Romans 13

1 Our sinful nature can cause us to behave in harmful and unfair ways. God instituted governments to allow societies to place a check against such behavior. The desire is that the ruling authorities know what is right and God has granted them the authority to enforce right behavior from its citizens.

Instructions about governments from God are first explicitly expressed in the time of Moses, but the implication is that God directed the formation of governments from the beginning, and continues to do so in modern times.

This leads us to the uncomfortable conclusion that God has established blatantly evil governments. We must remember, of course, that God does not condone evil. Therefore, if a government becomes (or stays) evil, it is not because God wants it to be; it is because the governing authorities have refused to govern responsibly. Most leaders do not recognize that God has appointed them to their positions because of the "natural" way that they appear to have obtained them. In addition, many political leaders submit themselves to anti-God religions and do not feel they are subject to God's accountability. God may choose to visit governments with various punishments for ignoring His guidance, but most governments are allowed to continue unimpeded. Since most governments are the highest authority in their area on earth, their accountability will not be revealed until Judgement Day.

2 The kings of England may be the most famous for invoking the "royal we." The implication was that everything that the king said was ordained (or even spoken) by God, and was therefore enforceable by secular and religious authorities. It is easy to find that rulers are fallible, so this verse does not imply that the government's edicts are always in line with God's will.

What the verse does say is that God has granted governments the authority to enforce their laws and taxes by policing, judgement, and punishment. This verse does not entitle governments to abuse their authority or infringe on people's worship of God.

3 Those who obey the laws of the land can be confident that they need not fear government officials. Ideally, this implies that the laws are good. Even if the government has outlawed a good activity, individuals should continue to do what is right. Most governments allow bad laws to be repealed, and those citizens who did what was right may be recognized and honored for their efforts.

Those who continually break laws or do evil things that are not legislated yet are those who fear and despise governing authorities. New laws are often made in response to someone's evil activities. This can lead to a bureaucracy that can strangle the people and impede the government. If people would do right in a general sense, there would be no need to legislate every little detail of life.

4 In general, laws are established to protect the health and welfare of the citizens and it is in our best interests to obey them. If someone chooses to break the laws, he is in danger of punishment. Thus, we have positive reasons to obey the laws and negative reasons for breaking them.
5 When a citizen obeys the laws his conscious remains clear. When he breaks them, he has both feelings of guilt and fear. It is far more pleasant to live with a clear conscious.
6 Taxes are necessary to fund the making and enforcing of the laws. In many societies taxes also fund various social projects intended to enhance the lives of the citizens. Governing authorities usually do not practice another trade while they are in their governing position. Their income must therefore be paid by the citizens they represent.
7 There are several ways to acknowledge that we are under authority. These include not only taxes, but also showing respect to governing authorities. Even if we do not feel that a particular leader is worthy of respect, we should give it to him anyway.

This would have spoken particularly to any Jews in the church. The Jews resented being vassals to a Gentile nation. Other Christians may have felt that since their first allegiance was to Jesus that they could ignore the earthly governing authorities altogether. While Christians are no longer of this world, we are still in it and are subject to many of the world's workings. In fact, by being model citizens we might open doors to witnessing to those who would wonder why we obey the laws the way we do.

8 Jesus had commanded that we give without expecting a return. Some Christians may have been taking advantage of others by taking with no intention of returning. However, Jesus was either speaking of those who were too poor to pay back or those who were outside the Church. Paul makes it clear here that Christians are obligated to repay any debt they have, whether they are monetary or because of promises.

There is one debt that we can never finish repaying, which is our obligation to love others. To leave this debt "outstanding" does not mean that we are not to love. Instead, the idea is that we are to make payments continually on this debt. This sinful world will never have too much love, nor will the source of true love (God) ever run out.

9 These are all examples of what you would not do to someone you loved. If you wonder whether one of your activities is "loving" or not, ask yourself if you would want someone to do this to you. This is not always foolproof, but generally, we know how to love ourselves and can use this as a gauge on how we treat others.
10 If everyone loved others then there would be no need for other laws because everyone would have each other's best interests at heart. Since we have a sinful nature, however, we often require strict guidelines on what is or is not loving behavior. Some people prefer to be very legalistic about all their activities. Too much legalism, though, tends to stifle true love since the letter of the law can quickly become more important than people are. In our world, we have to strike a balance or justice becomes absurd in one direction or another.

As Christians, we please God when we place each other's interests above our own. When we love others, we would not do anything that would break a law since doing so might harm or endanger them.

11 Christians must not let their love remain dormant. As a Church, love can help us anticipate Jesus' return. We should also be concerned about those outside of Christ. Our truest act of love to those still outside the Church is to tell them the Good News of Jesus.

We do not know when we might die or when Jesus might return. We must therefore make it a point to love others and to behave responsibly in our world.

12 Christians still live in a dark world, but this does not mean we should act as though we were still in the dark. We are to be lights in this world; exposing evil for what it is in the light of God's Truth. God's love and truth protect our spirits from the influence of this world. The world may still harm us physically, but it can not touch our spirits unless we allow it to.
13 Since we know what is right and God wants and empowers us to do what is right, we should therefore do what is right.

Here Paul gives examples of behaviors that may not have secular laws regulating them, but they should still not be practiced. Most of these activities inflict harm on oneself, either physically or mentally.

14 We are to behave as Jesus behaved in love and self-sacrifice. Our fleshly and sinful nature is generally selfish and we should not follow the desires that benefit ourselves to the harm of others.