Romans 13:1

The duty of Christians as citizens is in our day not sufficiently recognized. Many Christians keep aloof from public life and the duties of citizenship because of the political corruption and party strife which are so common. Others, again, enter into public duties, but seem to leave their religion behind them. The result is a sad want of Christian statesmanship and of Christian legislation.

I. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES THE NECESSITY OF GOVERNMENT. "There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (ver. 1). This is not to be understood as meaning that every individual ruler is ordained of God. That would make the Divine Being responsible for many acts of despotism and oppression. We might as well say that every minister of religion who had received the form of ordination was therefore chosen of God, no matter what his personal character might be. The meaning rather is that government is an ordinance of God - that God has ordained or appointed it, that there should be authority and rulers. Government is necessary:

1. For the protection of life and property.

2. For the repression of crime. "Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil" (ver. 3). Governors, says St. Peter, are appointed "for the punishment of evil-doers" (1 Peter 2:14).

3. For the rewarding and encouraging of virtue. "Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same" (ver. 3). So St. Peter also speaks of governors as "a praise to them that do well." Wise rulers will not only repress crime, but they will seek to encourage well-doing. They will show special favour to those who, by their own character and efforts, promote morality and temperance and honesty, and thus help to make government easy. How often do rulers forget this! How often the Christian people of a nation are ignored or even discouraged, while the godless and the immoral are high in place and favour!

II. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF RULERS. Rulers are here called "ministers of God" (vers. 4, 6). Our sovereign entitles herself "Victoria, by the grace of God." All who are concerned in government have a solemn responsibility, whether they be kings or queens, ministers of state, members of the legislature, judges, magistrates, or jurymen. All must appear one day before a higher tribunal. Then the judge will be asked, "Have you done justice as between man and man?" The juryman will be asked, "Have you rendered a verdict according to the evidence?" The sovereign will be asked. "Have you been faithful to your coronation vows?" Therefore the Christian should pray for rulers. "For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Timothy 2:2). The Christian should do all he can to secure good rulers. What we need in our day is less of party politics, and more of Christian polities. Christian people, Christian Churches, should band themselves together, laying aside all political and all ecclesiastical differences, to secure Christian representatives, Christian law- makers for our professedly Christian nation.

III. THE CHRISTIAN RECOGNIZES HIS OWN RESPONSIBILITY. There are two duties distinctly specified here for the Christian citizen.

1. Obedience. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" (ver. 1); "Whosoever resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (ver. 2); "Wherefore ye must needs be subject" (ver. 5). If the law is to be upheld, there must be an obedient and submissive spirit on the part of every good citizen. Yet there are limits to all this. We are to interpret this passage in the light of other Bible teaching and the examples which it sets before us. The Bible does not teach the doctrine of passive obedience or non-resistance. At Babylon, Daniel resisted the reigning power. The royal mandate was issued, but Daniel did not obey it. "He kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." The Apostles Peter and John declined to obey the Jewish council at Jerusalem when they were commanded to speak no more in the Name of Jesus. They boldly answered, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot, but speak the things which we have seen and hear. Where the law of a nation or the command of an earthly ruler conflicts with the law of God, then it is clearly the Christian's duty to obey God rather than men. The English people in their past history have acted upon this principle. Twice under the reign of the Stuart sovereigns the subjects of the realm asserted, on conscientious grounds, their right of revolution and resistance. So also did the Covenanters of Scotland. Yet resistance to constituted authority should ever be a last resort, and is only to be resorted to when all more peaceful means have utterly failed to obtain justice and redress of wrongs.

2. Taxation. "For this cause pay ye tribute also" (ver. 6). This also was the teaching of Christ. No government can be maintained without expense. National defences, public institutions, all of which have for their object the protection and the well-being of all the citizens, require to be kept up. Every citizen is responsible for bearing his share in meeting expenditure for the common good. He may not approve of every item of expenditure, but that is no valid reason for refusing to contribute his share of taxation, where the representatives of the nation have decreed that the expenditure is wise and necessary. This rule, of course, has its exception also in the case of any expenditure which would do violence to the individual conscience.

3. There are other practical duties. The Christian will ever cooperate with rulers in securing and promoting peace and temperance, morality and honesty, truthfulness and justice. All these virtues are necessary to national well-being. Government would be easy if every citizen was a Christian, and if every Christian would realize his duties as a citizen. The words of Sir Arthur Helps ('Friends in Council') may be fittingly quoted here: "He who does not bring into government, whether as governor or subject, some religious feeling, some higher motive than expediency, is likely to make but an indifferent governor or an indifferent subject Without piety there will be no good government." - C.H.I.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God.
I. EVERY SOUL, or man (Exodus 12:4; Genesis 46:27).

1. Secular person.

2. Ecclesiastical or religious.

II. THE OBJECT. "The higher powers," or chief magistrates established in each nation.

1. To see that God be rightly worshipped (2 Chronicles 14:2, 4; 2 Chronicles 17:6, 9).

2. To preserve peace (1 Timothy 2:2; Psalm 72:7).

3. To execute justice (Psalm 72:2; Romans 13:4).

III. THE ACT. "Be subject." We owe them —

1. Prayers (1 Timothy 2:1).

2. Fear (Proverbs 24:21; 1 Peter 2:17).

3. Not to speak evil of him (Ecclesiastes 10:20; 2 Peter 2:10; Jude 1:8).

4. Dues (ver. 7).

5. Subjection and obedience (Titus 3:1).

(1)Otherwise the magistrates' power is in vain.

(2)The public good depends upon our obedience.

(3)We are bound to obey for fear (Romans 13:2, 5).

(4)For the Lord's sake (Romans 13:5).

(5)He that resisteth, resisteth the ordinance of God.

IV. THE REASON OF THE COMMAND. "All power is of God." This appears

1. From Scripture.

(1)Every power is ordained of God (vers. 1-2).

(2)The magistrate is the minister of God, Λειτουργὸν (ver. 4).

(3)By God kings reign (Proverbs 7:15, 16).

(4)They judge under Him (2 Chronicles 19:5, 6, 7).

(5)He sets up kings (Daniel 2:21, 37; Daniel 5:21).

(6)God first ordained the power of the sword in the hand of men (Genesis 9:6).

(7)God gave particular direction for choosing most of the kings of Israel; as Saul, David, Jehu: and so now.

2. From reason.

(1)He is the first cause of all things (John 19:11).

(2)All power depends on Him (Acts 17:28).

(3)As the stream from the fountain.

3. All power in men is God's power in their hands (2 Chronicles 19:6).

4. Power is good and necessary: therefore from God (James 1:17).

5. It is part of the law of nature (Romans 2:14, 15).

(Bp. Beveridge.)


1. Respects all legitimately constituted authority.

2. Extends to all persons, without distinction.

3. Requires submission in all matters not affecting conscience.


1. Derived from God.

2. Is an ordinance of God.

3. Is established by the providence of God.

(J. Lyth, D.D.)

Homiletic Monthly.
I. SUBJECTION TO THE HIGHER POWERS. Not abject subjection to governments, whatever their character; but intelligent, manly subordination to a divinely ordered arrangement — the social framework and the national dominion. Many are the corruptions and oppressions of rulers and the imperfections and perversions of constitutions. Nevertheless there is a Divine ordination, as of marriage and home, so of nationality. Per se, government is essential to the perfection of human life, and so far as it does not hinder our obedience to God as the direct Sovereign of our souls, we are properly obligated to obey it. Divine Providence may have so ordered our lives that we may be overshadowed by pagan authorities. While we approve not the perversions of depraved legislators — their intemperance, Sabbath desecration, profanity, luxury and ambition — we can, notwithstanding, hold ourselves in dignified yielding to normal law. When the corruptions or misapplications of government become glaring and intolerable, the right of revolution is rightly appealed to, and then may "God speed the right."

II. SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY. Aside from references to political governments, the whole paragraph may have a truer application to spiritual authority. Rank pharisaic ecclesiasticism and Papal domination are extremely abhorrent to every soul whom the truth and grace of God have made free. But Church officers and institutions founded on the gospel are the reflex of the Lord's own kingdom. These powers are "ordained of God" — apostles, deacons, elders; with regulations for Sabbath observance, public worship, evangelistic progress. That one or more persons should, therefore, in any community decry creeds, church association, ministerial functions and labours, etc., must be a grievous evil. Satan can quickly divide and scatter the fold by such disorganisers and malcontents if the least heed be paid them. At suitable public anniversaries we should look into the Magna Charta of our Christian rights and experiences.

(Homiletic Monthly.)


1. Submission. This injunction is given to "every soul." And with regard to its extent, Peter says, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man." If anything, indeed, were enjoined on us inconsistent with God's will, "we are to obey God rather than man," as did the three Hebrew youths, Daniel, and Peter. For the commands of the greatest potentates in the world are of no weight against the paramount authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords. When, however, they are not at variance with the law of God, the Scriptures expressly enjoin an unreserved obedience.

2. Support (ver. 6, 7). Expenses must be incurred, both in carrying on affairs and in supporting the dignity and remunerating the labours of the officers of state. Hence there must be taxes, "tribute" and "custom." Hence all shrinking from bearing our proportional weight of the public burdens is not only against the law of the land, but the Word of God. Christ Himself paid taxes from which He was properly exempt.

3. Respect. "Fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour," i.e., reverential homage due to kings and principal rulers, and the respect due to all who are in authority. Here, then, is forbidden everything that is disrespectful either in manner or language. The blazoning abroad the faults of our rulers, so as to degrade them in the eyes of others, is an offence against God. When Korah, etc., gathered themselves together against Moses, you know how God expressed His indignation against these contemners of constituted authority. The Scriptures regard it as a daring thing to "speak evil of dignities, to despise dominion."


1. The penalty which those incur who transgress. A law becomes a dead letter, unless its penalties are enforced: and it is the duty of such as are in authority to be "a terror to evil works," and not to "bear the sword in vain," for they are appointed "as the ministers of God, as revengers to execute wrath on him that doeth evil." Yea, it is said that they that resist, "shall receive to themselves damnation." We acknowledge this is a low motive. Still, low as it is, we fear, so great a lack of higher principle prevails amongst us, that, were it not employed, such a thing as obedience would hardly be known. Each would be an Ishmael.

2. The advantage we derive from civil government (vers. 3, 4). So appalling is the evil of the want of a regular government, that the very worst government is better than no government at all (see Judges 18). We have so long enjoyed the blessings of an equitable government, in which even the king dare not, if he would, invade the rights of the beggar, and in which every crime is prosecuted, and, in consequence, we have been so long privileged to "sit each one under his vine and under his fig-tree, none daring to make us afraid," that we seem almost to forget that we owe this happy security, not to any improvement in man himself, but to a well-ordered government. It might help us to realise these advantages if we were to suppose for a time, a suspension of the laws throughout the land; and that every one was left to follow the full bent of his own will, without fear.

3. The consideration of the authority wherewith they are invested (ver. 1). This applies to all that hold legitimate authority. It is not necessary, in order to make any power the ordinance of God, that it should be nominated by God Himself: as Moses, and Saul, and David were, for instance. For the apostle is speaking of the Roman emperors, who were elected by the army. It is mutual consent and contract that makes two persons man and wife; and yet matrimony is God's ordinance; and the subjection under which the wife is required to be unto her own husband in everything arises not just from mutual contract, but from God's appointment. Again, one becomes master, and another servant, by consent and covenant: but the master's authority over the servant is derived, not simply from the covenant entered into, but from the ordinance of God. Hence, when Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, Moses says to them, "Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord." And, moreover, when Israel rejected Samuel as their ruler God regarded it as a rejection of Himself.

(J. Sandys, A.M.)

These duties are enforced on two grounds —

I. THAT THEY ARE ORDAINED OF GOD, and therefore ought to be obeyed as a matter of conscience. This implies —

1. That it is according to God's purpose that society should be organised into self-governing communities for —

(1)Protection against aggressions from without.

(2)For the restraint of wrong-doing and the promotion of prosperity within.

2. That government must assume some form. The administration cannot be left to chance. There must be a constitution, clearly defined, and generally known and approved. The first form of government was that of the family. But, as families multiplied, each having a variety of rights, out of which would arise differences not to be easily settled, some more general form became necessary. Government by patriarchy having fallen through, many other forms are possible, and have become actual. Which then is the one ordained of God? This does not concern the apostle. The general rule assumed seems to have been that, as every community is likely to secure for itself that form of government which is best suited to it, at any period of its development, so that form of government actually existing is the one which is of God's ordination for that people at that time. For the apostle speaks not of what ought to be, but of "the powers that be."

3. That there must be powers, i.e., living persons invested with both authority and power to administer government, and that to these the Christian must render conscientious obedience. But it does not follow that he is to take no part in insisting that the ruling powers exercise their proper functions legitimately. For the governors have no more right Divine to do wrong than have those who are governed. Only this was a matter in which Christians had at that time no special concern, and in respect to which it was no part of the apostle's purpose to give instructions.

4. That, whatever the form of government, the real Divine purpose is for the punishment of evildoers, and for the good of them that do well. The government is made for the people, and not the people for the government. To the masses it matters little what form of government obtains, but it matters much indeed whether the government rules according to wise or unwise principles. Yet, after all, any government at all is better than none, and none is possible if no obedience is to be secured.

5. That each ought to be subject and to render respectful obedience out of conscience towards God. Of course, there are limits to obedience (Acts 4:17-9). When Rome required of the Christians to render homage to an idol, they were under imperative obligation not to obey. And so, while it is incumbent upon every one to render to all officials their due, we are not bound in conscience to render that whic

II. THAT THEY HAVE THE RIGHT POWER, AND WILL TO PUNISH THOSE WHO DISOBEY. Obedient subjects have nothing to fear. The magistrate is the minister of God to them for good; and those who do good shall have protection and praise of the same. But he has been entrusted also with the sword, the right and power to punish, even unto death, those who disobey. That this motive of fear should be urged appears somewhat strange. Any who were disposed to refuse obedience must have known that they did it at the risk of punishment. But some may have been fanatic enough to persuade themselves that a heathen power could have no moral right to enforce obedience, and that God would hold them harmless for their disobedience. Such are reminded that God, under whom these very rulers were marshalled, was on their side, and would sustain them in the enforcement of subjection and obedience. Therefore, if you cannot be moved to obedience on any higher ground, yet do learn obedience through fear. Even of the wrath of God, who will sustain by His almighty arm the just authority of these powers which are of His own ordination and appointment.

(W. Tyson.)

What has our religion to say to our patriotism? What is the final meaning of our relation to the State under which we live?

I. To begin with, THE BIBLE TEACHES US TO TAKE A FAR HIGHER VIEW OF THE NATION THAN ANY WE ARE ACCUSTOMED TO HEAR. In God's Word, the State is not a mere machine for keeping order and peace. The nation is not profane, but sacred; not secular, but Divine. The government derives its sanctions not merely from expedience or convenience, but from the appointment of God. You know how elaborately this idea is wrought out in the Old Testament. Jehovah is the actual, almost visible King of the Hebrew commonwealth. He establishes His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He it is that leads the nation out of bondage into freedom. No matter who sits upon the throne, at Jerusalem, or in Samaria, whether it be David or Saul, an Ahab or a Hezekiah, still Jehovah is their true King. From Him cometh promotion; in His name prophets speak; by Him princes rule, and kings decree judgment. But some one says, all this may be true of Israel. It is easy enough to see God's hand there. But here is our new nineteenth century, where nothing is sacred, how shall we recognise the Divine? In authorities, chosen as ours are, out of the seething cauldron of our practical politics, how can we feel that the powers that be are ordained of God? The man who does not see God's hand in our nation's past history has read its records to very small purpose. Upon every shining page rests the finger of God as truly, if not as visibly, as in Judaea. You may see, if you will, nothing but a happy combination of chances — a happy chance that placed the fairest portion of the Western Continent in the hands of the progressive AngloSaxon race; a happy chance that wafted to our shores the Pilgrims and the Cavaliers, the high-spirited Huguenot, and the thrifty German. "In the providence of God," says Charles Sumner — and a truer student of history never lived — "there are no accidents." He who sees God's hand in history at all, must be blind indeed if he does not see His guiding in our nation's story. "If the Lord Himself had not been on our side, now may Israel say, if the Lord Himself had not been on our side, when men rose up against us, they had swallowed us up quick, when they were so wrathfully displeased at us.

II. Nor is it only a question of the past: GOD IS NOW IN THE NATION'S MIDST. God's hand is still leading. Thus the state, in its own place, and for its own work, is as divine as the Church herself. Nor is this all. Just as individuals are sent into the world with a calling from God to do some great work, so nations may have a mission. Was not the Hebrew nation called of God to keep alive in the world the knowledge and the worship of the one true God? Was not the Greek nation sent by God to spread broadcast its golden wealth of culture and civilisation? Was not the Roman nation sent to impart its iron strength, its splendid instinct of law and order to the barbarian hordes of Central and Northern Europe? Was not the English people chosen to colonise and settle the new worlds, and to pave the way for this marvellous nineteenth century of ours? Such a mission, such a calling impose upon each of us a mighty responsibility — a responsibility which not a few of us are all too willing to shirk These earthly "powers" speak to us of a higher sovereignty which we must acknowledge. They point us to a "King, eternal, immortal, invisible," to whom we all owe allegiance. There is one will that we wish to be done, on earth as in heaven, in the State as in the Church, in politics as in religion, and that is the will of Him who rules in righteousness. And now what is this again but to say that righteousness must rule? For the will of God is the supremely righteous will. Nor is this all. For our country's sake, for our King's sake, let us be good men and true. Thoreau well says, "It matters not half so much what kind of a vote you drop into the ballot-box once a year, as what kind of a man you drop out of bed into the street every morning."

(L. R. Dalrymple.)

I. WITH RESPECT TO GOVERNORS. The apostle declares —

1. That they are ordained of God (ver. 1); that their authority is the ordinance of God (ver. 2); that they are the ministers of God (ver. 4, 6). Not that these expressions signify that God had appointed one particular form of government, all deviations from which are unlawful. There is not the least ground for such an opinion from history, or the reason of the thing. Can any one imagine that Paul intended to declare that the Roman emperors, who manifestly usurped and maintained their authority by force of arms, had their commission immediately from God? or that he would not have said the same things had the republic continued?

2. That the sole business of all governing power is to consult the good of society by maintaining peace and virtue in it (vers. 3, 4, 6). Governors are not persons exalted by Heaven to a height above their neighbours, to be arbitrators, at their own pleasures, of the lives and fortunes of their fellow-creatures, and to receive the servile homage of whole nations, but persons called by the providence of God to a laborious task; not to live in ease, but to watch day and night for the good of that society in which they preside. Their office, indeed, is a glorious office; but the glory of it doth not consist in the outward majesty of the governor, and the servility of the subject, but in the happiness derived from the labours of the supreme head to all the members of the body politic. And that governor who contradicts the character here laid down, who is not a terror to evil works but to good, is not the governor to whom Paul presses obedience. And much less if he manifestly act contrary to the only end of his institution. And this may serve to explain yet farther in what sense these higher powers are from God, viz., as they act agreeably to His will, which is, that they should promote the good of society, which St. Paul all along supposes them to do. And consequently, when they do the contrary they cannot be said to be from God, or to act by His authority.


1. The duty of submission and non-resistance is laid down in such absolute terms, that many have been induced from hence to think that the Christian religion denies the subject all liberty of redressing grievances. And yet methinks if the apostle had done nothing but enforced the duty of obedience it would be reasonable to judge from the nature of the thing and the absurdities of the contrary, that he meant this only as a general rule rather than to imagine that he should absolutely conclude whole nations under misery without hopes of redress.

2. But the apostle so explains his own doctrine by the reasons he gives for this obedience, and the account he gives of the duty of governors, as to leave subjects all the liberty they can reasonably desire. For though he doth at first press upon them, in unlimited words, an obedience and non-resistance to the higher powers, yet he manifestly limits this obedience to such rulers as truly answer the end of their institution (vers. 3-5). As far as they deflect from God's will, so far they lose their title to these declarations, so far are they excluded from Paul's argument. These persons are the ministers of God for the good of society; therefore they must be obeyed. But it will not follow from hence that obedience is due to them, if they ruin the happiness of society. And therefore to oppose them in such cases cannot be to oppose the authority of God. Nay, tamely to sit still and see the happiness of society entirely sacrificed to the irregular will of one man seems a greater contradiction to the will of God than any opposition can be. For it is a tacit consent to the misery of mankind. Whilst he commands submission, he puts no case of princes acting contrary to the purpose of their institution, much less of princes who make an express contract with their people and afterwards break it. Nor doth he mention anything of a passive submission in such cases, but plainly leaves nations to the dictates of common sense and the law of self-preservation. But some may say, Where, then, is the great virtue of submission to governors, if it is to be practised towards none but such as answer the ends of their institution? But it is easy to reply, That there is an indispensable duty upon all, subjects as well as others, to regard the public interest; and if their submission help to destroy and ruin that, their submission cannot be a virtue. The great objection against this is that it may give occasion to subjects to oppose their superiors. But a rule is not bad because men may mistake in the application of it to particular instances, or because evil men may satisfy their own passions under its supposed sanction. The contrary doctrine we know by an almost fatal experience may be very much abused. The truth ought not to be concealed, or to suffer in the opinions of men for the sake of accidental inconvenience. Conclusion: It is highly requisite that all in authority should —

1. Be happy in a public spirit, and a true regard to the public interest.

2. Have a deep sense of religion, of the great importance of virtue, and of the bad influence and malignity of vice and immorality.

3. Have a great love to justice, and regard to peace.

4. Show a blameless example.

(Bp. Hoadley.)

Note —

I. That human magistracy of some kind or other Is OF DIVINE APPOINTMENT. Taking the word "ordained" in the sense of permit, all the governments of the world, good or bad, aye, all things, even the most sinful, are ordained of God (Daniel 4:32; Deuteronomy 2:21; John 19:11). But taking the word in the sense of decreed it means that the principle of civil government is of Divine appointment.

1. Man's social tendencies indicate this. Some men are royal in their instincts and powers, and are evidently made to rule; others are servile, feeble in faculty, and made to obey. There is a vast gradation of instinct and power in human society, and it is an eternal principle in God's government that the lesser shall serve the greater.

2. Man's social exigencies indicate it. Every community, to be kept in order, must have a recognised head. Hence, man in his most savage state has a chief.

II. That the human magistracy which is of Divine appointment IS THAT WHICH PROMOTES GOOD AND DISCOURAGES EVIL. The Divinely appointed rulers of whom the apostle speaks are not "a terror" to good works, but to "the evil." They are those who "praise " the "good"; those that are "ministers of God for good." To determine, therefore, what kind of civil government is really of Divine appointment, and that is to be obeyed, you must ascertain what is the "good" which it is to promote, and the "evil" which it is to discourage. What is "good"? Obedience to the Divine will. The standard of virtue is not the decree of an autocrat, nor public sentiment, even when organised into constitutional law; but the will of God. "Whether it be right in the sight of God," etc. The civil government, therefore, that does not harmonise with this is not the government of which the apostle is speaking. We may infer —

1. That the infringement of human rights is not in accordance with the will of God, and therefore not "good."

2. The promotion of injustice, impurity, and error, is not according to the will of God, and therefore not "good." Opposition to governments is sometimes a duty. Daniel, etc.

III. That the human magistracy which promotes the "good" and discourages the "evil" is AUTHORISED TO ENFORCE OBEDIENCE AND SUPPORT (ver. 4). The magistrate is Divinely authorised to punish transgressors and rebels. But coercion has its rules and limitations.

1. The sword should never be used but from benevolent desires. "The new commandment" is the law of humanity; nothing can justify its violation. Punishment should not be inflicted for the sake of giving pain and gratifying revenge, but for the sake of doing good and serving the criminal.

2. The sword should not be used for the purpose of taking life. The advocates of capital punishment and war insist that the sword is used here as the emblem of destruction, whereas it is the emblem of righteous coercion.

IV. That such obedience and support ARE BINDING UPON ALL CLASSES OF THE COMMUNITY. Disobedience to such a government is —

1. Impious. To resist it is to resist "the ordinance of God." Rebellion against a righteous human government is rebellion against God.

2. Self-injurious. A righteous ruler is "the minister of God to thee for good." He aims at thy good. To resist him, therefore, is to wrong thyself. Conclusion: This passage does not teach that we are bound to obey laws that are not righteous, to honour persons that are not honour-worthy. If we are commanded to honour the king, the precept implies that the king's character is worthy of his office. Some kings it is religious to despise. The obligation of obedience is ever-dependent upon the righteousness of the command.

(D. Thomas, D.D.)

(election sermon): —

1. Government is a Divine institution for the preservation of society and the happiness of mankind. As to the substance,"the powers that be are ordained of God"; as to the form, they are left to the decision of each country and age, and are"ordinances of man"; but whether under the name of monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, governments equally claim reverence as the depositaries of authority and the conservators of order.

2. In the duties enumerated in the previous chapter there is this — "He that ruleth (let him do it) with diligence." By the British constitution the people are the ultimate despositaries of power. "Every ordinance of man" which is to be obeyed "for the Lord's sake" is such as the people, by their representatives, make it. Every elector is, therefore, in some measure responsible for the framing of those ordinances, and should therefore labour "with diligence" that they be in accordance with truth and justice, for the good of men and the glory of God.

3. There cannot be a greater mistake than that on becoming Christians we escape from our obligations as citizens. Religion was designed to train us for heaven, not by unfitting us for the duties of earth, but by enabling us to perform them rightly. Religion would be an injury to the world if it withdrew the best men from it. True piety is nurtured and developed, not by avoiding any portion of our duties as men, but by diligently performing them.

4. Politics is the science and practice of legislation for the public good. Rightly to be political is the same thing as to promote the welfare of the people and the peace of the world. Christianity does indeed condemn the bitterness, the factious spirit, the selfish ambition which have too often disgraced political life; but Christianity, instead of, on this account, excusing its votaries from their duties as citizens, calls upon them all the more to sanctify politics by the nobler aspirations and purer motives of religious faith. What, then, is the duty of a Christian elector?

I. TO ASCERTAIN WHO AMONGST THE CANDIDATES ARE, ON THE WHOLE, MOST SUITED FOR THE OFFICE OF REPRESENTATIVE. Not wealth, rank, personal friendship, nor any favour received or hoped for, should determine his choice, but fitness, both by character and opinions, to promote the public good.

II. TO GIVE EFFECT TO HIS CONVICTION BY ENDEAVOURING TO BRING HIS FELLOW-ELECTORS TO THE SAME OPINION WITH HIMSELF. But in so doing he will avoid all unfairness in speech and conduct. As an employer, as a customer, it will never occur to him to urge his appeal. His only weapon will be rational persuasion. He will never become a mere partisan. Firmly holding his own opinions, he will do nothing opposed to the meekness and gentleness of Christ.

III. So quietly and seriously, but promptly and resolutely, TENDER HIS VOTE. He will not allow personal convenience, indolence, or fear to prevent the discharge of his duty to his country, and the exercise of that solemn function as one of "God's ministers" to which he has been "ordained," but the opportunity for which so seldom occurs. Conclusion: Let all of us, then, do our duty to our God and our country.

1. Zealously.

2. Patriotically.

3. Charitably.

4. Prayerfully.

(Newman Hall, D.D.)



1. To restrain evil.

2. To encourage good.




(J. Lyth, D.D.)

I. THE ORIGIN AND NEED OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT. If "the powers that be" (civil government) "are ordained of God," we infer that civil society itself is ordained of God. This will be manifest when we consider —

1. Man's natural impulses for society. The instincts of our nature dispose us to live in society, and to seek sympathy and assistance from others. "Solitary confinement" is one of the most terrible punishments which can be inflicted.

2. Man's natural position and circumstances. By means of society the race is preserved, and civilisation developed. If human beings were completely isolated, the race would degenerate and become extinct. Man needs the aid of civil authority to protect his life and property from the malice and power of the evilly-disposed.

II. THE OBLIGATION OF OBEDIENCE TO CIVIL AUTHORITY. In civil society laws are enacted and governments appointed to enforce the right and put down the wrong. And all rightly disposed persons willingly subject themselves to this authority. This must needs be —

1. As a matter of duty, not of fear only. The fear of punishment is a check upon evil. doers, and thus, in a measure, prevents lawlessness. With evildoers obedience is a matter of compulsion or of expediency. But there is another standard, that of duty, which some take who are not disposed to admit that "the powers that be are ordained of God."

2. As a matter of conscience towards God. No human government is infallible. But the Christian, from love and conscience towards God, yields a cheerful obedience to "the powers that be," so long as the civil laws do not conflict with the Divine.


1. As to our "dues" to the public revenue. The language implies that we are not to regard the levied rates as gifts to the government, but as debts.

2. As to our respect for official distinction. "Fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour" (2 Peter 2:10). In no society or government shall we find matters exactly agreeable. But we must remember that the basis of society is mutual forbearance and self-sacrifice for mutual benefit. Our dislikes, then, should not prevent us from rendering due reverence to official dignity, as well as to rank, talent, and all true worth. The whole of the apostle's teaching shows that we are bound to render obedience on the ground that government is an "ordinance of God." But this implies that the government shall not enact, nor its authorities seek to enforce anything that would require disobedience to the will of God. Hence we conclude —

1. That this precludes all illegal action against government on the part of Christians.

2. That it permits all legal means for the redress of any real injustice.

3. That the obligation of obedience is ever dependent on the righteousness of the command.

(J. W. Kaye, M.A.)

1. Religion secures subordination.

2. Subordination law.

3. Law freedom.

4. Freedom fame.

5. Fame respect and power.

(G. Croby, LL.D.)

The warmth with which the apostle speaks of the functions of civil governors may, at first sight, seem surprising, when we remember that a Helius was in the Praefecture, a Tigellinus in the Praetorium, a Gessius Florus in the provinces, and a Nero on the throne. On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that the Neronian persecution had not yet broken out; and that the iniquity of individual emperors and governors, while it had free rein in every question which affected their greed, ambition, or lust, had not as yet by any means destroyed the magnificent ideal of Roman law. If there were bad rulers, there were also good ones. A Cicero as well as a Verres had once been provincial governors; a Barea Soranus as well as a Felix. The Roman government, corrupt as it often was in special instances, was yet the one grand power which held in check the anarchic forces which but for its control were "nursing the impatient earthquake." If now and then it broke down in minor matters, and more rarely on a large scale, yet the total area of legal prescriptions was kept unravaged by mischievous injustice. St. Paul had himself suffered from local tyranny at Philippi, but on the whole, up to this time, he had some reason to be grateful for the impartiality of Roman law. At Corinth he had been protected by the disdainful justice of Gallio, at Ephesus by the sensible appeal of the public secretary; and not long afterwards he owed his life to the soldier-like energy of Lysias, and the impartial protection of a Festus and even of a Felix. Nay, even at his first trial his undefended innocence prevailed not only over all the public authority that could be arrayed against him by Sadducean priests and a hostile Sanhedrin, but even over the secret influence of an Aliturus and a Poppaea. It is obvious, however, that St. Paul is here dealing with religious rather than political prejudices. The early Church was deeply affected by Essene and Ebinotic elements, and St. Paul's enforcement of the truth that the civil power derives its authority from God, points to the antithesis that it was not the mere vassallage of the devil. It was not likely that at Rome there should be any of that fanaticism which held it unlawful for a few to recognise any other earthly ruler besides God, and looked on the payment of tribute as a sort of apostasy. It is far more likely that the apostle is striving to counteract the restless insubordination which might spring from regarding the civil governor as a spiritual enemy rather than a minister of God for good.

(Archdeacon Farrar.)

Whilst commanding the allied army in Portugal, the conduct of the native population did not seem to Wellington to be either becoming or dutiful. "We have enthusiasm in plenty," he said, "and plenty of cries of 'Viva.' We have illuminations, patriotic songs, and fetes everywhere. But what we want is, that each in his own station should do his duty faithfully, and pay implicit obedience to legal authority."

Law is a great and sacred thing. It is nothing less than a shadow upon earth of the justice of God. The forms which surround it, the rules which govern it, the dignity and honour which belong to its representatives are all the outworks of a thing in itself entitled to our reverence. But when the machinery of law is tampered with, as was now the case by Jezebel, when a false witness or a biassed judge contributes to a result which, if legal, is not also moral, then law is like an engine off the rails, its remaining force is the exact measure of its capacity for mischief and for wrong. Then, indeed, if ever, summum jus is summa injuria.

(Canon Liddon.)

So it is with loyalty, the reverence for order and law incarnated in a man, reverence for the king, as God's vicegerent and visible symbol. With their politics I have no sympathy, but for the loyalty of the old Cavaliers to Charles I have intense admiration. He stood to them not merely as the man Charles Stuart, but as the embodiment of Law, Order, Divinity; hence they were willing to lay down all they had for his sake, to peril life and limb in defence of his rights. Who can read the tale of that heroic woman who, when the life of her beloved queen and mistress was sought, bravely made her own frail white arm a bolt across the door to guard her from danger, and held it there until the shattered bone refused longer to obey her will, without saying that she did this, not as friend for friend, but as subject for queen? If we are not loyal now, it is because loyalty lacks objects on which to bestow itself, not because the deep perennial feeling of the heart is less strong than it was of old.

(George Dawson.)

It seems very plainly and explicitly taught here, that civil government is an ordinance of God, and that obedience to our lawful rulers is a Christian duty. We say again, God does not ordain any particular form of government, but He does ordain government. He does not say you must be ruled by an emperor, a king, a generalissimo, or a president. But He does say you must have a ruler and administrators of law. They must exist and administer in the form best adapted to secure the highest good of the people. God does not say you must have a king, and "the king can do no wrong." But He says government must exist, and be respected and obeyed, so long as it subserves its true end — the general good. If it fails to do this, you must not run into anarchy and chaos, but wisely and firmly, in proper ways, reform or revolutionise, and establish a better system, or choose better men. The Protectorate under Cromwell was a revolutionary measure, but it was justifiable because the monarchy under Charles had failed to secure the true end of government — the good of the people. But it was only a temporary measure, and prepared the way for what came at last, an admirable system of constitutional government, under which England has steadily and increasingly prospered for two hundred years.

(E. P. Rogers, D.D.)

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