Monthly Archives: August 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013 – Greet One Another…

Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ.  Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you.  Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.  Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.  Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.  Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus.  Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus.  Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.  Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also.  Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them.  Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.  Greet one another with a holy kiss. – Romans 16:3-16

Paul ends his letter to the Romans by greeting the Romans, that is by telling the readers to, “Say hey for me” to these various persons.  Most of the final chapter of the epistle is just a list of obscure names.  Look for a minute at the list.  Paul actually begins with Phoebe in verse 1, then in our passage he lists Prisca and Aquila, the fellow tent-makers we know from 1 Corinthians.  Here Paul tells us both that they took great risks for him and that a church is housed in their home.  Paul then mentions Epaenetus from Asia and Mary, the hard worker.  He remembers Andonicus and Junia who became special to Paul during their joint imprisonment.  Then Paul simply drops the names of a whole group of people, the most interesting of whom may be Tryphaena and Tryphosa.  We assume they were twins.  Then Paul continues his list until he finally gets to Olympas.

The list seems endless and deadly for the most part.  Perhaps we usually just gloss over such lists; however, there is something wonderfully important about a list like this.  It reminds us that when all is said and done, the gospel message is incredibly personal.  The scriptures tell us that God knows us by name and that God calls us by name.  Perhaps you remember in John’s Gospel that Lazarus came to life when Jesus called him by name, and Mary Magdalene did not recognize the risen Christ until he called her by name.  And here, after Paul lays out a carefully crafted theological treatise, he greets and calls specific individuals in the fledgling church by name.

We may not read the lists when we come across them in scripture, but the inclusion of the names of these individuals, who both found new life in Christ and lived out that faith in authentic ways, assures us that our lives, our faith, and our witness are not without meaning.  God knows us by name.

Lord, remind me that in your kingdom I am not a nobody.  You have bought me at a price; you know me by name; and I am yours.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Thursday, August 29, 2013 – Abound in Hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

Paul follows his first benediction in this section of his letter to the Romans with a second – a blessing for joy, peace, and hope.  ”May the God of hope fill you,” Paul writes.  Notice that Paul is anchoring joy and peace in our “God of hope.”  The message here is that we achieve joy and peace not so much by pursuing them as by pursuing God.  This is quite remarkable and counter intuitive.  Joy and peace are ultimately unsustainable if they are circumstantial, that is if they are based on the things of life lining up in an acceptable, beneficial way.  When joy and peace come to us as gifts of God, they are more profound than the circumstances we face, such that even when things go terribly wrong, we can affirm, “it is well with my soul.”

We find this very idea expressed in the old Bible school song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart” and its second stanza “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart.”  We teach our children that these are gifts of God, but it is easy for us to live as though we can only experience joy and peace if all the world will cooperate with us.  Paul affirms that these are God’s gifts, and he goes on to express that these gifts are triggered by our active beliefs.

The concept of believing can be a bit ambiguous.  At the end of his masterful expression of Christian theology, Paul here is talking not only of the acceptance of basic doctrines of the Christian faith, but also of allowing these beliefs to position us so that we may accept God’s gift of salvation.  Our beliefs in themselves offer little transformative power.  But when our beliefs give birth to absolute trust in God and feed a desire for us to relinquish our sinful self-orientation and to live to God’s purposes and glory, then we find direction for life and courage to live in godly ways.  It is in this full expression of belief and trust and transformation and courage that we receive the blessings of the Holy Spirit.  It is in this full expression of belief that we are empowered to advance the kingdom of God by living with purpose and hope above the pettiness and fear and divisions and temptations of the world.  We still experience the disappointments and defeats of life’s experience, but because our joy and peace are gifts of God, they cannot be taken from us by life’s circumstances.

So Paul is offering you and me his blessing that his expression of theology in this epistle may do more than give us something to think about.  It is his prayer that coming to know more about God’s eternal plan may stir within us a desire to know God personally, to trust God fully, and to let God have his way with us.  When that transaction takes place, our beliefs blossom into life-transforming faith, and  ”the God of hope” pours into us “joy and peace in believing,” that through all circumstances we will “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

May it be so with us all!

Lord, I believe.  Help thou my unbelief.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Wednesday, August 28, 2013 –

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15:5-6

As Paul nears the end of his epistle to the Romans, he offers a series of benedictions.  In fact in chapter 15 alone Paul includes three such benedictions, and all of that comes before we even venture into chapter 16 with its final benediction. We read the benediction which is our text for today in verses 5 and 6 with an appeal to God to grant harmony.  A few verses later, we read, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (v. 13), and at the end of the chapter, we find this benediction, “The God of peace be with all of you. Amen” (v. 33).  It may at first seem that Paul just could not stop writing, like a preacher who could say, “I’m talking and I can’t shut up.”  However, it is not just that Paul could not find his ending.   There is something more going on here.

Part of our difficulty is that we tend to think of a benediction as the final word.  After all, we are familiar with the benediction which comes at the close of worship services.  It may simply seem to be a dignified and holy way to say, “That’s all folks.”  But such is not the meaning of the term benediction.  The word benediction is composed of two Latin words: bene, which means good (as in beneficial) and diction, which means word (as in dictionary).  Benediction is simply a “good word.”  If it were the “last word” it would be demumdiction or superdiction.

Benediction means “good word.”  Sometimes people ask us to “put in a good word for me.”  They are seeking a form of a benediction.  In the faith, a benediction is a blessing, it is an offering of a good word over someone.  In that regard, Paul would encourage us to fill our language and our lives with benedictions, with blessings which build and strengthen and elevate.

Paul blends benedictions in with his instructions.  As Paul continues to teach those in Christ how to live in harmony, he concludes each section with a benediction, with a good word, with a blessing.  Here he is appealing to God to allow these teachings to be made manifest among the people of God.  What Paul is doing here is holding a form of a conference with the church in Rome and God.  They all at the table, and Paul is appealing to them all to strengthen and extend the work of the church in Rome and throughout the world.

There is a great lesson here.  In reading these words we are reminded of those who have invested themselves fully in our faith, and who centuries ago gave us a benediction, a good word.  As we receive these blessings, the prayer of Paul is that we will become a blessing.  Paul prays over you, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another.”

In this conference with Paul and God, we receive blessings for one purpose – to become a blessing.  Paul’s hope is that the church in Rome and the people of Christ everywhere will be blessed indeed and will become a blessing in their thoughts, words, and deeds so that the work of Jesus Christ will be extended, and so that together this conference of people, including Paul and the Christians in Rome and you and me and everyone who is in Christ through all time “may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now that’s a benediction indeed!

Lord God, thank you for your good word.  Help me receive your blessing and become a blessing to your glory.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 – We Are the Lord’s

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. – Romans 14:7-8

In the midst of addressing the divisions which threaten the church, Paul offers the theological underpinnings for sustainable unity. Put simply, Paul writes that we are united because we all belong to God.  It is this basic declaration that “we are the Lord’s” which anchors Christian unity not on a point of doctrine or a style of worship or a political persuasion but on being in Christ.  When anything else takes the place of the supremacy of Christ, the result is always division.  On the other hand, when we allow Jesus Christ to be Lord of our lives both individually and corporately, we experience a receptive and redemptive unity.

When unity is centered in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, it is strong enough so that uniformity is not required.  Paul writes these words in the midst of his teaching that Christians can hold different viewpoints on a vast array of issues.  In this chapter he addresses three: dietary habits, observance of holy days, and drinking wine.  There is no insistence that everyone agree on every issue in the body of Christ.  Free and creative thinking is even encouraged under the lordship of Jesus Christ.  The unity is centered on that which is strong and sustainable, powerful and proven, not fleeting and fickle.

When unity is centered in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, it becomes a manifestation of our salvation.  The essence of salvation is that “we do not live to ourselves.”  As we come into relationship with Jesus Christ, we die to ourselves and live to God.  Our sinful, divisive, egoist, hedonistic nature is crucified, and we experience new life in Christ.  In belonging to Christ we belong to others who have also died to self and live to the glory of God.

When unity is centered in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we are able to differentiate the cardinal issues from the non-cardinal issues.  The cardinal issues are those which are necessary unto salvation, those which guide us into right relationship with God, those which bring us under the lordship of Jesus Christ.  That’s why Paul writes, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).  He is simply affirming that coming under the Lordship of Jesus Christ requires God’s action, God’s grace.  Those in Christ may observe different traditions in worship, may hold different theological positions about a variety of issues, may live out faith in different contexts, may develop different disciplines of personal piety, may champion different political issues – and every bit of it serves to honor Christ Jesus and glorify God.  When the cardinal issues unite, the non-cardinal issues differentiate without dividing.

And notice that in comparison to living in the grace and truth of God for the greater purpose and grander glory of God, all divisions lose their significance – nothing more than children fussing on the playground.  How powerful it is for our own salvation and for unity among Christians for us to know that “we do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves… whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s!”  Thanks be to God.

Lord Jesus, be the Lord of my life.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Monday, August 26, 2013 – Who Are You to Pass Judgment?

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.  Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.  Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.  Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. – Romans 14:1-4

As Paul moves toward the end of his list of instructions to the Church in Rome, he focuses on the relationship between those who are new to the faith and those who are more seasoned in it.  Differences in theological understanding, spiritual depth, life experiences, and personal history can pose a significant obstacle to Christian unity.  Such was the case in the earliest churches.  Such is the case today.

Not surprisingly, Paul calls for a spirit of sacrifice and service, not of status and superiority.  ”Welcome those who are weak in faith,” Paul writes, “But not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.”  Paul’s insight emerges from an understanding that the Christian faith is a journey, not a destination.  Those who are in Christ are all pilgrims on this journey.  Some are farther along than others, and it is up to them to show hospitality and patience in coaching those who are just beginning.

Especially when confronted with the vast marketplace of faith communities in our day and time, we do well to heed Paul’s advice.  It is easy for us to become smug in our theological understandings, worship practices, and denominational traditions.  Our feelings of superiority are accompanied by divisive pride and mean-spirited judgment.  Paul leaves no room for such attitudes or practices.  ”God has welcomed them,” Paul affirms, “Who are you to pass judgment…?”

Paul uses as his prime example the controversial practice of eating food which had been sacrificed to idols.  Paul agreed with the more progressive theological viewpoint both that the idols were powerless and that the meat was not tainted by the practice.  He gave his blessings to those who ate such meat; however, he also understood that there were many in Christ who found the practice spiritually repugnant.  Paul called for both groups to offer genuine hospitality to those who held opposing views on the matter.  Paul’s message to both groups was the same: instead of acting on our rights to eat or to stand in judgment, we relinquish our rights for the purpose of building up the church.

Notice that Paul is not calling for Christians to be hypocritical.  He is not telling the people of faith to deceive or hide their actions or viewpoints from others.  He is simply instructing the church not to give dietary habits or other non-essential matters of faith the power to divide the people of God. Paul coaches us not to dishonor others either by flaunting our position in a divisive way or by claiming to be something which we are not.  Instead, Paul calls upon us to show honor to our brother or sister by acknowledging their position and by choosing not to offend as an act of Christian hospitality.

In our day, the issue of eating meat is not so controversial as it was in Paul’s day; however, a host of other non-essential positions polarize the nation and the church.  Paul’s teaching is the same.   Those who are in Christ are to journey together in a spirit of mutual love and honor through acts of hospitality and service.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your patience in teaching, serving, and sacrificing for us all.  Give us your spirit that we may take delight in following your example, as we build up the beloved community of faith.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Friday, August 23, 2013 – The Armor of Light

The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.  Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. – Romans 13:12-14

Paul ends this section of specific instruction with a general, over-arching, forward-looking, triumphant expression of the expectations of the people of God.  ”The night is far gone, the day is near,” Paul writes, announcing that a new age of transforming the world by living out our faith in Christ has come.

“Put on the armor of light,” Paul commands, as a general readying troops for battle.  The emphasis here is not on the specific gifts of God to equip soldiers of Christ as in Ephesians 6.  Here Paul speaks of armor both as being the uniform which identifies the soldiers’ allegiance and as being the only weapon needed in the battle between good and evil.  Paul concludes his brief instruction in the same way, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Paul is calling for God’s people to live out their new life in Christ by denouncing the murky immorality of darkness and living in honorable ways that befit the gospel.  The uniform of these soldiers, the authentication of their allegiance to Jesus Christ, is not seen in colors or patches or emblems or words but simply in moral actions.  The weapon issued to these soldiers is simply light.  Paul’s message is clear, we advance the cause of Christ by living honorably as in the light of day, not dishonorably as under cover of darkness.

Paul was convinced that by living out their faith through elevated morals, expectations, and purposes, and by engaging in noble acts of love and grace, the people of God could transform the world from darkness to light.  Paul warns that the darkness is not benign.  Cast off “the works of darkness,” Paul instructs, and “put on the armor of light,…put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. joined Paul in this confidence as he called for those who championed civil rights and justice not to fight force with force or hatred with hatred, but to fight non-violently, armed only with truth and love.  Echoing Paul’s writings, King reminded the world, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

This teaching is empowering.  Not all of us can bring great changes in the international landscape, but by the grace and power of God everyone of us can drive out the darkness in our lives and advance the cause of Christ as we live in loyalty to the Lord of Life and as we “put on the armor of light.”

“…for not with swords’ loud clashing, or roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”

Lord Jesus, shine your light in me that through elevated motives, words, and deeds I may reflect your grace and truth and push back the darkness.  Amen.

 

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013 – Deadlines and Lifelines in Prophetic Standard Time

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; – Romans 13:11

“You know what time it is,” Paul writes.  In our post-industrialized culture, we are well aware of precisely what time it is.  That is, we are surrounded with calendars and clocks and and other time-telling mechanisms, which help keep us on schedule or remind us that we are running behind.  However, when Paul writes about time, he is not writing about the exact day or hour but about  an awareness of the ripeness of time, the fullness of time.  He is writing about what I like to call Prophetic Standard Time.  In fact, had someone responded to Paul by saying, “Yes, I know what time it is, it is 9:00 in the morning,” she would have missed Paul’s point entirely.

Paul’s understanding of time is less exact and more profound.  It is more like the farmer who knows, not from the calendar but from the angle of the sun, when it is time to plant.  It is like lovers who know that their relationship has matured to the point that it is time to talk about marriage.  It is like parents who know from the emotional and spiritual development of their child when it is time to back off and give a bit more freedom.

“You know what time it is….it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep,” Paul writes.  In addition to the prophetic sense of time, Paul is also using time to speak of urgency and importance.  One of the problems we often face in our over-scheduled lives is that not all of the important things in life are urgent, and not all of the urgent things in life are important.  Most time planning systems work by helping us distinguish between the things which are merely urgent and the things which are truly important.  I like to call this, distinguishing between deadlines and lifelines.  It is this wisdom which Paul offers – an awareness that eternal matters may not seem urgent, but they are of greatest importance.  In fact, they are only things that really matter.  They are lifelines in a deadline world.

“Salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”  Though it often goes unseen and unappreciated, God’s work is unfolding within and about us, bringing healing and wholeness, ushering in a kingdom of justice and peace, creating relationships of grace and mercy, and heralding truth which sheds light and offers life.  Paul’s message to you and me is the same one he wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Wake up, be alert, join in.  You don’t want to miss this!”

Lord, forgive me for rushing through life chasing deadlines which are urgent while neglecting the lifelines which are truly important.  Speak to my heart that I may not merely know  the day and the hour but perceive that this is the time for me to live fully and faithfully in your grace and truth.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 – Obligated by Love

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

Paul writes that those in Christ are not to be debtors, that is, they are to “owe no one anything, except to love one another.”  When we are indebted to someone, that person has a claim on us, and we have an obligation to that person.  When we are indebted to someone, that person, at least in some measure, has control over us.  Our decisions, allegiances, and motives are affected by being in the position of debtor.  When we are indebted to someone, our relationship with that person is redefined by that obligation.  Paul warns the people of God not to allow debt to rule our lives, “Owe no one anything.”

“Except to love one another,” Paul interjects. Paul speaks of our only rightful obligation to anyone (and indeed to everyone) as being love.  Love makes a claim on us just as forcefully as debt does; love shapes our decisions, allegiances, and motives just as forcefully as debt does.  Love redefines our relationships with others just as forcefully as debt does.  Those who are in Christ recognize that love does not free us so much as it binds us.

Paul then brackets a listing of several of the Ten Commandments by saying that love is the fulfillment of the law.  By stating this teaching about love both before and after the commandments, Paul is affirming a timeless truth.  Love is both the foundation of the law and the fulfillment of it.

There are two primary loves – love of God and love of neighbor.  Love of God is referred to in scripture as righteousness, a right relationship with God.  We find this teaching to love God with all that we are and all that we have both in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5) and in the Gospel record of Jesus’ teaching (Mark 12:29-30).  The law is built on this precept, as we can see in the first four commandments (Exodus 20:2-11).  In many ways, these commandments offer insight into our obligation to God.

  • Have no other gods before me.
  • Make no idols.
  • Offer no wrongful use of the Lord’s name.
  • Keep the Sabbath Day holy.

The second love which defines a Christian’s life is love of neighbor.  Love of neighbor as self is also found both in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18) and in the Gospel record of Jesus’ teaching (Mark 12:31).  This love is expressed in two ways throughout scripture –  justice and mercy.  On a governmental level, love of neighbor is embodied through justice.  On a personal level, love of neighbor expresses itself in mercy.  The law is built to establish and preserve justice and to encourage mercy, as seen in the final six commandments, which focus on our relationships with others.  These commands begin with the most primary relationship of child to parent, of one generation to another, and extend outward.  These laws define our basic obligation to others.

  • Honor parents.
  • Do not murder.
  • Do not commit adultery.
  • Do not steal.
  • Do not bear false witness.
  • Do not covet.

There is a danger in seeking to codify love, for the law can be carried out apart from love.  It is possible to obey the law without fulfilling it, such as following the law not with love but with spite and resentment, even hatred.  It is also possible to break the law and still fulfill it, as Jesus did when he responded to the needs of people and healed them on the Sabbath Day.  His love for others overpowered the restrictions of the law.

The teaching is helpful – love creates an obligation to God and to others.  We are not free to do as we please when we love.  We are bound by our love to live in righteousness, justice, and mercy; and when we do that in love, we fulfill our obligation – we fulfill the law.

Lord, we love not because we must but because we may.  We love because you first loved us.  Perfect my love that my life may be defined by righteousness, justice, and mercy.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

Tuesday, August 20, 2013 – Taxes, Revenue, Honor

For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing.  Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. – Romans 13:6-7

Paul continues his instruction to the fledgling church about relations with the state, and he turns his attention to an issue of contention both then and now – taxes.  Paul’s instruction in short, pay your taxes.

Of course not paying taxes was not a viable option in Paul’s day, just as it is not in our day.  So Paul brings up this issue to offer a greater teaching, “Pay to all what is due them.”  This teaching sounds reminiscent of Jesus’ instruction to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s” (Mark 12:17).  Paul lists three ways those in Christ are to “pay to all what is due them.”

“Taxes to whom taxes are due,” Paul begins, referring most likely to the direct property taxes and poll taxes which the inhabitants of conquered nations were required to pay to Rome.  As a Roman citizen, Paul would have been exempted from these direct taxes.  Many Jews resisted these taxes because they also had to pay the Temple tax; however, Paul recognized that submission to the governing authorities required paying “taxes to whom taxes are due.”

“Revenue to whom revenue is due,” Paul continues.  In the context of his argument, revenue most likely refers to the indirect taxes which Rome collected, such as sales taxes, tolls, and customs.  The resistance to the indirect taxes imposed by Rome grew so intense in Palestine that in 58 AD (roughly the time Paul wrote this letter) there was an organized tax revolt.  Paul would have none of it.  He recognized that the state had the right to impose such taxes on its inhabitants, and his instruction is clear for those in Christ to pay “revenue to whom revenue is due.”

“Honor to whom honor is due,” Paul concludes.  While the first two items refer to the specific taxes which were imposed on the inhabitants of Palestine, the final instruction is more general, not limited it seems to the state or governing officials.  Though Peter writes, “Fear God; honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17), Paul seems to be using the third instruction in his triplet as the climax, the break-away teaching which puts the other teachings in proper perspective and makes them palatable.  Looking at the teaching from the perspective of this climax, we can understand that Paul is telling believers to pay the direct taxes and the indirect taxes to the state.  After all, it’s only money.  But when it comes to honor, give honor only to those who are worthy of it.    Whom does Paul have in mind?  We don’t know for sure, but his writings include, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17).  Certainly Paul would affirm that such worship would be giving “honor to whom honor is due.”

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

 

Monday, August 19, 2013 – Governing Authorities

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. – Romans 13:1-4

Much of the initial excitement surrounding Jesus was from those persons who hoped that his movement might finally expel Rome from Palestine.  In other words, they saw Rome as the enemy and understood Jesus to be offering a new political reality, free from oppression.  But when Jesus spoke of ushering in a kingdom, his focus was not on politics at all.  Paul makes this point clear, as he not only refuses to denounce the Roman occupation of Palestine, but in fact calls for those in Christ to “be subject to the governing authorities.”

In his writing, Paul assures the Roman government that there is no reason to be suspect of the new faith movement, and he clarifies that those who are in Christ do not have a political agenda.   Moreover, Paul commends the order established and maintained by the governing authorities as being divinely guided.  In several of his letters Paul refers to a divine order, such as in 1 Corinthians, where Paul writes, “Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3), and in Colossians, where Paul writes of Christ Jesus, “He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18).  The idea of a right ordering of things was an important concept to Paul, who affirmed, “God is a God not of disorder” (1 Corinthians 14:40).  From this perspective Paul writes that as governments establish order, they work in concert with God’s desire for order in his creation.  Paul then calls for the Christian community to view the secular government from that perspective, and he warns, “those who resist will incur judgment.”

Paul envisioned that the law would be nearly irrelevant to the people of God.  Most law, after all, whether it is political or ecclesiastical, is designed to control sin.  Those who are in Christ are being sanctified and are seeking to live above the minimal morality required by law.  For instance, not only do those in Christ not commit murder, as the law demands, they don’t even hate.  The law, therefore, and those who enforce it are not a threat to those in Christ.  Paul instructs the church, “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.”

Paul does not differentiate between good and corrupt regimes or good and corrupt rulers.  Church tradition holds that Paul, himself, was martyred in Rome by the same governing authorities he commended as being “God’s servant for good.”  While the law offered Paul certain protections as a Roman citizen, it did not protect him or Christ Jesus from being savagely put to death in the name of maintaining order.

Good Father, the world often seems out of order, allowing evil persons to prosper while good people are harmed.  Bring a right ordering to my life, and empower me to join in your on-going work to create a good, just, and orderly world.  Amen.

Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston