Romans 13 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Romans 13)

Verse 1

[1] Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

St. Paul, writing to the Romans, whose city was the seat of the empire, speaks largely of obedience to magistrates: and this was also, in effect, a public apology for the Christian religion.

Let every soul be subject to the supreme powers — An admonition peculiarly needful for the Jews. Power, in the singular number, is the supreme authority; powers are they who are invested with it. That is more readily acknowledged to be from God than these. The apostle affirms it of both. They are all from God, who constituted all in general, and permits each in particular by his providence.

The powers that be are appointed by God — It might be rendered, are subordinate to, or, orderly disposed under, God; implying, that they are God's deputies or vicegerents and consequently, their authority being, in effect, his, demands our conscientious obedience.

Verse 2

[2] Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

Whosoever resisteth the power — In any other manner than the laws of the community direct.

Shall receive condemnation — Not only from the magistrate, but from God also.

Verse 3

[3] For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

For rulers are — In the general, notwithstanding some particular exceptions.

A terror to evil works — Only.

Wouldest thou then not be afraid — There is one fear which precedes evil actions, and deters from them: this should always remain. There is another fear which follows evil actions: they who do well are free from this.

Verse 4

[4] For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

The sword — The instrument of capital punishment, which God authorizes him to inflict.

Verse 5

[5] Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

Not only for fear of wrath — That is, punishment from man.

But for conscience' sake — Out of obedience to God.

Verse 6

[6] For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

For this cause — Because they are the ministers (officers) of God for the public good.

This very thing — The public good.

Verse 7

[7] Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

To all — Magistrates.

Tribute — Taxes on your persons or estates.

Custom — For goods exported or imported.

Fear — Obedience.

Honour — Reverence. All these are due to the supreme power.

Verse 8

[8] Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

From our duty to magistrates he passes on to general duties.

To love one another — An eternal debt, which can never be sufficiently discharged; but yet if this be rightly performed, it discharges all the rest.

For he that loveth another — As he ought.

Hath fulfilled the whole law — Toward his neighbour.

Verse 9

[9] For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

If there be any other — More particular.

Commandment — Toward our neighbour; as there are many in the law.

It is summed up in this — So that if you was not thinking of it, yet if your heart was full of love, you would fulfil it.

Verse 10

[10] Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law — For the same love which restrains from all evil, incites us to all good.

Verse 11

[11] And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.

And do this — Fulfil the law of love in all the instances above mentioned.

Knowing the season — Full of grace, but hasting away.

That it is high time to awake out of sleep — How beautifully is the metaphor carried on! This life, a night; the resurrection, the day; the gospel shining on the heart, the dawn of this day; we are to awake out of sleep; to rise up and throw away our night-clothes, fit only for darkness, and put on new; and, being soldiers, we are to arm, and prepare for fight, who are encompassed with so many enemies. The day dawns when we receive faith, and then sleep gives place. Then it is time to rise, to arm, to walk, to work, lest sleep steal upon us again. Final salvation, glory, is nearer to us now, than when we first believed - It is continually advancing, flying forward upon the swiftest wings of time. And that which remains between the present hour and eternity is comparatively but a moment.

Verse 13

[13] Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.

Banqueting — Luxurious, elegant feasts.

Verse 14

[14] But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ — Herein is contained the whole of our salvation. It is a strong and beautiful expression for the most intimate union with him, and being clothed with all the graces which were in him. The apostle does not say, Put on purity and sobriety, peacefulness and benevolence; but he says all this and a thousand times more at once, in saying, Put on Christ. And make not provision - To raise foolish desires, or, when they are raised already, to satisfy them.