The Christians and Civil Government.
SUMMARY.--Civil Government an Appointment of God.
A Protection to the Law-Abiding.
A Terror to Evil Doers.
Must be Supported by Taxes and Customs.
Love the Fulfillment of the Divine Law.
The Christian to Live a Holy, Spiritual Life.
1-5. Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. To the
established civil government. Why should Paul, in this portion of the
epistle devoted to Christian life, give this exhortation to obedience
to civil government? Perhaps for several reasons: (1) The Christians
at that early period were usually associated by the heathen with the
Jews, and the Jews were noted for turbulence. See
(2) The fires that broke forth a few years later, in the Jewish
uprising that led to the destruction of Jerusalem, were already
smouldering wherever there were those of Jewish blood. Many Christians
were Jews by birth. (3) There was danger that Christians, especially
under persecution, should be inclined to make disturbance. (4) Some
even held that since Christ's kingdom was established human
governments had no rightful existence.
There is no power but of God. He is the source of all authority,
and he has appointed human governments for the welfare of man. The
existing government over us is to be regarded as a divine
2. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power. It follows that he
who seeks to break down his government is fighting the ordinance of
God, and shall be liable to punishment. This implies a loyal submission
to the forms of government over us. It does not imply that we shall
obey wicked magistrates when they command us to disobey God. See
3. For rulers are not a terror to the good work. This is the
general rule. Of course there have been occasional exceptions, when
some human monster has been invested with absolute power, but the
principle is true. It is not the law-abiding, but the lawless, who fear
the law. Rulers as a class are a blessing. There was an exception a few
years later when Nero developed his fiendish hate of all good.
4. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. The ruler,
the guardian of order and the preserver of peace is, as a rule, a
He beareth not the sword in vain. Not only did the magistrate
wear the sword, but one was borne before him in public processions as
an emblem of his right to use it in the interests of order and
5. Wherefore . . . not only for wrath, but also for conscience's
sake. There are two reasons for obedience to the civil ruler: (1)
If one fails to obey him, he will be a subject of his wrath
(judgment) and be punished. (2) It is God's will that we should obey
our civil rulers. Hence, conscience should be a motive.
6, 7. For this cause pay ye tribute also. Taxes. The taxes
gathered from the Roman provinces were called tribute. As the rulers
are God's ministers, his agents to attend to necessary duties, it is
right that they should be supported.
7. Render therefore to all their dues. To all rulers. Render
them whatever they have a right to claim.
Tribute. Direct taxes, whether upon persons or property.
Custom. A toll on goods, similar to the modern tariff. It was
usually collected at the gates of cities on all goods entering. See
8-10. Owe no man any thing, save to love one another. Not only
pay all tribute due, but all that is due every man. Every obligation
must be discharged. The church member, who makes debts and does not
meet them, violates this command. Bengel says: "Pay every debt; let
none remain due to any man, save that immortal debt of mutual love,
which, though fully paid, is still forever due."
Hath fulfilled the law. He who loves his neighbor will not do to
his neighbor any of the things forbidden by the law; will not steal,
kill, commit adultery, bear false witness, covet, and hence his love
fulfills the Mosaic law.
9. It is briefly comprehended. It is summed up in the single
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The several laws that
flow from love are gathered up in this saying as a fountain head.
10. Love worketh no ill, etc. Neither the ills forbidden in the
commandments, not any other.
Love is the fulfilling of the law. Not the law, but law.
There is no article in the Greek. All divine law is fulfilled by love.
God requires nothing which is not comprehended in this word.
11-14. It is high time to awake out of sleep. To awake from
carelessness and indifference.
For now is our salvation nearer, etc. Their eternal salvation.
That was certainly true of them, and is true of every believer now.
Some have thought that Paul referred to the speedy second coming of the
Lord. He did not know the time of that event, nor did any man
but it might be that he shared the hope of the early, suffering church,
that it would be speedy. See
1 Thess. 5:1, 2; 2 Thess. 2:1.
12. The night is far spent. The night is the period before the
full realization of that salvation named in
whether that be when Christ comes, or when we are called to Christ.
That salvation is
The works of darkness. Such sinful deeds as men do under the
cover of darkness, and all sinful deeds.
The armour of light. The armor worn in the light, and with which
the Christian will be clad when "the day" comes. See
13. Let us walk honestly. Dishonesty seeks the night. The
children of the day will walk honestly. This implies honest, upright,
pure lives, which need no concealments.
Not in rioting. Nocturnal revels.
Chambering and wantonness. In lascivious vice.
Not in strife and envying. These followed naturally upon revels
and drunkenness, and shameless sensuality. This passage is referred to
by the great Augustine as the cause of his conversion. It rebuked his
own sins, which were the common sins of his time. (Confessions,
14. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ. See
for the way to put on Christ. To put on Christ is to enter into
fellowship with him. He who is in fellowship with Christ cannot fulfill
the lusts of the flesh. "He walks after the Spirit, and not after the