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.
Verses 1-8. - From admonitions to keep peace, if possible, with all men, whether or not within the Christian circle, and to act honourably and benevolently towards all, the apostle now passes to the duty of Christians towards the civil government and the laws of the country in which they lived. It is well known that the Jews were impatient of the Roman dominion, and that some held it to be unlawful, on religious grounds, to pay tribute to Caesar (Matthew 22:17). Insurrections against the government had consequently been frequent. There had been the notable one under Judas the Gaulonite of Gamala (called ὁ Γαλιλαῖος, Acts 5:37), who left followers behind him, called Gaulonites, and to whose tenets Josephus attributes all subsequent insurrections of the Jews ('Ant.,' 18:01. § 1). Recently one had broken out in Rome, which had caused Claudius to order the expulsion of all Jews from the city (Acts 17:2; cf. Suetonius, 'Claud.,' 25; Din Cassius, 60:6). The Christians, being regarded as a Jewish sect, and known for their acknowledgment of a Messiah and their refusal to comply with heathen usages, were not unnaturally confounded with such disturbers of the peace (cf. Acts 17:6, 7; Acts 21:37). It was, therefore, peculiarly needful that the Christian communities should be cautioned to disprove such accusations by showing themselves in all respects good, law-abiding subjects. They might easily be under a temptation to be otherwise. Feeling themselves already subjects of Christ's new kingdom, and regarding the second advent as probably near at hand, they might seem to themselves above the powers and institutions of the unbelieving world, which were so soon to pass away. St. Paul himself condemned resort to heathen tribunals in matters which Christians might settle among themselves (1 Corinthians 6:1, etc.); and many might go so far as to ignore the authority of such tribunals over the saints at all. Peter and John had at the first defied the authority even of the Sanhedrin in matters touching conscience (Acts 4:19); and many might be slow to distinguish between temporal and spiritual spheres of jurisdiction. St. Paul, therefore, lays down the rule that the civil government, in whatsoever hands it might be, was, no less than the Church, a Divine institution for the maintenance of order in the world, to be submitted to and obeyed by Christians within the whole sphere of its legitimate authority. He does not refer to cases in which it might become necessary to obey God rather than man: his purpose here does not call on him to do so; nor were the circumstances so far such as to bring such cases into prominence; for he was writing in the earlier part of Nero's reign, before any general persecution of Christians had begun. Nor does he touch on the question whether it may be right in some cases for subjects to resist usurped power or tyranny, or to take part in political revolutions, and even fight for freedom. Such a question was apart from his subject, which is the general duty of obedience to the law and government under which we are placed by Providence. This is the only passage in which he treats the subject at length and definitely. In a doctrinal and practical treatise like this Epistle, addressed as an apologia pro fide sua to the metropolis of the world and the seat of government, it was fitting that he should express clearly the attitude of the Church with regard to the civil order. But his teaching in other Epistles is in accordance with this; as where (1 Corinthians 7:21) he bids slaves acquiesce in the existing law of slavery, and (1 Timothy 2:1, etc.) he desires especially prayers to be made in behalf of kings and rulers. And he himself notably carried out his principles in this regard (cf. Acts 23:5; Acts 25:8-11). There is a closely similar passage in the First Epistle of St. Peter (1 Peter 2:12-18). Verse 1. - Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of (rather, from) God: the powers that be are ordained of God. It is of God's ordering that there should be human governments and human laws. Without them there could be no order, security, or progress among mankind. Imperfect as they may often be, and in some instances oppressive and unjust, still they exist for a purpose of good, and form part of the Divine order for the government of the world. In this sense all are from God, and ordained of God; and in submitting to them we are submitting to God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
Verses 2-5. - Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and they which withstand shall receive to themselves condemnation (i.e. really God's, operating through the human "power;" not meaning damnation in the common sense of the word). 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. It is the theory of the laws of all civilized governments to uphold justice, and only to punish what is wrong; and in the main they do so. The principles of the Roman law were just, and Paul himself found protection from its officers and tribunals, whose fairness he had, and had reason to have, more confidence in than in the tender mercy of either Gentile or Jewish zealots (cf. Acts 19:35, seq.; 21:31, seq.; 22:30; 24:10; 25:10, 11; 26:30, seq.). As has been observed already, the Neronian persecutions had not yet begun. 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 (though "the sword" might possibly be understood as only the familiar symbol of power, yet the mention of it may be taken to imply the apostle's recognition of the legitimacy of capital punishment, such as he also expressed distinctly, Acts 25:11): for he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wrath here expresses the familiar idea of the Divine wrath against evil-doing, for the execution of which, in the sphere of human law, the magistrate is the appointed instrument (see note on Romans 12:19). Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake. Not only for fear of penal consequences, but because it is your duty, whatever might ensue, to submit to the ordinance of God. Similarly, in 1 Peter 2:13, submission to every ordinance of man is enjoined "for the Lord's sake (διὰ τὸν Κύριον)."
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:
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.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Verse 6. - For for this cause ye pay (so, rather than, as in the Authorized Version, pay ye. The γὰρ suggests this interpretation. So in the Vulgate, ideo enim et tributa praestatis. The Christians, we may suppose, did pay all legal dues and taxes; it was a recognized principle that they were bound to do so; perhaps because of Christ himself having settled the question in his dictum about the tribute-money (Matthew 22:21). And what the apostle means may be that the same principle on which they paid their taxes extended to all legal requirements) tribute also: for they (i.e. the officers who exact tribute) are God's ministers (not, as in ver. 4, διακόνοι, but λειτουργοὶ. This word, with its correlatives, is used in the New Testament especially with reference to the ceremonial services of the temple, and to their counterpart in Christian devotion; but not exclusively so (see Romans 15:27; Philippians 2:25). In classical Greek it denotes peculiarly persons performing public duties, or works of public use. This well-known use of the word may have suggested it here, the apostle meaning to say that such as in any such way served the state were in fact serving God), attending continually upon this very thing; i.e. on λειτουργία for God.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Verse 7. - Render to all their dues; tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Whatever, either by law or by the constituted order of society, may be due to any, in the way of deference and honour, as well as payments, Christians, as members of society, are bound to render.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
Verses 8-10. - From specific admonitions on this subject, the apostle passes naturally to the principle which, in these regards as well as others, should inspire all our dealings with our fellow-men. Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another (literally, the other, meaning the same as his neighbour) hath fulfilled law. Νόμον here is anarthrous, denoting law in general, not the Mosaic Law in particular, though the instances of transgression that follow are from the Decalogue. The idea of the passage is but a carrying out of our Lord's saying, Matthew 22:39, 40. We find it also in Galatians 5:14 more shortly expressed. 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 (or, summed up) in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of law.
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.
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.
Verses 11-14. - There is now interposed among the particular admonitions a call to watchfulness, with a view to holiness in all relations of life, on the ground that the day is at hand. There can be little, if any, doubt that the apostle had in view the second coming of Christ, which he with others supposed might be close at hand, Our Lord had said that of that day none knew but the Father (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32; cf. Acts 1:7), and that it would come unexpectedly (Matthew 24:27, 37-44; Mark 13:36). Further, in the same addresses to the disciples before his death in which these things were said, he seems to have disclosed a vista of the future, after the manner of the ancient prophets, in which more immediate and more distant fulfilments of the prophetic vision were not clearly distinguished; so that words which we now perceive to have pointed to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was typical of the final judgments, might easily have been understood as referring to the latter. Such are, "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34; Mark 13:30; cf. also John 21:22, 23). Hence it was natural that the apostolic Church should regard the second advent as probably imminent. We find in the apostolic Epistles several intimations of this expectation (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13, seq.; 2 Corinthians 5:2-5; Philippians 4:5; Hebrews 10:25; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 John 2:18, 28; Revelation 22:20); and though it was not realized in the event, the authority of the apostles as inspired teachers is not thus disparaged, this being the very thing which Christ had said must remain unknown to all. Nor does their teaching, enforced by this expectation, lose its force to us; for, though "the Lord delayeth his coming," and may still delay it, yet to each of us at least this present world is fast passing away, and the Lord may be close at hand to call us out of it. The duty of watchfulness and preparedness remains unchanged. The Parousia or, as it is called in the pastoral Epistles, the Epiphany (in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, ἐπιφανεία τῆς παρουσίας) of Christ is here, as elsewhere, presented under the figure of the day appearing (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:13; Ephesians 5:14; l Thessalonians 5:4; Hebrews 10:25; 2 Peter 1:19), the previous ages of the world being regarded as the time of night. The figure is found in the prophets with reference to that day - the coming day of the Lord (cf. e.g. Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 60:1-3; Malachi 4:2), But though the day has not yet come, Christians are viewed as already in the radiance of its dawn, in which they can walk as children of the day, and be on the watch, and not be surprised asleep, or doing the deeds of darkness, when the full daylight bursts upon them. For in the first advent of Christ the day dawned, though, to those who loved darkness rather than light, but as a light that shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not (John 1:5, seq.; John 3:19, seq.; cf. 2 Peter 1:19; 1 John 2:8; and also Luke 1:78, seq.; Luke 2:32). Verses 11, 12. - And that (for a similar use of καὶ τοῦτο, or καὶ ταῦτα, cf. 1 Corinthians 6:8; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:28; Hebrews 10:25; Hebrews 11:12), knowing that it is high time for you to awake out of sleep (more literally, that it is the hour for you to be already roused out of sleep); for now is our salvation nearer (or, now is salvation nearer to us. The salvation here meant is "the restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21), the "manifestation of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19), "the regeneration" (Matthew 19:28), the "gathering together in one of all things in Christ," (Ephesians 1:10), which is yet to come) than when we believed (i.e. than when we first became believers; cf. Acts 19:2; 1 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Galatians 2:16. Time has been gradually advancing since then, bringing the consummation we look for ever nearer). The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore put off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Former habits of life are here, as elsewhere, regarded as clothing once worn - a man's habitual investment, though not part of his real self - which is to be put off (cf. Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:8, 9); instead whereof are to he put on, as a new investment, the graces and virtues, supplied to us from the region of light, which constitute the Christian character (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 6:11, seq.). In all these passages the new clothing to be put on is designated as armour, the idea being carried out in detail in Ephesians 6:11, etc.; and thus the further conception is introduced of Christians being as soldiers on the watch during the watches of the night, awaiting daybreak, equipped with arms of heavenly proof, careful not to sleep on their post, or to allow themselves in revelry or any deeds of shame, such as are done in the night under the cover of darkness.
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.
Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.
Verses 13, 14. - As in the day, let us walk honestly (in the sense which honeste bears in Latin of decently, becomingly, with de. serum. The word εὐσχημόνως occurs also in 1 Thessalonians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 7:35: 14:40. It denotes here a walk of life the entire opposite of ἀσχημοσύνη (ch. 1:27), and of the things done in secret of which it is a shame to speak; cf. Ephesians 5:11, 12); not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying (rather, jealousy, denoting jealous wrath, cf. Acts 13:45). But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ. The figure of a new investment being renewed from ver. 12, it is here Christ himself who is to be put on. So also Galatians 3:27. For the idea implied, cf. Ephesians 4:23, 24; Colossians 3:12; ch. 8:9, 10; 1 Corinthians 6:15, 17. "Induere autem Christum hic significat virtute Spiritus ejus undique nos muniri, qua idonei ad omnes sanctitatis partes reddamur. Sic enim instauratur in nobis imago Dei, quae unicum est animae ornamentum" (Calvin). It may be observed that in Galatians 3:27 Christians are said to have already put on Christ in their baptism; here they are exhorted still to do so. There is no real contradiction; they are but exhorted to realize in actual life the meaning of their baptism. And make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof (literally, unto lusts).
But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.