Christian Conduct Toward the Government: A Study of Romans 13:1-7 Part 1

aaron-burden-143103-unsplashRight in the middle of what is perhaps the Apostle Paul’s most highly regarded book of the Bible, he offers what might be the most ignored passage in all of Scripture:

“13 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 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; 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. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” Romans 13:1-7. 

When read from an American’s point of view, this passage might be somewhat easy to digest. While we may disagree on the particulars, most of the time, our government considers itself to be a positive force in the world and civic pride convinces us we are the side of right, even when we’re wrong. Consider, however, that Paul wrote this passage while living under the reign of Nero. Nero is historically considered somewhat unstable. He is the ruler who pinned the great Roman fire of AD 64 on the Christians in order to avoid blame. He was by all accounts a ruthless and oppressive ruler. One might expect Paul to encourage believer to rise up and revolt against such authority, but he says the exact opposite. Paul actually tells Christians to be in subjection to governing authorities. Paul explains that when we resist the government, we are opposing the ordinance of God.

I thought of this passage this week while watching the video footage of protestors storming state houses in opposition to various COVID-19 stay at home orders. I personally think our governments reaction to the virus has been heavy handed. I also suspect many of our leaders are making decisions in regards to COVID-19 for political purposes … but how is a Christian to respond when they disagree with their rulers? What if their government is evil? What if their rulers are ungodly? This passage raises a lot of questions … and I think, for the most part, most of us ignore those questions. Heck, just a cursory review of trending tweets tell me that. So, how are we supposed to apply this passage to our lives? 

The first question we need to answer is, “Are we supposed to apply it to our lives?” Context suggest we are. Beginning in Chapter 12 of Romans, Paul begins giving Christians guidelines for living in light of God’s grace. He passes on such wisdom as avoided pride, blessing those who persecute you, and conquering evil with good. But in Chapter 13, he gets personal by suggesting the gospel should govern the way we live in relation to the government – he knows we’re Americans, right? 

As I write this, it occurs to me that this will probably be a deeper dive than one post will allow. So I will take these questions one at time and write a series of posts.

First, what if I don’t agree with my government? 

I think it is worth pointing out that no where in this passage does Paul suggest we have to agree with our government. I don’t think his intention is to turn us into citizen cloned automatons. Rather, Pauls says we should live in subjection to our government authorities. Scripture’s use of the word submit has been hotly debated in terms of a husband and wife relationship, but here, Paul uses it to describe our relationship with government. In his commentary, Dr. Thomas Constable describes subjection as an attitude of deference or support. In the marriage relationship, I often define submission as voluntarily placing another’s needs above your own. I think the same is true in this passage. When I submit to the governing authorities, I am placing the needs of the many, above my own. As a rule of thumb, when I disagree with the government, I should ask ourselves, what’s best for the majority of the people? Is this an issue that allows me to place the needs of the many above my own? Does doing so violate my faith or religious conscience? 

In most cases, I think we’ll find we can submit to our government authorities (at least in America) with relative ease on most issues. I can remember when the laws changes requiring automobile passengers to where a seat belt. I hated it! Seatbelts aren’t comfortable and I felt like like I had the right to ignore the law. Guess what, I was wrong. The same is true with speed limits and even our current social distancing guidelines. I can stay 6 feet away from most people without violating my conscience. It’s just a rule of thumb, but in most cases, I think we can submit to the government.

But what about when their laws violate my faith? I’ll look at that matter in the next installment.

 

Mini Book Review of “The End Times in Chronological Order” by Ron Rhodes

EndTimesChronPaul Lee Tan defines a literal interoperation of Scripture as “… explain[ing] the original sense of the Bible according to the normal and customary uses of its language … consider[ing] the accepted rules of grammar and rhetoric, as well as the factual historical and cultural data of Biblical times.” Author Ron Rhodes begins this book by defending and defining such interpretation (the same method I was taught and adhere to) and then applies the method to lay out Biblical Eschatology in chronological order. This book is excellently written in a manner that is easy to understand. As such, I think it is a great tool to supplement Bible study. Having read through it once, my goal is to now go back and scrutinize and study particular points. I am certain this will be a book I turn to often in the future and I am looking forward to reading more by this author.

Having given this book a 5 Star review on Goodreads, I will be adding it to my list of recommended reading.

There Are No Shortcuts

This morning during prayer I was lamenting to God about the man I am as opposed to the man I want to be. I confessed to Him that I’m not the man spiritually that I aspire to. Paul wrote to Titus (Titus 2:2) that older men should be “temperate” and “self-controlled”  and I was convicted because I’m not quite there yet, even though I should be. So I was confessing this to God and asking for His guidance.

I’m not one to often say God spoke to me, but in my moment of prayer this morning, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and clearly articulated, “There are no shortcuts.”

There are no shortcuts. 

Results

Too often, we complain about a lack of results when we’re not willing to do the work required to get those results. That’s true spiritually and physically. I’ve stood on the scale and shook my fist because I didn’t lose what I wanted to lose even when I knew in my heart of hearts I didn’t put in the required work.

I have lofty goals, both spiritually and physically. I want to be the guy Paul is writing about in Titus 2:2, “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” I have also set a goal to run a 50k at 50 years old (I just turned 49). Both goals are going to take work … and there are no shortcuts.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV). No spiritual goal is going to be achieved apart from Him. To become a Titus 2 man, I need to continue in my study of His Word and continue seeking His will for my life. The same is true of running a 50k. During a recent 8 mile trail run, I struggled mightily. In fact, I struggled more than I expected. It showed me how much further I need to go before I can run a 50k … and the clock is ticking. It’s going to take work.

There are no shortcuts.

I’ll either put in the work to achieve my goals, or I won’t. But it occurs to me as I write this, that nothing worth achieving is easy. I expect my goals to take work. God has told me so, Not because He wants me to struggle, but rather because there are rewards that can be found in the midst of the work.

Every run, every study, and every workout is a lesson. There are no shortcuts.

Cornerstone Verses: John 13:35 “… if you have love”

35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another – John 13:35, NASB. 

aaron-burden-143103-unsplashPastor James Macdonald recently preached a series on what he called game changers. These were some of the individual verses that he said changed everything when it comes to our faith. A game changer is defined as “an event, idea, or procedure that effects a significant shift in the current manner of doing or thinking about something.” As I listened to his recent podcast, I couldn’t help but wonder what verses I would add to such a list. What verses are cornerstone verses? What verses are fundamental to the way we do church, discipleship, faith, and Christianity? While all Scripture is “God-breathed and useful for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16), certainly some verses can be considered building blocks that all Christians should be familiar with and eager to live out in their lives.

As I considered which verses I would include on such a list, John 13:35 was among the first that occurred to me. We know that Jesus taught us to love our enemies, but in this verse Jesus tells us that others will know we are His disciples because of our love for one another.

We are connected to Jesus by our love. It makes sense. When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior we become indwelled by the Holy Spirit. If God lives in us, and God is love, it is inevitable that His love will impact the way we view others. In fact, Scripture teaches that “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). It appears that the absence of love for other believers signifies there is something dreadfully wrong in the life of a believer. 

They Will Know Us By Our Love for One Another

We live amid a cultural climate that is characterized by many things, but love is not one 136aa4cc778661545ba36ff2d1069a2eof them. Divisiveness, bitterness, hatred, and outrage seem to be the themes of social media, but not love. A quick scan of Twitter will reveal that virtually everyone is mad about something. The left hates the right. The right hates the left. It seems everyone has picked a tribe and gone to war with others. We’re characterized by our skin color, politics, geography, sexual preferences, sports teams, and even diets. The vitriol can be smothering at times and it’s easy to get sucked in, but Jesus tells us that the Christian “tribe” should be identified by their love for one another. In fact, He tells us in John 13:34 that we should, love one another as He has loved us. Jesus is talking about sacrificial, unselfish, supernatural love. 

That’s a kind of love that will stand out in the world we live in. The love Jesus is talking about rises above mere tribalism. It’s bigger than skin color or nationality. It rises above politics. It puts others first and makes Christ the center of our lives. The love Jesus is talking about honors God. It is a kind of love that should naturally flow from Christians who are indwelled by the Spirit. In fact, its a kind of love that is impossible without the Holy Spirit. 

Too often, though, Christians choose to quench the Spirit by treating each other poorly. I’ve witnessed Christians on Social Media lambaste one another over politics, social causes, sports, and all sorts of other things that are inconsequential when compared to eternity. It’s even worse when such squabbles escape the confines of social media and infiltrate the local church. 

Let us never forget that we have been “raised to new life with Christ Jesus” (Colossians 3:1). It is a new life that should be characterized by our love for other believers. Everything we say and do should be filtered through that love because there is no cause greater than the cause of Christ. 

When in doubt, we should look to Christ as out example of love. And pray that others would see that love in us (John 13:15). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from The Apostle Paul: Paul Was the Real Deal

Rembrandt as Paul
Rembrandt self portrait portraying himself as the Apostle Paul 

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

“… Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV. 

The above passage from 2 Corinthians blows me away. Paul is writing to a church that had shunned his authority and instead turned to false teachers. Paul calls these teachers “super-apostles” and does so rather sarcastically. In chapter of eleven of 2 Corinthians he acknowledges that compared to these “super-apostles”, he isn’t a gifted speaker. He acknowledges that he humbled himself so that the Christians in Corinth could be elevated.

He then, rather reluctantly, tells them of a time he was “caught up into the third heaven” into the very presence of God and “heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Paul could have grown conceited or arrogant because of this vision he received from God, but instead, he was humbled by a “thorn in the flesh” that God allowed him to suffer from. Why? Just to make sure Paul didn’t grow conceited.

Paul was humbled by a thorn in the flesh. He prayed and prayed for God to remove the thorn but God refused; choosing instead to teach Paul the lesson that “[His] grace is sufficient … and [His] power is made perfect in weakness.” I relate to the lesson Paul learned from this thorn because God is teaching me something similar. 

Not all of the Corinthians, however, appreciated Paul’s thorn. They saw Paul’s weakness and held it against him. They chose the  “super-apostles” who were just a little too perfect. Some members of the church preferred a “different gospel” (see chapter 11) preached by fake apostles because those apostles looked the part.

I wonder if the modern church does the same thing at times. We need to be wary of church leaders who are “too perfect.” If our teachers and preachers never struggle, it might be a red flag. Paul was the real deal. He had been called by Jesus Himself on the road to Damascus. He had been called into the very presence of God to witness things most people will never see on this side of eternity … but the church chose fake, super apostles because they spoke well and looked the part. I can only imagine they were good looking, wore fancy clothes, and had perfect hair.

The Corinthians had been duped.

Too often, we are quick to metaphorically crucify church leaders who make mistakes. We  expect them be perfect even when God doesn’t. Paul’s thorn in the flesh made it apparent that any success he had in ministry was solely because of God Almighty … and that’s exactly how God wanted it. God used a flawed man with a checkered past to accomplish mighty things in order for God Himself to receive all the credit.

Be wary who you follow. If they are too “perfect”, there will be no room for God to move. We don’t need “super apostles.” We need humble leaders who constantly point to God as the source of their strength.

In the church, humility, transparency, and honesty should always be preferred over false perfection and self promotion. Paul compared the false teachers in Corinth to Satan who “masquerades as an angel of light” ( 2 Corinthians 11:14). It is imperative that we don’t allow ourselves to be fooled.

If it looks to good to be true, it probably is.

Godly Sorrow

On occasion, I’ve written about my weight, type II diabetes, and running. If you wanna get caught up, check out this post. I’ve even written about how food and weight loss is a spiritual issue for me. To make a long story short, I was diagnosed with diabetes and decided to fight back. I lost around a 120 pounds and developed a fondness for running, or at least the slow shuffle I refer to as running. I’m ashamed to admit that my old-self has fought back somewhat. I suffered some nagging injuries and started a new desk job last year. Admittedly, these are poor excuses, but the end result was gaining back about 60 pounds. My last trip to the doctor led to an ultimatum; get control over this or go back on medication for your diabetes. So I am once again fighting back. I rejoined Weight Watchers in January and have lost 13 pounds or so since. Something about paying for my weight loss inspires me to stick with it.

But the point is, I’m fighting back. I even ran today. It sucked, but I did it. I could have chosen to give up and allow myself to be characterized by my many, many past failures. But I chose instead to do the best I could.

It occurred to me today that we often face the same choice in our spiritual walks. Too often Christians allow themselves to be characterized by their past sin and failures. We never experience the abundant life Christ offers us because we simply can’t let go of our past. Time and time again I hear the same cry, “I just can’t forgive myself!” 

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Sin is nothing to take lightly and sorrow is the natural reaction to it. Sin should break us and bring us to our knees. But at some point, we have to look up. The Apostle Paul wrote that Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). There is a reason for the pain and sorrow that sin causes. It causes us to reach out for Christ. Paul also wrote that a worldly sorrow brings death. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin are death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. When we neglect repentance, our sin is all pain and all sorrow with no gift. Godly sorrow lead to repentance, worldly sorrow leads to death; it’s our choice.

My sinful relationship with food has lead me to struggle with maintaining a healthy weight and to diabetes. Where has your sin led you?

More importantly, how will you respond? 

Book Review of DNA of a Christian by Daren Wride

DNAHaving never heard of the author, Daren Wride, I loaded this book onto my kindle because it was offered for free on Amazon and it had a catchy title. If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect too much. As the title suggests, Wride offers what he feels are the essential traits of a believing Christian, as follows:

 

  1. Lover of God
  2. Lover of People
  3. Holy
  4. Truth Based
  5. Evangelistic
  6. Persevering
  7. God-Dependent
  8. Focused on Eternity

Wride admits that this list is not exhaustive, however, he tried to create it in a way that includes all other possibilities. As might be expected, some traits were more challenging than others, however, as a whole this book serves as a great reminder that our faith should change the way we live our lives. I actually used this book as a teaching tool in our church covering a different trait each week. It served well for that purpose.

The Answer to Our National Heartache

Public debate always deepens after horrific events like the one that happened in Florida on February 14. After a shooter tragically took the lives of 17 individuals inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, much of the debate has revolved around gun control. Well-intended people on both sides of the debate argue over the means and methods necessary to save future lives and I fervently believe it is a debate that we must have in our country. Our children’s live are very much at stake and I believe we should explore every possibility to save them. However, it is not the gun debate that I woke up thinking about this morning.

This morning, as our country tries to understand and make sense out of events such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland, Florida, God is often at the center of discussion. The memes and comments I see most often on social media flow as follows:

“God, how could you let this happen in my school?”

“Child, I am not allowed in schools.”

The point is easily derived. In a country where God has been outlawed in our schools, we should expect horrific events to occur. Right? I fear, however, that the culture shift we have seen in the United States goes even deeper.

Consider, if you will, the very notion of outlawing God? How can we outlaw the Divine  Supreme being? The Almighty God is omnipresent. He exists in every time and every space at once. God can be manifest to every person and every situation as He sees fit (Isaiah 57:15, Psalm 33:13-14). We cannot control where and when God decides to make Himself known. He is God and we aren’t. In the early sixties, the Supreme Court made decisions that removed forced prayer and Bible readings from our school systems across the country. Prior to that time, communal prayers and Bible readings were common place in our schools. However, removing those prayers and those studies did not remove God. Why? Because the Supreme Court has no power over the Supreme Father. You cannot simply remove Him with the pounding of a gavel. Our God doesn’t change (James 1:17) and He has not changed since the sixties.

However, something has changed dramatically in the short 50+ years since the Supreme Court first ruled on prayer in schools. We have changed. Prior to the sixties, students in the public schools grew up watching their teachers and school leaders pay reverence to God. Even if they weren’t believers, they were exposed to people who were. Students were exposed to Scripture and were allowed to consider the truth of God’s Word without facing ridicule or derision. Such lessons left a mark on their personas and when they faced heartache, angst, and confusion they knew where to turn for answers. That influence has been removed from our school systems and what we now see is a troubled generation at a loss for what to do and where to turn. In two short generations we have begun to reap what we’ve sown.

The answer to our national heartache is not more or less guns. The solution is more Christ. Undoubtedly, some will read my words and call me a zealot or a “Bible thumper.” I’m okay with that. But mark my words, if we don’t figure out a way to bridge the divide between the secular and the sacred in our school systems we will continue to suffer heartache after heartache.

Know that I am not advocating “forced” prayer or “forced” Bible studies. I am convinced by God’s Word that He values the freedom of choice. However, we need to create environments where our young people are able to consider the Truth of God’s Word free from ridicule and mockery. These environments need to be fostered primarily in our homes and in our churches, but also in our schools.

Christians, please join me in praying for our young people. Pray for our school leaders. Pray for our political leaders. Pray for the brave men and women in law enforcement who have accepted the call to protect our children. Know that what happened in Florida can happen in any school district in any town in America. I believe we need to tighten our security wherever able and protect our kids as much as possible, however, we also need to arm our youth with something far more powerful than any weapon. We need to arm them with the truth of God’s Word.

“7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” Galatians 6:7 (NASB). 

 

 

My New Year Un-Resolution

It’s January 1st. The time we all make resolutions for the coming year. I had many possibilities to choose from: lose some weight, exercise more, write more, worry less, and reaching out to some people I love were among my top considerations. But then it occurred to me not to make any resolutions at all. Why? Because resolutions are flawed. Just look at the definition of the word “resolve”:

As verb, to resolve means to decide firmly on a course of action, to make up one’s mind or to make a decision. As a noun it is a firm determination to do something.

While there’s nothing wrong with being determined or decisive, I think I’ve reached a point in my life where I need more than my own will. I need God’s power in my life. I’ve seen the limits of my own determination while God’s power has no limitations.

God’s word says we can do all things through Him who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13). The sad truth is that even though we can, most of us don’t. The larger context of that verse is about enduring hardships. If I’m being honest, I tend to face all challenges in my own strength. Doing this tends to make my obstacles even bigger because I inevitably reach the end of my strength.

Thus, my un-resolution is to rely on Christ more, if not for everything. In 2018, I want to experience Christ’s power and strength in my life.

In short, I want more of Him and less of me. I also wish the same for you.

Happy New Year! God bless you.

Personal Accountability in the Book of Amos

Bible Backgrounds: AmosThe first four chapters of Amos are gut-wrenching. Amos is a prophet delivering God’s Word to the nation of Israel. He is not happy. Nor does Amos beat around the bush; he calls Israel out in a very explicit way. He begins by preaching judgment on the nations that surround Israel. With each pronouncement he moves closer and closer to Israel like a noose tightening around their neck. Midway through Chapter 2, the full judgment of God is being preached on the nation of Israel and their sins are many.

The prophet tells Israel that their days are numbered because they are taking advantage of the needy. The Israelites  “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6), “turn aside the way of the humble” (2:7) and “a man and his father resort to the same girl” (2:7). Amos paints a picture of Israel that is disturbing. It is a land that is built on the backs of the poor and is characterized by sexual immorality. What’s even more disturbing is that Amos preaches that the Israelites do these things to “profane [God’s] holy name” (2:7). 

Amos is suggesting that the Israelites take delight in their sin. They take pleasure in flaunting their sins before God and they mock Him with their disobedience. Their disobedience is not cause by ignorance; rather, they have gleefully chosen to live in sin.

What’s even more disturbing to me is that I can see this in our own culture. We live in a world that often celebrates what God has called out as sin. Our world mocks those who attempt to be loyal to God’s Word. Our world often profanes the Holy name of God.

The first four chapters of Amos are difficult to swallow because the prophet is preaching to Israel collectively. He is dealing with them on a corporate level as a nation and things appear to be hopeless. Amos preaches that “flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground, the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. Even the bravest among the warriors will fly naked in that day” (2:14-16).

God’s wrath is going to crush Israel. They are going to be punished for their sins.

There’s a shift in the fifth chapter of Amos. The prophet takes a break from proclaiming doom on the nation and begins speaking to individuals within the nation. He tells them repeatedly to “seek the Lord so that [they] may live” (5:6). Amos is writing a dirge for the nation of Israel (5:1), however, in the midst of the nation’s funeral he is preaching life. Amos preaches:

“Seek Good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” Amos 5:14-15, NASB.

In the midst of a doomed nation, Amos offers a prescription for life. He speaks to individual hearts and tells they must swim upstream to avoid the current of their culture. They must hate evil and love good. They must seek and establish justice. They must look to God for life!

The same is true for us. Jesus stands in stark contrast to our culture. Much of what He preached seems upside down to us. He taught that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16) and that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also taught that He is the only path to God, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus taught a message that is often ridiculed, distorted, and even profaned in our culture … and it is left up to the individuals within our culture to embrace Christ’s message.

Amos preached that individuals needed to seek good and not evil. Jesus is the good they need to seek. Jesus says that if we know Him, we know God and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God (John 14:7).

In the midst of a culture that is sinking under the weight of its own sin, Jesus is the answer.