Comparison with Christian teaching on commendation
Paul states in Romans 13:3-4 ‘do what is right and you will be commended, for the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.’ However, before accepting this at face value we should consider the Christian teaching on commendation to check for consistency with this interpretation.
Jesus taught about rewards in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat 5:10-12)
It is clear that Jesus taught that the governing authorities were the persecutors of the good, and that their reward was from God and not from the governing authorities.
Jesus taught we must not sue our enemies but to love them instead and do good to them, so that we would be rewarded by our Father in heaven:
‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Mat 5:43-47)
The sermon on the Mount continues with further teaching about rewards in heaven, rather than on earth:
‘Be careful not to practise your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.‘So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Mat 6:1-4)
For this reason Jesus taught us to pray to the Father in heaven rather than to earthly judges, who he described as unjust, for justice and reward:
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:1-8)
Paul taught that true people of God get their praise directly from God and not from men:
No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. (Rom 2:29)
Paul also taught that we do not seek praise from human courts and that we must not judge prematurely, buy wait for God’s judgement at the right time:
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Cor 4:3-5)
Finally we can note that in the other case in the New Testament where the passage Paul quotes is quoted, the indication is that God commendation, as with his punishment, is the opposite of man’s and the state’s:
For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. (Heb 10:30-35)
The Christian teaching on rewards and praise from God and men is the opposite of the interpretation of Romans 13:3-4 developed above.