Romans 13:4 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Romans 13:4, NIV: "For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer."

Romans 13:4, ESV: "for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer."

Romans 13:4, KJV: "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 13:4, NASB: "for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil."

Romans 13:4, NLT: "The authorities are God's servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God's servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong."

Romans 13:4, CSB: "For it is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God's servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong."

What does Romans 13:4 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

This verse concludes a sentence begun in the previous verse. Paul has written that, by doing good in our communities, we can live without fear of those in authority. It is the God-given role of those in authority to keep order in the community; this is part of how God limits the influence of evil in the world (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Those in authority will most often give their approval to people who are contributing to that order by making things better.

Now Paul describes people in positions of government authority as God's servants for our good. Of course, not everyone in those positions would agree with that statement. They may not see themselves as servants of God. God doesn't care, though. He put them where they are for His own purposes. In fact, Paul boldly states that God's uses men and women in positions of government authority to execute His own wrath on wrongdoers. Whether knowingly or not, those in authority are avengers for God, used by Him to punish criminals. If we as Christians choose to do what is wrong, sinful actions that break the law, we should be afraid of those in authority, as well.

It should be kept in mind that Paul himself was a lawbreaker; he disobeyed the government. However, Paul followed his own teaching here by being submissive to that same government: he eventually paid for his crimes against the state with his life, as did many of the other apostles. Paul does not choose this passage to address the need to break the laws of men when they stand against God's direct commands to us (Acts 5:27–29). Instead, Paul makes clear that, in the normal course of life, human authorities instituted by God carry out God's will by punishing people who do what is wrong. Christians, in that sense, should submit to those in authority, doing good in all cases, and obeying all laws that are not a violation of Christian conscience.