“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. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 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 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. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 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. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Commentary: Every person is subject to God, that is absolute. However, the powers that be (governing authorities) that are ordained by God reserve subjection unto them as well (as much as you would like to disagree with them). Resisting governing powers is resisting the ordinance of God, and though not blasphemous unto God, still may be damned on Earth because of resistance (such as a person becoming imprisoned for breaking the law or for treason).
Rulers are to be a minister of God to people for good, and not for evil. Pay your taxes and do what is right in submission unto the governing authorities as long as it is godly to do so (Obey God before man – see Acts 4:19). You must, no matter the case, express love in whatever you do, for it is believed to be the primary way to exercise godliness in your life.
Archaeological notes: Paul writes this to the Romans during the infamous reign of Emperor Nero, who reigned in Rome from 54 to 68 AD. Nero was the last ruler part of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, which was comprised in order: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and finally Nero (Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus). Such dynasty was responsible for restoring the old Roman religion along with a rather godless idolatrous system. Under their system of government, they had total control over Rome, and made much of their senate ceremonial (which is hard to imagine, especially if you live in the USA). Consuls and tribunes were faded to gray as much of the tyranny of their dynasty ruled on. Slave trade and ruling was highly supported by governing authorities, and religion and politics were very controlled by the government; therefore, persecution was very common. Rulers must know, however, that authority comes from God, which means they are to obey Him.
Paul knew that zealous Jews did not want to have any ruler but God and did not want to pay any taxes whatsoever except to God. Paul appeared to hope for the Romans to one day have a new and benevolent ruler – one that may be tolerant to their needs. Paul emphasized careful loyalty (not necessarily patriotism), assuming the governing powers (especially an imperial authority) would not turn against Christians. A few years after his statements here, reports had shown that members of Caesar’s house became believers (presumably of God or Jesus Christ)(see Philippians 1:22).