Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
How To Get Along in the World
One of the most interesting news stories I ever covered while a television reporter was the story of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus spoke about - no, this kingdom was located a few miles east of Salem, Oregon - the state capitol.
This kingdom was set up by a man who figured because he was a Christian, he was no longer covered by the laws of this society. So he created his own drivers license, plates, and decided that he was not liable for any property taxes. The courts of Marion County had another view - and eventually seized the land and sold it at auction - imagine that, the Kingdom of Heaven sold on eBay!
Anyway - this man fell into a common misconception among some Christians - or folks claiming to be Christian - that is, as members of God's kingdom we don't have to obey the laws of this world.
In Chapter 12 of Romans, Paul the Apostle gave us a "quick start" guide for how the individual is to live with God, with himself, and with those around us. Now in Chapter 13 he talks about how the Christian, with a renewed mind, is supposed to live in society. Not only does he say that we should obey the laws of the land - but obey even when those laws don't make sense. In the process he reveals principals for getting along in the world.
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.
Okay - two problems already. First - we must "submit" to the "governing authorities." The word "submit" is the Greek word used dozens of times in the New Testament.
It's a military term, primarily, and it means "to rank under." In the military, they train and train and train so that when an order is given, the troops respond perfectly without having to think and rearrange and figure it out - otherwise the enemy would be upon them before they could get organized. This happens by ranks - the general gives the "big picture" order, which his officers interpret according to their section of the force and pass it down accordingly to the enlisted men.
The General might say: "we need to take this area in order to route the enemy." By the time that gets to the private its: "Charge up this hill and take out that machine gun nest." With everyone doing their part the battle is hopefully won as the machine works with precision.
If the private decides - "no, I think it would be better if I stayed here and took a nap" the squad's task would be more difficult - and if everyone decided in their own way what to do - the General's orders would not be fulfilled.
So in society we are to submit to the government. When the government passes a law that says "don't drive over 65 miles an hour" then should submit to that, we should obey that law - as I'm sure we all do. If we all decided that speed laws weren't a good idea for us and drove 100 miles an hour then there would be a terrible rash of accidents and people would die.
It's not important whether you believe that 65 is the right speed - but if it's the law, then we should obey.
Now, you say, what about laws that conflict with God's character? Glad you asked. In the military there is such a thing as an illegal order. There are processes whereby a soldier can make a commanding officer prove the legality of an order - like ordering genocide, for instance.
Well, in society, if a law directly conflicts with the laws of God, then we have to obey God. For instance - when the Jews told Peter and John not speak the name of Jesus anymore - he said: Acts 4:19Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.
But, for the most part, we aren't going to see this kind of thing - and we should do our best to "rank under" the laws of society so that we are all safer and cared for. So what about bad rulers - like Hitler, or Sadaam Husein? You mean God sets them up too? Yes - but it doesn't mean that they are good, or that they are saved - but God will use them as pawns. Thank God we don't serve a dictator - and remember that Paul wrote this in Roman times - under terrible dictators.
Paul makes this obedience he talks about even more imperative - listen to this:
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.
Why is this?
3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.
See - so God establishes earthly authority to punish the wrong doers and reward those who do right. If there were no civil authority, do you think those bent on doing evil would waste one minute creating total anarchy in society?
Our problem is that we want it both ways - we want to be protected, but we don't want anyone messing in our business. Read on:
Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 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.
You mean that if I break the law and get punished the government is God's servant? Isn't the world under the control of Satan? Isn't it evil? Well - I'll tell you this - at the beginning Paul said God sets up governments - and here government is God's servant when punishing wrongdoers.
It doesn't mean that government takes the place of God's judgment on the sinner - but God made governments to help people get along.
5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
So its even more than just obeying because you are afraid of being punished - Paul says it is a matter of conscience. What does this mean?
We should obey because it is the right thing to do - to have the attitude - "well no one's looking now so I can do whatever I want" is I think contrary to the kind of person God is making us.
The law is filled with "don't"s - don't kill, don't steal - but Jesus said that the law is summed up in two concepts - both of which are positives - love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we would follow those principals all the time, even when the "law" isn't looking, we don't have any problems.
Of course - that doesn't apply to paying taxes - does it?
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Ya - Paul says we should pay our taxes - plain and simple. Jesus said the same thing - "give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's"
In a larger sense I think what Paul is saying is that government is not the enemy - but God's servant. Now does it always work right? No. Does it always follow the best example of Christ? No. That's certainly the case in the culture Paul was writing to - Nero was Emperor over Rome - a cruel and terrible man. And yet in that context Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to pay taxes and respect the government.
Why? I'll get to that in a moment - as illuminated by another apostle - Peter. But next Paul gives us what has become to some a stumbling block:
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
The King James translates the first part of this verse as "owe no man anything." To some that suggests that all borrowing is unscriptural. They say that you should wait until you have the money, and then make the purchase.
On the other side - we are a society of debtors. We put everything on credit - mounting to billions in consumer debt and leading to 1.5 million bankruptcies in 2001.
So what is Paul really saying - I think the NIV captures it - borrowing is okay - not paying back is not. I won't argue the merits of bankruptcy here - this isn't a financial management seminar - but the principal is, if you borrow, pay it back.
But what I think Paul is really saying doesn't involve owing money, it centers around owing love - the one debt we can never repay. Remember - we're talking about our role in society - Paul says, be responsible, obey the law, pay your taxes, give the government respect - but even when you've done all those things and think you've fulfilled all of your obligations to society, there is one debt you can never pay back - and that is the debt of love. We should never stop loving. It's not an obligation we can fulfill, but a charge for us to follow - always.
Paul goes on to sum it up this way:
9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
You see, often laws and regulations tell us what we shouldn't do, but the ultimate law of God tells us what we should do - love. You see, if we all followed the law of love, there would be no need for the laws against murder or stealing or coveting.
Why is this important? Because of two things - where we live and where we are going.
11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Understand the present time - each day that passes brings us closer to the day when Jesus returns. When He comes back what will He find us doing? Sometimes I think we as Christians think that we are playing some kind of game or are in a play - we are simply playing the part of the Christian. Paul is telling us to wake up - this is serious business - lives are at stake - and we need to rise to a higher standard than just feigned obedience to societal laws - we need to embrace the higher calling of love, and the higher responsibility of turning our lives over the Jesus for His use.
Paul says: Put aside the deeds of darkness, and put on the armor of light. When you start each day what do you do? Do you get up and feel all grody and your mouth feels awful with morning breath? So you get in the shower and wash off all the sweat and dirt and oil - then you put on fresh clothes and then brush off all the junk that formed in your mouth over night - now you are all fresh and clean - physically. But what about spiritually?
How about if we started each day by praying - Lord, forgive me for what I have done that is not in concert with Your character in the last day - cleanse me from all that I saw or heard or experienced that drew me towards the world instead of towards You - take a spiritual shower- then ask the Lord to clothe you with Christ - put on the armor of light.
We could say: Father, fill me with your Spirit today, make me strong and able to withstand temptation - fill me with wisdom to know what You want me to say and do today, Lord place angels in my path and Your Word in my mouth to do battle against the enemy and persuade others to make You their Lord.
Paul goes on:
13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Here we see both physical actions and mental attitudes - both are important as we put on the armor of light. Two things here - clothe yourself with Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the flesh.
To clothe means to "sink into a garment." As we put on our fresh physical clothes in the morning, also pray that we will sink into fresh spiritual clothes as well. Remember, the Bible tells us that we are hidden in Christ, and when the Father looks at us He sees His Son - sink into the Lord so that your character and actions and attitudes mirror His - not by your own power, but by the Spirit's power in you.
Then secondly - don't think about the flesh - the King James says "make no provision" for the flesh. The idea is of forethought.
James 1:13-15 When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Sin, most of the time, doesn't just pounce on us like a leopard in the jungle - but it happens gradually - we see an image, we feel an emotion, we hear a familiar set of words - and it begins to act on us - we start thinking in certain ways, temptation comes along and entices us to sin - we feed it, little by little, until we decide to act in a way we know we shouldn't.
Instead - we need to put temptation on a diet. We do that by crushing it in its early stages - crush it with prayer, worship, repeating God's Word, getting help from a brother or sister - and cutting ourselves off from the supply.
If that means we avoid certain places or people or activities - so be it.
So to sum up:
Recognize that government is God's servant - He is ultimately in charge
Do your part to obey the civil authorities where you can
Go above and beyond what's required to bring God's love to the world around you
Take a spiritual shower and cloth yourself with Christ, while starving the flesh