Romans 13

Wednesday, Chapter 13 

This summer, Romans chapter 13 got too much media play. No Paul is not a totalitarian urging abject submission. Yes, this text has been abused to demand compliance, and cited to excuse complicity, around many collective sins: “I was just following orders” 

We who read the whole of Romans know –  this is a cover letter pitch, ostensibly to Rome, with an implied wider audience –  and Paul is countering rumours, that Christians obey Jesus more than Caesar. As we’ll be reminded later next week in chapter 16, Paul’s communities now include rich and powerful, not simply poor and weak folks –  with lots of Roman and Greek names –  and roles in public sector and private trade 

I know when I preach to a congregation, I know how many of us have first responders, or even civil servant regulators, in our pews and households –  and how many vote a law-and-order ticket. 

Civil disobedience is not prohibited here –  Civil obedience is asserted as a presumption, but rebuttal arguments are provided, measuring lesser with greater authorities 

This argument, as Paul says here, is not simply apocalyptic threats of ultimate punishment, ‘bread for now, but pie in the sky when you die’ but is a practical recognition of social order, operating pragmatically in the penultimate. 

However, the chapter returns to the ultimate frame –  ‘night and day’ are mythic, not chronological time (it’s not distinguishing ‘burglary’ at night from ‘theft’ in day) and he’s back to ‘flesh’ again… 

1 Let every person be subject to the powerful authorities.  For no authority exists except from God, and those which are, are appointed by God.   

2 Thus one who resists the authority has taken a stance against God’s ordinance,  and those who have taken [such] a stance will bring judgment on themselves. 

3 For rulers are not a [cause for] fear to the good work but to the evil.  Dost thou wish not to fear the authority?  Do the good and thou wilt receive praise from it  

4 For it is a deputy of God for thee [to do] the good and thou wilt receive praise from it.   

5 Therefore it is necessary to be subject, not only on account of the Wrath but also on account of the conscience. 

6 For precisely because of this, pay taxes too. For there are officers of God devoting themselves to this very thing.

7 Pay [thy] debts to all, tax to the one [to whom thou owest] tax, customs to the one [to whom thou owest] customs, fear to the one [to whom thou owest] fear, honour to the one [to whom thou owest] honour. 

8 Owe no one anything except to love one another. For one who loves the other has fulfilled the law.  

9 For “thou shalt not commit adultery,  thou shalt not kill,  thou shalt not steal,  thou shalt not covet”  (Deut 5:17-21),  and whatever other commandment are summed up in this word:  “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”  (Lev 19:18)   

10 Love works no wrong to the neighbour; therefore the fullness of the law is love. 

11 and this [ye must do],  knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to wake from sleep. For now salvation is nearer to us than when we became believers. 

12 the night has advanced, the day has come near. Let us then put off the works of darkness and let us put on the weapons of light. 

13 Let us walk with propriety as in the day,  not in drunken revelries, not in licentious sex, not in jealous strife. 

14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and do not do the intention of the flesh for [its] desires. 


1  Be a good citizen.  All governments are under God.  Insofar as there is peace and order, it's God's order. So live responsibly as a citizen. 

2 If you're irresponsible to the state, then you're irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. 

3 Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you're trying to get by with something.  Decent citizens should have nothing to fear. 

4 the government working to your advantage.  But if you're breaking the rules right and left,  watch out.  The police aren't there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. 

5 That's why you must live responsibly –  not just to avoid punishment but also because it's the right way to live. 

6 That's also why you pay taxes –  so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. 

7 Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders. 

8 Don't run up debts,  except for the huge debt of love you owe each other.  When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. 

9 The law code –  don't sleep with another person's spouse,  don't take someone's life,  don't take what isn't yours,  don't always be wanting what you don't have,  and any other "don't" you can think of –  finally adds up to this:  Love other people as well as you do yourself. 

10 You can't go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code,  the sum total is love. 

11 But make sure that you don't get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations  that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. 

12 The night is about over, dawn is about to break.  Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed.

13 We can't afford to waste a minute,  must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. 

14 Get out of bed and get dressed! Don't loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!