PART 6 OF 12
The Church & The Empire
BY HERB MONTGOMERY
Let everyone be subject 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, whoever 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 you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents 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 as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7)
Well it’s been a whole month since our last eSight/podcast in this series, and I’d like to thank each of you for your patience during the month of July. We spent the first half of the month without electricity and the entire month without Internet or phone service, due to the storms that tore through West Virginia on the first of the month. It’s been quite an adventure around here, but we are finally getting back on our feet. Thank you sincerely for all your prayers and support during this time. (The length of this week’s eSight I’m sure will make up for the lack of eSights for the entire last month. Please be prepared, this week’s eSight is rather lengthy, but it needs to be to help us get our minds wrapped around why Paul wrote Romans 13.)
Last night I had a wonderful conversation with a dear friend on how Jesus’ peace teaching has revolutionized their life and transformed their picture of God. If we understand Jesus’ peace teachings correctly, they also revolutionize our understanding of the purpose of the Cross. The Cross was not about Divinely demanded violence, but God’s non-violent response to the Devil as well as our rebellion, which defeated the real Enemy, established God’s Kingdom here on earth again, and provided the means whereby we might be healed and restored from the whole experience. We are going to be closing this series with these thoughts so I won’t jump ahead to explaining them now. But we will get there. And in order to get there and to correctly see what Calvary was truly all about we must first get our heads around what Jesus’ peace teaching actually were.
Our passage this week is a passage with no small challenges. Parallel truths must be held in tension in order to come to the conclusions that Paul intended here in this passage. We must also be careful not to read our own agendas or nationalism into the passage, but to allow the passage to speak for itself, giving us Paul’s intended agenda. The problem Christians were facing in Paul’s day was that Christians were being forced to pay taxes to Rome to fund activities that went against their consciences or what they believed to be right. (Tax dollars funded Rome’s killing of Christians, Rome’s merciless slaughter of its political enemies, and Rome’s permissive stance toward infanticide.) How did Paul counsel them to react? This is why Paul wrote Romans 13.
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1)
Then Paul launches into why followers of Jesus are to live lives that are “subjected” to whatever kingdom of this world they find themselves in, even when they conscientiously disagree with what that particular kingdom is doing.
For there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever 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 you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents 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 as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:6-7)
I want to be clear from the very start of this section that to call Rome “God’s Servant” would have been extremely offensive to some Christians during this time. We must remember though, that just because someone or something is “God’s Servant” or has been “established by God,” it does not mean that God approves of everything this “agent” does, or that this agent always follows God’s will.
An example of this is found in the history of the Church itself. The Church (universal, not denominational) is established by God and is also one of God’s servants on this planet, BUT the Church’s history is chock full of times when the it has repeatedly strayed and done things that were anything but God’s will. You see, just because something is God’s servant or is established by God and given some authority over a certain domain, that does not negate free will. (By “free will” I simply mean the ability to make choices other than what God desires. I’m fully aware of the philosophical debate currently revolving in our culture around deterministic causes, influences, and how “free” the human will really is. I am simply using the term free will to refer to the ability to choose between “this or that.”)
Let me give another quick example of a kingdom of this world that was God’s agent, or servant, and yet exercised its free will to do something contrary to God’s desire.
But I am very angry with the nations who are at ease; for while I was only a little angry, they furthered the disaster. (Zechariah 1:15)
The context of this passage reveals how God used the nations surrounding Israel in the Old Testament to teach stubborn Israel how to influence society through “coming under” the nations they disdained, by taking away their “power to rule over” others. (see also Luke 22:25-6). Zechariah clearly states that these nations took it, though, too far, unleashing violence and destruction much more severe than what God intended. Therefore, they, too, were now going to receive God’s judgments.
We must understand this balance between Divine “agency/establishment” and the deep disapproval and rejection by God when these agencies act deeply contrary to what God established them for. Otherwise, we back ourselves into corner where we have to embrace things such as the horrors of the holocaust by Hitler and the Nazi Party as somehow an extension of God’s activity, rather than being able to rightly identify a renegade free will that is grossly abusing the governmental authority God gives to kingdoms of this world.
We must remember, when Paul wrote this, he wasn’t writing about some nation somewhere that doing things according to Biblical principles. The governing authority Paul was referring to was Rome! The very Rome that had crucified Jesus, and was now killing Christians, too!
But how does this apply to us today?
What we see in Romans chapter thirteen is that God has established two agencies in our current reality with two different roles:
1) kingdoms of the world
2) Christ’s Kingdom, which is “not of this world.”
As subjects of Christ’s Kingdom, we are called to live lives in submission to whatever kingdom of this world we find ourselves living in, realizing that even though we are not citizens of that kingdom but of a different kind of Kingdom, we are still to submit to whatever powers that be that exist in the kingdom of this world we find ourselves living under.
(It would be helpful at this stage if you are unfamiliar with the terms Intrinsic or Imposed to go back and listen to the presentation Love Me or I’ll Kill You in The Jesus Dialogue series on our website.)
The role of Christ’s Kingdom and the role of kingdoms of this world are radically different. The role of those who are part of Christ’s Kingdom is to put on display the beauty of God’s radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love, continuing the work that Christ Himself began. The role of the kingdoms of this world is best understood by the “imposed” paradigm. In the Old Testament Israel played the roles of both agent of imposed consequences and instructor of intrinsic consequences. This produced a very unclear, confusing picture of who God is and what He is really like. In the New Testament however, these two roles are separated. Those who claim to be members of Christ’s Kingdom are to live lives that point others to a picture of God that looks like Jesus. They are also to understand that the role of any kingdom of this world is NOT to reveal the truth about God, but rather to serve as a temporary accommodation (using the sword), being the lesser of two evils, to keep, through imposed law, those who are NOT members of Christ’s Kingdom from self destruction! In other words, their role is to keep humanity from killing itself off through the rampant violence and oppression of the strong against the weak. Some kingdoms of this world do it well. Some kingdoms of this world miserably fail. But none, even America, do it perfectly.
As a tangent, this is why I, personally, can agree that war is evil, and that followers of Christ, as members of His Kingdom, are NEVER to participate in war, and yet I must be extremely careful to not become obsessed with what any kingdom of this world is doing. When did Jesus ever concern Himself with how Caesar ran Rome? It (and America too) was a kingdom of this world, and Jesus knew He had a very different agenda from Rome. (This will become increasing clearer as we look next at Paul’s words about taxes.)
In other words, our goal is not to reform whatever kingdom of this world we find ourselves in. Our role is to live lives of radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love, non-violent love, putting on display the beauty of what God is really like as seen in the person of Jesus, realizing that we are part of a very different Kingdom which seeks to make a difference, which seeks to influence society, by very different methods. We are called to influence society, not by legislative “power over” but rather through the power of “coming under” others, with humble servant love, and to change society through non-violent power of humble servant love
Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-7, emphasis added.)
Let’s get back to our original passage. Paul then concludes all of this by saying:
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:6-7)
This is in perfect harmony with what Jesus also taught. Note the question and then Jesus’ answer.
“Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” . . . He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:22-5)
Neither Jesus nor Paul endorsed everything those taxes were supporting or funding. But still they said, “pay your taxes.” The focus of a follower of Jesus is not to withhold taxes as a means of forcing political reform. To reform how Rome did things would be short-sighted, as both Paul and Jesus rightly understood and taught. Rather, they both chose to focus on influencing and changing society through a radically different and more effective method instead. Both said, “Let me show you how to live in a way that will bring the end of all kingdoms of this world and their replacement by a radically different kind of Kingdom.”
This affects one’s view of patriotism too, which we will address shortly as well, but please notice the difference. As followers of Jesus, we do not pay our taxes because we are Americans, but rather because we are followers of Jesus and as our Lord, He commands us to pay the taxes due to whatever kingdom of this world we find ourselves living under. Pay your taxes! But live radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial lives of non-violent, humble servant love, which, when the principle of the mustard seed is understood correctly, will be the undoing of whatever kingdom of this world you find yourself in. I’ll say more about this in a moment when we talk about Constantine, but first I want to address five related applications to this.
1)The Current Health Care Debate:
I don’t want to disappoint you, but I’m not going to give you my political opinion on the current health care debate. I want to simply point out a few balancing considerations. First, as followers of Jesus we are members of a different Kingdom. We need to be careful not get all worked up because we are invested in what is happening to “our country.” America is NOT “our country.” It may be, in your opinion, the best kingdom this world currently has to offer. But it’s still, at best, a kingdom of this world. You belong to a different Kingdom as a follower of Jesus, a kingdom that is not of this world. And even if your tax dollars are going to fund health plans that support abortions, whether you agree with this or not, we must remember that in Jesus and Paul’s day, taxes went to fund things that were directly opposed to the values of Jesus’ Kingdom too, such as killing Christians, and the militaristic enlargement of Rome’s boarders. But both Jesus and Paul still said, even though those taxes are going to pay for things that go against what you believe to be right, pay your taxes, and then live a life of love that will bring about the replacement of this current kingdom of this world with a radically different Kingdom. (
Followers of Jesus in the first century were highly subversive when it came to Rome, even though they were also submitted. Even the terms “Gospel” and “Savior of the World” were Romans labels that were typically applied to Caesar. Jesus’ followers took these and applied them to Jesus instead. Today, we too must remember, the last great hope of this world is not America. The last great hope of the world today is the person Jesus Christ)
Again, I’m not going to give you my political opinion on this either. But I must confess that I love the way Mother Theresa responded to abortion. She didn’t seek to change society through legislative “power over.” Rather, she went to women who did not want their babies and asked if she could raise them. I’m not saying sit back and do nothing. I’m simply saying that we should never for a moment think that the Kingdom has been advanced by how we vote. Christ’s Kingdom was not advanced by getting Rome to pass certain laws. Christ’s Kingdom isn’t advanced through how we vote but through how we bleed. If you want to take a strong stance against abortion, then by all means, do it, but do it through the ways of the Kingdom. Go out right now and find an unwed mother who is scared to death, and instead of judging her, put your arm around her and tell her you’ve got her. She is not alone. Invite her into your home for the next nine months and tell her you’re going to walk through this with her.
During the next nine months, if she invites you in on the subject, then by invitation only, you can give her your opinion on what she should do. And if she decides to keep her baby, then you either help her find a good home for the child to be raised in, or you dedicate the next eighteen years of your life helping her raise her child. I know, it’s a huge investment to live your life in a Kingdom way. I know it’s easier to vote. But again, the Kingdom is advanced, not in how we vote, but in how we bleed. The Kingdom advances through radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love. First-century Christians understood this. They did not lobby Rome to outlaw infanticide. Rather, they hung out under bridges actually catching the babies families were throwing into the rivers. Were they deeply concerned? Yes. Did they act on that concern saving countless lives? Yes. Did they do so by petitioning Rome to change Roman laws? No. They understood that when Christ’s Kingdom partners with a kingdom of this world as a method of furthering its values, it simply ends up in the Church becoming the State’s whore. (See Revelation 17)
Am I saying “don’t vote”? By all means, no! If the kingdom of this world that you are living under asks your opinion on how they should do things, by all means, give it to them. But don’t allow yourself to think you have advanced Christ’s Kingdom by giving your opinion on how a certain kingdom of this world should go about doing things.
4) The Economy, Gun Control, Gay Marriage, Prayer in Schools . . . and the list goes on and on:
I want you to imagine Peter (the sword wielding, political zealot) and Matthew (the Jewish tax collector for the Roman version of the IRS) sitting down by a fire one night and having a conversation about the policies of Rome and how faithful and godly Jews should respond. This would be the equivalent of inviting a passionate Democrat and a passionate Republican over for a dinner and striking up a conversation about politics, on steroids! But both Matthew and Peter saw themselves as brothers, and fellow followers of Jesus, members of a radically different Kingdom which made their political disagreements irrelevant. The danger is when someone thinks that just because they are a follower of Jesus, that makes them somehow a political expert and that their position is the “Christian” position and that if you disagree with them on how a certain kingdom of this world should do things, somehow you are less a follower of Jesus than them, less a member of Christ’s Kingdom then them. We may feel very passionately about political opinions, but we must be very careful NOT to attach Jesus to our political agendas. To do so only damages the Kingdom we should be most concerned with and passionate about.
Paul’s words in Romans 13 should not be used as a blanket endorsement of everything any kingdom of this world does. It didn’t mean a blanket endorsement for Rome, and it doesn’t mean so for America. Too many times, I hear those who believe in justified violence using Romans 13 to justify being America’s loudest cheerleaders when America goes to war. No. What Romans 13 is saying is to live submitted, and even if you don’t agree with everything your tax dollars are paying for, pay your taxes. Nowhere in Romans 13 does Paul encourage us to join Rome in picking up the sword against Rome’s enemies! Within the context of Romans 13 (Romans 12), Paul actually says just the opposite.
Romans 12:17-21—Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So what do we do if we are forced into military service by the kingdom of this world we are living under if it should go to war? The answer to this isn’t simple, but one option, if it is available, is to register as a non-combatant. I know many vets who are my heroes who were pacifists but served in the military as medics. I do want to say here again that the Christian pacifism is very different than political pacifism. We are called to, as far as possible, live peaceable with all. I have a dear friend who was a medic in Vietnam who, every time I talk about Jesus’ peace teachings, becomes uncomfortable because he remembers being spit on by political anti-war activists when he returned home. That kind of political activism is antithetical to, and not fitting of, anyone who claims to be a member of Christ’s Kingdom either.
Please remember, when it comes to war, followers of Jesus would make the worst soldiers, for they, in following their Lord’s commands would “love their enemies.” But should we condemn a kingdom of this world for using the sword rather than the cross to control society, even when done correctly? (I say correctly because violence can be used for very wrong reasons: nations can go to war for reasons of greed, and police sometimes shoot innocent people. But this does not negate the sword wielded with pure motives. Should we condemn a kingdom of this world for wielding the sword, even if the motives are pure?) I don’t believe so. But by the same token, neither should members of Christ’s Kingdom participate in a kingdom of this world’s wielding of the sword instead of its picking up the cross. Members of Christ’s kingdom are called to lay down the sword and pick up the cross. Remember, God, according to Paul, has two servants: one who wields the sword (as a lesser of two evils) and one who influences society by laying down the sword and picking up the cross. But even when this is done correctly, sword wielding is something that is forbidden to a follower of Jesus. Again, Jesus did not concern Himself with how Caesar ran Rome. Instead, Jesus’ focus was setting up a totally separate and radically different Kingdom which would influence society by laying down the sword and picking up the cross. And this Kingdom would eventually, by a method long and slow, overcome and replace all kingdoms of this world and make them, even America, obsolete.
An excerpt from William Durant’s book, The Story of Civilization: Caesar and Christ, “He [Jesus] is not concerned to attack existing economic or political institutions. On the contrary, he condemns those ardent souls who would ‘take the Kingdom of Heaven by storm.’ The revolution he sought was a far deeper one, without which reforms could only be superficial and transitory. If he could cleanse the human heart of selfish desire, cruelty, and lust, utopia would come of itself, and all those institutions that rise out of human greed and violence, and the consequent need for law, would disappear. Since this would be the profoundest of all revolutions, beside which all others would be mere coups d’etat of class ousting class and exploiting in its turn, Christ was in this spiritual sense the greatest revolutionist in history” (1944).
Lastly, I’d love to recommend the eSight from January 16 in which I asked if we would give up being an “American” to be a follower of Jesus. You see, both Paul and Jesus were clear. As members of Christ’s Kingdom, when it comes to kingdoms of this world, we are not “dual citizens.” Early Christians saw themselves as aliens living under the rule of a kingdom of this world. They viewed themselves as foreigners.
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers . . .” (1Peter 2:11, emphasis added)
“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20, emphasis added)
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen.” (1 Peter 1:1, emphasis added)
This does not mean that they didn’t have a right to claim citizenship in these areas in which they lived. (Acts 21:39; Acts 22:28) What it means is that they had taken Jesus’ words seriously, “No one can serve two masters.” (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13) They had renounced their citizenship in their respective kingdoms of this world and chosen to dwell under the rule of that kingdom as an alien. They had embraced their new identity as citizens of a very different Kingdom, for which they were now ambassadors living under a foreign rule. (Ephesians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:20)
In short, Christians are known today for “taking back our country,” referring to America. First, as a follower of Jesus, America is NOT “our country.” Our founding father was not a list of early figures in American history, but rather Jesus Himself. “Our kingdom” is a kingdom that is “not of this world.” (John 18:36) Some of the most significant objections to embracing Jesus’ peace teachings that I hear are from those who are very deeply invested in their identity as Americans. When we see ourselves as Americans first, we will never be able to embrace Jesus’ peace teachings fully. Embracing Jesus’ peace teachings is deeply rooted in which kingdom you identify yourself as being a citizen of: a kingdom of this world, no matter how awesome that kingdom may be in your eyes, or Christ’s Kingdom.
Now I already hear some saying, then should we just let our society go to hell in a hand basket? Again, Jesus’ message of peace is not cultural passive-ism. It’s humble, servant pacifism. It means to sacrifice one’s own life if necessary, to create peace. We still seek to influence and change our society, but we do it by radically different methods. Love demands we do something. But it also dictates the form that that “something” should take. Today, speaking out for cultural “Christian” values too often is referred to as simply exercising our rights. (The Chick-fil-a “free-speech” issue in the news last week is a classic example.) Too often, the appeal to Christians is to “stand up for our rights.” Don’t let them take “our country” (i.e., America) away from us. But I don’t understand—where in the teachings of Jesus did He ever teach us to “fight for our rights”? On the contrary, our Lord modeled and commanded that we should be known not for how we “fight or our rights” but rather how we “lay down” our rights, being willing to die, in humble servant love, for those who are different than ourselves, even our enemies. (John 10:18) It’s counter intuitive I know, but it was this element which caused the exponential growth of the Kingdom in the first century and I would submit, it’s the absence of this principle which is causing the exponential decline of the church in ours.
Now, I’m fully aware that kingdoms of this world would quickly cease to exist if they followed Jesus’ command to love their enemies. I want to say two things. First, Jesus was not giving a command for how the kingdoms of this world are to operate, but rather how those who are followers of Jesus are to live. Kingdoms of this world are to wield the sword. Jesus’ followers and members of His Kingdom are NOT. Second, the objection that America would cease to exist if it followed Jesus’ peace teaching is more profound than it appears to be at first; the elimination of nations could be an actual the intent of the command. In short, if what Jesus prophesied about His Kingdom is to come true, America, as a kingdom of this world, must fail. (Boy that statement alone is a litmus test for which kingdom you are most invested in. Today, as a follower of Jesus, I’m becoming more and more convinced that we really are too invested in being “Americans.”) Follow this closely.
The Mustard Seed/Leaven Principle:
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:31-3)
In using the mustard seed analogy of subversively growing until it becomes a large tree, Jesus is borrowing imagery from Daniel 4, which was originally used to represent Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, which had taken over the world. Over and over again, Jesus reveals throughout the gospels that He possessed a very good knowledge of the book of Daniel. He saw the language of Daniel 7’s Kingdom applicable to Himself. He saw Daniel 2 apply to His radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered Kingdom as well.
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. (Daniel 2:44-5, emphasis added.)
Constantine saw how the non-violence of Christ’s Kingdom would soon be the undoing of Rome. Again, Christianity was growing at an exponential rate. It could not be crushed out. For every one you killed, ten more took their place. (This should prove that non-violence would not lead to extinction of the Kingdom, but actually to its growth.) If everyone became Christian, who would fight Rome’s enemies? It would be the undoing of Rome. Rome would be overtaken by its enemies. But what we often neglect to think about is that Jesus’ Kingdom would then become the undoing of whatever kingdom of this world took Rome’s place too! This process would continue over and over until Jesus’ Kingdom, eventually, and through non-violent means, would be the last Kingdom standing. The small mustard seed, through subversive, long, slow, growth, would take over the world! But if one was heavily invested in their identity of being a Roman and their love for Rome, these words were treason. And to those who are too heavily invested in being an American and their love for America, I’m sure my words here sound just as treasonous. But, again, the last great hope of the world is not America. The last great hope for people in this country is not who wins the presidency in November. The last great hope for this country and for the world is quite simply—Jesus.
It is interesting to note that throughout the Reformation, Protestants murdered Anabaptists, too, saying that their literal interpretation of the peace teachings of Jesus would allow the Turks to overrun Europe. In this we see Constantine’s same insightful concern. It struck fear into the Europeans and led to the murder of countless Anabaptist proponents of Christ’s teaching to “love our enemies.” (Michael Sattler was only one of many who Protestants used “Fear of the Turks” as justification to burn people at the stake.)
I’m not naïve about any of this. This is not a sit back and let others do the dirty work approach. It’s actually quite the opposite. If Jesus’ teachings, which remember are rooted in His picture of God, are taken seriously, then yes, the lives of those who follow Jesus will be lost. But the Kingdom will also be advanced by exponential measures. Today we are too preoccupied with preserving our life or having our lives preserved, when first century followers of Jesus were focused rather on how they might give their lives up. We must remember that the hope of the early church was not a life that possessed all the privileges of the American dream. No, no! The hope of the early church was the resurrection!
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am [being hung on a Roman cross], my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:23-6)
I want to close this week with three passages from Paul and one from Jesus for you to simply meditate on. It’s my prayer that we, as followers of Jesus today, will continue to lay down the sword more and more in our lives while we simultaneously embrace the way of the cross more and more as well. I know this transition can’t be made overnight for many of us, but we need to be at the very minimum, in the process of laying down the sword more and more and picking up the cross as our means of influencing society more and more as well. Romans 13 was not for the purpose of calling followers of Jesus to pick up the sword in partnership with Rome. But rather, it was a call to understand the role that even kingdoms of this world play, to still pay our taxes, even when we don’t agree with the policies of whichever kingdom we belong to. And to live radically submitted but subversive lives which will bring about a better Kingdom. When it comes to kingdoms of this world, we are called to neither condemn, nor participate. We are called to a third option. To live radically other-centered lives which will eventually be the undoing of all kingdoms of this world, as they are replaced by a Kingdom which does life very differently. We are to keep kingdoms of this world and Christ’s Kingdom distinct in our thoughts and in our lives. Kingdoms of this world trust power over others. Christ’s Kingdom trusts the power of coming under others. Kingdoms of this world aim at controlling outward behavior. Christ’s Kingdom seeks to change society from the inside out. Kingdoms of this world are tribal, their primary concern being only those within their borders and those who fight on their side. Christ’s kingdom is universal. An example of this is that Jesus’ followers are not only to pray for American troops, but Al-Qaida’s troops, too, seeing no nationalist boundaries, but only those whom Jesus died for, praying first and foremost, not for one side to kill more than the other, but rather for peace, all the while loving our enemies. Related to this, kingdoms of this world fight battles that are earthly. Christ’s Kingdom sees earthly “enemies” not as enemies, but as victims of the true Enemy (See Ephesians 6:12), victims that Jesus died for, and victims who need saving from the true Enemy just as much as those whom they are hurting need to be saved from them. Christ’s Kingdom’s enemies are not earthly, therefore Christ’s Kingdom’s battles are not earthly either. And lastly, kingdoms of this world trust in violence for violence, tit-for-tat, which always escalates. (Rocks become knives, knives become guns, guns become bombs, bombs become nuclear bombs, etc.) Christ’s Kingdom responds to violence, not with more violence, but with love, “overcoming Evil with Good.” (Romans 12:21)
Here are those passages. The first is what Paul climaxes with in Romans 13.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12, emphasis added)
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4)
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am [being hung on a Roman cross], my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” (John 12:23-6)
I’m going to recommend this month’s featured presentation on RHM’s website too. It’s entitled Religion and Politics. It, I’m sure, will fill in the many gaps that can’t possibly be filled in the limitations of an eSight. I know this is not complete. It does not answer all the questions that revolve around keeping kingdoms of this world separate from Christ’s Kingdom. But the purpose here is to discuss this topic in it’s relation to Jesus’ peace teaching and so far, there is nothing in Romans 13 that tells us to pick up the sword. Pay your taxes yes, but pick up the sword? No. Next week we continue with part seven. We still have the issues of intruders who enter our homes, domestic violence, Hitler and the Allied Forces, as well as making sense of Jehovah’s commanded violence in the Old Testament in contrast to Jesus’ peace teachings. We are more than halfway through this series. If you are still with me, you are my hero!
Keep living in love and loving like Christ. Keep building the Kingdom.
I love each of you dearly,