Who’s in Charge?: “Take Your Leaders to Me”

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Some people really love to fight about who should be the next President and who should have been the last one. I mean, I know it matters. I want good leaders running the show. But no matter who gets the most votes, about half the people end up unhappy every four years.

charge_350So what should we do about it? For starters, Paul said we should pray for the winners, either way, and he doesn’t seem to care whether we approve of them or not.

Just for the record, Paul’s government leaned toward being truly evil. Still, he urged Timothy (and us) to ask God to help our leaders, to ask him to intervene in their lives, and to tell him thank you for them. Why? So we can live more holy, more godly lives in peace and quiet.

Think: Have you ever prayed for your president or senators or governor or mayor that God would use their decisions to help you live a more godly and holy life?

Pray: Ask God to give the President—and all the government leaders—wisdom to know which decisions are best and the courage to make the best decisions. Also, thank him for the leaders he has installed in your government.

Do: Ask a friend you know who is a mature Christian and passionate about politics for ideas about how you can pray for the President.

Who’s in Charge?: No Authority without God

“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.” (Romans 13:1)

Do you resist blanket statements like the one in this verse as much as I do? It just doesn’t feel right. Paul states without qualification that every authority is established by God. What’s your first thought? “What about really ugly, evil authorities?” Second thought: “Wait, what about Hitler?” (Any moral argument that goes on long enough will eventually come back to Hitler, right?)

charge_350How could God have established some of the truly terrible authorities that have existed down through history? Why would he do that?

We’ll wrestle with that big idea over the next few days. For now, we’ll understand this is exactly what the Bible says is truth. It’s a statement of God’s absolute control over the universe and human governments. Note: We’re not told that God approves of every authority but that he establishes each of them. Whatever the other implications of that, it makes him the most powerful being of all.

Think: How could this idea potentially change the way you think about human authorities and governments? How could it potentially change the way you think about God?

Pray: Ask God to help you to get a better idea of who he is—and who your human authorities are—as we think about them this week.

Do: Make 2 quick lists of the best 3 authorities in your life right now and the 3 you’d be the least likely to submit to based on their decisions, personality, or character.

Who’s in Charge?: Rebelling Against 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.” (Romans 13:2)

Yesterday, I mentioned my initial resistance to the big idea—the biblical truth—that every authority is established by God. We immediately think of the worst examples of national leaders in history, evil men who did evil to their people. But I can accept the idea that God uses evil men to accomplish his good purposes, especially in the history of nations (and especially in places I never lived).

charge_350My next objections to these truths begin when I start thinking beyond the authority of governments. If rebellion against any authority is rebellion against God, then what about my parents, that unfair local official, or my supervisor at work? What if the person whose authority I’m under is not a good person?

It’s not a popular idea, but Paul wants us to get that all authority flows from God. It’s the way God chooses to exercise his will in our world, even when the authority is a person of questionable character. The choice to submit (or not) to a person in a position of legitimate authority over me is a choice to submit (or not) to a loving, powerful, and good God.

(Yes, we’ll get to the exceptions, but they happen far less frequently than we usually imagine.)

Think: Do you practice conditional submission to authorities based on whether their directions make sense to you—or whether they’re good people? How can you square that with what Paul is teaching here?

Pray: Ask God to help you to humble yourself under his authority by humbling yourself under the authority of those he has put in leadership in your life.

Do: Make a quick list of the people in your life who have positions of legitimate authority over you.

Who’s in Charge?: No Terror

“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.” (Romans 13:3)

So I’m sitting in my car in the grocery store parking lot, and I see in my side mirror a police officer getting out of his car and walking toward me. His arms are covered with tattoos, and he’s making serious eye contact with my license plate.

charge_350Here’s the deal: I know my tags are expired. Driving my car around like that is breaking the law, and he’s about to tell me about it. At first, I feel a little thrill of fear; nobody wants to get busted by a scary cop covered in ink. Then I feel a little angry: “Doesn’t he have anything better to do?”

Then I hear the apostle Paul’s voice from this passage. Turns out Paul sounds just like Clint Eastwood. Actually, it’s God’s Spirit reminding me of truth: My fear and anger are my fault for breaking the law. The officer is God’s servant (see the next verse); my frustration is with God’s authority, not this guy’s. And up close, the tatts are actually very skillfully rendered.

I agree to get new tags the next day as humbly as I can; he mercifully keeps his ticket book in his holster. I stop hearing Clint’s voice quoting Paul by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Think: Do you ever feel fear or resentment toward the God-given authorities in your life? How much of that has to do with your own choice to break the rules?

Pray: Ask God to help you to see Paul’s challenging perspective on this issue of authority. Thank God for the authority he has placed in your life, from your parents to your president.

Do: If you’re a driver, choose to obey all the traffic laws today as an act of submission the authority God has placed in your life.

Who’s in Charge?: Yeah, But . . .

“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.” (Romans 13:4)

I’ve been hearing this giant “yeah, but” forming out there all week. We’ve worked to accept that big idea (biblical truth) that every governing authority on earth is established by God and for our good—to pat us on the back when we do well and bring the pain when we do evil.

charge_350“Yeah, but . . .” what if the person in authority tells you to do something wrong— something that violates God’s commands to you? It’s a valid question, and one that Paul answered with his own life and death. He and nearly all of the early Christian leaders demonstrated their belief that God’s authority trumps human authority when the two disagree with each other.

We like that idea, but we need to remember what made Paul a criminal: It wasn’t breaking traffic laws or breaking curfew or refusing to pay his taxes. When the human authorities said, “Don’t preach about Jesus,” Paul disobeyed. Better: He obeyed a higher authority. And he was willing to pay the consequences for that choice.

Think: Have you ever had anyone in authority over you ask you personally to do anything that went against God’s commands to you? How do you think you would respond if that really happened?

Pray: Thank God that it is unusual to have someone in authority tell you to do something that directly contradicts God’s Word. Ask him to help you not to resent his authority in your life through the human beings he has put in positions over you.

Do: Off of the top of your head, make a quick list of any people you can think of who have rebelled against human authority in order to obey God.

Who’s in Charge: Pay Up

“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:6-7)

“If the government is going to fund abortions and gay marriage and drug legalization, I refuse to pay my taxes. I won’t let my hard-earned money be used for sinful things.” That sounds bold, doesn’t it? That’s an act of conscience, right?

charge_350Jesus and Paul said “no.” Before being crucified by his government, Jesus said we should send the man with his picture on the money as much of it as he asks for. And Paul’s government was basically Nero, easily one of the most evil world leaders of all time. Paul could have argued that his tax dollars were being used to fund the public execution of Christians.

Instead, he echoed Jesus: Pay up. In fact, put some money in the respect and honor jars, as well—not because the person in charge deserves it, necessarily, but because God put the person in charge. It’s another way that God’s people show we believe he knows what he’s doing—and our home is in another country.

Think: How hard is it for you to pay respect and honor to leaders who haven’t earned it, in your opinion? In your own words, why do you think the Bible tells us to do that?

Pray: Ask God to help you to trust him enough to pay respect, honor, and even taxes to those he has put in charge—even when you don’t think they deserve it.

Do: To start a conversation about this, ask another Christian how they feel about paying taxes even when they don’t agree with how the government spends the money.