For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. Romans 13:3
Paul’s explanation of verse 1 continues here in verse 3. He makes a general proclamation concerning the state of rulers. This isn’t intended as a complete evaluation of all rulers, some of which are truly crummy, wicked, and bent on evil. Rather, the general state of rule is one intended for the good of society and rulers generally work for what they believe is that good, even if it is skewed or perverse. What is universally true though is that God has ordained these rulers to be rulers and therefore His good end is being worked out through them.
The thought that such rulers “are not a terror to good works, but to evil” means that if the laws they lay out are obeyed, then one can expect peace from them. Saddam Hussein was a ruler who was generally considered corrupt, evil, and immensely brutal, but for those who were obedient, their lives were not usually ones of terror. However, if someone bucked the system and the rules he had in place, they were certainly expecting harsh judgment when brought to trial. “Terror” is a good word to describe their state.
And so, although to be generally applied, Paul asks a question which should generally considered, “Do you want to be unafraid of the authority?” This is to be taken as a rhetorical question with an obvious answer of “Yes.” Only a perverse person would want to be on the outside of the law. And though it is quite common, it is still the exception rather than the rule. Most people want to live peaceably. And so in response to this, he gives the correct attitude to bear, “Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.”
Laws are in place for the proper working of society. Police are in place for proper adherence to the law or to arrest law breakers. Courts are in place to try law breakers. And sentences are given under the law for the punishment of crimes and even the execution of criminals. By doing what is good, instead of arrest, trial, and punishment, one can expect praise, not condemnation.
Life application: Paul’s words so far in Romans 13 are given for peaceable living. He wrote this epistle under a most corrupt and wicked leader and yet they were applicable as general statements of living in any society, even one such as that of a bad Roman emperor. And the same is true today. Whether we have a good leader or a bad one, we should endeavor to do what is good under their rule.
Heavenly Father, Your word tells us that all people are descended from one man, Adam. Because of this, we are all one people, even if there are divisions within our makeup. Help me to see others as You see them – bearers of Your image and the objects of Your love. Help me to share the message of hope found in Jesus which is the message of restoration to You through His shed blood; blood shed for all people everywhere. Amen.