“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.” (Romans 13:3-4)
The Holy Spirit now focuses the believer's attention on the purpose of authority. The addresses found in these verses are in the second person singular form. This makes them extremely personal. It is almost as though the Holy Spirit is sitting down with each of His children on an individual basis and tutoring them concerning these vitals truths. If a believer misses the admonitions of this chapter, he will be a spiritual disaster.
In principle, God designed governmental authority to keep man's sin in check. After the flood, God invested human government with the right to capital punishment (Genesis 9:6). Without authority, man's sin nature would run wild. Even the most perverse authorities have some affect on how freely man exercises his violent and wicked behavior. Authority was not designed by God to be a threat to the righteous. The man who keeps God's law need never fear divine retribution through authority, because he has done that which is right. These verses are not addressing the injustices of authority, nor are they addressing government's persecution of the righteous. They are simply stating that the righteous man can be free in his conscience. If a man is obeying the speed limit, he is not threatened by the policeman's presence. If a man is paying for merchandise, he need not fear the security camera. Authority is a true threat only to the wicked. Twice in this passage, authorities are labeled as God's messengers. God holds sway over the earth's governments. Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” The kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon and Persia were all declared to be God's servants in one form or another, and every one of these kingdoms was wicked, oppressive, cruel, and haters of the righteous. Here, God is also declaring the Roman government of Paul's day to have been His servants, and this kingdom was extremely wicked and cruel. It was and is the Beast spoken of in Daniel's visions; yet, all belonged to God, and such can be said of all present day authorities. When authority crosses the boundary and becomes a terror to good works, God is well able to deal with His “servants.” He does not require the feeble intervention of His saints. God is able to establish kingdoms and throw them down, and He will do so in perfect justice and with perfect balance. The believer need only rest in this thought, “If I do that which is righteous, I need not live in fear of authority; and if I am persecuted for my righteousness, then God is able to exercise righteous judgment between me and my oppressors.”