Posted by robinpalmer
Readings: 1 Tim 2:1-8; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17
About this time 40 years ago this was me:
Hard to believe really. The uniform tells a story too. We were fighting a war that we didn’t believe in. The government of the day was not my preferred choice. I campaigned for the opposition. It didn’t help.
And the choice of being in the army or not was a choice between conscription or jail really. Conscientious objection was a painful third way.
During those two years I am sure I heard more than a few occasions a military chaplain reading Romans 13:1-2 as a reminder.
PW Botha who became president was the then minister of defence. His photo was on the wall in the various military buildings we used. (In fact, we had to entertain people at a party for his wife for her birthday party. At the end of the event, the cabinet ministers’ wives went around the tables collecting the free cameo cigarettes that they used to have on the tables in those days and stuffed them into their handbags. We did find that very funny.)
When PW Botha did become president, he was visited in 1985 by Michael Cassidy who represented the churches trying to broker a peace deal. As this esteemed Christian leader walked into the president’s office, the old crocodile as we called him was reading his bible out aloud in his oval office. From Romans 13.
Rom 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
When he had finished reading he said to Michael Cassidy: “What can I do for you?” Just a bit of intimidation really.
The president was right. But his government wasn’t necessarily right.
Obviously we have a problem here.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a case in point. When Hitler, the elected leader, abused his power, the Lutheran Church struggled with the idea that you should disobey or worse still try to get rid of the Chancellor by any means, let alone by assassination. Bonhoeffer did participate in that movement. His ethics, put simply – were based on these kinds of ideas: “It is better to do evil than to be evil.” The Gestapo hanged him of course.
Martin Luther called on the German princes to crush the peasants when they revolted. The ensuing violence after the peasants’ revolt created a real crisis for him.
Simon Ponsonby writes that “Luther spoke of the Zwei-Reiche-Lehre, the two-kingdoms rule, arguing that God rules through the church as well as through kings and their governments. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)
Our decisions may not have the same drastic consequences as Bonhoeffer’s or Luther’s, but as Christians it is getting harder to manage the tension between the State and our faith.
This is not just about voting, but also about our own moral and ethical choices. For example, as a marriage officer, there is obvious tension when the State changes the law about marriage, and the law differs from one’s understanding of Christian marriage.
There are many other ethical issues including abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and others which create tensions in various ways. Christian doctors, nurses and researchers all have to work through some of these things.
WHAT DOES PAUL REALLY SAY?
Well here’s the thing. Chapter 13 follow chapter 12. And it seems that the 9-21 factor still applies here. Remember that from last week?
12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
God gives government. It’s for our good. Anarchy is not good. None of us would be safe without law. (Remember my children’s story about Rob Bell wanting to take revenge with a golf ball – throwing it out of the sunroof of the car to hit the car behind which cut him off? The kids loved that last week. Without law, he could simply drive him off the road or shoot him – so that our highways could look like a mad max movie.)
God gives government. Paul doesn’t specify which kind. That’s not the point. Democracy is a very modern thing anyway.
If we are not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good – then we are to be a good example in our behaviour in our wider lives too.
When Paul writes to Timothy he makes it clear that prayer for the authorities is our essential responsibility. And the outcome is good for society – for all us. Government is a gift from God – according to Emil Brunner – God’s involvement in government is called “preserving grace” – it is grace that preserves the good.
We need to add to that good – clinging to it (12:9) and overcoming evil with it (12:21).
The second-century church father Tertullian once declared that “Caesar is more ours than yours, for our God has appointed him” and that, because of their prayers for those in authority, “Christians do more than you [Romans] for his welfare”. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)
So Paul says:
Rom 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Rom 13:4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Rom 13:6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.
Look at the repeated words:
- Authorities and authority (exousisa – powers)
- Servant and servants (diakonos – minister)
- God (theos)
It is no coincidence that cabinet ministers are called ministers. The word is translated as servants. Admittedly they get paid a tad more than ministers in our churches. But the idea is the same.
They serve God – even if they don’t believe in God or know this. And they serve people.
And we are to pray for them with some intensity and unity – and give them the honour that is due. Verse 7 ends this passage with these words: Rom 13:7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.
So, in short:
- We submit
- We pray
And at times
- we do disobey.
Simon Ponsonby gives great examples when he writes:
Sometimes civil disobedience will be patently obviously required:
- Daniel refused to obey the edict to pray only to King Darius for thirty days, and was thrown in the lions’ den (Daniel 6).
- Peter and the apostles were forbidden by the Sanhedrin to preach the gospel, but they refused on the grounds that they should obey God not men (Acts 5: 29).
- Many Christians in the early centuries of the Roman empire chose martyrdom rather than hand over their sacred scrolls to be burned or blaspheme by declaring Caesar as lord.
- Some Christians, all too few, hid Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, rather than comply with the wicked law and hand them over to be exterminated. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 368). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)
Ponsonby goes on:
The rule of the state is part of God’s economy in this age. God gives, the church lives under good government, and the church sieves government.
Meanwhile we wait expectantly for the coming rule of Christ’s kingdom at his return, as Isaiah prophesied: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore” (Isaiah 9: 7). (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 369). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)
So keep praying and obeying in the meantime.