71: Altar Perspectives

Or, Where Self-Absorbed Attitudes Go to Die

August 13, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 12:14–16

We’re back for more *altar commitments*, as in, more of what life as a living sacrifice looks like. A bunch of this applies to body life; if the individual members of the body used their gifts for the body and then treated one another according to these “one anothers” in verses 9-21, we’d be built up and blessed. Paul gives us more of the Ancient Jealousable Ways, and verses 14-16 are particularly outside the world’s pattern.

These are commitments for what living sacrifices look like, but also *altar perspectives*, *how* living sacrifices look. These perspectives put our self-absorbed attitudes up on the altar to die.

For the first time we hit actual imperatives in the original text. Verse 14 alone has three of them, and there’s another one that finishes verse 16. But, as in verses 9-13, there are some secondary verbs that should be taken as modifiers, which hardly any of the typical English translations recognize. I’d propose this way of reading the passage:

> **Bless** the ones persecuting you;

> **bless** and **do not curse**.

> [**Seek**] *to rejoice* with those rejoicing,

> *to weep* with those weeping.

> *Thinking* the same toward one another,

> *not thinking* highly,

> but *associating* with the lowly,

> **do not be wise** according to yourself.

We’ve considered in verses 9-13 the requirements to Love Discriminately, Honor Surpassingly, and Christian Zealously, and there are three more in these verses. There’s plenty to make your teeth hurt so good, like biting into orange juice concentrate.

# Bless Transcendently (verse 14)

Don’t fake love, don’t phone in serving the Lord, be helpful to those with needs, so said verses 9-13. While that actually can be challenging enough, verse 14 takes the challenge up to another level. In fact, obedience here it requires seeing beyond the field immediately in front of you.

> **Bless** those who persecute you;

> **bless** and **do not curse** them.

To **bless** has obvious verbal implications. First, it’s built into the word; *eulogeo* is from *eu* meaning good/well and *logeo* meaning speak, so “good wording” or “speaking well,” so our word eulogy means a speech of praise. Second, it’s contrasted with cursing (and with reviling elsewhere), which is also primarily associated with words.

But blessing others in the Bible is more than a spoken formula, it includes the desire for the other person to receive good - beyond what the situation calls for. For Christians, when we bless someone else, we want God’s special favor to be given. We bless our kids, we bless our friends, we want God to give them good. Here we are commanded to bless our hostiles, “the ones persecuting you.” This is a substantival participle, characterizing the ones who harass, pressure, and attack. Bless *them*.

Remember that this is the first explicit command since verse 9, and it is immediately repeated and followed with a prohibition. To **curse** is more than to complain, though it includes that. It’s to desire the harm and/or misery of someone else, invoking supernatural power to bring about the pain. You almost always have a *reason* to get back at them. Be careful little mouth what you say. There’s much more about this in verses 17-21.

Since we’ve got more than Romans, I think this is encouraging:

> Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9 ESV)

It is the Christian’s calling to do the contrary than be conformed to the world’s ways *so that* we may obtain a blessing. That requires faith, a transcendent perspective and trust in the “faithful Creator” who works suffering for good while we’re doing good (see 1 Peter 4:19).

Jesus taught that it is no big deal to love those who love you; loving lovers is the natural, *worldly* way (Matthew 5:44, 46). What if the ones persecuting you are the government? What if they are a business—that you paid for—with shoddy products/service? The primary context is interpersonal, but if your reactions are as self-absorbed as the world’s, then don’t expect to obtain great blessing yourself.

# Relate Sympathetically (verse 15)

There is no explicit command in verse 15, but two parallel phrases that start with infinitives. Rather than understand the command “be (something)” as in the previous verses, here something such as “seek” or “pursue” works better.

> [**Seek**] *to rejoice* with those who rejoice,

> *to weep* with those who weep.

There are “rejoicers” and there are “weepers.” To the Corinthians Paul had them connected within the church body:

> If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV)

In the previous verse we wouldn’t think of persecutors as being brothers in Christ, but we’re also not supposed to think the same thing as non-Christians like in the following verse. We can at least say that this verse applies to rejoicers/weepers we worship with, and yet there are ways that we can relate even to unbelievers.

It is mean to delight in another person’s loss, but it is a different challenge to celebrate with their victories. The temptations to envy are legion compared to the temptations to being aloof.

This is good, old-fashioned sympathy, shared *pathos*, understanding between people and having a common feeling. So compassion represents a suffering with, a concern for the pains of others. It’s mutually exclusive with self-absorbed attitudes.

There is discrimination involved. If the other person is weeping that his adultery didn’t work out, you should rejoice in that. If she is weep-cursing her neighbor, don’t have a good gripe-session. Give the benefit of the doubt, and also don’t believe everything they say, at least not right away. Don’t complain with those who complain-weep, and for that matter, don’t immediately criticize those who weep as complainers.

Don’t sing songs to a troubled heart (Proverbs 25:20), and also, don’t curse those who are trying to help, even if clumsily.

# Think Accommodatingly (verse 16)

There is an explicit imperative in verse 16, but comes at the end. Three participles (the verbs ending in -ing) before it prepare the way.

> *Thinking* the same toward one another,

> *not thinking* highly,

> but *associating* with the lowly,

> **do not be wise** according to yourself.

The first phrase is turned into a command differently by some good translations: “Live in harmony with one another” (ESV) or “Be of the same mind toward one another” (NASB), but it could be “the same thing unto one another **thinking**.” The nuance of this word for thinking might be about carefully considering your opinion about a thing (BAGD). As it modifies the imperative coming at the end of the verse, it means that this is required, and so a kind of shared thinking is to be *pursued*. You can try it, make progress toward it. Harmony requires adjustments on *your* part.

The same participle for **thinking** is used in the second phrase, with a negative for being “high,” and so figuratively referring to what is haughty, proud. This is apparently a big deal to Paul, since he stated it in 12:3 too, don’t be “high-thinking.”

In contrast we (gladly) bring ourselves to be **associating** with the lowly. Again, we adjust ourselves. We accommodate, which has the idea of providing space or even adapting the space so that things will fit. We adapt, we get our bearings where they belong, not thinking that we are all that.

So the final imperative, **Do not be thinking (self-smart) in the sight of yourself**, is a play on words. Think accommodatingly not alienating-ly. Watch out when you estimate your perspective to be better than everyone else’s, when you think of yourself as the standard rather than thinking of yourself in light of the standard, and along with others. This is ancient wisdom: Do not lean on your own understanding, be not wise in your own eyes (Proverbs 3:5, 7). Those who are self-absorbed are notoriously relentless and invulnerable to insight (Edwin Friedman).

# Conclusion

These altar perspectives are more of the Ancient Jealousable Ways. All these require that we life from faith to faith, living in an awareness of God’s oversight and governance. We must put our preoccupations with our own feelings, our own concerns, up on the altar to die.


## Charge

Don’t be a blessing bully. Be sure that a rejoicing brother is rejoicing in *evil* before you try to “bless” him by confronting his rejoicing as wrong. Likewise, there is a time to weep and a time to mourn; don’t “bless” them by demanding a dance out of season. Likewise likewise, if you can/must bless those who persecute you, then you can bless those who misunderstand what you’re going through. There is no third line (in Romans 12:15), “Be angry with those who didn’t rejoice or weep with you as they should have.” That’s not a blessing either.

## Benediction:

> Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

> The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11, 14, ESV)

More from Romans

76: The Powers That Be (Pt 4)

September 17, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

It’s time to wrap up our observations on Romans 13:1-7, though we’re in for a lifetime of application. Some of the next few months might feel like a “lifetime.” I don’t really expect to answer *all* the questions about our relationship to civil authorities, partly because it takes a lifetime of “constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). That said, we can keep working to develop our discernment powers. We’ve outlined the whole paragraph over three previous messages. Verse 1 calls every person to submit himself to governing authorities because all governing authority has been instituted by God. Verse 2 concludes that resisting authorities whom God has appointed will result in God-approved judgment. Verses 3-4 profile the purpose of governing authorities, namely that they’ve been delegated to promote good conduct and punish bad conduct, even to the death penalty. Verse 5 clarifies that we ultimately answer to God for our submission or lack of it. And verses 6-7 make clear that our support of the government should be both pecuniary and postural, paying taxes and honor. These verses teach in principle that the sphere of civil authority is God-given, and so to be seen by us as good and supported by us for our own good. In principle we learn that civil authorities are God’s servants, and so our default position should be that of submission. God has given us rulers and rules and we’re to be submissive and tax-paying citizens. And all God’s people said, “But what about…?” Or, all God’s people said, “You and what army?” I am going to attempt to answer, in principle, some of our responsibilities when the governors are *not* fulfilling their delegated responsibilities. This question has been asked before, not just by Junius Brutus, but by the sweet psalmist of Israel (as David is called in 2 Samuel 23:1): > “if the foundations are destroyed, > what can the righteous do?” > (Psalm 11:3 ESV) Seven considerations/consolations to cheer our souls when the cares of our hearts, especially regarding wicked rulers, are many (see Psalm 94:19-10). # There Is a Higher Throne (1) We do not care about governors governing for state/society’s good more, or more carefully, than God Himself. The LORD is God, God is the ultimate authority. He is the only Sovereign who determines the allotted periods and boundaries of every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26). After asking what the righteous can do (Psalm 11:3), the faithful are encouraged that: > “The LORD is in His holy temple; > the LORD’s throne is in heaven; > His eyes see, His eyelids test the children of man. > The LORD tests the righteous, > but His soul hates the wicked and the one > who loves violence. > (Psalm 11:4-5) Not only do we not care about earthly authorities as much as God, but not one of us comes close to the LORD’s delight in His Anointed, in His Son, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given (Matthew 28:18). Jesus Christ will be recognized as King of kings and Lord of lords on earth at His second coming (1 Timothy 6:14-15, Revelation 17:14, 19:16). We must learn to laugh along with the Father who holds the rebellious rulers in derision (Psalm 2, see especially verses 4 and 7-8 and 12). “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him,” and this is necessarily true for *all* nations, not just Israel. This means that as Christians we must care about what God cares about, we must honor His highest throne, and we must “fret not…because of evildoers” who “will soon fade like the grass” (Psalm 37:1). This is not a political punt on difficult questions, but it is the necessary perspective of faith. This is a reminder that “our citizenship…in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) colors all our submission on earth. # De Facto or De Jure or De Bate (2) First of all, I was helped to see that I was saying the second option wrong, it should be *day JOOR-ay*. We might not be able to fix the President’s dementia, but I can at least fix my pronunciation. De facto means “of fact” or in fact, whether by right or not. De jure means “of law” or according to rightful entitlement or claim. (De bate is just my playful addition about the debate.) When it comes to the governing authorities in Romans 13, is Paul talking about *rightful* rulers or about *whatever* rulers? Think of an example close to home: if an elected official stole the election, must we submit to that cheater? The text itself answers: “the powers that be” (KJV), “those that exist” (ESV). In Latin law terms, Paul is talking about whatever governing authorities are in place, the de facto ones. But that only helps us so much. Our responsibility is higher than this. It doesn’t matter if the authority got his power through all the right channels if he legislates the doing of evil. We cannot do evil “for sake of conscience” (Romans 13:5). And if the authority got his power illegitimately, we still must do good and not evil, whether or not he inconsistently promotes good law later. That said, doing good might include challenging the de facto’s fraud. Perhaps more difficult is when others *act* as if they are an authority; ruling in rhetoric instead of ruling in reality. Brother doesn’t submit to brother, just because he’s older or bigger does not make him the boss. If you got a bill from the Canadian Prime Minister for using maple syrup, you don’t have to pay it. The Colonists had an agreement with the King George III, not with Parliament, so by *law* Parliament wasn’t their authority. That said, we know that they eventually went to war to be free from the overreach. But on the basic point, the colonists were submitting to what was lawful. Scripture is full of examples of God’s appointment of wicked rulers as a scourge to wicked people. That said, Scripture also provides us with laments over it not silent, “sit there and take it” acquiescence. We pray for judgment on those rulers, and prophets call rulers and the people to repent and fear the Lord. Whether de facto or de jure doesn’t change our responsibility to do good, even if it takes wisdom to know what is the best good to do. # Paper or Persons (3) I’ve mentioned previously the observation that Paul doesn’t use the word “law” even once in this paragraph. He consistently talks about the servant-rulers not about their standard for rules. The Romans were known for establishing a legal system, with a decent set of agreeable, knowable, consistent laws, but whatever might have been on paper had to be enforced by persons. For us, as citizens of the United States, all our laws are on paper…somewhere, probably, if you can find it, or understand it. For us to apply/obey Romans 13:1, we expect the president to fulfill his oath: > "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." (From the [Inauguration oath of office](https://www.usa.gov/inauguration#:~:text=the%20u.s.%20constitution%3a-,%22I%20do%20solemnly%20swear%20(or%20affirm)%20that%20I%20will,Constitution%20of%20the%20United%20States.%22)) We say “no one is above the law” in reference to presidents, governors, legislators, judges, and law enforcement persons. We have a national Constitution with Amendments, we have a WA State Constitution, we have RCWs (Revised Code of Washington), along with County and City laws. Who, or what document, do we have to listen to? It’s been said, when everyone is special, then no one is special. Well, when everyone is a lawyer, we all hate one another. Due to the corruption in our day, laws have about the same use as a batting average, interesting to argue about but no guarantee you ever get another hit. In a land where the happiness of the people is promoted, the laws are easy to find, easy to understand, and expected to be upheld. We are not in a happy place, whether men “frame injustice by statute” to “build disorder” (Psalm 94:20), or to provide cover under confusion, or enough people with enough power ignore the laws to make it miserable for everyone. Words have to matter, with definitions for terms that don’t change, even when the words are on paper. Most of the chastisement, though, comes from pietistic, milk-of-the-Word drinkers, who read that submission is right, and are looking for the simplest understanding of that. The aftermath of so many court cases post 2020 has shown that churches that disobeyed the governors/persons were not the ones disobeying the law/papers, and so have won their cases. It’s not surprising when criticisms come from the wanna-be tyrants, that’s to be expected. But a lot of “friendly fire”/accusations were thrown by the stay-at-home Christians at the assembling-for-church Christians who were, turns out, the ones submitting to the law. In all this, Christians need to keep their discernment powers sharpened through mutual discernment, in good working condition. # Many Magistrates (4) What about conflicting (legitimate) authorities, in the same sphere, in layers of authority, let alone conflicting with authorities in other legitimate spheres? This has some similarity to the Paper vs. Persons, Constitution vs. President discussion, but carries over to authorities that are near and far. I’ve learned more about the “doctrine of the lesser magistrates” the last few years. Magistrate is another name for an authority, coming from *magister* in Latin meaning “master.” This “doctrine” is a political expression that recognizes that local authorities—so authorities over smaller areas and numbers of people—have responsibility to resist the higher authorities when the King, the governor, the higher-up has made an unlawful rule. For example, a week ago or so, the Governor of New Mexico banned the right to carry firearms in some public areas for at least 30 days (under a her emergency powers in the aftermath of a shooting), and a County Sheriff said he would not enforce that ban; a federal judge has also now blocked that ban. Good on them. While I appreciate the lesser magistrate piece, what if the lesser magistrate is the problem? What if the Mayor is a mini-despot and the Governor is a freedom-lover? It could look like we’re just picking and choosing according to whatever we like, and, of course, people do that. But if we Christians are constantly distinguishing good from evil, then we would be constantly excited about whatever authority at whatever level is doing the same. The moral responsibility is the same, before God to do good. The strategic opportunity changes, to celebrate or to criticize different levels as necessary. This is not every man doing what is right in his own eyes, this is finding any man that will do what is right in God's eyes. Likewise, the church and the household have their own spheres of authority. A president does not have the authority to tell a pastor how to celebrate communion, and so a pastor *must* resist in that scenario. Pastors must also function as protection to their flocks from overreach. # Restrictions on Rulers (5) Submitting to authorities in the civil sphere does not equal the civil sphere being the “boss” sphere. The State, Church, and Household spheres are a divinely established checks-and-balances on each other. Are there limits on what the civil authority can legislate? How far does his jurisdiction extend? The men at the Kuyperian Camaraderie have been talking about this, and Grant and Philip have written up some of the options. If (righteous) civil life was a fenced in field, can the state roam anywhere he wants inside the fence, or is he on a leash, having access only to a smaller circumference? This is a good discussion, and you can read some of those posts here. Grant has written some about the issue here: https://cgweinberg.com/a-christians-responsibility-to-submit-to-authority and here: https://cgweinberg.com/why-christians-have-a-duty-to-defy-defend-some-governing-authorities And Philip wrote about it here: https://inmirkwood.com/garlic-lemon-butter-trout-is-served-best-in-blue-houses Our national governing documents limit federal government, not just with checks and balances, but specifically Amendment IX and especially Amendment X were meant to clarify that, at least on the national level, if it’s not in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, the power belongs to the State or remains with the people themselves. Again, it’s good and sharpening to discuss these things, for sake of doing good for our neighbors. # Cross-Country Consequences (6) God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). As US citizens we are connected to all the US citizens. And considered as a country, we are guilty of rebellion against and unbelief toward God. We are part of the same body-politic, and it hurts to get out of bed every morning. Most men don't want to be bothered, and it shows. There is some merit in the let your neighbor be, but not when we don’t bother to pray, to pursue office, or to teach their kids lines of authority. Why should the devil have all the good politicians? The bandits and the stupid have a lot of energy, and we’re getting what we deserve as a whole. That said, as Christians, we are also corporately guilty of tolerating junk in the church, among pastors, let alone in ourselves. We see the stream of stupidity in the State, and want it fixed, and fine. It’s not an either/or effort. But the lack of faithfulness among Christians is the first and foremost pain, the mess we have most immediately responsibility for. # No Wasted Disobediences (7) The authorities murdered Jesus due to what they perceived as rival political claims (Luke 23). He was persecuted to death for “disobeying” the rulers. So consistently be on the lookout for the good to do, even when others call that good “disobedience”; your genuine good deeds will not be wasted, or overlooked (Hebrews 6:10). “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13 ESV) Be *zealous*, don’t hold back. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 ESV) # Conclusion *Jesus is Lord*. We should act like it. Pray like it. Vote like it. Work like it. Be zealous for good like it. We should not be craven, milquetoast, or jello-spined. Do not give way before the wicked. > Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain > is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked. > (Proverbs 25:26 ESV) We also must not qualify ourselves into anarchy; authority is good from God in principle. As we see so much of the foundations destroyed, we should seek a multitude of counselors in order to be as submissive as possible citizens for sake of conscience, with thanksgiving praying for and supplicating for and interceding for those in high positions (1 Timothy 2:1-2). ---------- ## Charge When we look around, it appears that we live in days of groaning and burden; it’s *bleak*. We are tempted to say “behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” But it is possible to be “always of good courage,” as long as “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7). Beloved, walking and working by faith is never vanity, it is victory. ## Benediction: > But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. > Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57–58, ESV)

75: The Powers That Be (Pt 3)

September 10, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

One of the great illustrations in God’s Word about receiving God’s Word is that of milk and meat. When admonishing his readers that they should’ve known better, the author of Hebrews wrote, > You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12–14 ESV) The “word of righteousness” is Scripture, and the basic stuff, the “elementary doctrine” (6:1), is for the immature. There’s nothing wrong with the milk, but the Christian should start to grow some teeth. The solid food, or “strong meat” (KJV), is for the mature. Note that this maturity doesn’t come from time passing, it comes from “constant practice.” It comes from work and “training” one’s “discernment powers.” Romans 13 has milk and meat applications. There are basics, rudiments, fundamentals of the faith when it comes to the Christian’s relationship to God and government. What does a newer Christian need? He needs milk, and the milk is that earthly authorities are good, they are God appointed, and good citizens submit to those governors. That said, in the same passage, there are some things that require some chewing. For the Christian whose submission bones have plenty of calcium, he’ll need steak to build up some discernment muscles. Again, the milk and the meat are both good. The simple answer is submission, but the more you learn the more you realize that not everything is simple. In order not to choke, we’re going to need to up our training and practice in distinguishing good from evil (which is not too different from Romans 12:2 “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”). It’d be worth praying that God would bless our civil authorities to do the same. So far in verses 1-7 we’ve considered the origin and scope of government (verse 1), namely that God calls every soul to be subject to every civil authority He’s established. The God-makes-governors establishment is so recognized that resistance to the government is actually resisting God and so results in judgment (verse 2). Then Paul provides encouragement with the delegated purposes of government which include promoting the good and punishing the bad (verses 3-4). To finish the paragraph we’ll see how Paul takes our accountability up another level in verse 5 and then makes it very practical when it comes to how we support the authorities. There will still be more meat on the bone after today, so I’ll see what I can do to “set the record straight” next Sunday. # The Highest Accountability to Government (verse 5) This is the second conclusion in the paragraph, the second “therefore.” God established the authorities, therefore resisting the authorities results in judgment (verse 2). Paul repeats the same requirement and the result, but ups the motivation ante. > Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:5 ESV) The ESV adds “to avoid”; it’s a fine supplement. But in its bare for it is necessary to **be in subjection** “because of the wrath,” which is God’s wrath brought about through the human authority as an avenger in verse 4. Again, that’s a repeat reminder. The new piece is “but also because of the conscience.” This is *internal* motivation. We submit because of what we know is right, not just in order to evade negative consequences. The **conscience** is God-given, and universal, as in, every soul/person has one. Paul referred to the conscience in earlier in this letter, which was explicitly about *un*believers having a conscience in which their “conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15). Christians have more than mini George Washington sitting on one shoulder (maybe fighting with mini Napoleon on the other). We have redeemed consciences, and we have God’s Word to inform us about what is right. It is right to do what is right, including when the authorities promote it. Conscience makes our duties in the civil sphere both higher and also tighter. We answer to God whether or not the governor cares. We answer to God above governor, which also simplifies the pecking order of which we must obey if there’s a conflict between them. For that matter, no governor can make this claim; our consciences are beyond the reach of man. “Be subject *for the Lord’s sake*” (1 Peter 2:13). (For the interested, the Greek phrase in Romans 13:5 is διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν compared to διὰ τὸν κύριον in the 1 Peter passage.) # Giving Practical Support to Government (verses 6-7) This final principle of God and government hits deep down into the dark parts of our wallet where dust gathers. For us who have continued to climb out of the hole of dualism, we see that our support of the civil authorities can’t be mental only, it takes our monies. > For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 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 13:6–7 ESV) It’s a big **because**, this **this**. The **this** is referred to again at the end of verse 6, pointing back to **this thing**. What is “this”? The “this” is when the authorities follow their delegated purpose as God’s servants, approving do-gooders and bringing judgment on wrong-doers. This is what they are **attending to**, being “busy with, engaged in, devoted to” (BAGD). It’s their lawful vocation to establish a society of justice as **ministers of God**. This is a different word than *deaconos* in verse 4, this official is referred to as a *liturgos*, the one doing work for the public. Because the authorities are doing divinely-appointed duties they should be financially supported, so we **pay taxes**. It’s not a command in verse 6, it’s a reality, and a reality approved by God. We provide the state with fiscal resources, with the implication that we depend on them to do their job for our good. As with most of the principles in the paragraph Paul provides no explicit qualification regarding percentage, collection methods, or accounting of all expenditures. We pay, even when they might fritter away. Verse 7 finishes off with a basic code, and these *are* commands. Citizens have obligations; authorities are **owed** certain things, it’s not based on citizen’s discretionary free-will offerings. Paul repeats **taxes**, probably collected based on income and property, and adds the word **revenue**, which could be distinguished as a toll for use or as duties on goods. Perhaps our sales tax has some similarities. Paul says: pay it. Federal, state, city. We are getting a lot out of our taxes (and so is Zelensky). We must also pay **respect** and **honor**. Civil authorities at various levels deserve various levels of recognition and deference and esteem. Their roles are subordinate to God, so they must not be deified, but they do have delegated dignity. Our refusal to give honor to whom honor is owed makes *us* dishonorable. It is well known that Jesus Himself said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). God established the sphere of civil/state authority, and expects that all souls will give practical support for the maintenance of the work. This is a great *blessing* to those who do good, who have their property and profits protected from theft and vandalism. Societies in which justice is sure and sentences against evil deed are executed speedily are a check against evil hearts (unlike the opposite as Solomon describes in Ecclesiastes 8:11). Those who fear the LORD and the king wisely avoid those who do otherwise and the disaster that comes on them (Proverbs 24:21-22). # Conclusion And again we say, *But!*. Must we pay taxes when the authorities are *not* doing their job, especially when they are opposing good and upending justice? Can we honor the office without honoring a dishonorable man holding that office? There is more to say next time. We do know, though, that private vengeance is out (Romans 12:18), and that prayer for our authorities and paying taxes toward and promoting their judgment on evil is in. Let us do so much good that we put to silence the ignorance of foolish people (1 Peter 2:15). In application from Romans 13:6-7 I particular, - Milk: pay your taxes, don’t grumble about the reality of taxes, and look for all the ways we can be grateful for what good God gives us through tax-supported infrastructure. - Meat: as you look at the meat of the instruction, and as you’re able, sharpen up the steak knife to keep as much of your own fat as you can. ---------- ## Charge Paul told the Thessalonians about a coming great rebellion under the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who will proclaim himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). He’ll actually be successful in his deception because men have refused to love the truth (2:10) and have their pleasure in unrighteousness (2:12). That all sounds bad. And in light of all that, he said, “as for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (3:13). Don’t be idle, and don’t be distressed by evil men. ## Benediction: > Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV)

74: The Powers That Be (Pt 2)

September 3, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

There’s a phrase in Scripture used for men who “had understanding of the times,” to know what ought to be done, especially in political affairs and intrigue (see 1 Chronicles 12:32, Esther 1:13). I’ve seen it going around the last few weeks, and, while I don’t claim to be one of those guys, I do try to pay attention. I think that it’s timely that we’re here in Romans 13, and we do have application questions that are provoked *by* our current times. And also, application is third; it comes after observation and interpretation. What does the text say, what does the text mean, then what do we do in light of the text. Our situation might enable us to observe things from different angles, but Paul meant what God moved him to write apart from our problem politics. While it is important to know the times, it is actually of first importance to know what God has revealed for *all times*. The quickest way to become irrelevant is to seek to be relevant, and the easiest way to be useless in our times is to be stuck in them. Before we appeal to the Constitution (which *is* part of the application for us), we need to understand the Bible. Scripture teaches the good of submission for Joe Christian Citizen. Wives submit, children submit, slaves submit, citizens submit, and there is even a mutual submission. What governs all those is submission to God. So husbands, fathers, masters, and governors must submit to God, so submission to those men can never be absolute. God is the origin of earthly authorities, God determines the purposes for those authorities, and God has established boundaries for those authorities. Paying attention to the boundaries, or pushing them, is a lot of life. In Romans 13:1-2 we considered God as the origin of civil authorities, and how *every* person—Christian and non—is called to recognize that *every* (civic) authority has been instituted by God. So those who resist face the result of judgment, which is probably judgment through the exercise of power by the human authority. This morning we’ll see the purposes of government (in verses 3-4). That’ll leave us at least one more message about our consciences and paying taxes. # The Delegated Purposes of Government (verses 3-4) Ruling is a lawful vocation, as in, God calls some men to wield authority over other men as a job. What is the job description? These verses provide it in *very* broad terms. > 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, 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. (Romans 13:3–4 ESV) That first line is *oddly* positioned and *historically* questionable. **For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.** Knowing what we know, a *bunch* of questions come to mind. Who in the world is Paul talking about? *Actual* people, Gentile/pagan/polytheistic men like Nero?! Before or after Nero blamed the burning of Rome on Christians and used them as human candles, and does that matter? How do these rulers identify good and bad; what is their standard? And what about *all* the times when rulers *are* a terror to good conduct, for one example, when they killed Jesus? And why does Paul feel the need to start with this “comfort”? It is a surprisingly positive, if not romantic, presentation. It’s easy to imagine, but has it not been more frustrating than factual? Paul’s angle seems to assume that Christians in particular were suspicious of government. We would assume that they had good reason for suspicion, if not for **fear**. But still Paul says here that there is no reason to fear if you do what is good. Let’s keep working with that first. This gets us to the two broad purposes of government: *approve/praise the good* and *avenge/punish the bad/wrong*. For what it’s worth, Peter makes the same two points in 1 Peter 2:14 while calling believers to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” Paul assumes that rulers can know and distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong. Paul does not say how they know. At the least he must have included the conscience, as he described in Romans 2:15. But for all he’s written about the law in Romans (even though we can’t be saved by works of the law) he doesn’t use the word law once in this paragraph. Yet he encourages Christians to keep doing good because the rulers will approve the good, and that implies that good is not subjective, that it can be recognized and agreed upon, even with ungodly authorities. When the ruler acts according to true good and true bad, **he is God’s servant for your good**. Skip a sentence and Paul repeats: **he is the servant of God**. The word **servant** is *diakonos*, an intermediary, an agent working on behalf of, with an emphasis on ministry. So “public servants.” So also, Paul doubles-up on the punishment of wrong. **If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain**, he is **an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer**. To “bear the sword” is a threat of force up to execution and capital punishment, the death penalty. This servant is *armed* and dangerous. However, authorities who truly knew good and wrong would not execute every misdemeanor to death, so this represents the most extreme form of judgment (verse 2), implying that lesser levels such as prison, beating, fines were part of the toolkit. These are *not* (necessarily) Christian rulers, but they are ruling in a way (mostly) consistent with Christian definitions of good and bad. Christians can explain the origin of the morals and the origin of offices, but they can also be thankful to God for rulers who may not know either, *while* also praying/seeking for the confession of the authorities that Christ is Lord. That would be better blessing, but it is not the only blessing level. BUT. What if the rulers praise the *wrong* wrongdoer, as in Romans 1:32: > Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 ESV) Now we’re talking about not just neighbors, but legislators. “Can destructive rulers join You / And by law disorder build?” (Psalm 94:20)? “Those who frame injustice by statute…they band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death” (94:20-21, ESV). Really big question: do we have to obey *those* rulers? I’m obviously building up some tension, even possible conflict. But the Big E on the eye chart is not hard to see, understand. We already know the answer to this Yes/No question. The answer is obvious. Let’s set it up again. Verse 1 says every person must be subject to governing authorities because God appointed those authorities, and there are no qualifications. Verse 3 explains the purpose of governing authorities regarding good and bad, and does not offer qualifications either. But I think that’s because the answer is clear. *We must **not** obey wicked rulers when they prohibit good conduct or require bad conduct*. It is simple, in principle. You must not obey man rather than God (see Acts 5:29). So you must not obey a governor who requires you to kill your neighbor. No earthly authority has absolute authority, so because we know God and His law is above all, we *must* not violate what we know God says is good/evil. We cannot be in subjection “for the sake of conscience” to God (verse 4) and go against our informed consciences, no matter how Constitutional, how majority voted, how procedurally correct the legislation was written, or how loudly pressured or physically/financially threatened. So I am arguing that all Christians agree that there are qualifications on being subject to the governing authorities. Of course we disagree about where the line is on the spectrum, from a law requiring us to kill someone (obvious wickedness) to a code prohibiting us from watering our yards more than two days a week (because of climate change concerns)(less obvious). That said, here is a different challenge: why would be need to submit if we already only wanted to do good and that’s all the government wanted from us? We would be the governments’ favorites, but we’d be *agreeing* more than submitting. It can’t be that we submit only to the things we agree to call good, and yet, our submission cannot be to things we know are not good. # Conclusion Human authorities/the officers of civil rule are: - *Delegated by God, not absolute*. To be respected, followed, but not devotionally. Rulers are servants of God, and will give account to God. We cannot submit to a ruler instead of God, but as part of our submission to God. - *Delimited by God, not unlimited*. To be acknowledged, followed, but not uncritically. Rulers are not infallible, and their power is not unbridled; God has set down boundaries. It is not weak to submit, it is wicked not to. That said, sometimes rulers are the revolutionaries, and must be resisted. We are in times of trouble. It seems that the majority of our seated authorities are committed to their revolution of good and evil. It is nowhere near the first time men have called evil good and visa versa. But it requires us to be ruthlessly submitted to God, not cowards, wise as serpents, and looking to the LORD as our stronghold, to God as our rock of refuge (Psalm 94:22). More still to come in the paragraph. ---------- ## Charge Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Oh, how tempted to be troubled we are, how often we are burdened by anxiety, especially when the wicked exalt and pour out their arrogant words (Psalm 94:3-4). Listen to Jesus, trust the Lord, let His comforts cheer your soul, live in His grace. ## Benediction: > The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20, ESV)