Romans 13:8 ESV
Matthew Henry's Commentary
We are here taught a lesson of justice and charity.
I. Of justice (Rom. 13:7): Render therefore to all their dues, especially to magistrates, for this refers to what goes before; and likewise to all with whom we have to do. To be just is to give to all their due, to give every body his own. What we have we have as stewards; others have an interest in it, and must have their dues. “Render to God his due in the first place, to yourselves, to you families, your relations, to the commonwealth, to the church, to the poor, to those that you have dealings with in buying, selling, exchanging, etc. Render to all their dues; and that readily and cheerfully, not tarrying till you are by law compelled to it.” He specifies, 1. Due taxes: Tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom. Most of the countries where the gospel was first preached were subject at this time to the Roman yoke, and were made provinces of the empire. He wrote this to the Romans, who, as they were rich, so they were drained by taxes and impositions, to the just and honest payment of which they are here pressed by the apostle. Some distinguish between tribute and custom, understanding by the former constant standing taxes, and by the latter those which were occasionally required, both which are to be faithfully and conscientiously paid as they become legally due. Our Lord was born when his mother went to be taxed; and he enjoined the payment of tribute to Caesar. Many, who in other things seem to be just, yet make no conscience of this, but pass it off with a false ill-favoured maxim, that it is no sin to cheat the king, directly contrary to Paul’s rule, Tribute to whom tribute is due. 2. Due respect: Fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour. This sums up the duty which we owe not only to magistrates, but to all superiors, parents, masters, all that are over us in the Lord, according to the fifth commandment: Honour thy father and mother. Compare Lev. 19:3; You shall fear every man his mother and his father; not with a fear of amazement, but a loving, reverent, respectful, obediential fear. Where there is not this respect in the heart to our superiors, no other duty will be paid aright. 3. Due payment of debts (Rom. 13:8): “Owe no man any thing; that is, do not continue in any one’s debt, while you are able to pay it, further than by, at least, the tacit consent of the person to whom you are indebted. Give every one his own. Do not spend that upon yourselves, which you owe to others.” The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again, Ps. 37:21. Many that are very sensible of the trouble think little of the sin of being in debt.
II. Of charity: Owe no man any thing; opheilete—you do owe no man any thing; so some read it: “Whatever you owe to any relation, or to any with whom you have to do, it is eminently summer up and included in this debt of love. But to love one another, this is a debt that must be always in the paying, and yet always owing.” Love is a debt. The law of God and the interest of mankind make it so. It is not a thing which we are left at liberty about, but it is enjoined us, as the principle and summary of all duty owing one to another; for love is the fulfilling of the law; not perfectly, but it is a good step towards it. It is inclusive of all the duties of the second table, which he specifies, Rom. 13:9; and these suppose the love of God. See 1 John 4:20. If the love be sincere, it is accepted as the fulfilling of the law. Surely we serve a good master, that has summed up all our duty in one word, and that a short word and a sweet word—love, the beauty and harmony of the universe. Loving and being loved is all the pleasure, joy, and happiness, of an intelligent being. God is love (1 John 4:16), and love is his image upon the soul: where it is, the soul is well moulded, and the heart fitted for every good work. Now, to prove that love is the fulfilling of the law, he gives us, 1. An induction of particular precepts, Rom. 13:9. He specifies the last five of the ten commandments, which he observes to be all summed up in this royal law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself—with an as of quality, not of equality—“with the same sincerity that thou lovest thyself, though not in the same measure and degree.” He that loves his neighbour as himself will be desirous of the welfare of his neighbour’s body, goods, and good name, as of his own. On this is built that golden rule of doing as we would be done by. Were there no restraints of human laws in these things, no punishments incurred (which the malignity of human nature hath made necessary), the law of love would of itself be effectual to prevent all such wrongs and injuries, and to keep peace and good order among us. In the enumeration of these commandments, the apostle puts the seventh before the sixth, and mentions this first, Thou shalt not commit adultery; for though this commonly goes under the name of love (pity it is that so good a word should be so abused) yet it is really as great a violation of it as killing and stealing is, which shows that true brotherly love is love to the souls of our brethren in the first place. He that tempts others to sin, and defiles their minds and consciences, though he may pretend the most passionate love (Prov. 7:15, 18), does really hate them, just as the devil does, who wars against the soul. 2. A general rule concerning the nature of brotherly love: Love worketh no ill (Rom. 13:10)-- he that walks in love, that is actuated and governed by a principle of love, worketh no ill; he neither practises nor contrives any ill to his neighbour, to any one that he has any thing to do with: ouk ergazetai. The projecting of evil is in effect the performing of it. Hence devising iniquity is called working evil upon the bed, Mic. 2:1. Love intends and designs no ill to any body, is utterly against the doing of that which may turn to the prejudice, offence, or grief of any. It worketh no ill; that is, it prohibits the working of any ill: more is implied than is expressed; it not only worketh no ill, but it worketh all the good that may be, deviseth liberal things. For it is a sin not only to devise evil against thy neighbour, but to withhold good from those to whom it is due; both are forbidden together, Prov. 3:27-29. This proves that love is the fulfilling of the law, answers all the end of it; for what else is that but to restrain us from evil-doing, and to constrain us to well-doing? Love is a living active principle of obedience to the whole law. The whole law is written in the heart, if the law of love be there.