God, Man, and Society Part 2
Overview from last week: God put man to live in social situations, requiring social organization, and God has an interest in man, and his relationship to God, and man’s individual relationships to each other, and man and society’s relationships to each other.
God has a particular interest in nations [Genesis 12:2: “I will make you” (Abraham) “a great nation” . . . . (the Nation of Israel); Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage . . . .”; Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . “].
The Tea Parties of yesterday and recently are in the spirit of the hearts and actions of the colonists that lead to The American Revolution. The Tea Parties are an initial means of peaceful assembly and humble petition for the redress of wrongs by our government. The American Revolution was initiated by our Declaration of Independence from England, demonstrates Man’s belief that God is interested in the relationships of men and society with each other. Take note of these excerpts from the Declaration of Independence (READ). If we were to remain eternally subject to England as our governing authority, until and unless God changed things, then there was no proper American Revolution, because revolution is the opposite of subjection.
As Rev. Willson put the question, which lays on the table before us, in his 1853 work on Romans 13, “Can it be, for a moment, believed, that God has made man a social being – placed him in society, and thus necessitated, by the very laws of the human constitution, the establishment of civil rule, and that he has, after all, set no bounds to the authority; no hedge about the claims of civil rulers? That, after all, He has left this whole matter to be lawfully managed, not by law, even His law, not by rule, but merely according to human caprice, or; what is worse, human ambition, self-seeking, pride, and violence?” We need to grasp that it is not how we answer this question that is so important, but how God answers this question that is so important – and in the light of how God answers this question we may be informed as to our proper answer.
After all, we know, at least in our flesh, that we do not want to be the milk-toasted collaborators, facilitators and followers of Hitlerian fascism and nationalism, nor, at the other extreme, do we want the anarchy of being or coping with Modern Man in the World of the Joker, as we discussed last week.
We will find God’s answer in Scripture, and it will center on Romans 13, but will expand, as any understanding and application of Scripture must, to incorporate the being, the nature and the character of God, who created us in His image, but gave us — for His Glory – the right and power of choice in obedience. So our analysis of this question in Scripture will depend on contextual analysis of Romans 13, and related Scriptures, but also on God’s Godliness.
Let’s get into it a bit, here on the screen is Romans 13: 1-7; let’s read it and I will leave it up on the screen, in verse parts, for discussion and meditation.
Now, let’s see what questions this passage requires us to think about:
- The duty of man in general of obedience to civil authority: verse 1
- General considerations enforcing this obedience: verses 1 and 2
- The design of the appointment of rulers, or of the institution of government: verse 3
- The application of these principles to the case of both good and bad citizens: verse 4
- The principal of obedience to civil rule: verse 5
- A more specific statement of the duties owing to civil government, as previously described: verses 6 and 7.
Let’s look at the first part of verse 1: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” (Note, King James refers to the “Higher Powers.”)
- The Greek work here used for “powers” or “authorities” is EXOUSIA, which in Greek denotes any species of authorized power: paternal, ecclesiastical, magisterial. In verse 1 it clearly is in reference to the magisterial, or civil government powers. There is a distinction of importance in the Greek. This word, EXOUSIA, is also used in Matthew 21:23, where Jesus was interrogated by the chief priests and the elders, as to the authority by which He preached and acted, using the word EXOUSIA again. In Acts 3 and Acts 4, we are told of Peter and John healing the lame man at the Temple, then speaking to the people, and were accosted by the priests, the captain of the Temple, and the Sadducees. In verses 8-13, of Chapter 4, Peter explained that the healing was done by a greater power and authority than themselves: “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by whom this man (the healed, formerly lame man) stands here before you whole . . . . when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” This passage serve to elucidate, to explain, a distinction between a power or ability emanating from our own will, or from the will of a higher power or authority. You see, there is another Greek word, DUNAMIS, which refers to an institution endued with the ability and the authority to execute its own will. Clearly, EXOUSIA, as used in Matthew 21:23 and in Romans 13:1, refers to something different, to an institution endued with the right to enact and administer law by some authority other than its own, mere will.
- The Greek word HUPERECHO, rendered in English as “higher,” properly signifies prominence or eminence, excellent or excelling. We see this same Greek root work in other NT verses (Philippians 2:3, “Let each esteem others better” (HUPERECHO) “than themselves.”; Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God, which passeth” (HUPERECHO) “all understanding”; Philippians 3:8, “For the excellency” (STA TO HUPERECHO) “of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.”
- Putting the words together, “Higher Powers” means powers possessing a due measure of the qualifications required for the rightful exercise of the power of civil rule. There is an inherent majesty, an inherent moral excellence and character expressed in lawful governmental power, which puts its subjects in a healthy state of awe. Note that Paul is referring to the institution of government, not to particular magistrates by whom the authority of the institution of government is exercised – he does not get to “rulers” until verse 3 – he is referring in verse 1, if you will, to government in the abstract, the institution of civil rule as ordained by God for the benefit of man and society.
- Subjection to the institution of civil government is what God ordained, and that by all men. This is intended to be a happy, free and voluntary subjection, as evidenced by Paul’s use of the word, HUPOTASSO), denoting an orderly and due submission, both genuine and hearty. Paul defines the subjection more fully, that we might understand it better in verses 5 and 7: “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake . . . . render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” This is as distinguished from the forced obedience to the strongman’s demand of money, property or rape, because there is no possibility of escape or of successful resistance. But here, Paul is only dealing with the duty of subjection to the institution of civil government.
- The context of God and Godliness in which this duty of genuine and hearty subjection, by every soul, to the institution of civil government applies is, as in all things, necessarily limited by the paramount claims of the law of God. Only an atheist – a Modern Man living in the World of The Joker – can argue that the law of the land can legitimately set aside, weaken or nullify the authority of the law of God. Remember, there is a God above all, as we are reminded in Philippians 2: 20-11, “. . . at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” If obedience and subjection are thus limited to bowing before the mere Name of Jesus and confessing that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, for the BEST government, surely it cannot be argued, except by the atheist or the Modern Man of the World of the Joker, that subjection to a government exercising unholy powers should go beyond such bowing and confession. You see, this is the important thing; subjection – yieldedness – to the civil government institution can only be given by the Christian subject-citizen when it can be done without SIN. If cannot be done without SIN, then every Christian subject-citizen must follow the example of Daniel and Christ, and many other believers, and suffer rather than sin. We are the church; Christ is our head (Ephesians 5: 23-24), and to Him alone do we belong and to Him alone are we subject. We have one master – Christ, and are bid to disobey any command that calls us into sin, even if we invoke suffering as our wages. The church and its members – us – owe no allegiance to any Head other than Christ. For any institution of civil government to claim supremacy over the church, the Bride of Christ, is a presumptuous and unwarranted usurpation of God and His Godliness. Are you beginning to see that you cannot understand and apply Scripture in a vacuum in which God and His Godliness are absent, in which obedience to the institution of civil government calls us from purity into sin?
Conclusions for the Day
- Christians, like our Founding Fathers, should come to an understanding, and take a strong interest in the subject of civil government. It is not too far away nor too spoiled and unholy for the attention of Christians. Such study is necessary for understanding our duty of obedience and subjection to the higher powers. Independence Day celebrations should cause each family to pull out a copy of the Declaration of Independence and read it and talk about it at table, and to consider how to bring back the proper Christian understanding of God, man and society;
- Ministers should explain the doctrine of the Word of God on this subject. But alas, as in Hitler’s Germany, the German Church abandoned the pulpit on this issue and stood meekly by, encouraging the two-world view and approved, if not embraced, the slaughter of the Jews and the reckless and evil invasions of Europe and Russia, and the axis of evil of Germany-Italy-Japan, in their quest to own and divide the spoils of the earth and its nations, God’s earth and nations. Nations have ambassadors; we are ambassadors of Christ, and after our own circles of family and friends, we are first ambassadors to our own nations, and as ambassadors we have some reminder messages to deliver to the people and leadership of our nation. In so doing, we should keep closely in obedience to Scripture and the fullness of the Godhead, to bring forth glory to Christ in all things.