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Romans 13:3

ESV For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,
NIV For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.
NASB For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;
CSB For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the one in authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval.
NLT For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.
KJV 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:

What does Romans 13:3 mean?

Paul has described the Christian doctrine of submission to human authorities. Since every human leader is established by God, Christians must not resist God's work by resisting those authorities. These verses give important context for understanding his recent comments.

Paul begins to describe why God establishes human authorities in the first place. The God-given role of governmental authorities is to keep order. This is true whether those authorities are good people or not. Broadly speaking, human government is one of the ways God restrains the influence of evil in the world (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Christians cannot embrace anarchy—rejection of all forms of government—or disobey authority simply because they disagree.

Paul describes the way to live without fear of someone in authority: Do good. Authorities are no threat to those who do what is right. In fact, they will approve of you. This teaching is certainly sound to the extent that those in authority are fair-minded and operate out of sense of integrity. Of course, our instinct is to recall moments in history where those in authority were most definitely a terror to people who were doing good, or at least not doing anything wrong, including Paul himself! The fact that Paul, personally, experienced ungodly government should give us pause before we dismiss his command as unrealistic.

Paul's point here is simply the general case. He's not interested—in this passage—in addressing exceptions. Paul's first concern is that Christians be known in their communities as people in submission to authority; those who do what is good. Believers ought not have a reputation as law-breakers living in needless conflict and rebellion against authority.

Of course, Jesus and nearly all the apostles, including Paul, were killed by those in authority over them, often for a refusal to obey laws that were in conflict with God's commands to them (Acts 5:27–29). This is a key subtlety in Paul's teaching: to "submit" does not necessarily mean to "obey." None of the apostles were killed for breaking laws merely for the sake of defying authority; they were "submissive" to the government when they refused to follow ungodly laws.
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