Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Citizenship, part III

Is that what I heard?
Someone asked, "Why?"
I have to admit that there have been times that I thought that, too....
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority:whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (I Peter 2:13-17)
The reason for submitting to government is this: for the Lord's sake.
What does Peter mean?
I think it will help for us to look up some verses. Even though Peter may not have read the letter that Paul sent to the Romans, you can bet that they talked a good bit! This is what Paul contributes to the discussion:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, .....  (Romans 13:1-2a)

Paul even says that rulers are ministers of God in this way:
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:4-7)
Now, before we get all upset about this, let's look back in the Old Testament, because Peter and Paul both would have been working from their knowledge of the old writings, as well as their knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Here is what we find in the book of Daniel:
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;    wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons;    he deposes kings and raises up others. (Daniel 2:20-21a)
And since we have talked about some rulers and leaders being immoral and corrupt, did you know that the Creator of all can utilize them, as well? Look:
In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water    that he channels toward all who please him. (Proverbs 21:1)
God gave Daniel these words to tell Cyrus: you are doing what the Lord wants you to do!
For the sake of Jacob my servant,    of Israel my chosen,I summon you by name    and bestow on you a title of honor,    though you do not acknowledge me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;    apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,    though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun    to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.    I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:4-6)
From the east I summon a bird of prey;    from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.What I have said, that I will bring about;    what I have planned, that I will do. (Isaiah 46:11)
God can direct even pagan, Godless men to fulfill His purposes. We can't forget that Paul and Peter both wrote their letters when the horrific, debauched Nero was on the throne! And Daniel lived under the rule of the feared and ruthless king, Nebuchadnezzar. Both of those leaders fell far short of what we would call "ideal," so as my grandma used to say, "it's as plain as the nose on your face" that we have to hold to the biblical principle of obedience -- no matter how bad the ruler may be. (Now, don't get in a swivet.....we will cover exceptions tomorrow!! Hang in there!)
Peter knew that the peeps who would read his letter wouldn't really be happy dancing about the idea of being submissive to pagan he wrote these words: "Act as free men and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God." (And just because it says "men" doesn't mean it is just for them -- it is for women, too!)
Our family has always had a love for trains....real ones and model ones. Trains can go really fast or slow or inbetween, right? In fact, a train is pretty free to go as fast as it's engineer wants, as long as it stays on the tracks....hop off and it's standstill time! Human beings are really only free when we obey God...true freedom is living righteously, in submission to Him. So, for the Lord's sake, because He ordained and established government for the good of the human race, we submit to Him when we submit to the civil government.

Lastly, since Christians are identified with God, our submission to civil authority bears a witness for Him. I think when it comes to politics, we can remember that God uses civil government to accomplish His purposes (and it's perfectly OK and even beneficial for Christians to serve in political and civil leadership roles), and that evangelism is His primary way of bringing lasting change. If we are so concerned with political victories that we forget about winning others to Christ, we will ultimately fail in furthuring His kingdom as effectively as we desire.
Peter adds the admonition "love the brotherhood" right after he talks about our public witness. I don't think it is by chance! Of course we are to love our enemies and try to bring them to Christ. But if believers fight with other believers, those who are watching us are likely to shrug and say, "They (believers) are no different than anyone else!"
So it is important for us to show proper respect to all: believers and non-believers, those in civil authority, and those who have no authority to speak of. An old song warbled, "What the world needs now is love," and Christians loving others is a powerful witness. Our submission and respect to civil government is a witness, too.
So we submit for "the Lord's sake."
We'll get down into the nitty-gritty tomorrow.....where does submission to government end, and obedience to God begin?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Citizenship, Part II

Today we will start treading on some ground that may spark discussions; I hope that we will learn from our passage, and from each other, too!
We are talking today about what it means to submit to human government.... I believe that this means three things that we'll detail today.
First, it means obedience. The most basic meaning of the word "submit" is to obey. I believe from my studies that Christians must obey the laws of their government unless those laws force them to disobey God.  In our focus passage, the word translated "kings" I guess would apply to federal or national laws; I'm thinking that the word "governors" would be more local -- perhaps the state or province laws. Some examples? Well, we need to pay our taxes and to comply with the laws that we come in contact with each day (like traffic laws!).
Oy vey.
I have to admit that I sometimes have a lead foot. (Grin)
Anyway, on the issue of taxes, I would think this applies to our reporting our income properly and honestly. And honestly computing what we owe in tax, using the rules the government sets. As far as the traffic laws, I know some believers that take a very strict view and never (ever, never) exceed the posted speed limits. I sometimes am guilty of getting in the fast lane and justifying my speed by noting that the traffic around me is doing the same speed.....  but I guess if one is regularly receiving tickets, one must look carefully at changing habits and practices. (Grin)  After all, the highway patrol reads the same Bible we do, and they read where it says to go out into the highways and bring "them" in....
Even the little things are counted as obedience, and are actually a witness, too. How about our behavior in parking lots? Do we grimace or get mad when someone else nabs the spot we had our eye on? Are we sloppy in our parking, and take up a space and a half?  Do we park where we are not supposed to?  I read of a minister who was pressed for time and couldn't find a parking space. He parked in a no-parking zone (gasp!) and left a note on his car: "I have circled the block ten times, and I have an important appointment to keep. Forgive us our trespasses."  He was surprised to return to his car and find a ticket with a note attached: "I've circle this block for ten years. If I don't give you a ticket, I will lose my job. Lead us not into temptation."
Seriously, though, submission does mean obeying the law.

Submission also means showing respect. Ahhh, yes, I know that we can obey with an attitude. We have all seen a teenager who obeys a parent with a chip on their shoulder. They mutter, glare, slam doors, and more. But we are not told that obedience with a bad attitude is OK. Peter says we are to honor the "king."  But what is he is a rascal? What if the leader of our country is a scoundrel? Well, even if we can't respect the individual, we should respect the office. If a leader is immoral or corrupt, we still should respect the office that leader holds. I know, I know, that is NOT the way that my own country operates! In America, we make jokes about our leaders, talk about them incessantly, even portray them as folks with less than a brainful of gray matter. And some of the politicians really invite that satire and disrespect! Jesus even called Herod a fox, so I guess there is a line that we can be careful not to cross. Since God ordained governmental authority, we should be careful to exercise and promote respect for the authority of each office, even if we are not happy with the people who occupy those offices.

The third thing that submission to government means is to cultivate positive behavior and practice good deeds. Let me show you where I got this:
For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. (I Peter 2:15)
Now, Peter is not talking about the government when he refers to "foolish" men.....he is pointing back at another verse just a few sentences back:
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (I Peter 2:12)
He is talking about unbelievers who slandered these scattered Christians, and talked about them as if they were evil-doers. The word translated "silence" there also carries the meaning "to muzzle." When we muzzle a dog, we take away his ability to bite. Peter is saying that if we are active in good deeds, we take away the ability of unbelievers to criticize us. They can oppose us all they want to, but if our lives speak of kindness, goodness, and patience, and we compassionately help others, their criticisms will ring false to anyone that hears them.

Here is what our old friend, Paul, said in Titus:
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. (Titus 3:1-2)
When we rely on the Holy Spirit, we can live like that; even in the middle of a sinful, wicked world, we can live that way -- and that is a powerful testimony!  But the flip side of the coin is this: when professing Christians disrespect authority, flout and disobey the laws, or withdraw to themselves and fail to do kind deeds of compassion and testimony, it leaves a horrible impression on unbelievers!

Let's look at another example; this one is from the Old Testament:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
Those are the words for God that Jeremiah was to speak to the people of Israel....they'd been sent into exile in Babylon, and isn't that like our situation as believers today? We are (as they were) strangers, aliens in a foreign land. We are looking for our heavenly home.

Those striking words in Jeremiah are good advice for us today! Build houses, live in them, plant gardens, raise our families, seek and pray for the welfare of the cities where we live. Buy property, work to improve our schools, help out in community projects, and be good citizens.

Submitting to the government means that we obey the laws, respect the authorities, and do good deeds in our communities.

More tomorrow! Stay tuned!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Citizenship, Part I

Citizens of heaven, listen up!!
We're not there yet.
You knew that, right? (Grin)
This week we are continuing our focus on some verses that have troubled some believers and that have caused debate for quite some time. (Personally, I think some peeps just love to argue, but that is beside the point, and it's just my humble opinion, too.)

Need a refresher on our verses? Well, here they are!
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority:whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (I Peter 2:13-17)
Today we will look at the purpose of human government....we said last time that it would be tempting when we recall that we are pilgrims here on earth, to simply disregard or even disobey the human laws and governments that are in place here. But Peter is one step ahead of us, and wants us to make sure we don't have that attitude!

Why do we have government? What is its purpose? I am not trying to get either philosophical or political here, but we will be touching on both those areas.....the government should promote justice and peace, by upholding law and order, and by maintaining reasonable national defense. (I know, right? I should just post a link to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of these United States!) Anyway, that is really boiling it down to its most basic level. I think that I'm right, because Peter writes in verse 14 that kings and governors' responsibilities are to punish evildoers and to praise those who do right.
Here is another clue to this boiled down, basic version of government: Paul talks about the government "bearing the sword" as an avenger who brings God's wrath upon those who practice evil.
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:4) 
So "justice for all" is a concept that both Peter and Paul are pointing to, here. And the Old Testament, if we want to look further back, often talks about the role of the king in promoting justice and in being an example of righteousness for society.
Now, the government does this (at least partially) by legislating morality. Uh oh! Did some of you just sit up and take notice? Do you think that's not government's job? Well, don't let anyone sell you on that idea....that is precisely what the government does. Laws against murder and theft are both moral and biblical. Laws against racial discrimination reflect the biblical teaching that God is not a respecter of persons. (Both Old and New Testament passages for all of these concepts!)

I guess the real debate is this: which morality should be legislated?  I suppose there are some Christians who believe that we should emulate the Old Testament law in our present-day society, but that would mean that we would be stoning adulterers, homosexuals, and even rebellious children! Most of those who study with us live in democratic societies....the UK is a constitutional monarchy with a Parliament, the US is a republic, and the list goes on. Since these are pluralistic countries, with democratic principles of government, we would need to look at the laws.....if the value of a law would only be acceptable to those who have already accepted Christ and God's Word, then we would not be prudent to push for it. Laws against blasphemy, sabbath-breaking, or adultery would not be wise to push to legislate, even though they could be written in a way that upholds biblical principles.

But many biblical standards have broad social value. They can be argued for and pursued completely apart from biblical principles. Laws against abortion and laws protecting the handicapped and the elderly come to mind. Also, laws against pornography and against child abuse are among the issues that can be argued for on the grounds of basic human rights. One doesn't have to be a Christian to see that these people and issues are deserving of legislation and protection. Most unbelievers would agree with us, if we questioned them about whether the "Golden Rule" was a positive standard to live by. So we can use this biblical, ethical standard as the basis for legislating morality in our democratic society.

In this way, Peter and Paul are showing us that government is ordained of God to promote justice. And although Peter doesn't say it specifically, one of the results of justice will be to promote peace in our society. Paul tells us this in I Timothy:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (I Timothy 2:1-2)
In order for citizens (whether believers or unbelievers) to live a quiet and tranquil life, the government must maintain an adequate national defense so that our country is not overrun by a power (perhaps a dictatorship or another totalitarian regime) that would rob us of our freedom and our peace.
Of course, we also believe that the government should not interfere with religious liberty, and other human rights, so in this way justice and peace will be promoted in our society. 

Now that we've explored the purpose of human government, next time we will talk about what it means to submit to that government.....

Friday, January 26, 2018

Friday slowdown

This is another wonderful song by Matt Redman....submitting to God means that sometimes we are broken, but God's mighty love heals us and sets us to work in His kingdom....

God will break you to position
He will break you to promote you
And break you to put you in your right place
But when He breaks you He doesn't hurt you, He doesn't
When He breaks you He does it with; grace
Anybody been gracefully broken?
Thank You, Lord, thank You
So Father tonight, we're broken before You
Thank You for handling us with grace
Just lift your worship right there in this moment

Take all I have in these hands
And multiply, God, all that I am
And find my heart on the altar again
Set me on fire, set me on fire
Take all I have in these hands
And multiply, God, all that I am
And find my heart on the altar again
Set me on fire, set me on fire

Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
Gracefully broken

My heart stands in awe of Your name
Your mighty love stands strong to the end
You will fulfill Your purpose in me
You won't forsake me, You will be with me

All to Jesus now
All to Jesus now
I'm holding nothing back
Holding nothing back

Thursday, January 25, 2018


Here is our focus passage again:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority:whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (I Peter 2:13-17)
We have discussed the word "submit" and why we humans tend to bristle at that word....what we are taught and we learn in our lives, as well as our own attitudes about liberty and freedom all meld together in our view of the verb, "to submit."
We've also discussed that everyone on this earth has someone or something that is in authority over their life. Now we are going to look at Peter's words and try to discern his meaning.

Many of the peeps who study here are living in the United States. We live in a country that was founded on a revolution....where defiance of governmental authority is viewed as one of our basic and constitutional rights. No wonder we get our hackles up when talking about submitting!!
Did ya know that our ole buddy Ben Franklin proposed not only that the turkey-bird be our national symbol, but he also drew up a design for the Great Seal of the United States? At least for the reverse side of it, anyway.
He envisioned it in this way:
"Pharaoh sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand, passing through the divided waters of the Red Sea in pursuit of the Israelites. Rays from a pillar of fire in the cloud, expressive of the Divine presence and command, beaming on Moses, who stands on the shore and, extending his hand over the sea, causes it to overflow Pharaoh. Motto: Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."  (I'm indebted to a commentary which noted this source: Vernon Grounds, Revolution and the Christian Faith, 1971.)

Now I know that Franklin was what we call a deist, not what we, today, would call an evangelical Christian. But his sentiment -- that rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God -- is shared by many, many devout and committed believers. Most evangelicals accept the revolution here in the United States as being a proper resistance to what was a corrupt authority. There is still debate over that, though.
Even today, many good-hearted believers struggle with these concepts. There is a huge difference of opinions when Christians discuss the civil disobedience of groups such as Operation Rescue, which works to change public opinion on the issue of abortion. So, I guess our study is extremely relevant to the world we live in!
What is the proper relationship of Christian citizens toward their government?

The believers that Peter was writing to lived in a world similar to our own; they lived with a government (and a society) that was not favorable toward the Christian faith. In fact, both Peter and Paul were executed at the hands of the Roman tyrant, Nero. Not until Constantine came into power, in the fourth century, was Christianity provided with legitimacy and protection by the government.

Earlier in this chapter, Peter has reminded his readers that Christians are to live holy lives as aliens and strangers on this earth. He has told them (and us) that we are not permanent residents here; he said that we are pilgrims on a journey, and our final destination is heaven.
Oh, boy, it would have been very easy for his readers to conclude that believers have no civic responsibility here on earth! (Grin)
They could have concluded that they could disregard and even disobey human government, since their citizenship was in heaven. Peter must have anticipated he counters this conclusion and shows how Christian citizens must live.
In a nutshell, Christians must live as good citizens by submitting to human government.
Now, don't go bonkers on me here....keep reading!
There are exceptions.
We will get to those.
I promise.
"Submit" as Peter used it here, is a military word, meaning to put oneself under another in rank. It's an attitude of respect that results in two things: obedience to authority and positive good deeds. We are going to look at several things in our study, so hang in there. Without getting too bookish or boring, we are going to talk first about the purpose of human government, then we'll talk about the real meaning of submission to government, and next we will talk about why we submit, and then (finally), we will talk about the limits of submission to government.

Still with me?
I hope so.
See ya next time!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Understanding submission, continued

Last time we met, we discussed how we have trouble with this word, "submission." Doesn't seem to matter if we are talking about submitting to God, to our spouse, to an elder, or to civil authority. It just seems to "get our hackles up" as my grandma used to say. We don't like it. We're not comfortable with it.
We talked about how the things we are taught are sometimes the things that cause conflict in this area. Today we'll chat about our attitudes..... Yeah, my toes got mushed today, hope yours will survive this study!! (Grin)
Here are our focus verses, before we dig in:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (I Peter 2:13-17)
Human beings like to have things their own way, no?
From the almost-three-year-old who digs in her heels and wants to eat the peas with her fingers or dress herself in clashing colors, to the oldster who wants to have things "just the way they've always been," we humans can be pretty stubborn.
Yep, I'm guilty here, too.
The desire, the lust if you will, is to have things the way WE want. To gratify ourselves, many times at the expense of others. And boy, will there be conflict from that! Human nature is a whole, big, messy package of attitudes, and they are all dominated by the desire to gratify ourselves.
James said that was where conflict arose:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)
Our desires, whether it is parent and child in that relationship, or husband and wife in the marriage relationship, or even in politics among different nations in this world -- those desires keep crashing into each other like cars on an icy road. This kind of conflict won't end until everyone is keeping the traditions and guidelines of God. That is why we are in the process of salvation, of's our responsibility to grow more like the Father, so that we are more in line with His guidelines. That is what will stop us from crashing into each other. We must overcome the things we have learned in our lives, and overcome the attitudes that stem from pleasing ourselves.

Satan loves to see those crashes, by the way.We must realize that even as believers, we still hear his broadcasts. We still can be influenced by them. We must strive daily to push them back, to ignore them, for Satan loves to see us having problems with submitting. He is still working and producing conflict -- in fact, anywhere he goes, conflict erupts like a volcano. He's a master at producing it!
Here is what Paul said about Satan's former influence on Christians:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time,gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Here's where our stories changed, though:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
God made us alive! He gave us liberty! But we can't have liberty without guidelines (like laws, policies, or even the example of a godly person) to which we submit. If we have liberty without guidelines, the end result is chaos. We as individuals must use self-control and submit to guidelines before the chaos happens.....

We have to understand, then, that there is authority in our lives. It's a fact of life. It may be God; it could be another human being; it could be a law. Everyone lives under authority and everyone must submit. Here's an example -- there is a law of gravity, right? And a person standing at the edge of a thousand-foot drop off a cliff will step away from the edge and not over it. Why? Because we desire to live; we know that if we break that law of gravity, we will be at the bottom of the cliff, either hurt or dead. So we submit to the idea of the law of gravity, in order to preserve our life, our liberty.

Submission doesn't involve just our relationship with God. It doesn't only involve our relationship with people. We've just seen that it can occur in common sense, or what we would call the laws of nature. And here is where the rubber meets the road, folks: if we have the mind of God, we will be looking for opportunities to submit to God, because ironically enough, that is where true freedom lies. Remember what Jesus told us in John 8?
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”......Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:32,34-36)
Knowing the truth and submitting to that truth is what brings liberty. If one is standing on the edge of the cliff, common sense and the truth of God tell us that we should obey the law of gravity -- the other choice is to give up our freedom to live. So, true liberty happens when we submit to truth. It's the liberty that God wants us to have. The freedom that He calls us to enjoy.
 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:13)
Now, we've given ourselves a lot to think about. The next time that we get our hackles up about submitting to anything, we'll have to think about these things.....
.....and hopefully this will give us a foundation on which to build, as we discuss our passage, starting tomorrow. Are we really supposed to submit to worldly authorities? Hmmmmmm.
Hope you will join us!