God’s Servants

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Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

As you see, the text in Romans begins with verse 8, but I think we need to look at verses 1-7. 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 GodNIV

This whole section has been used and abused by leaders and governments for two millennium. What was Paul saying?

First, consider the time frame. This letter to the Church of Rome was written about 30+ years after the resurrection. The worst enemies of the Church were Jews who considered followers of the Way, as it was called then, to be heretics. The Roman government had no complaints about the followers. Yes, a few leaders of the followers were executed, including Peter and Paul a few years later in Rome, but the serious persecutions were decades in the future.

Paul wants the Church to tread lightly with the Roman government. Treat them nicely so they have no reason to turn on you. 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 wrongdoerNIV

Back in verse 1, we read that God established governments. Christians have had reason to question what Paul meant when we have seen so many authorities abuse their powers. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, the list could be nearly endless. Did God give His permission for such brutality?

In answer, let me quote a footnote from Clarence Jordan on this idea. He translated verse 4 this way. Therefore it is obligatory that you submit, not only for the sake of society but conscience. His footnote explains why he chose to use the word society instead of the more proper wrath. The word which we translate “society” here is literally “the wrath.” As in other places in Paul’s letters it seems to refer to the whole human structure which God has allowed rebellious man to build in an effort to order his life quiet apart from God. Though God is highly displeased with this godless, man-made order, or society, he still is interested in and concerned for it. So while God does not will this order, he does permit it, and therefore its officers and rulers may be considered his “agents.” His love still wishes no evil to this “child of wrath,” but longs for its ultimate redemption. Cotton Patch

Lord of the Flies is a 1954 novel by Nobel Prize-winning British author William Golding. The book focuses on a group of British boys stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempt to govern themselves. Golding intended this story to remind us of how easily humans mess up governments; how easy it is for those with power to abuse it. That is also on Paul’s mind as he writes the letter to Rome.

His overriding hope was that by always showing love, his flock would be safe. We know from the NT that Paul was arrested and sent to Rome where he was under house arrest and later put in prison. Luke stops the story there. From Clement and others we learn that both Paul and Peter were executed.

Clement became Bishop of Rome in 92 CE. He was likely converted to Christianity by Peter. He replaced Anacletus who replaced Linus who likely replaced Peter. I am a Protestant, but I do accept the evidence that Peter was considered the leader of the Church of Rome for a few years until his death. There is no record of him being called Bishop until the 3rd Century. Not ever the Roman Catholic Church suggest that Peter started the Church of Rome. It is also unlikely that Peter was ever in Rome until a few years before his death.

Back to Paul’s words.

The man who loves his neighbour has obeyed the whole Law in regard to his neighbourPhillips This is clearly the same message that Jesus gave to the Pharisees (Matthew 22:36-40) when they asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV

You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. MSG

Anything that injures a person physically or mentally is sin. Name calling, unfairly attacking people, thinking of some people as devils, lying, ignoring facts, abusing whatever power you have, all are sin.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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