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Romans 13:1-14

Updated: May 2, 2022

Submission to Governing Authorities

Romans 13:1-14 a short commentary

In this chapter Paul continues his theme of how the believers should apply the Christian faith in day to day life in terms of our attitudes and conduct. Paul may well have had in mind his readers many of whom were Jewish and who had perhaps a low regard for their Gentile civil authorities. Paul makes it clear that all the Christians in Rome should be subject to their lawful civil authorities. Freedom in Christ is truly wonderful but it does not set us free from our lawful civil obligations. This is not God’s way. However we must use wisdom when we interpret vv1-7 since people such as Adolf Hitler have tried to use these verses to demand total subjection from the German church of his day.

Submission to Governing Authorities

13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

v1 Paul clarifies the nature and structure of authority and shows that every lawful civil authority derives its right to act from God Himself. The whole concept of authority flows down from God. God has given civil authority and government to man for reasons of establishing law and order, promoting and rewarding good conduct and also the punishment of evil doers. Believers must set a good example of having a submissive attitude to their lawful civil rulers so that they are good witnesses and do not hinder the spread of the Gospel by antagonising the local governors.

v2 So does this mean that we must obey every command of our civil authorities whether or not it is right according to God’s word? Or whilst we are generally submissive to our civil rules should we check anything doubtful or wrong against the word of God? Daniel and his three friends disobeyed the command of the king when he told them to fall down and worship an idol and they ended up in the fiery furnace. This example shows clearly that exceptionally where our rulers fail to act correctly in their God given roles and in disobedience to God’s word then we must obey God rather than men. At all other times we should be submissive to their lawful demands. Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German pastor and theologian struggled with his conscience and these verses before coming to the point of joining the failed bomb plot against Hitler. Bonhoeffer was later hanged for his part in the conspiracy.

v3 It is interesting that Paul who had been failed by civil authorities on an number of occasions such as at Phillipi (as was Jesus by Pilate) should give a strong defence of their right to exercise authority of their citizens and to punish wrong doers. He gives a stern admonition that it is the evil doers who should be very afraid of the severe punishment by the civil authorities and that normally good citizens should have nothing to fear. He does not cover evil civil authorities who fail in their roles in the passage. The apostle then personalises his point to the individual believer strongly urging each one of them to be a good citizen which will bring some sort of approval and also keep them free from living in fear of punishment by the civil authorities.

v4 Under normal circumstance the believer must view the magistrate as a servant of God (at least until proved otherwise). Civil rulers who rule well will bring their society into a state of law and order with peace and harmony.

But the evil doers better be afraid, be very afraid and remember that the magistrates have the power to chastise, imprison and are even licensed to kill where the crime is capital in nature. The sword of justice in the hand of the magistrate is in a sense is hanging over the heads of the murderers etc.

The magistrate is God’s servant (hit man) to bring His anger onto the heads of the evil doers and as such he deserves the respect and submission of the believers.

v5 It is therefore a matter of conscience for the believer because God is his daddy and He requires it that we be submitted under normal circumstances to the authority of the God appointed civil rulers.

6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

v6 Being a good citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven means that we should also be good citizen wherever we live here on earth. Having seen that our magistrates are ultimately appointed by God to serve mankind for His purposes then we should realise that paying our taxes and fulfilling our other civic duties fits in well with our Daddy’s plan for us to be good citizens. v7 As good citizens of both kingdoms we will not only pay all our tax, duty and custom but will render due respect and honour to those civic authorities that God has placed over us. Being a good citizen benefits us in many ways but especially in the promotion of the Gospel message.

Love Fulfils the Law

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” [a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” [b] 10 Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law. Whilst the believers must pay all their debts to other people the greatest debt we owe to our fellow man is the debt of love which is an ongoing life-long debt. God Himself has placed this debt upon us by commanding us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Our hearts should respond to His great love by allowing the love of God that is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit to flow through our lives to our fellow human beings. v9-10 All the prohibitions of the ten commandments can be circumnavigated simply by loving our neighbour as our ourselves and so we can fulfil God’s law.

The Day Is Near

11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.12 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. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. [c]

As we continue to love our neighbour we should be acutely aware that we are living in the last days before Christ’s return to Earth. Each believer must adopt a lifestyle of love as though putting on a garment of light and love which is worn day by day at all times. Only the indwelling Holy Spirit can empower this lifestyle. Such a lifestyle of love resolutely avoids all the sins of the flesh including indecency and dishonesty and we should not even waste time thinking about them. Each day we live is a day nearer to our deaths and the glorious resurrected life in Christ. Our human lives are far too short and precious to squander on the sins of the flesh but rather should be full of love. Amen


  1. Romans 13:9 Exodus 20:13-15,17; Deut. 5:17-19,21

  2. Romans 13:9 Lev. 19:18

  3. Romans 13:14 Or the flesh

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