Citizens of Two Worlds

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Romans 13:1-7

It is quite puzzling at first glance to see the New Testament writings on submission to authority are written by men who have been imprisoned by the same authorities they command we obey. Peter experienced multiple recorded instances of being broken free from prison and Paul has a long endured stint in prison from which he writes some of his letters.

This should not cast suspicion on the topic but grant context for our understanding. Much of the teaching we are given on how to conduct ourselves in scripture offers an asterisk, the asterisk of *unless God’s momentary design deviates from his natural order. God created everything with a natural order which can be seen in all of creation, but there are times he deviates.

This does not make God a liar or deceptive. Some instruction given by God, such as his instruction to flee from sin, is absolute. Other teaching offers us the natural way of things as a gift with an assumption we remain led by the Holy Spirit in all of our endeavors.

It is important we do not throw out our understanding of the way of Jesus because of a few moments when God’s plan required deviation from the norm. It is also important not to be so rigid we toss out a word from the Lord.

There are things such as what the Lord has labeled as sin God will never call us to do. But the orderly worship we are directed to in scripture might look different depending on the season, and there are times women will be called to eldership as Deborah was called to be judge. There is an order the Lord has created and we must know unless it goes against his nature or promise he can deviate from his created order.

If this were not possible there would be no miracles. How could God turn water into wine if he was contained to the order he created? This does not become our template for making wine but it was how it was for a moment when God chose to work in a different way.

So when Peter is thrown in jail for preaching the gospel, his preaching is not out of rebellion, but a moment in time when he is aware of the grace of God to preach the gospel publicly despite the rules set in place by local authorities. It doesn’t make him a hypocrite. He just understands the default is in all things to submit to authority in the land unless the Lord says otherwise.

Deviation from the instruction of God is not something to take lightly. In fact there should be great conviction and discernment of a word from the Lord before exploring acting in opposition to an authority over you. Paul and Peter both found such an exception in preaching the Gospel. Sharing the news of Jesus was not something the church could give up despite what any human authority might say.

You will note even Jesus acknowledges the authority of Pilate in John 19 but points out Pilate only has authority because of his Father in heaven. God is always the highest authority we submit to. Failure to submit to an earthly authority is only permitted as far as God steps in to overrule.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

You will note Jesus claims highest authority in this scripture passage. Making disciples, baptism, and teaching the way of Jesus are instructions superseding any other. No earthly authority can claim higher than Jesus. You will note the New Testament church is persecuted for these acts. It was never rebellion against the government or speaking out against policy which turns believers into prisoners and martyrs.

This is why slaves and free men worshipped side by side. The slaves remained slaves under the authority of their masters while being free in Christ. Jesus didn’t spark the rebellion of slaves, although the Roman Empire did have a long slave rebellion. In fact there is a whole letter included in scripture which accompanied a former slave named Onesimus. Paul, after some discipling, sends Onesimus back to be a slave. In this letter Philemon, the slave owner who is also a follower of Jesus, is encouraged to free him as he is a brother.

The slave conversation is a conversation for another time, but the early church understood they were not a rebel group. They were not a political organization, but the people of God, a people who remain here not to tear down empires but out of the same compassion of Jesus to make disciples of those hostile to them. They were to focus on freedom in Christ and care for each other’s physical needs under the law of the land.

Democracy makes honoring authorities tricky. We are encouraged to speak up in a democracy. The questions we need to ask are: when should we speak, if at all? Does this scripture still hold up in a democracy? Is the government ever the chosen system to see people saved?

My conviction is scripture absolutely still holds up! I believe we should rarely speak up against the government except to warn of the consequences of actions. Like sending Jonah to Nineveh, God has compassion for the lost today and at times they need to be warned on a mass scale. It is not up to us to change the behaviour but to pray for repentance of the people. Forcing changes in policy does nothing to the hearts of the people. That would be the same approach the conquistadors took as they tore through the New World with violence and forced conversion to catholicism. You cannot force conversion of the heart.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17

An urge arises in me at times when I consume media content and news to gossip and critique those in government. Democracy has placed accountability in the hands of the voting public, but we must be sure not to dishonour those in power. Disrespect is the way of the world, and we must avoid being led into sin by the masses. We should think long on whether it is good (of God) to speak or dwell on any issues. I have had to repent numerous times of things I have said about certain people in power. Just because something is true, doesn’t mean I need to speak of it.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

As an election draws near in Canada it is important to know how to act and vote. First off, pray for those who are currently in power and those who will step in. Pray for wisdom and for the Lord to use those who oppose him for his purposes as he did with Pharaoh in Egypt. Pray out of compassion for policies regarding the vulnerable and oppressed. Pray politicians would turn to the Lord. Ask the Lord if there is any warning needed to be given out of compassion rather than self-interest. Vote your conscience as you spend time with the Lord and in community. Know the Lord your God is the highest authority. Whom shall we fear when we remain in him?

One thought on “Citizens of Two Worlds

  1. Thank you Joel. You have provided an excellent reminder of who we are as believers and how we should posture ourselves in these days leading to an election – and more importantly on a daily basis!

    Like

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