"(1) Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (2) Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (3) For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; (4) for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. (5) Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. (6) For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (7) Render to all what is due them: Tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." Romans 13:1-7.

Paul uttered these statements as a practical extension of his teachings in Romans, chapters 9 and 10, where he discussed God's dealings with the Jewish nation and other nations of the world. In Romans 9:16-18 Paul said that "it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.' So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires."

And in Romans 9:22 Paul went on to say, "God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with such patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction." Paul's statements in chapter 13 concerning the Christian's "subjection to the governing authorities" must be considered in the light of God's principles involving God's use of all powers on earth either as "vessels of mercy" or "vessels of wrath."

The Holy Spirit speaking through Paul termed worldly forces like those of the Egyptian Pharaoh as "vessels of wrath." God prepared a destruction for such vessels after He had used them. But, before their destruction, God endured them with patience for a while because He desired that they change and call upon His name and be saved. (Romans 10:11-12). These evil powers God used not only to execute wrath but also "to work together for good to those who love God." (Romans 8:28). He used the evil powers to "make known the riches of glory upon vessels of mercy." (Romans 9:23). So everything on this earth was (and still is) under the ultimate control of God. This does not take away man's free choice. Man either chooses to believe and be obedient to God and be used as a "vessel of mercy," or he chooses to disbelieve, be disobedient to God and be used as a "vessel of wrath."

With all that in mind, Paul's statements in chapter 13, concerning the Holy Spirit's leadership of the Christian in his earthly "walk," necessarily called for the Christian to be in subjection to the governing authorities. "For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God, and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

Did Paul reveal an ignorance of the workings of governments when he affirmed that earthly rulers are not a cause of fear to those who do good, but only a cause of fear to those who do evil? Didn't Paul know about the immoral and tyranical ways in which governments often exercise power? Was Pharaoh no cause of fear to the children of Israel when they did good, that is, when they did what God told them to do? And, does Paul not remember that it was by command of the Roman and Jewish governments that Jesus was crucified?

Of course, Paul knew all of this. He placed his teachings within a context of an expectation of persecution (Romans 12:14), an expectation that the peace may not always be kept (Romans 12:18), and an expectation that God's people will be faced by those who act as their enemies (Romans 12:20-21). So, certainly Paul did not want us to take his teachings concerning submission to governing authority out of this context.

Was Pharaoh a cause of fear to the children of Israel who were doing good in the sight of God? No! Why not? Wasn't Pharaoh trying to kill them when he had soldiers pursue them into the Red sea? Yes, but God's children who were doing good had nothing to fear because God was in control of everything and he caused everything to work together for good to those who loved Him. Paul's did not state this principle in Romans 8:28 as a new principle. It was true in the time of Moses and it is true also today.

Paul said in Romans 13:3, "Rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior." The "good behavior" or "good work" spoken of by Paul is not always "good" in the sight of the "ruler", but it must be "good" in the sight of God. The "fear" that is mentioned here in verse 3 does not mean that one will never have a fleshly fear of wrong treatment from the "ruler." No. The "fear" that one need not have is spiritual fear for his soul's welfare. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 10:28, "Do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul." Christians need have no fear of the ultimate outcome in their spiritual environment if they do good in the sight of God.

So the Holy Spirit leads us to "walk" in subjection to governing authorities just as Jesus "walked" to His crucifixion on the cross. Jesus spoke against sin where and whenever it appeared, but He did not resist the governing powers which captured Him and put Him to death. The authority wielded by the governing powers to put Jesus to death was ultimately the power of God, for it was God who offered up His Son on the cross for our salvation.

The "good work", then, that the Spirit leads us to do, by which we may have fear of governing authorities, includes the preaching of the gospel which is the power of God for salvation to all men, Jews and Gentiles. The admonition to not resist authority cannot mean to obey the civil authorities when they forbid the preaching of the gospel. In cases like that we must say as Peter said, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29). Peter and the Apostles "kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus the Christ." Did Peter and the Apostles have to choose to disobey this principle that the Holy Spirit through Paul gives us in Romans, to be in subjection to governing authorities? No. They did not resist the authorities' penalty of imprisonment. They accepted beatings. Yet they had no fear that all things would not work out for good to them.

Certainly Paul did not tell us one thing in chapter 12 and contradict it in chapter 13. Therefore, we know that being in subjection to the governing authorities does not necessarily mean being at peace with the governing authorities. It does mean that, if possible, so far as it depends on us, we must be at peace with all men. But if the governing authorities decide that, because of our doing good as we are led by the Spirit to do, they have to make war on us, we may not be at peace with them.

Finally in Romans 13:6-7 Paul qualified the command to be in subjection by explaining that it means to "render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.", To the governing authorities certain things are due as ordained by God. To be in subjection to them is to render to them the things that are due. The rendering of these things are not a violation of our good behavior before God, but are good behavior before God and the earthly governing authorities as well. If we do not pay our taxes, observe the customs, fears, and honors that are due, it is evil both in the sight of God and the governing authorities.

Paul said in Romans 13:5 that "it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake." It appears that our knowledge of the fact that God is the source of all authority, even of the civil governing authority, and that our knowledge that God uses the governing authorities as vessels of wrath, will train our consciences to render to them what is due. If we are not in subjection rendering what is due, we will violate our consciences that the Holy Spirit has been training during our "walk" through the Christian life. To violate our consciences would be sin. And, in this case, the ordained wrath of the governing authority would descend upon us as well.

This is a very practical and valuable portion of Scripture for Christians who are trying to "walk" as led by the Spirit. Paul teaches us that God, in using us as His vessels of mercy, desires us to render what is due to His vessels of wrath.

We might ask if the governing authorities are always used by God as vessels of wrath? Does He not sometimes use them as vessels of His mercy? Certainly the individual persons who are serving in civil governments can be Christians and, therefore, be "walking" as vessels of God's mercy. But, because of this, the overall civil authority itself does not become a vessel of God's mercy. Why? In Romans 12:1-8 Paul indicated that God's mercy is to be expressed to the world through the Body of Christ, the church, Christ's spiritual kingdom. And Christ Himself said, "My Kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36). Let there be no question about the fact that the Christian owes first allegiance to the Kingdom of Christ, a Kingdom not of this world.

The Christian's relationship with the governing authorities of the world is set down by the Holy Spirit through Paul as being simply to render to them what is due them by virtue of the fact that God uses them as His vessels of wrath. We, as Christians, must never let our relationship to the governing authorities become such that we become personally like the incumbent Pharaoh in the time of Moses, identified as the vessel of God's wrath. As members of the Body of Christ we have been elected as sons of God and our work is to serve as vessels of mercy. We cannot serve both as a vessel of mercy and a vessel of wrath. If we serve as a vessel of wrath, Paul told us in Romans 9:22 that the most we can expect from God is for Him to endure us with patience for awhile until we repent for our disobedience. If we do not repent and cease to be a vessel of wrath while the patience of God endures, then we will be destroyed, for vessels of wrath are "prepared for destruction."

We might say, in modern day language, that God has prepared His expendable vessels and His nonexpendable vessels. The vessels of wrath are used and then perish with the using as expendable vessels. The vessels of mercy are God's children and they are non-expendable. They are saved for glory with the Son, Jesus Christ. This appears to be the relationship of Christians to earthly governing authorities.


"(8) Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. (9) For this, 'You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, it is sum\med up in this saying, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' (10) Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law." Romans 13:8-10.

In Romans 13:7 Paul said, in a positive sense, "render to all what is due them." Then in the Romans 13:8 he said in a somewhat different sense the same thing, "Owe nothing to anyone..." Certainly, if we render to all what is due them, we will owe nothing to anyone. We owe "subjection" to the governing authorities because the Holy Spirit says that is due to them. We owe taxes, customs, fear, and honors because these things are due. Therefore, let us keep our earthly account book clean and clear. Let us have no outstanding debts unpaid in this fleshly world.

This does not mean money debts alone. It means, primarily, ties in our Christian lives to the fleshly world. The Holy Spirit said through Paul in Romans 8:8, "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Instead of having obligations to the fleshly world, the Spirit told us in Romans 8:12, "We are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh..." but in Romans 8:14, to be "led by the Spirit of God." We cannot be led by the Spirit of God if we maintain ties to the fleshly world. If we are not in subjection to the governing authorities, then we are engulfed in a battle with them. Governing authorities are fleshly, worldly authorities and our battles with them are fleshly entanglements. We must not be entangled with the flesh. Therefore, render to them their due and, thereby, be unentangled from them. And, remember, we render what is due to governing authorities not only to remain unentangled from them, but also to keep from opposing what God has ordained and is using to bring about His purposes.

God wants us as vessels of mercy completely unentangled from the flesh. But we are vessels dwelling in an "outer court" of flesh. We are sojourners in the flesh. We have not yet received our spiritual bodies. We are presented with just and legal bills from the fleshly world. The Spirit said that the way to "walk" so as to maintain our freedom from fleshly entanglements is to pay all the bills that are due as they come due. "Owe nothing to anyone." Thus we can be useful to God and we will be ready at any time to shed this flesh and be led into the joy of our Lord. In the last part of Romans 13:8 Paul made reference to the law. Obviously, he was saying also, that we must owe nothing to the law. It has been fulfilled for the Christian.

Paul continued in Romans 13:8 after saying, "Owe nothing to anyone," with an exception, "except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." Let us remember that Paul said in Romans 8:4, the "requirement of the law" is "fulfilled in us" when we "walk according to the Spirit." As Christians we are no longer indebted to the law because Christ fulfilled it for us. And Christ continues to fulfill the law's requirements in us daily and continuously when we "walk" according to His Spirit. Paul gave us that basic truth in chapter 8. Then in chapter 13, verse 8, we were informed how this is carried out in a practical way. When we "walk" according to the Spirit, we are led to "love one another."

"Owe nothing to anyone except, dear Christian friend, the one debt we can never pay - the debt of love to our neighbor. Christ freed us from the requirement to obey the old law of commandments, all except one. Paul quoted the old commandments in Romans 13:9, "You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet." These laws aroused the sinful passions of the flesh. Remember that Paul said in Romans 7:5-6, "While we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter." Then in a very practical sense, here is a commandment that does not arouse the sinful passions of the flesh - "Love one another."

Our Lord Himself said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34). Why was this a "new commandment?" The Law of Moses always stressed love for God and one's fellow man. But, after the actual sacrifice of Christ for our sins, this was a new commandment because we were released from all the old commandments of the law.

But Christ said that He released us from the commandment not to commit adultery, not to murder, not to steal, and not to covet, in order to place us under one grand obligation, a new commandment to replace all the old ones, the commandment that we love one another. The one new commandment accentuates the positive rather than the negative. And it really sums up the old commandments and takes them much further. So, if we love one another, we fulfill the law. Obviously, if we love all our neighbors as ourselves we will not commit adultery, we will not commit murder, we will not steal, and we will not covet. So then we have a new commandment that sums up the old ones. All our debts which we couldn't pay off individually have been consolidated into one grand debt. We are to render to all flesh what is due and owe nothing to anyone in the fleshly world except that we love one another.

But Paul, we have a problem! We thought you said we have been released from the law! But now you say that we have to struggle with this new law to love one another! Paul, we try to love our neighbors and we can't do it. Before we became Christians we struggled with the laws of God and we couldn't keep them. We condemned ourselves trying to keep God's laws. You told us that when we were baptized our old self was crucified with Christ and that we were raised with Christ into newness of life. You said that we were released from the law! We were so relieved because we had already learned that we couldn't keep the law. Now, you have said that we are obligated to keep the law anyway! ... That we have a new commandment which simply sums up all the old laws and we have to keep that! Alas, we do not love all our neighbors. We try but we have not been able to love all our neighbors. Are we not just as bad off as we were before becoming Christians?

The answer is no. The Christian who has the kind of problem as described above has missed the point of the Roman letter. What Paul said in chapter 13 about love was not to put us back under law. He has showed us how the Spirit keeps us free from the guilt imposed on us by law. If we love one another; if we obey the commandment which sums up the law, the law is fulfilled. Yes. But Paul knew perfectly well, and he wanted us to know that, "walking" in the flesh, we cannot love one another!

The word "love" as used in Romans 13:9-10 is a translation of the Greek word AGAPE. The Greek language had several words for which we substitute the one word, love. These different Greek words were for different kinds of love. The Greek word AGAPE is the word for God's love for mankind. Only God has this kind of love. Man, in the flesh, simply does not have this kind of love within him. It is the kind of love that does not have to have a reason for its exercise. It is the love that God demonstrated toward us, while we were His enemies, when He gave His only begotten Son that we might have eternal life. So we do not have this kind of love in our fleshly lives. That is why we fail when we try to exhibit this kind of love toward one another. Paul was not saying in the 13th chapter of Romans that we, while living in the flesh, must exhibit such AGAPE love to our fellow men. He knew that we cannot.

But much earlier in the Roman letter Paul prefaced his teaching with the statement, "The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Praise God! He has made provision for the carrying out of the new commandment within us. We have but to "walk" according to the leadership of the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Through that Holy Spirit the AGAPE love, the love that originates only with God, is poured out within our hearts, free of charge, with no effort on our part except that of committing ourselves to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. We do not have to force the flesh to love our neighbor. We cannot. But we can abandon the flesh altogether. We can, we must stop trying to force the flesh to do anything. We must let it rest for it has died with Christ. Then we must know that it is dead, reckon that it is dead, and present our new life to God. After God has our new life, it will be easy to "walk" where the Spirit leads. Then we become the vessel of mercy through which God and His Son express their love to our neighbors.

The command of Romans 13:8 is to owe nothing to anyone except to remember in your new Spirit led life to allow God's love to be expressed to your neighbor through you. In this way the Spirit fulfills the law in us constantly. As Paul said in Romans 13:10, "Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law" - God's love, not our meager fleshly love, is the fulfillment of the law. Christ has done all for us. We have only to "walk" in His Spirit.


"(11) And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us that when we believed. (12) The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (13) Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. (14) But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." Romans 13:11-14.

The Holy Spirit has spoken to us through Paul. The Roman letter was not addressed to the world. It was addressed to Christians, those who have believed, have repented, and have been baptized. The Spirit intimates that we who have become Christians and have the power of God available to work through us, are asleep! Paul asked in effect: You Christians who are asleep, don't you know the time?

When I read this admonition to "walk," "knowing the time," I think of the time diagram that Romans places before us. On one side of the diagram is the eternity that existed before the creation of the world (Romans 1:20). And on the other side of the diagram is the eternity that exists after the day that God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:16). And in the midst of this vast eternity we find our finite world with its short time scale. Time from the creation of Adam to the day of God's salvation is just a "speck" in eternity. The Roman letter places this "speck" of time under "the microscope", and we enlarge this tiny bit of eternity. And what do we see? We see that Adam and all mankind was created. He and all mankind were given laws for their own good, but which they broke. They sinned and died. When God created the nation of Israel, it was for a special purpose. For the good of Israel in the carrying out of His purpose, God gave them a special law, which they broke. Nevertheless, the Savior was brought forth. He was crucified, was buried, and God raised Him to glory. All law was potentially fulfilled in behalf of mankind who had a proclivity toward breaking law. Salvation was placed with reach of all people.

Salvation was given to Christians and the Holy Spirit of God was placed within them. Now for almost 2,000 years Christ's body has been functioning on earth and God's children have been serving as vessels of mercy. God's purpose is being fulfilled! Time for this world is running down! God's master plan has but one thing more left to be fulfilled. What is that? It's my part, the part to be fulfilled by me and you! "Awake from sleep," said Paul almost 2,000 years ago. Don't we know the time? "Salvation is nearer to us than when we believed: The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand."

Peter said in I Peter 4:7, "The end of all things is at hand.", John said in I John 2:18, "Children, it is the last hour." The Angel said to John in Revelation 22:10, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near." These words were written almost 2,000 years ago. The coming of our Lord is certainly nearer to us now than when these words were first written. Why has God not already brought it all to a conclusion? He has not because He does not wish "for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (II Peter 3:9). He is just waiting in patience at this moment for us to let the new commandment be expressed through us. John said, "I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining." (I John 2:8).

So Paul told us here in Romans 13:12, "Therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. The time clock is ticking away. Only our part is yet to be done. The Spirit is ready to lead us. So wake up! Put on the armor! We will need it where we will be led.

Romans 13:13 indicated that the Spirit will lead us through the darkness of the carousing and drunkenness around us, the sexual promiscuity and sensuality, the strife and jealousy. As the Spirit leads, we will behave, not as those in that darkness, but as those who through faith are already in the midst of the day which is at hand. The deeds of darkness will not encroach upon us because we have on the armor of light which the Spirit supplies.

We sojourners in the flesh were here told how to "walk" right through the rest of this fleshly life as though we are not made of flesh, as though the worldly night is already gone with no effect on us whatever, as though the day of light has already dawned and scattered night away. How can we live that way? Paul summed it up in Romans 13:14, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." This was another, perhaps clearer way of saying, "know" and "reckon" that your old man of flesh is dead. "Present" yourself to God and "walk" according to the Spirit. It was summed up by Paul with the words, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ."

In Galatians 3:27 Paul said, "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ." Christians, we went through the motions when we were baptized. But, maybe we haven't realized that we really are "in Christ". We were asleep in darkness before our baptism. God put us "in Christ" when we were baptized. We were raised from baptism into "the light". Has the light been too bright for us to open our eyes? Perhaps, we have not fully awakened from our sleep. But the hour for us to awaken is here. We must put on our armor of light.

We can overcome the flesh. It is dead. Christ is all sufficient. He supplies our every need. He performs His work in us. We need make no provision whatever for the flesh. It cannot possibly help Christ. It can only hinder Him. Therefore, we must allow Christ to work unhindered. "Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."

(This was taken from the book "God's Righteousness Revealed," a commentary on Romans by F. M. Perry.)

© 2002, F. M. Perry