Submission to Authority, Even If It’s Abusive: When Is It OK to Push Back?

What the Bible says About Submission to Authority:

When Is It OK to Resist?

(Romans chapter 13, verses 1-5)

It’s time for us all to step up to the plate and score a base hit for our planet

I have been watching with growing dismay at the insanity that is ongoing in the oval office. Although I voted for Donald Trump in 2016, I now regret doing so when I consider Trump’s openly racist sentiments and the off-hand way he has handled his presidency. With that in mind, combined with my continuing and chronological study of the writings of the apostles, I have found a place where the two intersect within the first 5 verses of Romans 13. These verses have to do with submission to authority in the context of being a law-abiding citizen, but mainly as Paul saw it when he wrote these words roughly 2,000 years ago. At the time that this was written, all of what is now modern-day Israel was under the military occupation of the Roman empire. Paul the apostle wrote this book in that context, so I will begin at verse 1.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13, verses 1-5)

At the time that Paul wrote this, the death penalty was commonplace. Capital punishment existed as a means of intimidation and absolute control, and that punishment was carried out with utter ruthlessness and without mercy. Moreover, unlike the Jewish religious establishment of Paul’s time, Paul was a Roman citizen and as such he was given rights and privileges that were not shared equally with other non-citizens. So we can all clearly see from this example that inequality is something that has been with us for thousands of years. But how does this compare with life in the early 21st century? Although the death penalty is still administered for capital crimes such as murder and treason, it is carried out with relative infrequency compared to the days of the Roman empire.

There were also debtors prisons in Paul’s day. People who ran into financial trouble back in those days were routinely imprisoned until their debts were paid. Contrast that with today, when and if one gets into financial difficulty, bankruptcy laws exist that are much more fair and equitable than prison. Compared to the times in which the apostle Paul lived, we get a complete picture of a much more fair, equitable and even lenient world. Let me now make some comparisons between Paul’s world and ours using this passage of scripture as a backdrop to the picture that I will now paint for you with my words.

The authorities that exist have been established by God”. Although Paul sincerely believed at the time that he wrote these words that he was absolutely correct, he was speaking more as a Roman citizen than he was as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a modern American, our rule of law is the Constitution of the United States, and so I am writing today in that context as an American citizen. We have the right to free speech in modern times, not to mention bankruptcy laws, that did not exist in Paul’s time. That right which is established under the US Constitution allows me to write these words without fear of punishment. As such I am within the law and I will remain so for as long as the law is fair. It’s when it’s unfair that things can get a bit dicey.

Paul continues with this same theme as he writes further: “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” The same applies today. Organizing an armed revolt in modern-day America is an idea that I am very much against, preaching and teaching as a man of peace who tries his best to emulate Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Besides, the police have well-armed SWAT teams, and there is always the National Guard that exists within any given state, and so I think one would be foolhardy at best to try and take on authority in this manner. On the other hand, it is perfectly legal, and I would also say that it is truly necessary, to engage in peaceful protest against laws and policies that we disagree with. The First Amendment gives us that right, and the Second one gives us the right to defend the first – two more things that did not exist during Paul’s time all those centuries ago. In this regard, we can interpret this passage of scripture somewhat differently than Paul the apostle.

Paul then continues making his point, and so will I. “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.” It is sad to say that this is no longer true in the modern world. Trying as I do to do what is right, I often find myself looked down on by the many godless people who live in the world of today. I put up with the occasional ridicule, but I do so knowing that God is watching everything I do and He is listening to everything I say. But to get back to the topic at hand, it is wise to be “free from fear of the one in authority”. The best way to follow this principle is to obey the ten commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Just by doing these 2 things, we can keep ourselves out of much trouble. Besides, the Bible says in the Old Testament to “obey the laws of the land, that it may go well with you in the place you are abiding”. Those words were written at least three thousand years ago, and they are still just as true today as they were back then.

By the same token, there are things happening and situations unfolding within the US government that are completely contrary to God’s laws. Take the ten commandments as an example. The eighth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”, which can be expanded to include this simple command: ‘You shall not lie’. Yet America found itself embroiled in a war in Iraq that was based on a lie. Specifically, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was still in power. Of course, those WMD’s turned out to be non-existent, and it took 4,400 US fatalities – and over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths – to find that out.

The same applies to Afghanistan. Our troops have been there for 19 years, first to find Osama Bin Laden even though everybody knew he was in Pakistan, and now for a withdrawal of US troops that will take the rest of this century at the rate it’s going. The US government is spending $6 billion dollars a week on this war, a thoroughly obscene sum of money by any standard. Yet all the while, there is unemployment here in the USA that is around 9%, and that doesn’t count all the millions of long-term unemployed who have stopped looking for work, as well as those who are working part-time when full-time work is what is needed. There is no money to create over a million badly needed jobs in our country, but there is an unlimited supply of cash for multiple illegal military occupations and drone strikes all around the globe. This is a moral outrage, and anybody with even a little bit of a conscience should be out in the streets protesting against the US military-industrial complex. That’s not in the letter of the Bible, but it most certainly is in the Spirit thereof.

Paul then writes in verse 5, “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” This is just as true today as it was when it was first written. Being an outlaw will only get us into trouble, and jail is no place for anybody to be except for the worst criminals. It is a bad idea to drive your car at 90 miles an hour because it is against the law, and because it is dangerous. Likewise, the ten commandments must be obeyed. We should not steal, lie or commit adultery, nor should we have any false gods in our lives. We can and should worship the one true God and him alone, who sent his only Son to die for our sins and then to rise from the dead on the third day after he was crucified. In the same way that we submit ourselves to God, we should, as far as it is possible, submit to authority here on earth. And we should do so not only “because of possible punishment but also because of conscience”. But here in the 21st century, we can and should oppose and protest against the government similarly because of matters of conscience. It is a part of the laws of our land, and we should exercise this right because our rule of law says we can. This is also in keeping with God’s commands, and I hope and pray that it always remains so.

Mumbling In the Sanctuary, and the Truth of It All

Clarifying Speaking in Tongues (part 2)

(1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 18-40)

In last week’s lesson we managed to get through the first portion of First Corinthians 14, and so today I will take up where I left off. You will recall my pointing out certain “teachings” within certain denominations, sects and “Christian” cults regarding ‘speaking in tongues’ that are incorrectly being taught and disseminated within and (to a lesser extent) outside of the greater Christian church. Today, I will continue to use the apostle Paul’s own words, so help me God, to instruct you all as to what is and is not considered to be an orderly and reverent worship of Christ as the Son of God. This includes the original and correct definitions of two of the Spiritual gifts. I will begin at verse 18.

“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. In the Law it is written: ‘Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord’. Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. So if the whole church comes together and everybody speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 18-25)

To put this in a nutshell (if that’s even possible with Paul’s writings), churches are not going to get any new converts or believers by speaking in tongues. They will gain new converts by prophesying first and foremost, which means to accurately and decisively declare the Word of God. But, we can gain new believers and additional saved souls by speaking in the native language of those who are listening. A non-believer or first-time visitor will be able to clearly see and hear the Spirit of the Lord, with the Spirit being manifested in any one of a number of different ways according to the “gifts of the Spirit” that we went over last week. On the other hand, I have actually been in churches where people stood up and prayed in tongues all at once, with no one there to interpret, assuming that what they were saying actually made some sense in another language. I thought it was rather strange that up to several dozen people or more would be speaking in tongues all at the same time as if they were competing with each other in some childish game of spiritual leapfrog. This is nowhere near what the Bible says about speaking in tongues!

Needless to say, I did not go back to any of those churches, and if you stumble onto one of them in your search for a church home, don’t be shy about getting out of there at your earliest opportunity. Many of these speak-only-in-tongues-and-nothing-else churches, upon closer examination, turn out to be cults. I have had the misfortune of learning this the hard way, because it was just such a church that broke up my first marriage. So now you have been warned so you don’t make the same mistakes I made all those decades ago.

It is quite apparent from Paul’s writing in these few verses of chapter 14 that the Church has had a problem with these kind of denominations almost from the start. It’s just that Paul’s words so closely parallel my own experience with many of these so-called “charismatic” churches during my 28 years as a born-again Christian. The Word of God is not something to be taken lightly or trivialized over. The Bible is not just another book sold at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Each and every word within it is sacred, holy and sanctified and must be taken very seriously.

Therefore I say that any teaching of the Bible that is inaccurate or misleading – assuming that the incorrect teaching is being done unknowingly – is a very serious matter indeed. And anyone who teaches the Bible in such a premeditated way so as to control and manipulate people, such as in a cult pretending to be a church – and unfortunately there are a disconcerting number of those as well – will be found guilty of apostasy at best, or blasphemy of the Holy Spirit at worst, when it comes their time to stand before the Throne of Judgment. And Jesus said that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – where someone deliberately defames God or twists and perverts the Bible’s teachings in such a way as to enrich themselves or to do damage within the church, or who refuses to believe that Jesus was the Son of God – these are the only sins that cannot be forgiven. And if Jesus said it, you had better believe it, because He cannot lie. I will now continue at verse 26.

“What shall we say then, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the Church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 26 thru 33)

It is clear from this quotation that the apostle Paul is giving the early church an example of what a church service should look like and how it should proceed. Everyone is to use the Spiritual gift that God gave them to the best of their ability, and as they feel led by the Spirit. If someone is speaking in tongues, they should do so quietly to themselves unless there is another there to interpret. Prophecy, or proclaiming the Word of God as it applies at that moment in time, can be done without 2nd party interpretation, but praying in tongues aloud cannot, nor should it ever be done in a disruptive or distracting manner.

The next two verses the apostle Paul mentions that, in his opinion, women should be silent in the church, with the conducting of the service being the exclusive domain of the men. First, let us keep in mind that these words were written nearly 2,000 years ago, and the world back then was a very different place – downright primitive by today’s standards, as were many of the people. But let’s also keep in mind that part of the message of the Gospel of Christ was that all humankind enjoyed unconditional equality in the sight of God. Jesus ministered to, healed and cured men and women alike, as it is well documented throughout all four gospels. So, I am going to respectfully (in God’s sight) decline to cover these two verses in this lesson on the basis that I, another follower of Jesus, do not share Paul’s opinion on this subject.

I try to treat both genders equally as I live my daily life so that I might better emulate Christ who has saved my soul and who rules my life. Gender equality is more than an idealistic goal. It’s scriptural, as it is written: “You are all sons/daughters of Christ through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3, verses 26-29). And now I will finish up this lesson with the final few verses of chapter 14.

“Did the Word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, then he himself will be ignored. Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” (1st Corinthians 14, verses 37-40)

So, Paul the apostle was saying that what he was writing is the truth because he was led by the Spirit as he wrote his letters to the Corinthians, the Romans, Galatians and others. Anyone who refuses to go along with the order of worship as Paul has explained it will be ignored if they try to speak out of turn or otherwise unduly dominate the discussion within the service. “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”. We are all adults and so we should know what it means to be fitting and orderly in a service. And we should always do so out of a reverence for God that is highlighted by a sense of awe and worship. But there is one more important thing to consider. We don’t have to be in a church to pray to God, or to praise him, or to worship him. We as believers and followers of Jesus Christ can praise, worship or pray to him anytime and anywhere. To be at worship and to be giving God praise is the very essence of a Spirit-filled worship service, and it’s a frame of mind that we should try to be in every day. So let’s all work on this starting today, and use what we learn as we grow to live a better life for Jesus.

Following the Example Set By the Apostle Paul Makes Us Be More Christian Without Being Religious

Paul The Apostle’s Strict Personal Standards While Preaching The Gospel That We Should Emulate

(1st Corinthians 9, verses 15-27)

you did it to me

In today’s study I will take up where I left off last week and finish the ninth chapter of First Corinthians. Paul was writing this particular letter to the early church regarding whether he should be allowed to take any part of the church offering to cover his own expenses. This was in response to at least a few who had a problem with Paul using any portion of the offering for his personal needs. Paul was traveling from church to church at that time, working without a salary as we are accustomed, and he was incurring certain costs as he went, not the least of which was food. Obviously this money had to come from somewhere. The apostle Paul then goes on to describe why he saw nothing wrong with this practice so long as it was not done to gain personal profit. And, he points out that he never did so, beginning in verse 15.

 

“But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this; that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 15-18)

 

The first time I read through this first paragraph of scripture, I was struck by the contrast between what the apostle Paul was writing about and the materialistic version of watered-down Christianity that I have heard preached from many pulpits in the contemporary Church. There is a stark contrast between what Paul wrote about here and the way many “preachers” today enjoy generous salaries, real estate holdings and other investments, high-end luxury vehicles, even their own airplanes. That is why Paul wrote, “… in preaching the gospel I… offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it”. Paul didn’t care whether he got paid or not, so long as he could eat and have shelter, along with plenty of Christian fellowship since there was no radio, TV or internet.

 

It is for this reason that I think there are too many churches today (and many of the TV evangelists are undoubtedly the worst) that emphasize getting blessed by God over the act of blessing other people. This is an incorrect teaching that has undertones of blasphemy, and I am not comfortable with it at all. There is a scripture in the Bible that promises to reward those who work to spread the gospel up to “30, 60, or 100 times what he has sown”. But that verse refers to our heavenly reward when our physical lives are over, when only our soul will remain. It is written as such because it invokes Spiritual gain. In no way is it intended to glorify material gain over that of the Spirit of Christ. That most certainly qualifies as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which the Bible says “cannot be forgiven in this life, nor in the next.” If you are in a church and you hear that being preached as the ‘true gospel’, get out of there immediately. Never mind if leaving causes a stir, it’s far better to please God than it is to be concerned about offending men and women.

 

Does God want us to be happy? Sure He does! Does He want us to have a life of wellness and prosperity, lacking for nothing? Absolutely! But does God want us to be filthy rich? No way; in fact Jesus said, “You cannot worship both God and money. You must either love one or despise the other” (that’s paraphrasing what Jesus said, but it’s in all 4 gospels). This is a glaring contradiction to what the so-called “prosperity gospel” represents, and that’s why I stand against it. So, what is the correct way to preach the gospel of salvation in Christ? Paul describes this eloquently beginning in verse 19.

 

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I become like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I become like those under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I become like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I become weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 19-27)

 

In the above passage of Scripture, Paul makes it abundantly clear his motivation for preaching the gospel. It’s not about religion and it’s not about money and prosperity. It’s about souls, the souls of people that God cares about deeply, the souls for whom Jesus Christ was crucified and buried, only to be resurrected on the morning of the third day to live and rule forever! It’s about you and me worshiping that same Jesus in Spirit and in truth, regardless of our nationality, race, religion, gender, marital status, economic status, age, background or sexual orientation. Let me remind you all that God doesn’t care about any of the above because He isn’t concerned about what’s on the outside or what’s on the surface regarding any person. God is focused on what’s on the inside, the soul of every man, woman and child. This is because the degree to which Christ abides within the individual is directly proportional to the way he or she interacts with and treats others. After all, it is on the inside of us – within our souls and hearts and minds – where Jesus wants to dwell. But it’s up to us to invite Him in. That’s the secret of salvation through Christ. He never enters the heart unless He is asked. But if He is asked, He will come and abide there 100% of the time. Nobody gets turned down by Jesus. Nobody.

 

I try to emulate Paul the apostle in my ministry where I live and work near downtown Atlanta. I am a Caucasian man living in a neighborhood that is mostly Black. But this is where my missionary work takes place when I’m not working in my office at home. In the inner city of Atlanta, as many as 20% of the local population is homeless as I write this. I was once homeless myself after having a stroke, but eventually I got back on my feet again. But that experience taught me some difficult but very valuable lessons about life and how to bounce back from disastrous setbacks. In so doing I have succeeded in doing what Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago. I have run my “race” in such a way as to win the prize – eternal life with Jesus in heaven.

 

But I also recognize that living my life for Jesus was not possible until I first invited Him in. In so doing, I don’t try to act more African-American in order to get along with people in my neighborhood. Instead I treat them respectfully as equals, and I make sure they understand that it is my faith in Christ and my desire to serve Him that motivates me to perform this service in His holy name. By emulating Paul, I emulate Christ as well. Remember that it was Jesus who said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my children, that you do for me”. I challenge each and every one of you to begin doing this in the course of your everyday living. To win as many souls as possible, simply reach out to as many as possible in as many different ways as you can. No drama is required, no special skills either, so don’t be concerned about that. I guarantee you will feel really good about the result.