Power of choice, a new liberty?

Good Monday Morning to this week 51 of 2019

This week I saw a very disturbing picture of many worship leaders gathering at the White House. The same people who write songs about Jesus are endorsing policies that are destroying the very people Jesus cares so much about like immigrants and refugees.

This took me to reading Romans 13. This chapter is one of those classic passages, used to make sure we are all being obedient citizens, which historically has led Christians into all kinds of problems:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities…” (Romans 13:1)

We live in times where dissent is more important than ever. All around the world we are witnessing the rise of the “strongman” and brutal leaders. These are hard-line men that rule with an iron fist and with little regard for justice or the downtrodden.

Craig Greenfield took a closer look at this:

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, King Herod arrested some of the believers, including James and Peter, and put them on public trial. The night before the trial, an angel of the Lord woke Peter up, removed his chains, opened the prison doors and led him out the main gate of the prison.

Yet after escaping from jail, Peter went on to write:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

Or when Paul was in Damascus, he escaped from a strongman city governor who was trying to arrest him … after reaching safety, Paul wrote a surprising letter:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

The key to understanding is in the word “submit”. The Greek word hupo-tasso, which has been translated as “submit” or “be subject,” literally means to arrange stuff respectfully in an “orderly manner underneath”.

This simple meaning of “social orderliness” would have been understood by original readers, but it is a little obscured in our English translation.

This word is used in Ephesians 5:22 to encourage husbands and wives to submit to one another, and it reflects God’s concern for order and respect.

Here’s the main point – Paul and Peter believed that governing authorities are necessary for keeping the peace. God is a God of order – not anarchy or chaos.

But here’s where we go wrong. There’s ANOTHER word, hupo-kouo, which is best translated as “obey,” which literally means to conform, to follow a command, or to kowtow to an authority as a subordinate. wasn’t used by Peter and Paul, they chose not to.

Though Paul, Peter and other followers of Jesus deliberately disobeyed laws that were in conflict with God’s commands, they still submitted to the authorities by accepting the legal consequences of their actions.

As far back as the book of Exodus, the Hebrew midwives refused to carry out the Pharoah’s repugnant order to murder newborn babies.

Slavery was lawful. The holocaust was legal. Segregation and apartheid were legally sanctioned. Many of today’s laws are created to protect much “other” rather than people.

So does the law or does God dictate our ethics?

Could this be showing us another way to interpret Romans 13 as Peter and Paul meant? If we break an unjust law to highlight and protest its injustice, we should be willing to submit to the punishment for breaking such laws, so that we demonstrate our respect for the role of government, in general, no following a God of chaos, each doing whatever we want but a God of order and respect for one another and the governing authorities.

There are times when we, as followers of Christ, will be called upon to stand up with a holy ‘NO!’ in the face of evil and injustice.

This week I saw a preview of the film of the life of Franz Jagerstatter, a forgotten martyr, devout Catholic, telling the harrowing and heartbreaking true story of his life refusing to take the Hitler oath. During his military training in 1940, he notices the evil underlying the Nazi regime and arrives home dead-set on refusing to fight for the army in the future. He declared his refusal to fight when he was summoned back to the Linz barracks in 1943, where he was held in custody, transferred to Berlin-Tegel to await trial, and condemned to death for sedition.

Gregory Williams puts it this way:
The Greek word used in Romans 13 by Paul is exousia, which is defined: “power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases.” It is translated “right” in Hebrews Revelations and it is even translated “liberty” in Paul’s own 1Corinthians 8:9.

In the original text of the Bible the translation of exousia as liberty or right would fit the context of scripture. One may translate it as power of choice. The Greek word exousia is considered to be one of the strongest words in the Greek language representing the idea of liberty. Accepting the idea that Romans 13 is actually a statement by Paul in support of individual liberty, rather than a command to submit to the commands of authoritarian rulers, will be difficult for some pastors and Christians alike to admit.

Romans 13 could be read as follows: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher liberty. For there is no liberty but of God: the liberties that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the liberty, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the liberty? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.” Romans 13: 1,3

God desires that every man should have the unimpaired and divine right of choice as long as that choice does not violate the right of our neighbor to make his own choices. There is a distinction between the privileges of governments granted by the people and the rights of the people granted by God. We must not only care about the rights of others while exercising our own, but we must fulfill that obligation without infringing on the rights of our neighbor to make their own choices. To accomplish that mission prescribed by God we must discover the whole truth and provide for it.

From the beginning, our Creator has allowed that men have the power to choose to be free souls under God or go under the authority of other men and their gods. That choice is never without consequences.

As Christians, we not only profess Jesus as Lord but we follow him. We proclaim the Kingdom of God is here, just as he did. We don’t claim to be residents of earthly borders but of the kingdom that is within. Jesus is the only governing authority of this kingdom. To be disobedient and resist this authority is to not feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty or clothe the poor. It’s to not welcome the stranger into our home, our land. It’s to not forgive our enemies.

So what do we do when we see injustice within the governing authorities? Do we follow Jesus to feed the poor welcome the stranger and proclaim a different kingdom than the one the world system has drawn borders around and tries to keep people out of and say “the kingdom is within you, welcome”

In the upside-down kingdom where Jesus is Lord, the table is open to everyone.

Wishing you a wonderful week as you welcome this Jesus and his arrival to the world.

Philemon

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