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 Acts 18:2. (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 arrangement. 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 Acts 4:19. 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 blessing. 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 justice. 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 Matt. 9:9.
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 sentence 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 (Matt. 24:36), 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 verse 11, whether that be when Christ comes, or when we are called to Christ. That salvation is the day. 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 Eph. 6:11. 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, 8.12.). 14. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ. See Gal. 3:27, 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 flesh."