Revolutions Change Everything

November 14, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #9

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

Throughout this series of lessons, the idea that revolutions change everything has been a consistent thread. Revolutions by nature transform—they makeover what came before. Think of the recent entertainment “makeover” trend. Whether it was personal physical makeovers or the transformation of an old house—the results are always dramatic. Never featured in these programs is the person who lost only five pounds or the house that simply got a fresh coat of paint. That would attract no viewers. Instead the makeovers are revolutionary; the changes dramatic; leaving us astonished by the outcome.

Bring that idea into our next text of this study in Romans 12. Contextually Paul has finished his remarkable historically and theologically based presentation on God’s eternal will for the church to consist of both Jew and non-Jew. The first eleven chapters of Romans expounds upon his “there is neither Jew nor Greek” statement in Ephesians and expertly demonstrates the biblical case for it. It could only happen through Jesus—not the law. None are perfect. All (both Jew and Greek) deserve death (the “wages of sin”) but through Christ Jesus none (both Jew and Greek) are condemned. Having completed his thorough presentation of this, he turns to its application. What does this mean personally? What does it look like practically?

His answer? It kind of looks like a revolution!

Be Transformed!

One thing it is not, and that is to resemble is the way it was before—before Christ. Conforming to the old pattern—life without him—is not acceptable. Being completely transformed into new thinking, new goals, new behavior, and a totally new life is the result of “no condemnation” in Christ.

Everything changes. In the Roman context that started with how a Jew and Gentile thought of and treated each other in Christ. It also meant a great deal more which Paul details in chapters twelve through fifteen.

It can’t really be a revolution if only some things change. It cannot be a transformation if conforming to some patterns of the world linger. Like with the makeovers there must be a notable difference, such as, a Jew and Gentile eating together. This is the witness of the revolution in Christ—something astonishing, which can only find its reason in God.

This is what is so incredible about the Sermon on the Mount. The content of that message had not been heard before in that way. Little wonder those who heard Christ firsthand were astonished at his teaching (Matthew 7:28). In it he reset how we view the values of heaven. In it he announces the revolution that transforms everything!

Roman Echoes

There is little doubt and no mistake that Paul had this sermon on his mind in this section of Romans. Read particularly Romans 12:9-21 and echoes of Christ’s sermon abound. Paul understood this is the way of the transformation. This is what it looked like lived out—just as Jesus first proclaimed.

Not conforming, but transforming through a continuing devotion to renewal in Christ leads naturally and logically to embrace the way of Christ. It leads to the Sermon. It leads to a makeover. It leads to substantial, sweeping changes in all facets of life.

Not surprisingly it first leads to unblinking, honest self-evaluation. Before he ever recalls Christ’s teaching, Paul first urges an inward focus:

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in according with the measure of faith God has given you. (vs. 3)

Considering the racist tension in the Roman churches this was solid advice. Jews were not superior to non-Jews. Neither were Gentiles better than the Jewish Christians. All were sinners in need of Christ. So, for them, the revolution had to begin with an honest assessment of how they thought of themselves and their place in the kingdom, which, as Paul stated, was based not on heritage or ethnicity, but on the gifts of God.

Another way to understand this is—how can everything change for me; how can this transformation take place within me; how can the revolution be personally embodied if I think I do not need it? That it is just for the other guy? No way I can move forward fulfilling God’s kingdom plans for me if this is how I think.

True transformation demands that I give up those old notions that tend to entrench stubborn but damaging behaviors in order to accept the newness of the kingdom, which then enables me not only to see myself differently, but others also. The kingdom revolution creates therefore a place where there is neither Jew nor Greek, which Paul describes as “one body with many members,” working together through a variety of giftedness, “so in Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Each belonging to all the others!? If that was not revolutionary teaching in the context of the Roman churches, nothing possibly could be!

But it all starts with that personal makeover—a revolutionary transformation that leads me to rethink everything the kingdom way and accordingly reframing relationships, community, and behavior. How I approach all of that simply no longer reflects my pre-revolutionary life. Everything changes.

It is in this astonishing makeover that we can make bold statements about the kingdom of God.

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The Kingdom of Peace

October 23, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #6

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:7

In sorting through the tense situation created by the lawsuit between brothers in the Corinthian congregation it is clear that Paul was disappointed because they did not seek a spiritually based solution within the context of the church. Not only did this heighten the conflict amidst the congregation, it also took that disagreement public. Not a good look for that church in any possible way. This is why he used the term “defeated.” They had undermined their ability to witness to the harmony and peace of God and his kingdom to a world absent and in need of both.

The “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) is highly valued in the kingdom of God. Peacemakers are also highly valued (Matthew 5:9). Peace is so highly valued that—if necessary—we may be asked to sacrifice and release our personal rights to maintain it. That was exactly what Paul put before the Corinthians—be wronged or cheated if necessary to maintain the peace of the kingdom.

It is my guess that this probably was not an idea they immediately and gladly embraced—nor likely do we.

Godly Discernment

Our inclination to pursue our individual rights and interests is usually fairly strong. This is likely why the Corinthian lawsuit happened. Yet the kingdom puts forth this different ethic—one in which the rights and interests of others are to be valued even more than our own. Christ lived it. He died doing it. But that still does not make it necessarily inviting or attractive.

And there is a fine line involved here that calls upon mature, godly discernment. Our decisions are to be framed within the context of the kingdom. Jesus did what he did not for self-martyrdom or because he was weak or spineless. He made his choice to do the will of the Father because of the larger vision—the salvation of mankind. He made the revolutionary choice to put kingdom priorities above all else in order for (among other things) the peace of God to reign.

This—in a micro-sense—was what Paul was asking of those involved in the lawsuit. He was not asking them to be someone’s doormat; to continually, purposely put themselves in situations where they would be wronged; to go out of their way to be cheated; to somehow continually put up with someone’s sinful behavior. He was, however, asking them—within the context of that specific situation—to put the good of the kingdom above their own rights for the purpose of maintaining peace and solving conflict. In so doing they would not be disqualified to witness to others of the kingdom. (If revolutionaries abandon their principles, they cease to become revolutionaries.) It is about discerning situations and doing what is best for the kingdom within them—even if that means making personal sacrifices.

Peace—As far as it depends upon us

In all situations—promoting and maintaining peace is what is best for the kingdom. While conflict cannot always be avoided, the revolutionary idea of the kingdom is that even within strife, there can be peace—with this peace eventually winning the day and resolving the conflict, even if that means sacrificing to make it happen.

Listen to more from Paul:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18)

Peace in the Corinthian situation depended upon someone taking the loss. It was the kingdom way and this way was far better than the alternative in furthering the kingdom purpose. This, then, is the criterion. Do my actions reflect the kingdom? Are my choices harming or hindering it? Am I a being a peacemaker or troublemaker? Am I doing everything possible to live at peace? How would applying these principles have changed the dynamic in the Corinthian conflict? What about our conflicts?

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and those in authority, that we all may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Peaceful lives lived out within a community is what pleases God. It serves the kingdom purpose of seeking salvation for all. The Corinthian lawsuit had the opposite effect. Was it worth the damage just to pursue an individual right?

Peter adds:

Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone. Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:16-17)

Free men have rights—even then under the Roman system of government, but pursuing those rights at all costs is not the kingdom call. Something bigger is going on than just us. Peter’s teaching here indicates that. We live in relationship to others around us—within and without the church. We live in relationship with God and within a community of people. Within it all we are to be first and foremost servants of God. That shapes everything we do and how we relate to everyone else.

As far as it depends on us—to process everything through the lens of the kingdom; to understand something bigger is afoot than just us and our individual rights; to discern what is best in any given situation for the kingdom’s sake; and to make the choice that best reflects the will of God and maintaining peace—even if that means taking the loss, being wronged and cheated; all for the sake of that something bigger—the furtherance of the kingdom and the salvation of all men.

We do so understanding that if we truly seek first the kingdom of God, that all we may sacrifice to do so will be returned to us with even more blessings. That is the kingdom promise.


Redefining Personal Rights

October 19, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #5

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 1 Corinthians 6:7

The Corinthian Situation

These words were among those written by Paul in response to a letter he received from a lady named Chloe who was a part of the infant church in Corinth. Being a first generation church it was experiencing severe challenges transitioning from a secular worldview to a kingdom one. Chloe detailed those challenges to Paul and he responded. We know that response as the New Testament letter of 1 Corinthians.

The problems that plagued the Corinthian church were rooted in immaturity along with a lack of understanding (and embracing) of kingdom values. They had yet to be completely revolutionized. In the specific context of our scripture reference it was evident in their handling of some type of legal dispute among Christians. Instead of assisting those at odds and seeking a resolution within the church setting, this dispute spilled over into the greater community and into the secular court system. Paul was most displeased at this news.

“You have been completely defeated already.”

Instead of seeking outside counsel, Paul would have had them adjudicate the situation among themselves—making the case that the discernment of Christians (who are to judge the angels, he teaches) should be superior to that of ungodly outsiders. It was also a matter of perception—what kind of witness to the kingdom was this in their community? The entire situation was so shameful that Paul laments, stating how they were already defeated in their pursuit of the revolutionary values of the kingdom. Infighting? Lawsuits between Christians taken before unbelievers in the state court system? Not exactly the kind of kingdom revolution to which they were called.

So Paul offers another viewpoint on the situation and it, not unexpectedly, is quite different and revolutionary. If worse comes to worse. If the dispute cannot be resolved, then his divine advice was to take a loss, be wronged, and be cheated for the kingdom’s sake. If the dispute cannot be handled among the church; if a solution cannot be found within; do not take it to the courts; just take the loss. That is the kingdom way. The health, harmony, progress, and witness of the kingdom is worth far more than whatever gain was involved in winning the dispute.

Don’t be defeated by ungodly greed, revenge, and pursuit of personal rights at all costs. Allow kingdom values to reframe the approach even to the point of completely redefining personal rights.

While this was revolutionary then, it may be even more so for us now (with our deeply ingrained American “rugged individualism” and hard fought history of securing personal and civil rights). This revolution did not start with Paul however. As with all other kingdom related values, it has its roots in Christ.

Lose Life to Gain It

Embedded within the kingdom has always been a paradoxical idea about self-interests. It runs counter to our natural inclinations. Our nature calls upon us to pursue our self-interests above all else. If that means allowing a dispute with another Christian to spill over into court in order to prove my case and be vindicated—so be it—regardless of the collateral damage to the kingdom. But that is just not the kingdom way. Listen to Christ:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for may sake will find it.  What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:25-26)

Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians simply echoes these words of Jesus. In the kingdom there is a different personal ethic at play. Pursuing the kingdom shuffles the deck. No longer are my personal rights preeminent. No longer do I seek my self-interests above all else. No longer do I insist on having my way. And even if it comes to it—I am willing to be wronged and to be cheated for the kingdom sake. What good is it to win a lawsuit if it defeats my purpose within the kingdom? Instead I lose my life and in the process find an entirely different and more meaningful way to measure and value my life.

This is the revolutionary attitude and understanding that put Christ on the cross.

Our Attitude Should Be the Same as His

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Just how tough are these words to process for us? My guess is about like those who first heard Paul’s teaching in Corinth. Who wants to be wronged or cheated? Who really considers other’s better than themselves? Is it even possible to not have selfish ambition?

Again the answers to these questions are found in Christ. He was wronged. He was cheated. His only ambition was to submit to the Father’s will for our sake—so that we could find our life in him. And we are to emulate his attitude!

For a couple of Corinthian Christians involved in a dispute this meant forgoing the lawsuit as well as redefining what personal rights meant within the kingdom context. What does it mean for us? Using this Corinthian text as our backdrop we will explore that in the next few lessons.

The ideas put forth here are only found in the kingdom of God. Nowhere else is such an ethic found. Nowhere else but in the kingdom of the humble, meek, pure, and redeemed.

 


Closing the Gender Gap

October 5, 2017

The Kingdom Revolution #4

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28

Women in the Roman World

During much of the first century Roman world, which is the context of the New Testament, women were in no way considered equal to men and were regulated to certain well-defined roles. There were variations within this system due to social standing, wealth and other factors, but for the most part in the Roman culture the woman’s main role was to marry (usually very young), have numerous children (due to the high infant mortality rate), and take care of the home. Women from lower classes quite frequently held jobs outside of the home (in such areas as agriculture, markets,  crafts; as midwives and as wet-nurses, etc.), but were otherwise still very limited within the Roman culture.

Perhaps the best way to frame the existing gender gap is to understand the established Roman family system. Family units—wives, children, slaves—were headed by the most senior male within the family (the paterfamilias). He had all legal rights over his daughters until they were married (again often at an early age and often in an arranged marriage). Girls growing up in this system (among the more elite) would be given an education, but were always under the control of a male. After she married the control shifted to her husband. A proper Roman woman would busy herself with the details of her home, her children, spend her time weaving clothes for the family and taking care of the family needs. Even her name indicated her unequal status to men. It was the common practice that a daughter took her father’s name and feminized it. While legally should could inherit property, she would have to always have a male representing her interests in it. It was truly a heavily male-oriented culture. One writer bluntly states:

Roman women didn’t get equal rights with men. Roman law continued to insist that women could not be emperors, or be in the Roman Senate, or govern a province, or join the army. Men could beat or rape their wives, just as they beat and raped their slaves. A Roman woman could divorce her husband, but generally he kept the children. Women who were Slaves were frequently physically and sexually abused, and often saw their children killed or sold away from them. (From Women in Ancient Rome by K.E. Carr) 

Another historian notes:

A dichotomy existed within the lives of Roman women. They did have some personal freedoms, but they had little chance for individuality or personal choice. They were under the constant supervision of their fathers, male relatives, and husbands, who regularly kissed them on the mouth to find out if they had drunk wine. Drinking wine was strictly forbidden for Roman women and they could be punished by death. In Memorable Deeds and Sayings from the first century AD, Maximus tells us how Egnatius Metellus beat his wife to death for drinking wine. It was believed that wine caused women to have adulterous relationships, which were very common since so many marriages took place for political or economic reasons, not for love or passion. Women found to have committed adultery could be put to death by their fathers or guardians. Women often married men who were much older than themselves. They married whoever they were told to. (from Ancient Roman Women: A Look at their Lives by Moya K. Mason)

These two quotes, then demonstrate how, in general, women were viewed and treated in Paul’s context when he wrote the Galatian letter. To be fair there were exceptions to this (women with three children and freedwomen with four children had expanded legal rights for instance) and at the close of the first century a notable change within the empire occurred granting women heretofore unprecedented rights (coincidence?)

All One in Christ Jesus

So to those who first heard these words of Paul, they had to sound quite radical and revolutionary. Nowhere else within that context would they had been spoken. Religiously, women within Rome did participate and occasionally even lead certain rites and rituals (Vestal Virgins for instance—serving the Roman goddess, Vesta), but in no way were they considered equal with men. Jewish women, in general, enjoyed a slightly more elevated position within their culture, but again, theirs was also a male-dominated existence. The idea then that there is neither male nor female was then quite shocking!

Meaning and Practice

Obviously Paul was not suggesting some type of absence or denial of gender or gender roles. Just as with the other relationships he addresses in our Galatian text, the idea put forth is that in the kingdom everyone is elevated equally through Christ and by the grace of God. Male and female, therefore, in God’s kingdom all have equal status; equal access to the blessings and rewards of the kingdom; they are equally valued and needed within the kingdom; and they should be treated with mutual respect and honor. In God’s kingdom women are in no way inferior to men and should not be treated as such. Jesus died to make it so.

This high value of women is noted throughout the New Testament and within the church. Note Paul’s specific mention of many women within the churches in his letters (in Romans 16 for instance). This kind of recognition and praise was most uncommon.

Gifted women are named throughout the New Testament (Phoebe, who was a deaconess—Romans 16:1-2; Phillip’s prophetic daughters—Acts 21:9; Dorcas the dressmaker—Acts 9:36-43; Priscilla, co-teacher of the gospel with her husband—Acts 18; Eunice and Lois, Timothy’s mother and grandmother—2 Timothy 1:5). And while men were given the overall headship and spiritual leadership within the home and the church (Ephesians 5:22-23; 1 Corinthians 11:3), along with that is a rather revolutionary idea that within the home there is a mutual submission also practiced (Ephesians 5:21); that men are to love their wives just as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25) and as he loves himself, showing her respect (Ephesians 5:33). Beyond the home, Paul also indicates that women used their giftedness within the church—women praying and prophesying within the assembly (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).

As we process this teaching—at a point and place in which women have historically unprecedented rights and equality—they likely do not resonate as strongly as they did within the first century. Women then hearing a message of equality; of respectful treatment; of a place that valued her gifts; had to wonder if it were true. For men hearing the message it was nothing short of scandal. But it was a message flowing directly out of the grace, love and mercy of God; a message of how different his kingdom was from any other; a message, again, that eventually changed an empire.

For anyone paying attention though, it is not that shocking. Look no further than Christ’s incredible treatment and acceptance of women within his ministry. He truly is the great equalizer. Only through him could this happen—neither male nor female. Remember the overarching goal is unity in him. He bridges the gap between slave and free; he overcomes the hostility between Jew and Greek. He closes the gender gap. In his kingdom all are welcome and all are equal. Everyone has a place. Everyone has a gift. Everyone is needed. It is the revolution of the kingdom—a revolution still ongoing.

Let’s just be sure we are among the revolutionaries in advancing the kingdom in every way and all of the blessings within it available to everyone.


Five Reasons Why Churches Won’t Grow

September 19, 2017

dying church

Although never voiced I have discovered that there is usually a degree of internal institutional opposition when it comes to church growth. It is not just that churches don’t grow; often it is they won’t grow. Here are five reasons why:

  • Lack of intentionality. For a church to grow it must plan to grow. It must be purposeful in evangelism. It must expect growth along with anticipating how to manage it. A church that grows is intentional about sharing God’s message; intentional about being hospitable to guests; intentional about assimilating new members in a healthy fashion; intentional about building meaningful relationships. They intentionally plant, water and are ready when God gives the increase.
  • Maxed out leadership. This includes maxed out vision for the church body and maxed out ability to manage the church body. A church will grow only as far as its leadership envisions and leads. When a leadership settles for status quo so does the church. Growing churches have leaders who walk by faith, not sight; who raise up new leaders to share in and expand their vision while escaping burnout; and who create an atmosphere for growth.
  • Apathy. Often churches are inwardly focused—more concerned and urgent about members needs then about outreach. This challenges every church. But beware! Apathy may be comfortable, but apathy dooms churches.
  • Fear. Fear is apathy’s partner. Fear presents all sorts of barriers (both real and imagined) to growth. Fear paralyzes leadership. Fear stymies vision, innovation, boldness and outreach. According to the Bible it is a spirit foreign to God.
  • Tradition. Tradition can be healthy. Some ritual is God-ordained–an essential and extremely meaningful part of our church life. Tradition helps define us as a community of faith, but frequently tradition can also be limiting to growth. Because we have never done it that way before does not necessarily mean it cannot be done that way. If tradition or traditional thinking is limiting a church’s ability to evangelize, then there should be a reevaluation of that tradition and thinking.

Avoid these not-so fab five at all costs! They are preventing churches everywhere from realizing the potential God sees within them for outreach and growth. Haven’t we let them stop us long enough?

(Bible verses referenced include 1 Corinthians 3:7; 11:23-26; 2 Corinthians 5:7 & 2 Timothy 1:7)

 

 

 

 


Why So Isolating?

June 19, 2017

iso cell phone

I was reminded again recently while grocery shopping with my wife in our local ubiquitous gigantic one-size-fits-all store about how things have changed within my lifetime. As a child I have fond memories of walking the few blocks from my house to our neighborhood grocery market—Lucky Food Store in Greenville, MS. It was small but adequate. Folks frequenting this store knew each other. I could go there unaccompanied at a young age, browse for comic books on the rack while feeling safe and at home. It was a community of sorts.

I felt none of that familiarity in Wal-Mart. No knock on them—it is just the way of things now. It also made me contemplate what is next. Soon it appears the need to shop in the big stores will transition out. On the horizon is online grocery shopping. Need milk and bread? Just order it up on the website and have a drone deliver it to your door. Convenient for sure, but healthy? Maybe not.

What is getting squeezed out in our technology is contact with people, relationship and community. In all of the convenience we are increasingly isolating ourselves.

Everyone seems to have their own personal screen. Just look around the next time you are in a public space. You probably will notice more folks looking down at their phone than interacting with each other. This occurs in homes as well. Vanishing are our dinner times together or even shared TV watching. We are segregating by our own streaming preferences—just me and my screen.

And when was the last time you enjoyed a nice telephone chat with a friend? We text, message, tweet, and maybe still email. They all serve a purpose. Social media is here to stay, but no amount of proficiency with or time spent on social media replaces the benefits of personal contact.

Then there is this. It seems that even the old standby business lunch is fading and being replaced by people eating alone at their desks.

So why my lament about all of this?

God created us not to be isolated, but for community and he created a community for us that we call church. From the beginning God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Our trending isolationism is not healthy emotionally, physically or spiritually. God’s community was designed for personal relationship, hospitality and fellowship. Those cannot be experienced through a screen.

Sure it gets messy sometimes (just read any of Paul’s New Testament letters), but it is worth the struggle. The community and connectivity we enjoy in Christ is but only a glimpse of the fully realized and shared kingdom of heaven that is to come.

This post is not meant to be a deep study of the dangers of our increasing trend for isolation or a detailed discussion of the need for community together as believers.

Certainly it is a lament—loneliness is more common than we imagine—but it is also meant to hopefully spur us to rethink our own tendency to isolate—if we do.

So, invite someone to lunch. Demonstrate hospitality in your home. Put the screen down and engage someone the next time you are in a public area. Enjoy a meal together with your family. Call someone on the phone just to chat. Start up a conversation with a fellow shopper in the big box superstore. Go to church—regularly. Meet someone new there. Hug an old friend. Celebrate God’s community. Discover the blessings within it.

It is not good for us to always be alone.


God and Government #2

October 18, 2016

Here is the second lesson in this series. 

The first major text dealing with Christian’s relationship with the government under which they live is found in Romans 13:1-7.

To fully process this text we must first firmly root it in its original context. The target audience for this teaching was Christians—both Jew and Greek—living in first century Rome, the capital of the vast Roman Empire. An empire by definition is “an extensive group of states or countries under a single supreme authority, formerly especially an emperor or empress.” It is important to the text to grasp the type of government under which they lived. It was not a representative form of government in any way. Those who were citizens (like Paul) did have some rights and civil liberties (such as appealing directly to Caesar to ultimately arbitrate legal matters—Acts 22-28), but it was not democracy. So we first must try to hear and process Romans 13:1-7 through their ears, lives and experiences.

One contextual situation that no doubt formed—at least in part—the occasion for this teaching concerned the civil disobedience rampant among parts of the Jewish community. This had earlier created the banishment of the Jewish population of Rome under Emperor Claudius in 49 A.D. (in which Apulia and Priscilla were caught up- Acts 18:1-2. It also was the background for much of the Jew/Greek problem within the church in Rome that prompted Paul to write the letter). Knowing this and the damage it caused the Jews, Paul realized that this type of rebellion against established government would be counterproductive to spreading the gospel and to the reputation of Christians within that community. He did not want the church to get caught up in such civil unrest.

From an immediate contextual perspective, this body of teaching seems to flow from the previous teaching in chapter twelve concerning blessing those who persecute, repaying good for evil, not seeking revenge, and doing everything possible to live at peace with everyone. This divine advice mirrors the teaching of Christ- who did not embrace the radical agenda of the Jewish Zealots of his day, but chose rather to be obedient to the governing powers (even though they were unjust and killed him).

The ultimate goal Paul was seeking in this section of teaching was to urge the church in Rome not to engage in any type of civil disobedience that would bring undue attention to the church and hinder their ability to spread the gospel of Christ. Instead they were to submit to their civic governmental context and work within it as good citizens (as he himself was doing) to allow every opportunity for the gospel to be spread and influence their community.

TEXTUAL POINTS

From the text we learn:

  • Paul presents a positive picture of government. It is to be seen as established by God for the purposes of punishing wrongdoers and as such it serves God’s purposes.
  • Rebelling against the God-ordained government equals rebelling against God and brings about a judgment.
  • “Everyone” is to submit to the governmental powers and not be in rebellion against them. Considering their context this was wise advice because Rome could and did act swiftly to eradicate rebellious and subversive activity (as they did against the Jewish community in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) The Christian’s responsibility within their governmental context is to “do what is right” – not just for fear of punishment but because it is the right thing to do (“conscience”- vs. 5)
  • Doing what is right includes paying the various taxes required by government and paying your debts.

Coupled with the other NT texts previously mentioned we see a consistent ethic put forth. Jesus agrees that taxes should be paid (Matthew 22:21). The Romans teaching agrees with Paul’s words to Timothy concerning living a quiet and respectful life within a community (1 Timothy 2:1-4). And Peter echoes the idea of respect and submission to the king and those in governmental authority- as well as emphasizing that in doing so it would best present the gospel message and silence critics (1 Peter 2:13-17).

To really grasp the impact of the Roman text (and the others) is to understand that Christianity was this fledgling movement operating among misunderstandings, suspicion, and opposition in the cities where it had taken root. On one hand it was opposed by most of the Jewish establishment (which often spread salacious rumors about the church) and was viewed by many Roman authorities as simply a splinter sect of the troublesome Jewish community- and therefore untrustworthy and suspicious. So, this teaching was crucial to establishing that Christians were not the threat to the empire so perceived. The call was to be good citizens, live at peace, and conform as completely as possible (sometimes- according to the demands of the ruling powers- complete conformity was impossible- Acts 5:29) to governmental powers so as to give the gospel every opportunity to take root and flourish. This indeed is one major way they could live out the transformation to which they were called (Romans 12:1-2). Such a lifestyle would differentiate Christians from others (especially the Jews who were constantly a problem for Rome).

LIVING OUT THE TEXT TODAY

Reading the text through 21st century filters leaves us with many questions. What if a governmental system is not just? Should we live peacefully within a form of government that oppresses and promotes evil? If Christians fall under persecution what should be our response? Is it okay to participate in activities designed to overthrow evil governments? Can we participate in peaceful protest? Should we become involved in the governmental process?

To address this- we first must remember that the Roman texts (and others) were not written specifically to answer these questions. They were context specific. (In fact, it was only a few years after Paul wrote this that Roman Christians faced horrific persecution under Nero and persecution was at times and in places- harsh for Christians until Constantine).  So just what does this text have to say about the above questions? These are not easy questions to answer but ones we will consider/pursue/answer through this study.