In this passage, Paul talks about the Christian’s relationship to government. And the basic principle that Paul gives is that we are to submit to those in authority.
Why? First and foremost, because ultimately, God is the one that put them there. And so if you rebel against those God has put in authority, you are actually rebelling against God.
Second, God has instituted the idea of authority for the benefit of society. Without authority, there would be total anarchy, and all of us would be living in fear. So Paul says,
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. (4)
For the most part, because of authority figures in society, we have peace and stability. And Paul tells us that as long as we do what’s right, we shouldn’t have any problems.
I think of Obadiah (not the prophet) in I Kings 18. He served in the palace of one of the most wicked kings in Israel’s history, King Ahab. But he did such an exemplary job that Ahab put him in charge of running the day to day operations of the palace. Yet, all the while, Obadiah feared God and did what was right.
Which brings up another point. Sometimes what is right is contrary to what those in authority has ordered or wants. What do we do in those situation? Do what’s right.
So when Ahab’s wife Jezebel ordered that all the prophets of God be killed, Obadiah secretly sheltered 100 prophets from the king and queen, saving the prophets’ lives.
Daniel and his friends did the same, as seen in Daniel 1-3. When they were ordered to do something contrary to the Word of God, they did what was right and followed God’s instructions instead. So did Peter and the rest of the apostles when threatened by the Sanhedrin to be silent concerning Christ (Acts 4-5).
And in each case, God blessed and protected them. Why? Because they did what was right. And in some cases, they even won the favor of those that initially were against them.
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. (3)
This is particularly true of the ultimate authority: God. If we do what’s right, we have nothing to fear from him. Rather, we will be commended by him. So if the desires of those in authority are against what God wishes, then we are to follow our ultimate Authority.
But even when we have to go against the wishes of those in authority here on earth, we are to respect them.
Give to everyone what you owe them…if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (7)
That was the example of Obadiah, of Daniel and his friends, and the apostles. And that’s how we are to act too.
Peter sums this all up by saying,
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (I Peter 3:13-16)