prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
Interestingly, the word "ministers" (litourgos, from which we get our word liturgy) is used in the Bible not so much to refer to ministering to physical needs, the expected role of government, but instead is used to refer to those who minister in the temple (Heb. 8:2) or to refer to the spiritual service of angels (Heb. 1:7). From this we may conclude that as governmental leaders go about their secular earthly duties, they are really unwittingly doing spiritual work, promoting God's spiritual will and plans (Prov. 21:1). And so governmental leaders, whether they recognize it or not, answer to God who has given them their assignment on earth. Rulers are accountable first of all to God and not to the people over whom they exercise authority. Therefore, believers must render to them tribute because they are simply carrying out God's ordained task for them and believers seek to do God's will.
Verse 13:7, "Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour."
Since rulers are God's ministers, believers ought to "render therefore to all (authorities higher than they)" that which they owe, in the sense that it is an obligation imposed by God's will. What is their debt or obligation? It is to bring the gospel to all (Rom. 1:14,15). That is, believers' submission to higher authorities is part of their evangelistic service to God. Believers' respectful, prompt and cheerful submission to their government is a gospel testimony to their rulers and promotes the civil peace and order which aid the spread of the gospel in their country.
The words "tribute," "fear" and "honor" can be understood in a straightforward way. However, we ought mention something about the word "custom." The word "custom" is usually used to mean "end" in the sense of goal or objective (Rom. 6:21,22, 10:4 "end"). With this in mind, we can say that the verse teaches believers owe 1) "tribute" or that part of their material goods demanded by their government, 2) "custom" or the kind of support their government demands to reach its objectives, 3) "fear" or a submission that recognizes their government can wield the sword against transgressors and 4) "honor" or a respect for their government as a minister of God, the highest authority of all.
We ought to point out that this verse is not saying earthly authorities are in themselves worthy of their citizen's tribute and honor. Rather the idea is that in obedience to earthly authorities, believers are giving to God and showing honor to Him, for they recognize that He distributes power and authority according to His wise and righteous plans. Believers also show that they have hearts which are humble, trusting God to work all things out for good to them who love Him, no matter how incompetent and corrupt the earthly rulers happen to be. Therefore, believers' submission to their government is not an act that condones all the motives and actions of their government, some of which are clearly sinful, but a testimony to the worthiness of God's motives and actions, to whom all governments are ministers.
We should keep in mind that the focus of Romans 13 in not upon the character and actions of governments but upon the character and actions of God who has ordained their rule according to His wisdom and might and upon the character and actions of believers who react to the rule of governments under whose earthly authority they live. God ordains that governments rule over believers and their response tells the character of their heart. Whatever material benefit a government might be to believers, the greatest blessing is found in how it can be used, by means of threat or conscience, to make believers serve God more faithfully and thereby do His will.
Verse 13:8, "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law."
Believers must not be delinquent in their material and social debts because that would harm any witness they would otherwise seek to present. There is one debt, however, that they should always consider to be unpaid. It is the debt of love. It is not that believers do not love but that they must take the view that it is never paid up in full, in the sense that must keep on paying it.
We can understand the words "for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law" in the light of the whole book of Romans in the following way. Righteousness by faith apart from the deeds of the law does not abrogate the law nor does it reduce its value and relevance to believers' lives. As we learned in our study of Romans 3:31, the gospel shows that the law continues to be a part of believers' lives, for after they have been saved believers have a new desire to obey (Rom. 6:17) and a new ability to obey (Rom. 8:4). It is the new desire to obey which is highlighted in Romans 13:8. The idea is that believers fulfill the law because they operate out of a loving heart and from God's point of view their actions are acceptable to God, no matter how deficient their actions might happen to be. That is, true righteousness is based upon the right motivation. To put it another way, the right heart motivation will led to right actions, actions which please God and are a blessing to other people. That heart driven behavior is the greatest display of the will of God.
Therefore Romans 13:8 states that the gospel enables humans to reach the original objective which God had for them, as if to say, "Let me tell you how God has planned a way for you to reach a goal for which you were created. You can fulfill the law by loving another, something which only a saved person can do."
We can also tie the message of verse 8 as well as verses 9 and 10 to the previous discussion about governments in the following way. We learned that service to God includes submission to earthly powers in all things lawful. Now the chapter points out that real service means service which is motivated by love. Therefore the real message of Romans 13 is that submission that is driven, not by the character or value of the earthly powers, but by an inner desire to do what is best for all men, including rulers, is the only submission that is right in God's eyes. As it turns out, it is also the only motivation that produces actions that impress unbelievers and that can be used by God to draw people to salvation.
Believers are not called to examine and correct the governments under whose earthly authority they happen to live. They are called to love God, showing that love by means of their obedience to their government. That is, they show their love to God by their trusting submission to His means for shaping their political and social lives. They are also called to love other people, showing that love as they humbly submit to rulers. Their compliance to the laws of the land is a witness that can be used to teach people about the gospel and their submission helps to maintain a social peace which promotes a climate for evangelism, the greatest expression of love one person can show to another.
Verse 13:9,10, "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. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."
Verse 9 begins with the words "For this" and verse 10 ends with the words "Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." These words seem to connect verses 9 and 10 with the last statement of verse 8. According to these verses, all the negative "Thou shall not" statements are summarized in this positive statement, "Thou shall love." We must keep in mind that the love for "thy neighbor" is based upon a love for God (Matt. 22:37,38). Also the word "love" is a word of action rather than feeling. With all of this in mind, together with the ideas presented in the previous verses, we can properly understand verses 9 and 10.
Before we proceed to examine verses 9 and 10, we should point out that these commandments, which are quotes from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, are not a complete list nor are they in the original order (7th, 6th, 8th, 10th). The reason is that they are representative of all of the law of God and are not more important than the other laws.
The law of God often is cast in negative terms in the Old Testament ("Thou shalt not") to emphasize the natural wicked tendency of men. If people operated out a right heart, they would not need specific instruction, but would always behave in a selfless way, doing what is best for others in every situation they faced. However, people require restraint for they are a kind of creature whose every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is only evil continually.
Wonderfully, by means of God's amazing grace, believers have the desire and ability to serve God and their fellow men. The appeal to operate out of love, an appeal which is also found in the Old Testament as it looked forward to gospel (Lev. 19:18), is both reasonable and practical now that the gospel promise has been fulfilled and is applied to the hearts of believers through the work of the Holy Spirit. That is why Romans 13 focuses upon the law in positive language.
Let us recast the commandments in verse 9 from the positive perspective of love. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" means "Thou shalt seek to help thy neighbor live faithfully, faithfully with God, and faithfully with other people." That objective is reached when the gospel is presented to "thy neighbor" and he is saved. "Thou shalt not kill" means "Thou shalt help they neighbor find eternal life." Instead of killing, believers go to spiritually dead people with the hope that the gospel will resurrect them. "Thou shalt not steal" means "Thou shalt give to others, that they may become rich." Believers give their time and effort that others can be enriched through the gospel. Rather than selfishly taking from others, believers seek to sacrificially give that others may be saved. "Thou shalt not bear false witness" means "Thou shalt tell your neighbors the truth," the truth about themselves and the truth about God. In that way their neighbor will hopefully recognize their spiritual peril and call upon God for mercy. "Thou shalt not covet" means "Thou shalt desire the best for thy neighbor," without regard to personal loss.
The words "briefly" brings to mind that from one point of view the true fulfillment of the law of God can be briefly stated because it is a simple idea. All that someone has to do is desire the very best for other people and the proper actions will come automatically. If they are motivated by a right heart, even actions that are not perfect will fulfill the law in God's eyes. However, we should mention that from another point of view that method of fulfilling the law is hard, so hard that it is impossible. For who has the love needed to fulfill the law as God requires? The answer is found in the gospel, for the love that Paul has in mind is a gift of God, given exclusively to those whom He has saved. It is love which is an expression of a heart which has been changed by the grace of God, love which is part of the witness of someone who is saved.
The love mentioned here is really God's love expressed through His redeemed people. It is His concern for sinners who have no other hope. Therefore, because believers share God's own concern for sinners, they should want to live a godly life so that their witness is believable. That is, a Christian lives a godly life not only because it is his service of gratitude and because it results in personal benefits for himself and others, but also because it is part of a faithful and true witness which honors God. Only if people have God's own love within them will they treat others as God does, with the best motivation and the best desire for others, namely their salvation. That is the kind of love which proves the perfect will of God.
We can think of the words "as thy self" to mean "at least as much as you love yourself." In other words, it is assumed people love themselves (Eph. 5:29). People do not need lessons or encouragement in self love or in self esteem. All people do that readily. What people today call "a lack of self esteem or self love" is really nothing more than self pity rooted in pride. It is really rebellion because we are commanded to think of other people's best interest and not of our own. Except in cases where people have a physiological abnormality, people are depressed, not fundamentally because they lack a self love, but because they sorrow in response to their failure to meet their own expectations and desires. That self focus does not lead them to fulfilling God's will, but is a sinful self preoccupation which excludes the needs of others. It is a sorrow that leads to death (II Cor. 7:10). Thus the counsel of this verse is "You love yourself, despite your many faults. So you should love others despite the fact they are sinners. What they need is God's love expressed through your witness to the gospel."
Verse 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."
The words "that now it is high time to awake out of sleep" mean "it is high time to become saved." The words are a true statement, like a principle. They do not imply that the readers are unsaved. It is just that the verse counsels urgency, for an end to God's salvation program comes closer every day. Service to God on earth will not go on forever (John 9:4, II Cor. 6:2, Heb. 9:28). The idea can be expresses as, "This is the time to be saved. Tomorrow may be too late. So be sure that you are saved." We can think of this verse as adding the idea that believers must show true love (desire salvation for others), not only because it is right according to the law, but also because the time is critical.
The words "for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" do not mean our salvation is nearer than when we first became a Christian, as if to say "when we first believed, we were not as close to salvation as we are now. We are now more saved than when we first believed." Rather the word "salvation" refers to the completion of salvation at the end of time and the whole phrase means "Jesus' return is nearer than it was." That is, "We used to believe that the completion of our salvation was near. The fact is that it is now nearer than we first believed it to be."
The message of this verse fits into the context of the first part of Romans 13 in the following way. God has established the ruler-ship of governments as a tool in His hands to accomplish His purposes. One important purpose is to awaken people out of sleep, cause them to face their accountability to God and seek His mercy in Jesus Christ (I Thess. 5:6,7), while they still have time.
Verse 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 "far spent" do not mean "almost gone" or "almost used up." Instead, they are a translation of a word that is used in the New Testament to mean "increased" (Luke 2:52), "will increase" (II Tim. 2:16), "shall proceed" (II Tim. 3:9) or "shall wax" (II Tim. 3:13). The "night" refers to the influence of sin in the world. It means the same as the "works of darkness." Therefore the idea of the first phrase is that the time of night or the influence of evil is more developed and pervading in the world than it has been in the past.
The phrase "at hand," by comparison to its use in Matthew 3:2, refers to a present reality. The word "day" can be linked, among other things, to the phrase "this is the day the Lord hath made," referring to the day of Jesus' resurrection (Acts 13:33), which is the completion of Jesus' work of salvation on earth. The point of the phrase is that since God has provided so great a salvation, it should not be neglected. After all, while salvation is available now, it will not always be so.
To the message of verse 11, that people ought to be sure they have awakened out of their unsaved situation in as much as the consummation of believers' salvation, or the end of the gospel plan, is coming closer every day, is added the message of verse 12, that salvation is also an urgent matter in as much as the evil influences of this sinful world are becoming stronger. The rest of verse 12 together with verses 13 and 14 describe God's will for believers in light of the spiritual dangers of the time and in light of the closeness of the end of the world. The counsel is to "us," that is, to those who claim to be believers. We can understand the words "let us therefore ... light" to mean, since Jesus is coming soon to end the time of salvation and since the world is getting worse, the brethren must shine as lights in this world.
Tying verse 12 to verses 8 through 10, the message is, "Make sure your witness is faithful and clear so that God may use it to save people. The world has become so sinful that it makes a strong evil appeal to people in order to keep them asleep under the curse of God. Not only that, the time for salvation is now, for some day soon it will be too late." The main idea is that believers must be urgent as they bring the gospel and must be careful to maintain a faithful witness so that the gospel they bring will be understood and received. That effort is a display of the love believers ought to have for others. That effort proves the will of God. (See also Ephesians 5:8-13 and I Thessalonians 5:4-9).
Tying verse 12 to verses 1 through 7, the message is, "God has provided what is needed to do His evangelistic will in this wicked world. One of His provisions is governmental power to curb the evils of men and provide the social and political environment needed bring the gospel, which is so urgently needed." Believers must not resent or quarrel with these powers but support and take advantage of the social order the governments provide. In that way they can get busy bringing the gospel, which is part of their demonstration of love to their human brethren. They must do this because the times are evil and because the time is short. Not only is the completion of God's salvation plan closer than it was, the spiritual climate is also more spiritually corrosive than it has been before. Therefore doing God's will must be done promptly and diligently.
Verse 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."
It would seem that the counsel of this verse is unnecessary. After all, what person who calls himself a true believer would practice any of these awful things? The only way we can understand this verse is not to think that Paul is seeking to reign in the appetites of brethren which have gone wild. Rather we must think that Paul wants the brethren to check their own sinful tendencies and be sure that they imitate Christ instead of the world, as part of their preparation for doing God's will. The world is so spiritually corrosive and the time for salvation is so short that it is appropriate for people who call themselves believers to examine themselves in order to see if they are walking faithfully, not only for their own assurance of salvation but also for the spiritual benefit their witness can be to others.
This verse lists some of the human evil which God curbs by means of governmental power in order that the hindrances to the proclamation of the gospel can be limited. Civil rebellion can cause such misery that it sometimes might lead people to seek the Lord. However, it always disrupts society. Usually, not chaos and confusion, but national peace promotes evangelism, allowing people to travel, conduct Bible studies and administer Christian institutions like radio broadcasters and other missionary work. God, through governments, provides for social order and then commands His people to walk "honestly," that is, in accord with His truth. In that way, there should be no delay in fulfilling God's will, which is to love sinners evangelistically.
Verse 13:14, "But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
The words "put ye on," are a translation of the word which is also found in Galatians 3:27 to refer to the inner change a person experiences after he has become saved. The word "ye" refers to the brethren and so the verse must be understood as we do II Corinthians 13:5, "examine yourselves as part of your continual desire to be faithful to God."
The word "provision" is composed of the prefix pro which means "before' plus the root noian which means "understand" as in Rom. 1:20, II Tim. 2:7, Heb. 11:3. Altogether we could render the word "understand beforehand." As is the advice of Romans 16:19, the call is "Know the tendencies of your flesh and how you can plan to avoid carrying out its lusts. Anticipate the future and how you can work out the will of God." If a person is saved he will be able to do that. For one thing, he will understand the situation. That is, he will understand that there are spiritual dangers which lurk all around him. Also, he will understand that he and all those around him have sin tendencies which the wicked world seeks to exploit. With that understanding, he will be better prepared to avoid the lusts of the flesh because he will be alerted to the perils beforehand. For another thing, he will understand the solution. That is, he will understand the value of God's word to help him think and act according to God's will. With that understanding, he will be better prepared to avoid the lusts of the flesh because he will be armed with the wisdom and power of God. With the proper provision, he will be able to do God's will as it is declared in verse 10.