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Mercy for those who doubt – Jude 17-25, Part 5

4 Oct
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

“Be merciful to those who doubt.” 

Interesting phrase, isn’t it?  So often we conceive of doubt as a negative thing to be avoided, and the result can be that people who doubt are considered to be sinful or strange.  But is doubt wrong?

As we conclude our two-week study through the letter of Jude, we find that in verse 22, he writes that we should be merciful to people who doubt.  Why? Because doubt is not an indication of disbelief.  Doubt is normal.  Just about everyone doubts.  It doesn’t mean they have lost the faith.  They’re just questioning, investigating, wondering.  Their doubt is actually healthy, as doubt helps us go deeper in our beliefs, making them our own.  Let’s be merciful to those who doubt.  Instead of judging those who doubt, let’s listen to them share their concerns.

Someone recently said to me that where there is doubt there is hope.  In a society where there is growing doubt, this is instructive to us.  I’ve heard a stat reporting that only 30% of 18-30 year olds go to church.  We can choose to get upset about this, but Jude is wise to instruct us to be merciful to those who doubt.  Rather than dump on people for doubting, we should have an attitude of embracing them, even when they doubt.  Doubt means they are searching, and thus there is hope that they’ll find what they are looking for. 

Jude has more instructions for us in verse 23: “Snatch others from the fire and save them.”  Christians should be known as being active in outreach.  We can and should seek to help the ungodly impostors find God. But notice how Jude finishes verse 23, “To others show mercy mixed with fear, hating even the clothing stained with corrupted flesh.”  For people who are corrupted, meaning that they will not receive any help or guidance or word about Jesus, which seems to describe the ungodly impostors in Jude’s day, then it is time to part ways with them.  Remember our study in Titus when Paul said, “have nothing to do with them”?  That’s what Jude is getting at here.  

Jude then concludes his letter in verses 24-25 with an amazing flourish.  It is a prayer to God.  He starts his prayer, “To him who is able to keep you from falling.”  Falling is a word that refers to stumbling.  God is able to keep you from stumbling!  He doesn’t force us.  But we can depend on him, and rely on his strength and power through his Spirit within to help us remain faithful to him.

Next Jude says God is also able “to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” Combine that with how he finishes the prayer: “To the only God, our savior, be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord before all ages, now and forevermore.”  When I think about that it strikes me how he focuses on giving glory to God.  He is placing God squarely in focus right in front of him, right in front of us, almost saying, “Look at God, he is real, he is alive, he is powerful, and we need to remember that.” 

These kinds of rich theological prayers are so important because they shake us out of a lull and help us focus on what is real, what is true, what is important about life. 

This, then, is what Jude is saying in his letter.  He is saying, “Wake up people, there are impostors in your church, and you are letting it happen.  You’ve let yourself fall asleep.  Wake up.  Focus on truth, on goodness; focus on God.  You’re probably going to need to repent of your lethargy and get down to the business of contending for the faith.  But remember that you are called, loved and kept. God is able to keep you from falling.  He is at work!  Focus on him.  Spend time with him.  Allow him to guide your life.” 

Keep yourself in God’s love – Jude 17-25, Part 4

3 Oct
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

“Keep yourself in God’s love.” That really sounds like a religious or spiritual thing to say, right? What comes to your mind when you read that line? In this series of posts, we have been studying some phrases that Jude writes in an ancient letter to his Christian friends. It seems that Jude is writing them to give them guidance about how to ready themselves if Jesus would return in their lifetimes. Specifically, Jude’s friends had allowed ungodly impostors in their church, and he was very concerned that his friends were doing the opposite of getting ready for Jesus’ return. In verses 1-16 he pointed out who they impostors were, and now in verses 17-25 he is giving the church instructions for how to address the impostors, thus providing the church a foundation for being ready should Jesus return.

First, he talked about how to build one another up in the faith and, second, about praying in the Spirit. Now he says in verse 21 that Christians, to be ready for Jesus’ return, should keep themselves in God’s love.  Last week I referred to this verse because at the beginning of the letter, Jude says in verse 1 that he writing to those who are “called, loved and kept by God.”  So in verse 1 we see God at work doing the calling, loving and keeping, while here in verse 21 Jude says that the Christians need to do the work of keeping themselves in God’s love.  It is both God’s work and ours. So how do we keep ourselves in God’s love?

The way Jude wrote this, the phrase “keep yourself in God’s love” is the only command or imperative, and the other phrases support that command.  In the NIV the translators chose to feature each phrase individually. Some other English translations, however, help us see Jude’s focus when they translate it this way: “building yourselves up in the faith, praying in the Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love, waiting for the mercy of God to bring yourselves to eternal life.”  See how each of the supporting phrases modify the central command to keep yourselves in God’s love?

That means we should be known for our love while we wait for God to return, or until that day we pass on.  The goal is to keep ourselves in God’s love.  In that we see how much God wants to be in relationship with us, how much he wants his love to remain in our lives, and thus how much he wants his love to be flowing out of our lives.

Think about other Scripture passages referring to love that we can apply to our lives.  “Love one another.” “Love your enemies.”  “We love because God first loved us.”  When we depend on God’s love, his power resides in us, so that his love flows through us.  This occurs through his Spirit within us, meaning that his love is within us. Here we have a connection to praying in the Spirit which Jude mentioned previously.

I was reading this week about the ancient Christians and how they lived through numerous awful plagues in the Roman Empire.  When most others, especially the wealthy fled the cities to avoid the plague, the Christians, filled with God’s love, stayed and ministered the hope of Jesus to people.  Interestingly, as the Christians shared the words of the Good News about Jesus, and as they provided clean water and food to people, many sick people actually recovered, and when they were back to health, you can imagine how they felt about Jesus.  Many gave their lives to him. Those Christians kept themselves in God’s love.

How about you? What will it look like for you to keep yourself in God’s love? Notice that it is a practice of relationship to God that results in his loving flowing out of you. Keeping yourself in God’s love is not just personal or private. Instead, when you are filled with God’s love, you will share that love with those around you, especially with those in need.

How to ruin a Love Feast, Jude 1-16, Part 4

26 Sep
Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Have you ever heard of a love feast?

This is Part 4 in a series of posts on Jude 1-16, and we’re going to talk about people that ruin love feasts. Thus far in Parts 1, 2, and 3, we’ve been studying the ancient letter in the New Testament called Jude, and Jude has been telling a group of Christians about ungodly impostors that have infiltrated the church.

Jude says in verse 10 that these ungodly men speak abusively against what they don’t understand.   It reminds me of a student who is studying physics or algebra and struggling with it, and just says, “This is stupid, why will I ever need this?”  I might have said that a time or too… I might have even recently said something similar about books I’m reading for a doctoral program…

Or maybe you adults can admit to having spoken unkindly when seeing someone who has gotten themselves in a bad situation, perhaps a homeless man, with no understanding as to how he got there, who he is as a person and what his story is.  Like the ungodly impostors, have you ever spoken abusively about what you didn’t understand?

What is worse, these ungodly impostors indulge in their animal instincts, their lusts, their passions, which is all they understand, and Jude says it is destroying them.  They are unrestrained, lacking self-control.  It gives the image of people who get drunk, who get high, who spend money irresponsibly, who overeat, etc., and do it with a bit of a self-righteousness and a judgmental heart to others. 

Jude’s conclusion about them, his accusation, we see in verse 11 is, “Woe to them!”

A woe is a kind of prayer that speaks God’s judgement on people.  “Woe” describes hardship, distress, even horror.  Jude is saying that the ungodly impostors should be in horror because of what their end will be. 

Then he gives three rapid fire illustrations of their ungodliness, all three based on Old Testament stories, thus showing how the impostors deserved woe.

First they have taken the way of Cain, which was a life lived in the opposite direction of God.  Second, they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error, meaning they are willing to sell out for money.  And finally they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion, which is another story about how the people of Israel rebelled and God judged them.

Jude is saying, “Church, do you realize the severity of this situation?  Do you realize what you are allowing to go on in your church?” He then explains the situation further in verse 12.  He says these men were blemishes at the church’s love feasts.

Love feasts?  What is that?  Basically it was a time when the church family would gather for a meal, followed by the Lord’s Supper.  Grace Brethren and Moravian churches still do this, a wonderful expression of the unity of the church family. But in Jude’s day these impostors had come into the church, and though they were ungodly and even denying Jesus, for some reason they were still participating in the love feast. 

It is so absurd to Jude.  Those guys had no business being there!  The Lord’s Supper is only for Christians.  And the church was allowing the impostors to partake.  Those guys denied Jesus in their hearts, in their actions and yet they still participated in communion?  It was a mockery, and the church was allowing it to happen.

You can hear the righteous anger in Jude’s words as he launches into a bunch of illustrations to further describe these guys.  They are shepherds who feed only themselves, which depicts their selfishness.  And remember, they do this all while pretending to be a Christian.

Next he calls them clouds without rain. In an agricultural society that very much depended on rain, a cloud without rain was nearly useless.  He says the wind blows the clouds by, showing the clouds were a waste, that they had succumbed to the greater power of the wind, which is what will happen to the impostors when God judges them.

He says they are autumn trees without fruit, uprooted, twice dead.  Again, a total waste.

They are wild waves at seas, foaming up their shame.  They lives produce a lot of commotion and drama, but nothing substantial.  Nothing meaningful.  They fade away.

He says they are wandering stars for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever, and image that reminds us of total separation from God.

In other words, Jude is saying that the ungodly impostors are in a very bad spot in life because of what they have coming to them.  They are doing no good within the church.  Contrast that with true Christians in the church, Christians who love Jesus and have hearts and minds in line with Jesus, who give their lives for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.  Their actions will be ones that strive for unity, for love, for obedience to the ways of Christ.  The fruit of the Spirit will be evident, flowing from them: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control.

Defining true Christian fellowship – Philemon 1-7, Part 4

22 Aug
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What is fellowship? How does it look in your life, in your church? How do you know if you are doing it right? As we have seen in our study through Philemon verses 1-7, Paul has been giving his friend Philemon feedback on what Philemon has done with his life. Paul has many nice compliments for Philemon (see Parts 1, 2, and 3 for what we have covered previously). We’ve arrived at verse 6, and Paul is far from the end of his encouragement to Philemon. Is Philemon fellowshipping right?

In verse 6 we face a problem, though, as scholars tell us it is difficult to translate.  Here’s how the NIV 1984 translates it:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

Paul, to Philemon (Philemon 6, NIV 1984)

When you read the words, “sharing your faith,” what comes to mind? Evangelism, right? Sharing the Gospel. Some kind of proclamation of the content of the good news of Jesus. But most scholars believe that is not what Paul is talking about. 

For the word “sharing,” Paul uses the word koinonia.  It is a Greek word that carries the idea of sharing.  But more commonly it is translated in the New Testament using the English word: “fellowship”.  Paul, therefore, is talking about the fellowship of our faith.

What is fellowship?  Churches are sometimes called fellowships.  Faith Church has a room in our building called a fellowship hall, and we also have a Fellowship Serve Team, which is responsible for, among many other things, administration of our kitchen and meals. So there seems to be a connection between fellowship and food.  Fellowship is not equal with food, but the two concepts are connected because of what so often happens around a table of food.  People talk.  People open up.  They share life.  Fellowship is about close relationship.

There are also times in the New Testament when this word is translated as “participation.”  In other words, there is no way we can truly have a fellowship of faith by just meeting together on Sunday mornings.  Sunday mornings are important, and they should launch us into a life of worship and fellowship.  This is why I really encourage you to participate in groups.  Place yourself in settings like Sunday School classes, and small groups, and ministry teams where you can develop deeper relationships.  But fellowship doesn’t stop there.  Fellowship means you invite people in your home, take them out to coffee or lunch, and going deep.  It is one reason why I love our informal runner’s group at Faith Church.  We train together, talk about how race prep is going, hang out, run races, and more than that, we share life. 

So if that is what fellowship is, sharing life together, what is Paul trying to say in verse 6?  One bible commentator, NT Wright explains this a lot more clearly. He points us to Paul’s mention of Jesus in verse 6:

“Paul uses ‘Christ’ here, as in some other passages, as a shorthand for the full and mature life of those ‘in Christ’, so that ‘unto Christ’ refers to the growth of the church towards that goal. Paul’s desire is that the fact of mutual participation, enjoyed by Philemon and his fellow Christians, will result in the full blessing of being ‘in Christ’, i.e. the full unity of the body of Christ.”[1] 

N. T. Wright

What a wonderful picture of what the fellowship of faith can accomplish!  Our fellowship motivates us toward discipleship. Again, Paul is setting a stage.  He wants Philemon to agree with him that all Christians can enjoy the mutual participation of being in Christ, just like Philemon and the other Christians in Colosse enjoy.  Paul is nearly ready to explain why he is talking about this.  He is building toward the “therefore” in verse 8.  For now, we simply need to see what Paul is saying as really important.  Churches should have as their goal that the people in the church grow a more and more mature life in Christ, such that all can mutually participate together in the blessing of being in Christ.  Paul is talking about the strong bond of a church family. 

How can you strengthen the bonds of your church family? Are you participating in a group? What will it look like for you to be more like Philemon?


[1] N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 12, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 183.

One important way Jesus wants you to live in the world – Titus 3:1-8, Part 5

9 Aug
Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Why are you here on earth? Do you ever wonder if you have a purpose, a role? Sometimes people say that there is one thing you can do better than anyone else on earth. What do you think about that? I tend to think there is a better way to look at our purpose on earth. And as we conclude our series of posts on Titus 3:1-8, Paul gets to that. He has just taught about the amazing, life-shaping work that God wants to do in our lives. God wants us to be a part of his family! But does God’s purpose for us stop there? Just to get us in the door? Paul has an answer for us, so let’s follow his thinking.

Paul concludes his teaching in Titus 3:1-8 telling Titus “it is a trustworthy saying!  I want you to stress these things.”  That means what we have been looking into in this series of posts on Titus 3:1-8 is important!  Paul is essentially saying, “Titus, you should teach this.  Remind the Christians in Crete of these things.  Make sure this doesn’t get lost.” 

As he continues, notice at how Paul sees this good news in action.  He says, those who trusted in God must be careful to “devote themselves to doing good.” 

I think what Paul is saying is fascinating.  When you have been transformed, when God’s Spirit is poured out on you, when you have become a part of his family, when you have hope for eternal life, you are so filled with God’s goodness that you devote yourself to doing what is good. 

It’s like he’s wrapped back around to verses 1-2, repeating what he said there about how to live Christianly in the world.  Now that he has taught through the good news that God wants to change our lives, Paul has given us a strong reason to be good.  We’ve been transformed by God.  God’s Spirit now energizes and enlivens us to do good in the world.

Does anyone feel déjà vu at this point?  If you read the posts in the previous series on Titus 2:11-15, starting here, you might be sensing some familiarity.  I felt that as I was studying these passages.  Why?  Because Paul’s teaching is chapter 3:1-8 is very similar to what he said in 2:11-15.  And when someone repeats themselves, that means we would do well to pay extra attention.  We don’t want to miss this.  Instead we should shape our lives around this.  God has lavished us with his grace to save us, yes to give us hope of eternal life, but more importantly for the here and now, to transform us into a people who are devoted to doing good.

Believe it or not, some Christians push back against the idea of doing good in the world.  They believe that God is one day going to destroy the world and therefore all Christians needs to do now is focus on eternal life.  I’m not going to debate that in this post. Instead, look again at verse 3.  In the out of control society in Crete, where the Christians to whom Paul was writing lived, there were certainly behaviors that Paul was saying, “You are not to do that.  You are to be different.”

With that desire to be godly, in Titus’ day in Crete, and in our own American Christian history, we can make an error of believing that Christians need to “come out and be separate.” Christians can get the idea that society is so powerfully evil that it will destroy us, and therefore Christians need to remove themselves.  But that is not what Paul is saying. Instead, Paul says, Christians are the ones who have already been transformed by God, with his Holy Spirit poured out on us, made a part of his family, with the hope of eternal life, and thus we are to be eager to do good in society.  We are called to live out a different kind of life in the midst of society.  Not remove ourselves from it, and not just focus people’s attention on life after death.   That’s why Paul says “be good” in the midst of it. 

Remember the story I started this series of posts with? Check it out here.  some people believe that what God really cares about is our life after we die. But in Titus 3:1-8, Paul is saying that Christians have an important mission in the here and now, to be good for the purpose of helping more people become followers of Jesus and for helping our societies embrace the goodness that God wants for all people.

For example, notice what Paul doesn’t say here.  Paul could say “Christians in Crete, evacuate! Crete is awful. Move to Jerusalem where the mother church is.”  But he doesn’t.  He says, “You’ve been changed by Jesus, so you are to be different, and thus you are to do good in the midst of your crazy Cretan society.  That will likely make you stand out.”

Christians in society should be clearly demonstrating the changed life of Christ by their goodness.  How about you and me?

Younger people, what will it look like for you to do good in your neighborhood and school? 

Those of you who work, what will it look like for you to do good in your employment, at your office, with your coworkers, no matter what kind of job you have?

Children, what will it look like for you to do good with your parents?

Parents, what will it look like for you to do good with your kids?

All of us, what ways can we live out the transformed life of Jesus to do good in our community?

How to live Christianly in the world – Titus 3:1-8, Part 2

6 Aug

In the first post in this series on Titus 3:1-8, I introduced the series saying that so often we Christians talk about the good news of Jesus by focusing on its implications for life after death. While it does apply to the eternal realm for sure, what we notice in a letter like Titus, is that God cares greatly about how we live. In fact in Titus 3:1-2, Paul lists six ways that God wants Christians to live in the world.

First, we saw that God is concerned that Christians be subject to rulers and authorities. You can read that post here. Now Paul continues this line of thinking about God’s desires for how his people live, with what Paul says next about how Christians should live in in relation to all people.  Remember what I have been saying in this study through Titus about the reputation of the people on the Island of Crete?  They are wild and out of control.  Time and time again in Titus we have seen that Paul wants the Christians to be different.  In this post we are going to look at the next five ways Paul describes in Titus 3:1-2 that Christians are live God’s way in the world.

Next he says that Christians are to be obedient. 

Obedient to who or what?  Certainly to the rulers and authorities as he already said.  But there are plenty of other ways to be obedient.  First and foremost, we obey God.  And as long as what we are being asked to do is in line with God’s ways, we obey in other situations as well.  Children obey parents.  Employees obey employers.  Students obey your teachers.  Athletes obey your coaches.  Christians are known for being obedient.

After obedience, Paul says Titus is to remind the Cretan Christians to be ready to do what is good.  Are you seeing a thread here?  Christians are to be subject to authorities, obedient, ready to do what is good.  Christians will be very easy to spot, if they follow what Paul is teaching in the middle of a society that is unruly.

Often when I preach these messages at Faith Church, I use PowerPoint to illustrate them. As I was trying to find a picture to depict “doing good”, I learned that there is such a thing as International Good Deeds Day.  People all over the world give time to clean parks, plant trees and gardens, visit the elderly, or feed the hungry.  I thought that was amazing, something that we Christians should be participating in. But you know what? For Christians, every day should be Good Deeds Day. 

It is very easy to be self-focused in this world.  The busyness.  All the hours at work.  Just keeping up with dirty dishes and the laundry, keeping vehicles going, and then, those of you that have kids and all they have going on, all school, sports, and extra-curricular activities, and more!  We come to the end of most days exhausted.  When that happens, we can think we have no time for doing anything extra.  Doing good?  Many of us have house projects or yard work that we’d love to have time for, letting alone serving our community, volunteering, or reaching out to neighbors.  But Paul is saying that Christians are people who are ready to do what is good.  They will make a difference in society.   This is why we are so concerned about the concerns of social justice in our society.  Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, housing the homeless, and finding the roots of injustice that may be causing these problems.  Roots of greed, racism, and so on, and we work to bring justice to them.  The work of mercy and justice is doing good.

Next Paul goes on and says that we slander no one.  Speak with kindness and gentleness and truth, and do not gossip.  Be committed to radical confidentiality.  It seems to me that this is an area that many Christians could dwell on.  Whether it is on social media, or face-to-face, it can be hard to control our tongues.  Christians should be known as people who have control over our tongues, even when we are hurt and offended, or even when we disagree with something. 

Very much related to that, Paul next says Christians are peaceable and considerate.  Christians should be peaceful, peace-loving, peace-making, people.  Our Anabaptist brothers and sisters, like the Mennonites, are really focused on this, and for good reason.  We can learn from them, because generally-speaking they have done deep study into peace-making and are much farther along than others.  We strive to make peace between genders, ethnicities, and generations. 

Finally, Christians show true humility to all.  This means not thinking more highly of yourself than you ought.  Look to the humility of Jesus.  His willingness to associate with people of low position, to be friends with sinners, not to be judgmental, but forgiving.  So in summary, in verses 1-2, Paul is saying, Christians, you will be so different in society because you will be so good.  You’ll be living like Jesus did.  Not exactly like he did, of course.  But you’ll stand out, in a good way.  Sure some people get grumpy at people who are trying to be good.  You’ll have that.  Kind, peaceable, humble people expect that, don’t let it get under their skin, and love those people anyway.  Not easy, I grant you, especially when the difficult people are from within your own family, friends or even church family.  But still we follow the example of Jesus in practicing kindness and humility to all.

When to subject ourselves to the authorities, and when not to – Titus 3:1-8, Part 1

5 Aug
Photo by Jacob Morch on Unsplash

I recently heard what is reported to be a true story from a Sunday school teacher in Dublin, Ireland.  She writes, “I was testing the children in my Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting into Heaven. I asked them, ‘If I sold my house and my car and had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?’ ‘No’, the children answered.

‘If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the lawn and kept everything tidy, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again the answer was ‘NO!’

‘If I gave candy to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into Heaven?’ Again they all answered, ‘NO!’

I was just bursting with pride for them. I continued, ‘Then how can I get into Heaven?’ A little boy shouted out, ‘You’ve got to be DEAD!’ **

It’s funny to hear things from a youthful perspective, isn’t it?  Yet when we tell the Gospel story, we can make it seem like what God really wants is for us to be dead.  You might think, “What?  How can you say that, Joel?”  What I mean is that we often start telling the good news of Jesus with, “When you die,” or “After you die.”   Have you ever heard the method of sharing the story of Jesus that starts like this: “Do you know where you’ll go when you die?” 

Is God only concerned with what happens when we die?  As we continue studying the letter Paul wrote to Titus, Paul will speak about this. Turn to Titus 3:1-8, which we’ll be studying in this series of posts.

In verse 1 Paul says to Titus, “Remind the people.”  Why do they need to be reminded?   Remember that Paul and Titus had been on Crete previous to Titus’ current trip.  They had seen people become believers in and followers of Jesus, and thus Paul and Titus had grouped these new Christians into house churches in various towns on the island.  During that initial trip, Paul and Titus had already taught the people what it means to know and follow Jesus.  Now Paul senses that the people need to be reminded.  So Paul is saying Titus, you need to remind the people in Crete of some stuff, and by extension you and I in 2019 need to be reminded of it as well. As we’ll see throughout this series of posts, God is definitely interested in what happens to humans after we die, but he is also very concerned with how we live in the here and now.

What do we need to be reminded of?  Paul has a list of six things in verses 1-2, and they all relate to how Christians live now.  In this post we’ll look at the first one in which he reminds them to be subject to rulers and authorities.  Paul was talking to a very different cultural and political context than our own.  Crete was a part of the Roman Empire in the first century.  Roman emperors would claim that they, the emperors, had become gods.  Thus the people should worship the emperor as their savior.  So in the Roman Empire there was a religion of emperor worship. 

Into that culture, Paul has been clear in teaching that Jesus is God, the true savior of the world. Just glance back at chapter 2, verse 13, where Paul says, “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”  From there you can keep going back and see it in 2:10, and even at the very beginning of the letter in 1:4.  Jesus is God and he is the savior.  Not an emperor in Rome. 

One potential result of this teaching is that the new Christians on Crete could get the idea that they are free from having to obey Caesar or any ruler.  Caesar is no longer their lord.  Jesus is their Lord.  But that freedom in Christ could have disastrous consequences if not handled well.  Christians could believe they were above the law of the land, which could bring them into conflict with rulers, and that could be disastrous.  So Paul says the people need to be subject to rulers and authorities.  

I think it is best to see Paul as teaching that in the vast majority of situations it is right and good to follow the law.  Pay your taxes.  Obey traffic laws.  In a society that is attempting to base its legal system on justice, we can and should be subject to and obey rulers and authorities. 

But what about societies that are unjust?  Or what if one particular law is unjust?  That happens, right? It has happened many times in the history of the USA, and still happens today on the federal, state and local levels.  Thankfully we have a justice system to address this.  But justice doesn’t happen automatically.  It usually starts with individuals speaking up, and often practicing what is called civil disobedience to unjust laws.

The civil rights movement for example broke a ton of laws, but those laws were unjust.  Think of Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her seat on a bus.  What a wonderful Christian example of practicing civil disobedience to unjust laws.  In her case, the law of segregation, was unjust, based on racism and prejudice, and she was right to break it. 

We must remember that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first, and if human government creates unjust laws, we practice civil disobedience seeking to move our government and laws in the direction of justice.  In some places around the world, Christians have an exceptionally difficult time with this because in their countries it is illegal to practice Christianity!  We need to pray for the persecuted church.  Here in America, while our nation is far from perfect, there is still, enshrined in our Constitution, the pursuit of justice for all. So, Christians, let us be subject to authorities when they pursue justice, and let us practice civil disobedience when the authorities promote injustice.

**Thanks to Jim Ohlson for sharing this story with me.