Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
Ro 13:1-14. Same Subject Continued—Political and Social Relations—Motives.
1, 2. Let every soul—every man of you
be subject unto the higher powers—or, "submit himself to the authorities that are above him."
For there is no power—"no authority"
but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God—"have been ordained of God."
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
2. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power—"So that he that setteth himself against the authority."
resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation—or, "condemnation," according to the old sense of that word; that is, not from the magistrate, but from God, whose authority in the magistrate's is resisted.
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:
3, 4. For rulers are not a terror to good works—"to the good work," as the true reading appears to be
but to the evil.
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.
4. he beareth not the sword in vain—that is, the symbol of the magistrate's authority to punish.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
5. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath—for fear of the magistrate's vengeance.
but also for conscience' sake—from reverence for God's authority. It is of Magistracy in general, considered as a divine ordinance, that this is spoken: and the statement applies equally to all forms of government, from an unchecked despotism—such as flourished when this was written, under the Emperor Nero—to a pure democracy. The inalienable right of all subjects to endeavor to alter or improve the form of government under which they live is left untouched here. But since Christians were constantly charged with turning the world upside down, and since there certainly were elements enough in Christianity of moral and social revolution to give plausibility to the charge, and tempt noble spirits, crushed under misgovernment, to take redress into their own hands, it was of special importance that the pacific, submissive, loyal spirit of those Christians who resided at the great seat of political power, should furnish a visible refutation of this charge.
For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
6, 7. For, for this cause pay ye—rather, "ye pay"
tribute also—that is, "This is the reason why ye pay the contributions requisite for maintaining the civil government."
for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing—"to this very thing."
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
7. Render therefore to all their dues—From magistrates the apostle now comes to other officials, and from them to men related to us by whatever tie.
fear—reverence for superiors.
honour—the respect due to persons of distinction.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
8. Owe no man anything, but to love one another—"Acquit yourselves of all obligations except love, which is a debt that must remain ever due" [Hodge].
for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law—for the law itself is but love in manifold action, regarded as matter of duty.
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.
9. For this, &c.—better thus: "For the [commandments], Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not covet, and whatever other commandment [there may be], it is summed up," &c. (The clause, "Thou shalt not bear false witness," is wanting in all the most ancient manuscripts). The apostle refers here only to the second table of the law, as love to our neighbor is what he is treating of.
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
10. Love worketh no ill to his—or, "one's"
neighbour; therefore, &c.—As love, from its very nature, studies and delights to please its objects, its very existence is an effectual security against our wilfully injuring him. Next follow some general motives to the faithful discharge of all these duties.
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.
11. And that—rather, "And this [do]"
knowing the time, that now it is high time—literally, "the hour has already come."
to awake out of sleep—of stupid, fatal indifference to eternal things.
for now is our salvation—rather, "the salvation," or simply "salvation."
nearer than when we—first
believed—This is in the line of all our Lord's teaching, which represents the decisive day of Christ's second appearing as at hand, to keep believers ever in the attitude of wakeful expectancy, but without reference to the chronological nearness or distance of that event.
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.
12. The night—of evil
is far spent, the day—of consummated triumph over it
is at hand: let us therefore cast off—as a dress
the works of darkness—all works holding of the kingdom and period of darkness, with which, as followers of the risen Saviour, our connection has been dissolved.
and let us put on the armour of light—described at length in Eph 6:11-18.
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.
13. Let us walk honestly—"becomingly," "seemingly"
as in the day—"Men choose the night for their revels, but our night is past, for we are all the children of the light and of the day (1Th 5:5): let us therefore only do what is fit to be exposed to the light of such a day."
not in rioting and drunkenness—varied forms of intemperance; denoting revels in general, usually ending in intoxication.
not in chambering and wantonness—varied forms of impurity; the one pointing to definite acts, the other more general.
not in strife and envying—varied forms of that venomous feeling between man and man which reverses the law of love.
But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
14. But—to sum up all in one word.
put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ—in such wise that Christ only may be seen in you (see 2Co 3:3; Ga 3:27; Eph 4:24).
and make no provision—"take no forethought."
for the flesh, to fulfil the lust thereof—"Direct none of your attention to the cravings of your corrupt nature, how you may provide for their gratification."
Note, (1) How gloriously adapted is Christianity for human society in all conditions! As it makes war directly against no specific forms of government, so it directly recommends none. While its holy and benign principles secure the ultimate abolition of all iniquitous government, the reverence which it teaches for magistracy, under whatever form, as a divine institution, secures the loyalty and peaceableness of its disciples, amid all the turbulence and distractions of civil society, and makes it the highest interest of all states to welcome it within their pale, as in this as well as every other sense—"the salt of the earth, the light of the world" (Ro 13:1-5). (2) Christianity is the grand specific for the purification and elevation of all the social relations; inspiring a readiness to discharge all obligations, and most of all, implanting in its disciples that love which secures all men against injury from them, inasmuch as it is the fulfilling of the law (Ro 13:6-10). (3) The rapid march of the kingdom of God, the advanced stage of it at which we have arrived, and the ever-nearing approach of the perfect day—nearer to every believer the longer he lives—should quicken all the children of light to redeem the time, and, seeing that they look for such things, to be diligent, that they may be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless (2Pe 3:14). (4) In virtue of "the expulsive power of a new and more powerful affection," the great secret of persevering holiness in all manner of conversation will be found to be "Christ IN US, the hope of glory" (Col 1:27), and Christ ON US, as the character in which alone we shall be able to shine before men (2Co 3:8) (Ro 13:14).