The Pulpit Commentary

Romans 13:1-7 (Romans 13:1-7)

The Christian as citizen.

The duty of Christians as citizens is in our day not sufficiently recognized. Many Christians keep aloof from public life and the duties of citizenship because of the political corruption and party strife which are so common. Others, again, enter into public duties, but seem to leave their religion behind them. The result is a sad want of Christian statesmanship and of Christian legislation.

I. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES THE NECESSITY OF GOVERNMENT . "There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" ( Romans 13:1 ). This is not to be understood as meaning that every individual ruler is ordained of God. That would make the Divine Being responsible for many acts of despotism and oppression. We might as well say that every minister of religion who had received the form of ordination was therefore chosen of God, no matter what his personal character might be. The meaning rather is that government is an ordinance of God—that God has ordained or appointed it, that there should be authority and rulers. Government is necessary:

1. For the protection of life and property.

2. For the repression of crime. "Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil" ( Romans 13:3 ). Governors, says St. Peter, are appointed "for the punishment of evil-doers" ( 1 Peter 2:14 ).

3. For the rewarding and encouraging of virtue. "Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same" ( Romans 13:3 ). So St. Peter also speaks of governors as "a praise to them that do well." Wise rulers will not only repress crime, but they will seek to encourage well-doing. They will show special favour to those who, by their own character and efforts, promote morality and temperance and honesty, and thus help to make government easy. How often do rulers forget this! How often the Christian people of a nation are ignored or even discouraged, while the godless and the immoral are high in place and favour!

II. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF RULERS . Rulers are here called "ministers of God" ( Romans 13:4 , Romans 13:6 ). Our sovereign entitles herself "Victoria, by the grace of God." All who are concerned in government have a solemn responsibility, whether they be kings or queens, ministers of state, members of the legislature, judges, magistrates, or jurymen. All must appear one day before a higher tribunal. Then the judge will be asked, "Have you done justice as between man and man?" The juryman will be asked, "Have you rendered a verdict according to the evidence?" The sovereign will be asked. "Have you been faithful to your coronation vows?" Therefore the Christian should pray for rulers. " For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" ( 1 Timothy 2:2 ). The Christian should do all he can to secure good rulers. What we need in our day is less of party politics, and more of Christian polities. Christian people, Christian Churches, should band themselves together, laying aside all political and all ecclesiastical differences, to secure Christian representatives, Christian law- makers for our professedly Christian nation.

III. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES HIS OWN RESPONSIBILITY . There are two duties distinctly specified here for the Christian citizen.

1. Obedience. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" ( Romans 13:1 ); "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" ( Romans 13:2 ); "Wherefore ye must needs be subject" ( Romans 13:5 ). If the law is to be upheld, there must be an obedient and submissive spirit on the part of every good citizen. Yet there are limits to all this. We are to interpret this passage in the light of other Bible teaching and the examples which it sets before us. The Bible does not teach the doctrine of passive obedience or non-resistance. At Babylon, Daniel resisted the reigning power. The royal mandate was issued, but Daniel did not obey it. "He kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." The Apostles Peter and John declined to obey the Jewish council at Jerusalem when they were commanded to speak no more in the Name of Jesus. They boldly answered, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot, but speak the things which we have seen and hear. Where the law of a nation or the command of an earthly ruler conflicts with the law of God, then it is clearly the Christian's duty to obey God rather than men. The English people in their past history have acted upon this principle. Twice under the reign of the Stuart sovereigns the subjects of the realm asserted, on conscientious grounds, their right of revolution and resistance. So also did the Covenanters of Scotland. Yet resistance to constituted authority should ever be a last resort, and is only to be resorted to when all more peaceful means have utterly failed to obtain justice and redress of wrongs.

2. Taxation. "For this cause pay ye tribute also" (verse 6). This also was the teaching of Christ. No government can be maintained without expense. National defences, public institutions, all of which have for their object the protection and the well-being of all the citizens, require to be kept up. Every citizen is responsible for bearing his share in meeting expenditure for the common good. He may not approve of every item of expenditure, but that is no valid reason for refusing to contribute his share of taxation, where the representatives of the nation have decreed that the expenditure is wise and necessary. This rule, of course, has its exception also in the case of any expenditure which would do violence to the individual conscience.

3. There are other practical duties. The Christian will ever cooperate with rulers in securing and promoting peace and temperance, morality and honesty, truthfulness and justice. All these virtues are necessary to national well-being. Government would be easy if every citizen was a Christian, and if every Christian would realize his duties as a citizen. The words of Sir Arthur Helps ('Friends in Council') may be fittingly quoted here: "He who does not bring into government, whether as governor or subject, some religious feeling, some higher motive than expediency, is likely to make but an indifferent governor or an indifferent subject Without piety there will be no good government."—C.H.I.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Romans 13:1-7 (Romans 13:1-7)

Christian submission.

We now pass from ecclesiastical to civil relations. Because the Christian has entered upon a new brotherhood in Christ, he does not cease to belong to the old brotherhood of natural society. And as in the spiritual brotherhood humility and love are the twin principles that should regulate all our conduct, so in the natural commonwealth of the state there should be, analogously, submission towards the powers, and a love-inspired justice towards private members of the same. In these verses is inculcated the duty of conscientious submission to state authorities.

I. THE REASONABLENESS OF SUBMISSION . The submission to authority is spoken of as of a twofold nature—obedience to law generally, and payment of all dues. And the spirit in which such obedient and loyal conduct should be exercised is the spirit of reverence and honour. For even in state duties the heart should be concerned equally with the life.

1. It is reasonable, then, that we:

2. But our obedience and payment of dues will only be properly rendered by us, and will only tend to the proper rendering of the same by others, if our heart go with our deed. Let there then, as is reasonable, be fear, let there be honour, towards those to whom fear, to whom honour is due.

I. THE RIGHTNESS OF SUBMISSION . The natural man, on the grounds of mere reason, then, should submit to authority, with deed and with heart. But surely the Christian man should submit on some higher ground than this? It is not only reasonable, it is divinely right, that such submission be rendered to the powers.

1. It is right that we:

2. So the spirit in which we obey and pay tribute is to be one of reverence and honour, not only on the lower ground of the reasonableness of the same, but because in these human powers we discern God.

Here, then, as in the whole of life, the religious penetrates and sanctifies the natural. There is to be a perpetual transfiguration, in our eyes, of the human with the Divine. This is but an application of the injunction, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."—T.F.L.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Romans 13:1-6 (Romans 13:1-6)

Submission to constituted authority.

The reception of a new truth requires its adjustment to previously accepted truths. The introduction of a new system like Christianity necessitated an examination of its relationship to existing systems of government. There was a danger of Jewish fanaticism being fanned into heated sedition in Jewish converts to the gospel by the very joy of finding the Messiah and of hopes concerning a literal temporal kingdom. And the novelty of the views opened up before Gentile converts might easily beget in them a feeling of freedom from and superiority to all law and custom. Yet the advice to such, in order to be practical and effective, must be simple and concise. The apostle, therefore, enunciates a principle, and leaves its limitations to be afterwards discovered.

I. THE DIVINE FOUNT OF AUTHORITY . Government is traced to its source in God. "Order is Heaven's first law." Where no order reigns, there is no security, no progress to better things. Absolute equality is impossible amongst men; society has no safeguards, no cohesion, without a recognized tribunal of authority. Whether this authority is taken and exercised as a matter of course by the wisest or strongest, or is the acknowledged result of station conferred by the community, the necessity for such leadership and oversight manifests the will of God, and authority as such is seen to emanate from him. The Creator controls the works of his hands. The camp of Israel maintained a certain disposition of tents and tribes at rest and on the march, because of a Divine ordinance. Disorder would ill have befitted the presence of the Monarch Jehovah. Whatever the forms which government assumes, we are compelled to ascend in thought by rising steps and hierarchies up to him who sitteth on the great white throne, the mighty Arbiter of all events, the Judge of quick and dead. Recall the majestic passage from Hooker: "Of Law there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world: all things in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power: both angels and men and creatures of what condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy."

II. THE HUMAN ADMINISTRATORS OF JUSTICE . "The powers that be are ordained of God." Not that he has placed each ruler in office or assents to each judicial function. But the leaders of human society represent the authority of God on earth. They are the "ministers" of God, acting in subordination to him; at least this is the fundamental idea of their position, however overlooked in practice. "They bear the sword" for God, are his vicegerents, and herein lies the honour and accountability of their decisions. Let them recollect that "One higher than the highest regardeth." "He that ruleth over men righteously, ruling in the fear of God, he shall be as the sunny light of a cloudless morning." Cf. Samuel's account of his judgeship, that he had defrauded none, oppressed none, nor taken a ransom from any. As families are governed by their natural head, the father, so is the universal family named after and ruled by the great Father in heaven, whom earthly parents are to copy. The fact that parents use delegated authority lends weight and responsibility to their behaviour. For the superintendence of Israel the seventy elders received a special donation of the spirit of Moses. How needful that rulers in Church and state, in households and in municipalities, should seek wisdom from him that giveth to all men liberally! Many a riotous subject has become a thoughtful, self-restrained governor when realizing the momentous grandeur and obligations of his office.

III. THE GENERAL RULE OF OBEDIENCE . Submission follows the recognition of the Divine authority at the back of magistrates. To rebel, to disobey, is to cast off allegiance to God. Even the apostle, smarting under the illegal order of Ananias, regretted his strong language when informed that he had reviled the high priest. To refuse due honour to rulers and parents is to demoralize society. The Saviour resisted not the officers of justice, though he was unjustly condemned to death. The apostle urged slaves to be quiet, and subject to their froward masters, that by well-doing they might silence malicious accusers of Christianity. This did not signify that the gospel sanctioned slavery and despotism when the time arrived for their peaceful overthrow. Submission to persecution has been mightier, more lasting in its effects than an armed resistance, for it enlightens public opinion without kindling strife, and prepares for a change that shall be virtually unanimous. The two sanctions of the magistrate's authority are mentioned in Romans 13:5 , viz. "wrath," that is, punishment, and "conscience," that is, the assurance which the peaceable subject has that he has acted in accordance with the mind of God.

IV. PARTICULAR EXCEPTIONS . No public edict has a right to coerce any man's conscience. Let the ruler attempt to promulgate a law that sins against morality, and obedience must be refused at all hazards. When Caesar steps out of his province into the realm of religion, no regard for the "powers that be" can for a moment be suffered to suspend compliance with the felt dictates of the Almighty. The proclamations of Nebuchadnezzar commanding to worship the golden image, and of Darius prohibiting prayer to any save the king, were rightly unheeded by God-fearing men. But let each protester take great care to have his conscience illumined, lest he erect his individual judgment into a law of God. Again, when a government has shown itself incapable of protecting the good and punishing the transgressors, and is notorious for its reversal of the true principles which should guide its action and for its forgetfulness of the intent of its functions, it has put itself outside the pale of respect and submission; it may lawfully be overthrown and another substituted. Allowance must, however, be made for the human infirmities even of kings and councillors. In modern states agitation can effect needed reforms in public administration. It behoves each citizen to think, speak, and vote as he deems will best promote the interests of the state. Indifference, on whatever spiritual grounds, to evils which he can remedy, carelessness respecting the general welfare,—this is a crime. It is a refusal to employ a talent which Providence has committed to his care. Modern legislation does not hesitate to withdraw children from the custody of parents who act with cruelty or surround their offspring with deleterious influences.—S.R.A.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Romans 13:1-8 (Romans 13:1-8)

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.,' 18.1. § 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 , Acts 17:7 ; 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 hero 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 23:1-35 . 5; Acts 25:8-11 ). There is a closely similar passage in the First Epistle of St. Peter ( 1 Peter 2:12-18 ).

- The Pulpit Commentary

Romans 13:6 (Romans 13:6)

For for this cause ye pay . 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 Romans 13:4 , 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.

- The Pulpit Commentary

Romans 13:1-7 (Romans 13:1-7)


There was danger, in the first age of Christianity, lest the nature of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus should be misunderstood even by its subjects, and misrepresented by those without. A spiritual empire was a new conception, and carnal minds were prone to confound the dominion over souls with civil and political authority. Hence the importance and appropriateness of the admonitions so emphatically addressed by the apostle to the Christians of Rome.

I. THE INSPIRED CONCEPTION OF CIVIL AUTHORITY . By this the apostle understood the actually constituted power of the state. The Roman emperor was the head and chief of the greater part of the population of the then known world, and Rome was the centre of political rule and authority. The proconsuls and propraetors represented in the provinces the imperial majesty and sway of senate and of emperor. But it is evident that the view of civil power taken by the apostle was equally applicable to monarchies and to republics. Whatever the form of government, whatever the designation of the ruler, whatever the rank of the administrator of the law, authority was recognized as of Divine origin and right. It has sometimes been deemed a reproach to the apostle that he should have written thus when Nero was on the throne. But this fact rather emphasizes the principle that the authority is Divine, although the person or persons who wield it may be unworthy of the trust. Nero was at this time under the influence of the wise and moderate counsels of Seneca and of Burrhus, yet this language which Paul employed would probably have been unaltered had the apostle been writing during the subsequent and infamous period of the tyrant's sway. It would be straining this passage to deduce from it

"The right Divine of kings to govern wrong,"

and it would be unjust to argue from it that it is always unlawful to resist and to dethrone a tyrant. But we may learn to regard subordination, rule, subjection, loyalty, as all part of a Divine order imposed upon human society by the Lord of all.


1. Respect and honour are due from the governed to the governor. Even where there is a lack of those qualities which command personal respect, honour may be rendered to the office which is held, and the duties of which are faithfully fulfilled.

2. The payment of taxes and tributes is required. In this precept Paul followed the teaching of his Master, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." Subjects are not responsible for the use made of the money which is exacted from them by just authority. When a king who has no constitutional right to levy taxes without the consent of a parliament demands money upon his own authority, such a demand may be refused without disobedience to the injunction of the text.

3. Obedience and subjection are enjoined. The extent and range of this injunction are very large. "Every soul"—every intelligent member of society—is under an obligation to obey; and resistance to the ruler is resistance to God, and entails just punishment and retribution.

4. Virtue generally is commended as contributive to the well-being of society. Good works are to evince the sincerity of the Christian's faith. The Roman law was the highest expression the ancient world attained of justice in the relations subsisting between man and man. It has been the foundation of the codes of many civilized Christian nations in modern times. Obedience to the law was the duty of every good citizen, every well-wisher of society, every true member of the human family. For the law was the sanction of virtue and righteousness. Doubtless there have been and are unjust laws; yet it is the duty of the citizen to obey them when obedience does not come into conflict with the higher duty to God.

III. THE GROUNDS OF LOYALTY . These, as adduced by St. Paul, are two.

1. Personal considerations are advanced. The wrath of the magistrate is to be feared; rulers are a terror to the evil; they that resist shall receive retribution; the ruler bears not the sword in vain. Such motives are almost the only motives to which the coarse and vicious are accessible. They are motives to which none are altogether superior. The consequences of injustice have to be borne in mind by those who are liable to the passions of cupidity or of revenge

2. Religious motives are presented. Government is an ordinance of God, and rulers are the ministers of God. A had subject, then, cannot be a good Christian. In our own days, individualism is carried to such an extent that authority is often disdained and defied, even by those who are by no means the dregs of society, who make pretensions to intelligence and virtue. It is well, therefore, that the inspired teaching should be pondered which attaches importance so great to order, patriotism, and loyalty.

- The Pulpit Commentary