1 Each soul is subject to the higher authorities. Because there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been put in place by God. 2 So the opponent of such authority opposes the direction of God, and those who resist will invite judgment 3 (because rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you want not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its approval, 4 because it is God’s servant for your good. But if you are doing wrong, fear, because it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the punishment the authorities can mete out, but also because of your conscience.
You cannot overcome evil with good if you refuse to be basically – well, good. This seems to be Paul’s point here. He, of all people, would agree that there is a time when we must obey God rather than man. Remember that he eventually would be imprisoned and executed when the governing authorities turned against Christ. But what Paul is talking about right here is the fact that Christians cannot be spiritually good people if they refuse basic goodness – the life of law abiding citizens. Citizens of the kingdom coming from the sky are still citizens of the present kingdoms and nations here. We are to overcome the influence of these present kingdoms not by rebellion but by doing good – by obeying the commands of our king. Most of the time, his commands do not conflict with the laws of the land.
LORD, teach us how to reflect the basic goodness our human authorities expect, as well as the divine goodness you expect.