Paul discusses a Christian’s obligations toward secular authority figures. And he says we should owe nothing except love, for love fulfills the law. [UPDATED]
VERSE 1. Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who exist are ordained by God.
higher authorities. That is, “governing authorities.”
be in subjection to. Should we obey leaders who are corrupt? What if they enforce unjust policies?
Every leader, whether secular or ecclesial, is subject to corruption. They are not flawless. There are unjust laws that must be disobeyed. There are times when citizens must practice civil disobedience.
In the days of Paul, the emperor was Nero. He was probably the person who set the city of Rome on fire in 64 AD. While the city burned, he sang the “Sack of Ilium” in stage costume. He was not worthy of respect or obedience.
no authority except from God. Paul argues that authority figures are instituted by God.
This is deeply ironic, considering that Paul did not esteem the authority figures in his own life.
Consider his rebuke of Peter, his cavalier attitude toward the church authorities in Jerusalem, his domineering of Barnabas, and more.
VERSE 2. Therefore he who resists the authority, withstands the ordinance of God; and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment.
VERSE 3. For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Do you desire to have no fear of the authority? Do that which is good, and you will have praise from the authority,
VERSE 4. for he is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid, for he doesn’t bear the sword in vain; for he is a servant of God, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil.
an avenger for wrath. The rationale for governmental force is to prevent tyranny and execute justice.
However, history shows us that it is all too easy for government leaders to abuse their power using the might of their state.
VERSE 5. Therefore you need to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.
VERSE 6. For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are servants of God’s service, continually doing this very thing.
VERSE 7. Therefore give everyone what you owe: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if customs, then customs; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
if you owe taxes, pay taxes. Some Christians assert that they should not have to pay taxes. However, Paul says we must.
VERSE 8. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
Owe no one anything. May Christians go into debt? May we borrow money for a car or take out a student loan? How about a home loan or a credit card?
has fulfilled the law. Love, not mere external conformity to rules, is the essence of the Law.
VERSE 9. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,”* “You shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
VERSE 10. Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.
Love … is the fulfillment of the law. Augustine famously said:
Love, and do as you wish.
VERSE 11. Do this, knowing the time, that it is already time for you to awaken out of sleep, for salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed.
knowing the time. That is, “knowing the End Times” and the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
VERSE 12. The night is far gone, and the day is near. Let’s therefore throw off the deeds of darkness, and let’s put on the armor of light.
VERSE 13. Let’s walk properly, as in the day; not in reveling and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and lustful acts, and not in strife and jealousy.
walk properly. That is, behave decently.
put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” like we put on a coat. Or like we put on a suit of armor:
Zechariah 3:5. I said, “Let them set a clean turban on his head.” So they set a clean turban on his head, and clothed him; and the LORD’s angel was standing by.
Luke 15:22. But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
Romans 13:14. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, for its lusts.
2 Corinthians 5:2. For most certainly in this we groan, longing to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,
Galatians 3:27. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.