Thursday, March 12, 2009
Beyond "Submit to the Authorities" part 4
In the last article, we considered how some of God's commands are given in such a way that if we obey the command in its bare form in certain crisis situations, we actually disobey rather than obey the spirit of the commandment. Let us study this principle further by considering the concept of a proviso.
The word “proviso” has passed into English from the Latin phrase proviso quod, which means “provided that.” We are all familiar with this concept, because we use it often. Here are some examples:
- “This engine is guaranteed for 36 months or 36,000 miles, provided that the owner performs regular oil and filter changes.”
- “I will pay you $600 for those wheels, provided that they fit my truck.”
- “I will keep my side of the bargain, provided that you keep your side of it.”
- “You may borrow my car if you will take good care of it.”
- “You may go over to his house if you will be home by supper time.”
- “Make another sandwich if Uncle Jeff is coming for lunch.” (Would that be enough?)
- “Lord willing and the Creek don't rise.”
In these examples, the proviso is stated. But the concept of proviso is almost always understood, even if not stated. When the proviso is not stated, if it were stated, it would be something like, “provided that things go as they should, and normally do.” Consider these examples:
- “I'll be home by about 8:00” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that I don't have a car wreck or a heart attack, and that I am not murdered, and that no asteroids hit the earth, etc.).
- “Put on your pajamas and go to bed” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that no pipe has broken and flooded your bedroom, that your pajama drawer is not on fire, and that no rattlesnakes are in your bed).
- “Children, do not leave this house until I get home” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that the house does not catch fire).
- “On the Sabbath you shall do no work” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that your neighbor does not have an accident and need you to save his life).
- “Slaves, obey your masters” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that they do not order you to commit murder).
- “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (provided that things go as they should, and normally do---that they do not tell you to steal for them).
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities, provided that these authorities generally govern as they should, within the bounds of what citizens should rightfully expect from their government.”Please accept also this paraphrase of the command, with a fuller statement of the understood proviso:
Citizens of a country should pay their taxes, respect the governing official (or body), and obey his laws, provided that he rightfully holds his office and does not exceed his authority (is not a usurper), that he rules according to the constitution, the laws, the long-standing traditions, and ultimate morality (is not a despot), and that he refrains from cruelty and excessive use of force (is not a tyrant).This principle of the unstated but understood proviso helps us interpret and apply this command correctly, and should help us with other commands as well, both human and divine.
As always, you are very welcome to send this article to others, if you think it would be helpful to them. You are also welcome to ask questions, and to add your ideas.
Love in Christ,
In this case, the Higher Authority.
I appreciate your blogs and the way you present matters. I also appreciate the fact that you are willing to take an open stand on sensitive issues facing the called out ones--the church.
On the last two Beyond "Submit to the Authorities" blogs, the following statements caught my attention:
“we considered how some of God's commands are given in such a way that if we obey the command in its bare form in certain crisis situations,”
“But some of His commands come to us in such a way that the general statement of the command is not to be applied in its bare form to every conceivable circumstance.”
The terms “certain crisis situations” and “every conceivable circumstance” are the sticking issues. Does not everyone interpret what constitutes a crisis different? And the same with conceivable circumstances?
I recall as a teenaged boy I did things that I tried to convince my Dad were done in a crises. And that the circumstances had compelled my deviating from what he had instructed. In reality, I was applying situational ethics and was trying to get past the coming wrath.
I guess my point is, when we come to biblical commands that we have problems in following, specifically who do we receive direction from? Is it ourselves, hopefully under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?...our pastors and elders?...whom we can only hope are under the same guidance? Who is it to be?
When I called forth help from the Apostle Paul, however, he objected saying, "Well, there are many different interpretations of that." At this point of my life, I did not have an immense understanding of hermeneutics, it still brought up my annoyance when someone departed from common sense, to use such an unconvincing and reckless thought process. Consequently, I responded, "Wait just a minute. You asked me to get together to wrap and I don't see any presents to wrap or any wrapping paper or ribbon with which to wrap them. Now I don't know how we are going to wrap without presents or wrapping paper.
He looked at me like I had lost my mind saying, "Well, that's not what I meant," to which I responded, "But there are many different meanings to what you said. Now let's wrap!" Totally frustrated, he said, "We can't even continue this discussion." "You are exactly right," I responded. "We cannot continue until I am willing to understand what you meant by what you said. There are not many meanings to what you said. Only one! And if I refuse to find the exact meaning for what you said, intelligent communication comes to a halt. We cannot go on further until I am willing to understand the single sense you have in mind by what you have said. And I am simply insisting that you allow the Apostle Paul the same privilege that you are expecting. There are not many different interpretations. There may be forty suggested interpretations for that verse but I guarantee you that thirty-nine of them are wrong and maybe all forty. There is one, and only one, interpretation of any passage of scripture."
Jeff, that is the bottom line in understanding any communication. There is no more abused principle in the history of interpretation of the Word of God than the principle of the single sense. Whether by ignorance or design, great harm has been brought to the cause of Christ by the use of sensus plenior.
E. D. Hirsch is right on target in stating "if the meaning of a text is not the author's, then no interpretation can possibly correspond to the meaning of the text."1 Indeed, it amounts to the removal of the author and, in the case of the scripture, therefore, the elimination of its authority which is supplanted by the reader.
To be the recipient of the revelation of God is a stupendous privilege, and privilege begets responsibility. Thus, Paul says to the Corinthians: "Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful" (1 Cor. 4:2). Thus, he admonishes his understudy, Timothy, to "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing thee word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). Little wonder that James (likely the half-brother of Jesus) warns: "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). Yes, privilege begets responsibility and the greater the privilege, the greater the responsibility. We understand, then, why the aged Apostle John gives the final warning in the Scripture: "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book. He who testifies to these things says, Yes, I am coming quickly"(Rev. 22:18-20). Truly, playing fast and loose with God's revelation is dangerous business. And creating plural meanings not found in the text will be found worthy of loss of reward at the bema (2 Cor. 5:10)
I conclude page one with the sound of antiquity, William Tyndale declared, "Thou shalt understand, therefore, that the Scripture hath but one sense, which is the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave thou canst never err not go out of the way. And if thou leave the literal sense, thou canst not but go out of the way. Nevertheless, the Scripture uses proverbs, similitudes, riddles, or allegories, as all other speeches do; but that which the proverb, similitude, riddle, or allegory signifieth is ever the literal sense, which thou must seek out diligently."2
The Basic Principle of Interpretation
1 'E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), p. 5.
Adapted from an article by Earl Radmacher
2 Quoted by J. I. Packer, 'Fundamentalism 'and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Wm B.Eerdmans,
Publishing Co. 1959), p. 103.
Thank you for bringing up this point. Yes, what I have written can sound quite a bit like a rebellious teenager saying, "But Dad, you don't understand the situation." Actually, Dad DOES understand the situation, and gave you his rules so you would do his will instead of yours in that situation!
Caution against veering off into that kind of thinking has held me back from taking this interpretation of Romans 13 for some time.
But there is a substantial difference here between the kind of childish thinking I did along those lines as a teen (yes, I did the very same thing you did) and what we are considering here.
Me as a teenager:
"I don't really want to obey my parents, and here is a situation that may provide an excuse for not obeying."
"Some of the best Christian preachers and politicians of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries found it right to disobey their governments when they acted unconstitutionally, even to the point of taking up arms. How did they reconcile that with the command of Romans 13? I sincerely wish to obey God, with right interpretation and application of the scriptures."
Love in Christ,
I agree heartily with what you have written. But I am not sure where you are aiming the warning you are giving.
Do you mean that in pointing out what I believe is an unstated but understood proviso, that I am adding to the text of the Bible, and so changing the meaning, and so becoming subject to the warnings in the scripture against doing so?
Love in Christ,
Jeff, I have read several of you posts and have concluded that you are a very smart man, much smarter than I am, a poor country disciple trying to live in the fullness of God’s grace. In fact, I thought the last time I used a split infinitive it was a tool I was using while building a fence for my backyard.
You took Dr. Williams to task on the misuse of a split infinitive and I feel duty-bound to take you to a friendly task on the use of a split scripture.
I wonder how, as educated as your are, your hermeneutics can take one sentence out of a two-sentence verse to change its clear meaning, when taken in context of verses 19 and 20 of chapter 12, and the next 6 verses of chapter 13. In verses, 1 through 6 of chapter 13 Paul is expanding on his teaching of verses 19 and 20. Moreover, the teaching clearly states that if we do not follow his teaching on being in subjection to the higher powers we would be in disobedience of a command. There are no “provisos” and acting contrary to this teaching would result in sin.
I quote you, “that if we obey the command in its bare form in certain crisis situations, we actually disobey rather than obey the spirit of the commandment.” The Christians of that day, their whole life was a crisis, completely different from the worst persecution we face in America today. I thank God every day that I live in a country where I will not be shot or fed to a lion for my religious beliefs.
Again, I quote “Every person should obey this commandment, but the commandment is given with an unstated proviso that must be understood by the readers---“provided that things go as they should, and normally do.” With this in mind, please accept as right (but not infallible) this restatement of the command, with the proviso:”
Can I use this unstated proviso on any commandment or is there a reference source I can go to?
Jeff, I would like to present a hypothetical: The year is 1965 and I am worshiping in your church and on this particular Sunday, your message is on Romans 13:1-3, during your message, you include your unstated proviso theory of verse 1. The next day I get a draft notice, yes they had a draft in those olden days. Now things are not going as they should and normally do. I do not think the Vietnam War is a just war, and the government has over stepped its constitutional boundaries. (We could use Iraq because there are people in Congress trying to bring criminal charges against ex President Bush for war crimes) As an extremist, I decide to protest and bomb the pentagon, or as a pacifist flee to Canada to avoid the draft. In your sermon on Romans 13 you have allowed me to decide that “it is sometimes morally wrong to obey a human commandment, or even a commandment of God in its bare form.”
Question: In the 1965 scenario, have I committed a sin according to Romans 13:1?
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities, provided that these authorities generally govern as they should, within the bounds of what citizens should rightfully expect from their government.”
“Citizens of a country should pay their taxes, respect the governing official (or body), and obey his laws, provided that he rightfully holds his office and does not exceed his authority (is not a usurper), that he rules according to the constitution, the laws, the long-standing traditions, and ultimate morality (is not a despot), and that he refrains from cruelty and excessive use of force (is not a tyrant).”
I have extensively searched and cannot find any distinguished commentator that supports your view.
I offer the following commentary that includes verse 1 and the next post will cover verses 2 through 7
Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God.
The state itself, no less than God's church, is a divine institution, existing by God's permission and authority, and absolutely necessary for the continuity of the race of people upon the earth; and it is the unqualified duty of the Christian to submit to it, except in whose situations where doing so would break the commandments of God. This cannot mean that the shameful deeds, of evil rulers are ever in any manner approved of God. It is not any particular implementation of the state's authority which is "ordained of God," but the existence of such an authority. Without such constituted authority, the whole world would sink in chaos and ruin. Unbridled human nature is a savage beast that lies restless, and uneasy under the restraint imposed by the state, being ever ready, at the slightest opportunity, to break its chains and ravage the world with blood and terror.
Civilization itself is but the ice formed in process of ages over the turbulent stream of unbridled human passions. To our ancestors, that ice seemed secure and permanent; but, during the agony of the great war, it has rotted and cracked; and in places the submerged torrent has broken through, casting great fragments of our civilization into collision with one another, and threatening by their attrition to break up and disappear altogether.
Thus, Stanley Baldwin described the disastrous effects that always accompany the dissolution of states and the breakdown of authority. Paul's revelation that the state is "ordained of God" and an effective instrument of the holy will is not a new doctrine invented by him to ease the Christian community through a difficult political period, but it is essential element of Jesus' teachings. In this connection, a little further attention to Christ's teachings in this sector is helpful.
CHRIST AND THE STATE
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). His kingdom lies, for the most part, within a sector totally removed and separated from the secular state, that institution being also "ordained of God" but charged with a different function, that of preserving order upon earth. Christ himself honored God's ordained institution, the state, ordered the payment of taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:21), declared that the authority of the procurator, Pontius Pilate, was given to him "from above" (John 19:11), prophetically identified the armies of Vespasian and Titus as those of God himself sent for the purpose of destroying those evil men and burning their city, the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 22:7), submitted to arrest, even illegal and unjust arrest (Matthew 26:47-56), refused to allow Peter to defend with the sword against such an outrage, and meekly accepted the death penalty itself, which the state unjustly exacted, and which Christ had ample means of avoiding (Matthew 26:53), but did not.
Christ never led a riot, organized an underground, criticized the government, or took the part of the Jews against Rome. He did not offer himself as an advocate against society on behalf of any so-called victim of social injustice; and, once, he even refused to aid a man who claimed that he had been robbed of his inheritance (Luke 12:13). Jesus Christ was not a revolutionary in any sense of that word today. Although it is true that his holy teachings had the profoundest influence upon the course of history, it was always as leaven and not as dynamite that his influence worked.
Some of Jesus' parables had as their significant and active premises the institutions of civil government, as exemplified by the "king" who stood for God (Matthew 22:2), the legal contract of the householder who let out his vineyard, and even the "unrighteous judge" who granted the plea of the importunate widow, his unrighteousness in no way preventing his appearance in the parable as analogous with God! Had the state and its institutions been otherwise than "ordained of God," it is unthinkable that Christ would have borrowed such illustrations and made them analogies for the conveyance of eternal truth. Christ's usage of such terms as the officer, the judge, and the prison, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:25) also fits this conclusion.
All of the apostles understood and reiterated' Jesus' teaching in this field. Both Paul (here) and Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17) emphatically underscored this teaching. Not merely those laws of the state conceived of as "just laws" are to be obeyed; but, as Peter said, "every ordinance of man" was to be obeyed. In the New Testament, there was never any hint of Christians organizing any kind of campaign to change or nullify laws. That some laws were unjust was clear to all; but Paul sent a runaway slave back to his Christian master (Philemon 1:17), and provided specific instructions to both masters and slaves in his epistles to Ephesus and Colosse.
There is no suggestion here that the evil laws of Rome may be justified, nor the evil laws of any other state; but, in the light of Christian acceptance of such laws under the direct guidance of Christ and the apostles, the conclusion is demanded that the constituted government must be viewed as "ordained of God" and entitled to Christian obedience. Over and above all this, there stands the commandment of the apostles that the public prayers of Christians should constantly be directed to God upon the behalf of the state and its lawful representatives, on behalf of "kings and all that are in high place" (1 Timothy 2:1,2), to the intent that Christians might be permitted to "lead a tranquil life in all godliness and gravity," thus, by implication, making the provision of such privilege for Christians being the state's intended function.
To those persons, present in every age, who reject the meek and submissive attitude of Christ regarding earthly governments, and prefer instead the belligerent posture of the aggressive revolutionary, it should be pointed out that this is not a new attitude but an old and discredited one. It existed contemporaneously with Christ and the apostles. The Jewish people preferred Barabbas the seditionist to the gentle Jesus; but it must be added that when they finally got the revolution they wanted, it terminated in a situation far worse than what existed previously. The tragic results of taking the route of Barabbas, instead of the way of Christ, may serve as a classical example of the superiority of Jesus' way. In our own beloved America today, those people who are flirting with revolutionary schemes, if they should ever have their way, shall certainly overwhelm themselves and their posterity with sorrows, and far from attaining any worthy goals, will reap a gory harvest of tragedy and disappointment.
Then, may it never be overlooked that the established order in the civilized world, in spite of its deficiency, despite the inequalities and injustices, despite its halting and stumbling, is still far better than anarchy; and that, even if some complete overthrow of established institutions should occur, the new order, judged in the light of what history invariably discloses, would be no better than the old and would probably be much worse, especially when contrasted with the magnificent and benevolent policies already existing in our own beloved United States.
To that affluent host of Christians in present-day America, let it be thundered that they must not now allow the submerged torrent of blood, lust, and anarchy to break through. This may be prevented by their love, support, honor, and prayers for the present government, and by the necessity of their voting in a manner consistent with their prayers, to the end that the government may be able to survive the assaults being made upon it by forces of evil; and may their diligence in this be stimulated by the thought that if a breakthrough against the government succeeds, none will survive it, least of all, those who sought the tranquil life as God directed.
Present-day Christians are the privileged heirs of the greatest earthly inheritance ever known in the history of the world, a fact that angers Satan. Don't throw it away, or allow some revolutionary to rape you intellectually and rob you of it. And if, through indifference or tacit support, you should ever contribute to the overthrow of present institutions, and if you should live for a single day without the legacy you now hold in your hands, an ocean of tears could not ease your heartbreak or give you another inheritance like the one in which you now stand secure. Keep it! We currently pass through an era that glorifies the extremist; the seductive voices of the far left are calling; stop your ears and bind yourselves to the mast, like the sailors of Ulysses. Death and destruction shall reward you if you turn your back upon the teachings of the Saviour and cast in your destiny with the seditionists. The Marxists, revolutionaries, Rousseauists, and screaming agitators are not the friends of the people but enemies. To trust them is to have your throats cut and to lose your souls also.
Take up the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against all the fiery darts of the evil one, and having done all, STAND (Ephesians 6:13f).
Reject every form of extremism, and heed the apostolic injunction to "Let your moderation be known unto all men" (Philippians 4:5).
Implications of the Christian attitude toward the state are far-reaching and include the deduction that Christians may serve in military or political capacity, vote, and engage freely in the participation allowed and encouraged by the state itself, the only restriction being that conscience, being under God above all, should not be defiled. It is a comment upon the extreme worthiness of our own government, as compared to other worldly states, that many Christians do share in the management of its institutions and hold offices of public trust, the nation being far better off for the presence of such citizens within the structure of its political and civil institutions.
Commentary by James Burton Coffman
Page 3 will follow soon.
I am very thankful to the Lord that you are tackling this issue and sharing what you find. One of the best features of the blogging format is that it makes it so easy for believers in Christ to wrangle with each other over interpretation and application of the Bible. What you are writing deserves careful consideration and response. In the time I can devote to this, I am reading what you have written carefully, and preparing to respond. I apologize if it takes some time to get it ready.
Would you mind identifying yourself? If there is a good reason not to do so, that is fine, of course. But I would really like to know with whom I am conversing.
To everyone else: I hope you realize how valuable these comments by Eklektos are, and will use them in judging the value of what I am espousing.
Love in Christ,
Did you teach a class in the 90's with the topic of The Mind of Christ. If so I sat in that class under your teaching. I have followed you over time from a distance. I look forward to connecting with you in a bit more frequent fashion in the future.
Ken B. Norfolk Va.
Jeff, one more observation on this subject, I feel like the old man that you can’t stop talking or get a word in edge wise.
There is a law called un-intended consequences. The arena where we can really see this law in effect, is in congress making laws, or changing an existing law of the land.
If your theory of “unstated consequence” were applied to our federal and state laws before long we would be living in anarchy. An example would be our state speed limit laws. If I applied the theory “provided that things go as they should, and normally do,” I get a speeding ticked for going 50 in a 30 mph zone my plea of innocence would be things are not going, as they should today. For me this would not work but for a very pretty woman it might.
I noticed you have a very nice family and you have some boys. I have two boys myself and they always wanted to add the unstated proviso to my rules of the house. “Be home by eleven, no options, and they come home at 1:00 AM”, “but dad I was having such a good time and besides you law is unjust and not moral, I am 17 years old and I can do what I want.” What do I do? Agree with him or apply some punishment for the breaking of a command of his father!
Jeff, I may be simplistic on my views but I also believe that the Messiah expects and demands His laws are kept, without “unstated proviso.” There is no excuse that I can think of for breaking a command of the bible
Yes, I will reveal myself I have sent you an email with my contact information
I am looking forward to talking with you soon.
Therefore, he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment.
Not merely sedition and violent opposition to human government are proscribed for the child of God, but "resistance" which is inclusive of all forms of opposition and disobedience. Jesus Christ our Lord never disobeyed any law, nor did he ever advocate civil disobedience, or any other kind of disobedience. As he said, "I came not to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). This verse teaches that breaking the laws of human governments is equivalent to breaking God's laws, because such laws are also of God's will and authority. The "judgment" in this place refers primarily to the legal punishment of violators of the state's laws; but the displeasure of God regarding such violations implies that there will also be an eternal accounting to God for such sins. As Moule said,
This is founded on the idea of law and order, which means by its nature the restraint of public mischief and the promotion of, at least the protection of, the public good. "Authority," even under its worst distortions, still so far keeps that aim that no human civic power punished good as good, or rewards evil as evil; and thus, for the common run of lives, the worst settled authority is infinitely better than real anarchy.
For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And wouldest thou have no fear of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same.
It is a comment upon the effectiveness and success of the state as God's ordained institution that such a statement as this stands as truth. Aberrations may be catalogued and failures noted; but, in the principal part, and in the overwhelming number of examples afforded by history, Paul's language here must stand as unchallenged truth. There has hardly been a state in history where the private exercise of Christian faith has been the object of governmental hatred and punishment. The glaring exception to this is in the ruthless Marxist governments which have appeared in the present century; and, should that type of government gain ascendancy in areas populated by Christians, there could well be another age of martyrs like that which descended upon the first century, shortly after these noble words were penned. The truth of Paul's words here is not contravened, either by the persecutions of the first century or the threat of persecutions now.
For he is a 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 a minister of God, an avenger of wrath to him that doeth evil.
The word rendered "he" in this verse could be translated "it"; but the translators are correct in making it personal, for only a person could be spoken of as bearing the sword. The person in view, therefore, is the policeman, the legally constituted arm of human government, making the law-enforcement men of cities, states, and nations to be every whir as much "ordained of God" as any minister of the gospel. A gutless namby-pambyism has come to characterize far too many Christians of this age, who naively and stupidly suppose that police departments are dispensable, that love can just take everything, and that our own enlightened (?) age does not need the old fashioned relics of barbarism, such as policemen and jails. Let all hear it from the word of God, if they are so blind as to be unable to read it in history, that the policeman also is God's man, and that without him there is nothing. The writer once invited two New York policemen into his living room, gave them a cup of coffee, and read this chapter to them, with the same exposition as here. Their astonishment and gratitude were nearly incredible. One of them reached for the New Testament to read it himself and said, "I do wish that everyone knew this." The other spoke up and said, "Well, it would help a lot if all the clergymen in our city knew it!" We say the same. Much of the vilification, harassment, and warring against policemen in the current era has blinded some good people to the absolute indispensability of governmental authority, including an effective police establishment.
Capital punishment is clearly allowed to be a legitimate prerogative of human government, by Paul's statements here. Those states which have yielded to the naive "do-gooder-ism" of the present era by abolishing the capital penalty will eventually pay the price of their foolishness. Present-day lawgivers are not wiser than God who laid down such penalties and enforced them in the Old Testament dispensation. True, the Decalogue says, "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13); but the same God who said that also said, "Thou shalt surely kill him" (Numbers 15:35). These commandments do not nullify each other, because they speak of different things. Moffatt's translation made the difference clear, thus:
Thou shalt do no murder (Exodus 20:13.
The man must certainly be put to death (Numbers 15:35).
Moffatt took account of the essential difference in two Hebrew words, [ratsach] and [harag], the latter meaning "put to death," the other meaning "murder." Murder is, of course, forbidden; but the imposition of the death penalty by government is not forbidden. Humanity will never find a way to eliminate such a penalty completely, because it is the threat of death alone which enables policemen to apprehend and capture perpetrators of crime. Taking the gun out of the policeman's hands is the surest way to make all people victims of the lawless.
Whereofore ye must needs be in subjection, not merely because of the wrath, but also for conscience' sake.
There are twin reasons for the Christian's observance of society's laws: first, as a matter of conscience, it is a sin for him to break the law; and second, in order that he might not incur the legal penalty of lawbreaking. The preeminent consideration is that of pleasing God, as Peter expressed it, "Obey every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake" (1 Peter 2:13).
For this cause ye pay tribute also; for they are ministers of God's service, attending continually upon this very thing.
Thus, all that was said of policemen in Rom. 13:1-5 is likewise applied here to all civil servants and officers of the secular state. Being part of the institution "ordained of God," which is the state, they partake of the dignity and authority pertaining to it, and are entitled to obedience, respect, courtesy, honor, and the cooperation of all Christians, who, in the discharge of such obligations, are doing so "as unto the Lord," and not "as unto men," for such is the commandment of the scriptures.
Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due: custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Had there been any doubt, up to here, that the total establishment of human government is to be honored, respected, and obeyed by Christians, upon pain of God's displeasure if they fail, it would have been effectively removed by this blanket inclusion of "all." Peter's words, already referred to, are:
Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well. For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God, Honor the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).
Before leaving this section of Romans which details the relationship of the Christian to his government, one other consideration needs emphasis. Such is the attractiveness to the masses of mankind of the idea of overthrowing governments which they consider unjust or oppressive, that even Christian ministers sometimes make a distinction between obeying "good" governments and "bad" governments, actually suggesting in their specious logic that it is all right for conscientious and well-intentioned activists to go forth and pull down the government if they think it is bad. No. A Christian is prohibited from any such role, nor may he even "resist" (Romans 13:2), a conclusion that is based not alone on what Paul wrote here, but also upon the fact that no Christian of the apostolic age ever did anything remotely akin to pulling down a government.
The great apostle Paul was proud of his Roman citizenship, invoked its protection, and refused to pay a bribe to Felix, despite the fact that a bribe was solicited and would have procured his release from prison. As just noted, Paul commanded Christians to obey civil laws, honor policemen as ministers of God, pray for the establishment, and insisted that the total arm of human government be respected, honored, and obeyed.
Paul spent many years in prison, being hailed before many judges; but there is no record that he was ever required to be bound and gagged to preserve order in the courtroom. No Christian, much less an apostle, ever organized an underground for runaway slaves, edited a radical newspaper, bombed the baths of the emperor, scrawled obscene slogans on the walls of the palace (even though it was Nero's palace), nor disturbed the public peace. Was it because they did not care for injustices under such evil rulers as Nero? No, indeed. None ever cared as much as they; but, inspired men of God, they KNEW that extremist methods would have done no good, but would have, on the other hand, done much harm in the multiplication of human misery and sorrow.
Thus, the conclusion must be allowed, that if one considers the vice, wickedness, and terror of that age, the consummate wickedness of human government under the control of men like Nero, Caligula, etc., coupled with the government's support of such institutions as human slavery, witchcraft, and prostitution - that if one considers all this, along with the Christian community's total refusal to engage in any actions of opposition or subversion against such a government, and if it be further understood that the Christian's refusal to obstruct or oppose such a regime was due to reasons of doctrine and conscience, honoring the commandments of Jesus and the apostles - then the conclusion is inevitable and must be received as binding that it is a sin for a Christian to engage in the projected overthrow of an earthly government, despite any faults or injustices that might either correctly or falsely be ascribed to the state they would overthrow
With all this deep thought and divergent views, I'd like to throw in a few more things to think on.
All scripture is self interpreting and cannot stand apart of its context AND it must stand with other texts in the bible. There is no conflict of scripture only a limited understanding of it in our minds.
How can we not condemn the established government (it leaders, ourselves, fellow citizens as active participants, abiders and enablers) for its gross Lawlessness and seek to change the ungodly. The objections seems to primarily focus on a discussion of Romans 13 - at the expense other texts - what about Eph 5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. - Are we not participants in the “unfruitful works of darkness” by our affiliation in this “self” government? -Are we then to only expose the darkness for it's misdeeds? - And not defend helpless and hopeless, seek justice for the poor and needy?
Are we to only expose the works of darkness only to retreat, compromise and lose out to Lawlessness in this "self" government? I think not.
Our government insist on ungodliness in every available form – we could name several as our government works to break all 10 commandments, so lets go with the most obvious – murder and bearing false witness. I know your saying murder in the form of abortion most of us understand. But false witness- what on earth?!
Our government and its leaders, officials, officers, legislators, jurors, and executives bear false witness by swearing allegiance to and defense of the Constitution, then make laws, follow laws, enforce laws, create code and anything else that runs counter to the original intent of the man made agreement. This is no doubt bearing false witness.
How does the government “give justice to the weak and fatherless”- by allowing murder on demand – and “we the people” allow it. Is it not the people on which this government is founded? Are not a majority of the people against this atrocity? So are we not all party to the immorality of our government? Haven't we all violated God's command -”You shall not murder”?
Are we not a participant or even guilty by association by allowing the continuation of the ungodly Lawlessness in our “self” government. We are recipients of the government that best reflect who we have become as a nation.
We only need to look to the scriptures to find how godly people are to confront ungodliness in government. Peter and John before the Sanhedrin said it best, “ Whether it is righteous before God to listen to you rather than God, you judge. For we cannot but be speaking about what we saw and heard."
As for others who changed governments by demanding righteousness, we only need to look to the texts of the scriptures to see Elijah and the priests of Baal. Elijah removed the cancer of Baal by the sword. For which he suffered great fear, doubt and tribulation. But the result was the downfall of the ungodly king and queen - the government.
Hmm, perhaps the bible offers us other examples of the godly demanding the ungodly government obey the tenets of God's commands-
- Midwives in Egypt- did not follow Pharaoh's order to kill the new born males.
- The guard, who commanded by Saul to kill Ahimelech the priest and his family, would not raise his hand against the priests. Once again the godly resisting the ungodly government.
The problem with ungodly government is that there is always someone waiting to do its bidding. Doeg is a perfect example, he was willing to follow the ungodly order to kill Ahimelech. Doeg was so inclined do the job well, he slaughtered the whole city of Nob, all of its inhabitants and livestock.
The issue is now how do we apply what we see in scripture into our “self” governing nation? I believe we no doubt will be faced with a Judge about our inactivity to expose and end the lawlessness in our “self “ governing country. For with this great privilege (self government) comes greater even responsibility (self control).
So my brothers, we must take the whole counsel of the scriptures to bear in this and every interpretation and matter. Otherwise we risk falsely building a concrete rule where one does not exist.
Thank you for coming here to read and comment. I'm afraid that does not ring a bell. Maybe I'm just forgetting. Where was that?
Love in Christ,
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