Tag Archives: government

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.

Justice [God’s heart for good government, part 2]

13 Nov

Imagine you were creating a new nation, and you were responsible for writing a document that would become the guiding principles for this whole new society.  What would you include?  If you could narrow it down to just a few key ideas, what is necessary?  What is the basis of good governance?

As we saw yesterday in the first post of this series on Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and 17:8-20, God’s heart for Israel was to have good governance, starting with the people choosing wise local judges.  But how were these judges to handle their position? Look at chapter 16, verses 19-20, and we see that justice is to be primary.  The New International Version, and many other versions of the Bible translate the first phrase as, “do not pervert justice.”  I prefer the New American Standard, which translates the phrase, “do not distort justice.”  The Hebrew word here can be translated, “to stretch out” or “twist”. It is an image of changing something into what it was not meant to be. 

God wants governance where justice is clear and unchanged.  But what does that look like?  Thankfully he gives the people some examples.

First in verse 19, he says, “Do not show partiality.”  Who normally receives partiality?  Think about our day and age.  White people. Rich people.  The principle is clear.  No matter who you are, you should be treated the same. Justice is impartial

Next he says, “Do not accept bribes.”  Who do bribes favor?  Those with the ability to pay them.  The rich. Bribes also favor those in positions of power who can receive the bribes, usually government officials.  Justice should not be for sale.

He further explains this in verse 19 saying, “bribes blind the eyes of the wise and twist the words of the righteous.”  That’s an accurate image.  One scholar I read said that this could also be translated, “bribes subvert the cause of those who are in the right.”  Bribes do that.  They take a situation that is supposed to be based on justice and righteousness and twist it, and subvert it, making it unjust. 

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had the opportunity to give a bribe?  I have, in places like Jamaica and Guyana.  Bribes were/are a part of their culture.  Go to the DMV, for example, and unless you wanted to wait in line forever, you would give a bribe.  Or what if you get stopped by the police, but you weren’t doing anything wrong?  You knew what they were looking for.  Give them a bribe and you have an easy day.  Don’t offer a bribe, and you get a ticket for a false violation.

The Lord repeats, therefore, his heart for just governance in verse 20, “Follow justice and justice alone.” So what is justice?  He has already illustrated it two ways: it is not showing partiality, and it is not taking bribes.  But what about the word itself? In these verses, there are actually two words for “justice.”  Let’s look at both.

In verse 19, he uses a word which refers to a just decision in an individual case.But in verse 20, he uses a word which is the abstract quality of justice – what is right, often translated “righteousness.”

There is a famous verse, Amos 5:24, that  includes both words: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

I know the USA is not perfect, but we do believe in justice as the foundation of society.  It is in the last line of our pledge of allegiance. “With liberty and justice for all.” Think about that.  It really matches up nicely with what we just read.

When is the last time you read the Declaration of Independence?  What you’ll find is that justice is all over the place in the text.  A major concern of our founding fathers was that the Colonies were being treated unjustly by the British King and government.  After winning independence, those same founding fathers crafted our Constitution, and the opening sentence, the preamble, says this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The United States was created on a foundation of justice. 

But remember that what we are reading in Deuteronomy is not God’s covenant with America. It is God’s covenant with the ancient people of Israel.  God doesn’t have a covenant with America.  But we can learn his heart, his desires for how his people should live. God is saying that justice is the best foundation for society, and so it is best for any nation to make justice the foundation of their land. 

Here in America, ours has been a roller coaster history of trying to live up to the idea of justice for all.  How just was it for Europeans to sail to Native American lands and take possession of the land by force or by unfair purchases?  How just was it for Americans to enslave millions of people from Africa, people who had been ripped from their homeland and shipped perilously to ours?  While we can proud of our American ideal of justice for all, we must also confess there are many ways we have allowed massive injustice to reign. 

That is why God had Israel to set up law courts in all their towns.  Because he knows there will be injustice. There will need to be wise, godly judges who have the authority to bring justice to any situation where there is injustice. 

So in Israel’s local law courts, and in their whole nation, justice rules. Check back in for the remaining posts in this series, as we will look at God’s heart for justice in our world.

Choose wise local leaders [God’s heart for good government, part 1]

12 Nov

The midterm elections were this week, the results are in, and now the politicians can get back to the business of governing.  That is good news for us, not least of which because the political road signs are coming down.  Postcards from candidates probably stopped arriving daily in the mail.  The TV ads are finally done. In this day and age, that means the ads on YouTube, Hulu, and other online sources, are also done.  I even got text messages from campaigns.  How did they get my number???  But those, too, have ceased.

How many of you get sick of all the money and attention given to our government elections?  Yeah, me too.  It’s pretty common to complain about elections, politicians and government.  In fact, I heard someone say this week that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain, so they voted, because they still wanted to be able to complain!

I suppose people will complain no matter if they voted or not. Why do we complain?  We complain because we’re not just sick of the election, we’re sick of government in general.  We point to all the ways government is messed up.   Have you heard the quote, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”?  It reminds us that there is so much bad government, even in systems, like democracy, which intend to be good.  It leaves us wondering if there is such a thing as good government. 

As we continue studying Deuteronomy, we arrive at a section in chapters 16 and 17 describing God’s government structure for Israel.  In this series of posts, we’re going to try to learn God’s heart for government.  Is there anything we Christians can learn from this?  Let’s find out.  Turn to Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and 17:8-20.

First, God mentions local judges in Deuteronomy 16:18-20.

For the last 40 years Israel had been together in close proximity as they traveled through the wilderness.  But now, entering the Promised Land of Canaan, they were going to spread out and occupy towns across the whole land.  Israel is the size of the state of New Jersey.  The people were not going to be close together anymore, so their governance had to change a bit.

As we see in verse 18, God is first giving them instructions about the local level of government.  He tells them to appoint judges and officials in each of the twelves tribes and in their towns.  That word “towns” is actually the Hebrew word “gates” referring the town gates, and it was customary in that culture for the elders of the towns to hold court at its city gates.

But how would they know who to appoint as judges?  Israel already had some experience with picking local leaders.  40 years earlier when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit, he watched Moses, the top leader of the entire nation, spending all day, every day deciding all the law cases for everyone (Exodus 18).  Jethro said to Moses, “This is insane. Before you burn yourself out, appoint judges to help you.”  He further advised that these local judges were to be “capable, from all the people,” meaning that not just one tribe, but all tribes should be represented.  Additionally, the judges were to be, “men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.”  This came up also in Deuteronomy 1:13 when we learn the judges were to be “wise, understanding and respected men.”

What we see in all these passages is that God shows a heart for his people to have wise, godly local government, and for the common person to have representation.  There were also national-level government leaders in Israel, as we will see in future posts in this series. But here in Deut. 16:18-20 we see the importance of having good local government.

This principle is very much mirrored in our American federal, state and local governance structure.  We have a governor for the whole state, but we also have local senators.  Same way for the federal government.  We have two senators for the whole state, and the House of Representatives for much smaller groups of population, and of course we have the president leading the whole country. Finally we elect leaders in our counties and towns, such as mayors, commissioners and judges. 

When you elect those those leaders, how do you choose to vote?  On the eve of the conflict 2016 general election, I preached and blogged about choosing leaders.  You can read that here.  What we see in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 (and Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 1:9-18) is clear: God’s desires local leaders who are known for their wisdom, trustworthiness and character, people who will represent all people.  Do you use those traits when you consider who to vote for?  If you are a leader, elected or otherwise, how will you demonstrate and grow in these traits?

God has a heart that all would represented, and that they would be represented fairly.  In our next post, we’ll dig deeper into what that fair representation should look like.

What Christians should do on election day (and a Christian approach to government)

25 Oct

Image result for what should Christians do on voting day

What should Christians do on voting day?

Vote.

That may seem simple.  But before we assume that is the only obvious answer, let’s ask another question: to vote or not to vote?  Is it ever wrong to not vote?  Many frustrated people have said that they are not going to vote.  Many do not.

This comic tells a great story.  Image result for majority doesn't vote

But in recent years, this comic is actually wrong.  Look at the comic and you get the impression that voter turnout is less than 50%.  The actual percentage in the last four elections is 58.6%.  And in none of the four has voter turnout been less than 50%.  But there is still a really good point to be made.  An average of more than 40% of eligible voters in our nation have not voted in recent elections!  Is it possible that the 40% could make an impact on the election?  You bet!

So we need to see voting as an amazing privilege of every citizen.  It is a way, an important way, that we can influence our nation.  And as Christians we should want to influence our nation based on the principles of the Kingdom of God.

If we are to vote based on the principles of the Kingdom of God, who are we to vote for?  Before we answer the question of “Who?”, though, we need to ask “How should I vote?”  When we ask the question “How should I vote?” we are really asking what principles should I use when I vote?

I’d like to share a number of principles that I’m going to ask you to consider and apply to all of the candidates.  Before a Christian goes to the voting booth, we should first consider these principles and spend time trying to apply them to the candidates.

Obviously, the United States and our voting system came into existence millennia after the Bible was completed.  That means these principles apply to many different cultures and situations.  They relate to a lot more than just the USA Presidential election in 2016.  I say that because I want it to be clear that my goal is teach biblical principles, not promote a certain candidate or party.   You will likely find that one principle leads you in the direction of voting for one candidate, and another principle leads you in the direction of another!

That’s why the first principle is so important.

Voting principle #1 – First and foremost, Pray for wisdom.

In James 1:5 we read “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  I know so many of you are frustrated like me.   You just want God to intervene, do a miracle, and give us all new candidates.  Surely there has to be better options than this, right?  Well, that miraculous intervention might not happen, and so we need to pray for wisdom.  Or maybe you have had your candidate picked out long ago, and you haven’t prayed for wisdom.  Maybe you haven’t sought to apply the values of God’s Kingdom to the election.

A very legitimate concern some Christian thinkers have suggested is that Christians place their political values ahead of the values of God’s Kingdom.  In other words, those Christians are so committed to a certain political party that they don’t seek wisdom from God.

Have you been praying for God to give you wisdom as you vote?

Voting principle #2a – Vote for the candidate who will be the best leader.

When you consider this principle you are considering which candidate could govern American the best.  Who will be the best leader for the good of the nation and the world?   Jesus once told his disciples in Mark 10:42 “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

There are different kinds of leaders, right?  Some with little experience, some with lots, and they lead with different styles and different personalities.  Jesus is saying that leaders should be humble, teachable, servant leaders.  Obviously, he is speaking to his disciples about leadership in his Kingdom, not leadership in a nation.  But an important principle is embedded in his teaching.  Who will be a good leader?  Who will govern the best?

Voting Principle #2b – Pick the candidate who is, in their personal and professional life, the most in line with Christ-like character.

Where 2a focuses outwardly, on who can do the best job as president, 2b focuses inwardly, on who has the best character.  I brought this up in the sermon on ethnicity recently and it applies here too.  When God asked Samuel to pick the next king of Israel, he told Samuel that he should focus on the heart.  Who is the leader that best displays ethical character?

Voting Principle #3 – Vote for the candidate who policies are most in line with Kingdom values.

In Matthew 6:33, Jesus tells us to seek first his Kingdom.  We can apply that by asking: Which candidate’s policies are most attempting to promote the good things of God’s Kingdom?

There will never be a candidate from any party in any election that people agree with 100%.  But this principle suggests that Christians should vote for the candidate who will enact policies that are the most in line with the Kingdom of God.  I admit that it is very hard to determine, which candidates this most applies to.  But have you considered It?  Which candidate will most support policies that would advance the Kingdom of God?  You might find that each candidate is 50/50 on this one.

Voting Principle #4 – Vote systemic change against injustice.

One of the things this election is teaching us is that elements of our electoral system might need to change because the system is not just.  So a final principle to consider then, is to use your vote to try to encourage change in the future so that the system becomes more just.  God’s heart for justice is abundantly clear, in hundreds of places in the Bible.  Take Amos 5:24 for example, “Let justice roll like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”  We Christians should strive to promote God’s heart for justice.  But how do we do this by voting?

One way is that you might pick a third party to support larger political change in the life of our nation, moving us away from two major parties, even if it takes decades.  If you believe that there should be more serious choices than just two, then perhaps you want to vote for a third party candidate.  But, some ask, won’t a vote for a third party vote take away a vote from one of the major parties?  Obviously, it will.  If you prefer the lesser of evils approach, you will likely disagree with principle #4.  But if you are frustrated enough with our current system, you might say that it is worth it for the major party you most closely align with to lose, in order for a third party which you align with even more, to have your vote.  Even if just a little, you are strengthening that third party by one vote.

These are some principles to consider when you vote.  I encourage you especially to focus on that first one, pray for wisdom.  Then you might also make a list of the candidates, detailing their pros and cons based on these biblical principles.  Remember that there is no perfect candidate.  I see the posts on Facebook that say “Vote for Jesus”.  Well, in the event that he doesn’t come again before November 8th, we’ll have to vote for one of the imperfect candidates.  I hope these principles can help you a bit.

But voting is not the only way to that we Christians can make our voice be heard.  Our American system includes the amazing ability to get involved in government.  Those in government have the opportunity to use power for change.  That word “power” can sound scary, but it doesn’t have to be.

In 2010 a group of us spent a week in Chicago serving with and learning from our sister church in Chicago, Kimball Avenue Church.  It was an eye-opening, brain-twisting, impactful week.  I’ll never forget sitting in a bank boardroom one day.  We were there because that particular bank had a great community reputation for loaning money to low income families.  Many banks won’t touch that.  While we were at the bank, we heard a presentation from a lady talking about getting involved in government and the use of power.  I was sitting there feeling more and more uncomfortable as her talk went on.  Use of power?  I’m thinking, no way, power is dangerous, I want to steer clear of that.  I’ve seen how people in government abuse power.  No way, not for me.  So I raised my hand and said this to her.

She responded with “Well, why did you become a pastor?  As pastor don’t you have a certain amount of influence to work for good?”

I sat there quietly, thinking, that got turned around pretty quick.  She’s right.  I want to use my role as pastor, call it “my power” if you like (not much power…but you get the idea!), for good.  And I knew where she was going with this.  No doubt, power is, well, powerful.  That means it can be hard to control, and we have seen people use power very badly, allowing it to get out of hand and do lots of damage.  But that doesn’t mean power is inherently bad.  Power can and should be used for good.  That is what Romans 13 is talking about.

We Christians should consider getting involved in government.  Whether it is on the local school board, or the PTA at school, or running for office. We should take those opportunities seriously and consider signing up.  Some of us at Faith Church regularly joke about writing each others’ names on the ballot.  I regularly write in some of my Faith Church family for local offices!  They haven’t won though…  On a serious note, we can and should consider the various ways to get involved in government offices.  How often have we complained about the people holding office?  How often have we remarked that we need better people in office, people that will promote the values and principles of God’s Kingdom?  Faith Church, that may be you!

That’s one reason why I’m excited that our local CV Ministerium is working on an idea to create a justice watch group in CV.  You remember the babies in the water story?  If you see a baby floating downriver, you rescue it!  That is mercy.  Mercy is needed and good.  That’s why we’re involved so heavily with CVCCS, providing mercy to people in our area in need of food and clothing.  But there is another question that is so often missed, and that is “why in the world would there be a baby floating down a river?”  Especially when it’s not just one baby but many that keep coming down the river! The question then becomes not “How do we rescue all these babies?”, though rescuing them is needed. The question is, “What are we going to do to go upstream and stop whoever is throwing babies in the water?”  That’s justice.  Justice seeks to find the root of the problem and address it.  Why are people in our community struggling with lack of food and housing?  What is the root cause?  How can we wield governmental power to help deal with the root issue?  The Ministerium is working on creating a consortium with members from the police, local government, the school district, the churches, and more to address root causes.  We need people, Kingdom-minded disciples of Jesus on all those levels to wield power in a God-honoring, humble way to eradicate the root causes of injustice.

A few final thoughts when it comes to politics and government.  This election will be over soon.

Pray for leaders no matter who is in office.  In 1 Tim 2:1-3 Paul said to Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Guess who the Roman Emperor was at this time? Nero, a maniac.  He was a Christian killer.  He tied Christians up to posts, stuck them in his gardens, and lit them on fire so he could see at nighttime.  Pray for him?  God wants him saved?

Honestly, how many of you struggle to pray for your leaders because they are so distasteful to you?  We need to pray for them.

  1. Pray that they will govern wisely.
  2. Pray that they will surround themselves with wise counsel, and that they listen to it.
  3. Pray that, if they are not already, they become people who seek God for wisdom.

Much of what has made this election so frustrating is the question: “What is the future of America?”   I remember some people thinking that the USA would implode if Obama became President.  It will be many years before we get a clearer picture of the success or failure of these past eight years, but it seems pretty clear we haven’t imploded.

When we ask the question “What is the future of America?” I suspect that underneath the question is fear.  Fear that we will lose our standard of living.  Fear that we might lose freedom.  Fear that life will be harder than it is now.  Fear that we might be persecuted.

So I want to remind you of something important: Remember that we citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven first.  God’s Kingdom did just fine for centuries before America started, and God’s Kingdom will do just fine after America goes away.  Seek first his Kingdom, Jesus says.

And pray for America, that we will be good.  America has surely not been perfect, but we have desired for centuries to be a good nation.  Pray that our leaders will lead us to be good!

Pray for revival.  Pray that God’s Spirit will be unleashed in our land.  Pray that people will humble themselves, repent and turn to God, and seek him.  Pray that we will be a church that makes disciples.