Introduction: Chapter 13 continues the practical application section of the letter. In it, Paul focuses on the Christian as a citizen. He addresses two primary areas of conduct: our relationship to civil authorities and our relationship to other citizens.
I. The Christian and Civil Authorities (13:1-7)
A. The first sentence of the chapter clearly states how the Christian should act toward those who are in positions of authority in government, which would include police officers, council members, legislators, governors, and presidents: be subject to them (13:1).
B. The reason? Because all authority ultimately comes from God and God is responsible for the existence of civil government (13:1).
1. This means, then, that “resisting” (being hostile toward) authority figures is to resist God’s appointed servants. When one does that, he can expect to “incur judgment” (13:2).
2. Civil authorities are in place to enforce laws that govern conduct. If we want to live without fear of them, then we should live in harmony with the law (13:3).
3. But if we break the law, then we should be afraid (13:4). Why? Because civil rulers are servants of God (13:4, 6) who are carrying out God’s wrath on his behalf (13:4-5).
4. This vengeance on God’s behalf includes the right to “bear the sword,” a phrase that clearly refers to capital punishment (13:4).
C. Another result of being subject to civil authorities is our responsibility to pay taxes (13:6-7). In short, we owe civil government our taxes, respect, and honor for the roles they fulfill as ministers of God.
II. The Christian and Other Citizens (13:8-14)
A. Drawing on the idea of paying what is owed, Paul summarizes how we should act toward others by emphasizing the need for love. The one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the demands of the law (13:8).
B. He explains what he means by that statement in 13:9-10. The individual commandments that govern our conduct toward others – like prohibitions against adultery, stealing, etc. – are “summed up” in the general command to love one’s neighbor. Since love does no wrong to a neighbor, to love is to fulfill the law.
C. In the remainder of the chapter, Paul highlights the urgency of molding our character into what God wants it to be.
1. It is time to wake up to our responsibilities because our time on earth draws closer and closer to an end (13:11).
2. That being true, we should “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (13:12). We should distance ourselves from immorality (13:13).
3. We should clothe ourselves with the Lord and not live to gratify the lusts of the flesh (13:14).
Conclusion: The bottom line is this: no one should ever be a better citizen or a better neighbor than a Christian.