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God and the Government


Sparrow
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I’ve been asked on a number of occasions for advice to fellow believers in Christ on the issue of immigration. Should they stay or should they go.

In our discussions and through my own experience with immigration, I’ve come to realise that there are a number of Christian views on this matter.

In the end, it all depends on your situation.

Unfortunately, many Christians tend to take a one-sided view on the matter which I believe only leads to conflict and disunity amongst fellow believers.

Although we all strive to act within God’s will, we are somehow made to feel guilty by other Christians if our view does not agree with theirs. Does this sound familiar?

An example of this is many churches in South Africa which proclaim it is our Christian duty to suffer under submission. Their argument is that we have a responsibility to endure physical suffering like Jesus did whilst he was on earth. On the other hand, others would like us to take a more simplistic view on the matter. Their argument would be something like this: “...because God told Abraham to break camp and move to Canaan so should we”.

As said, I personally do not believe that there is a one case to fit all. It all depends on your own situation.

Although our motives for immigration differ, it seems that the majority of us do it for one reason. Reasons such as crime, discrimination in the work place, land reform, corruption, lack of service etc sadly all boils down to one issue; - the responsibility of the State or Government.

Let us now consider this topic.

Please note that I am not presenting a sermon here. I am merely trying to present a case of the various Christian perspectives. I’ve therefore decided to present my case in form of a Bible study. Obviously, it is difficult to do a proper Bible Study on a forum like this where there is no proper 2-way communication, but hopefully you will get the picture and take something purposeful from it.

You will note that I’ve include specific questions in reference to biblical text; the aim of which is to guide you in making your own observations.

Please read the Biblical references together with the questions. Also, please note that I wish to challenge your thinking with some of the questions. Please bear with me through the study.

Kindly note that the commentary sections between the questions are my own observations and that which I obtained from the book ‘The Message of Romans’ by John Stott (Reference 3). You are welcome to disagree and I invite you to share your point of view.

Okay, let us start now by gaining a Christian perspective on the State or Government.

A common passage that deals with this subject is Romans 13:1-7. Let us use that as a basis to our discussions and build up our study from there.

MAIN BIBLICAL TEXT: Romans 13:1-7

OTHER BIBLICAL READINGS: Acts 18:2, Exodus 1:17, Daniel 3:16, Matthew 2:12, Matthew 2:13-14, Acts 8:3-4, 1 Peter 2:13-21, James 3:1, Ephesians 5:12, Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, 1 Timothy 5:8 and Galatians 6:10.

BIBLE STUDY TARGET GROUP: The target audience for this Bible study is adult believers in Christ Jesus. It is aimed mostly at people from Southern Africa who are daily faced with socio-political hardships such as crime, poverty, corrupt state officials and unfair employment equity policies.

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW/CONTEXT OF THE EPISTLE ROMANS

Let us first review the context of the main passage.

Author – Paul the Apostle

1. Jew but born and raised in Tarsus in Cilicia.

2. Expert of Jewish Law.

3. Served as an official to Jerusalem and persecuted the early Christian church.

4. Received special revelation from Christ.

5. Paul plans to visit Rome and the Roman Church.

6. Paul was arrested by Romans and suffered in jail.

Audience of Believers - The church in Rome, predominantly Gentile but with Jewish believers who had just returned to Rome after being exiled by the Emperor Claudius (See Acts 18:2). This was approximately in the year 55ACE?

The Church’s struggle at that time and also that of the Jewish people against the Roman authorities.

1. The Church was not recognised by Roman authorities until 312 ACE?

2. The Jews were exiled by Emperor Claudius in the approximate year of 47 ACE. After his death, they returned to Rome but some hostilities remained between the Jews and Romans. Also, the Christian Jews were scorned and rejected by their own Jewish authorities for accepting the Christian faith.

Main sections of Romans

1. Chapters 1 -11: Righteousness through Faith and not the Law; to both Jew and Gentile, and Salvation by God’s grace.

2. Chapters 12-15: Practical advice to the conduct of believers and faithful living. The believers’ relationship to other people and to that of the State. Love to one another and submission to the authorities.

READING OF BIBLICAL TEXT

Please read Romans 13:1-7.

LEADING QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSIONS

The Authorities; who were they?

1. Who were the authorities that Paul refers to?

2. Were these ‘authorities’ Christian?

3. What was their relationship to the Church?

Stott p339 “On the contrary, they were Roman or Jewish, and were therefore largely unfriendly and even hostile to the church”

NIV Study Bible commentary “The civil rulers, all of whom were probably pagans at the time Paul was writing”.

Why God?

4. Who does Paul say established these pagan authorities? (See verse 1; God established all Authorities).

5. Why would God, who is a loving, caring god, establish a prosecuting state? A state that is apposed to His children and his Church which, as we know, is God’s Body? (This is a very important question and one on which the discussions will focus)

Our Relationship with the Authorities:

6. What does Paul say? How should our relationship with the authorities be?

7. What does he mean with ‘submit’? (verse 1 – means to co-operate and to honour and to subject yourself to their ruling)

Oxford English Dictionary: ‘Submit’ means to (a) cease resistance, yield (b ) surrender oneself to the control of another.

8. What does Paul say about rebellion? (verse 2)

Paul’s view on the relationship between the Church and the Authorities:

To understand Paul on this subject, it is important to firstly understand his view as to how the church and the state relates to one another.

Stott p 339 “Relations between church and state have been notoriously controversial throughout the Christian centuries. To oversimplify, four main models have been tried – Erastianism (the state controls the church), theocracy (the church controls the state), Constantinianism – (the compromise in which the state favours the church and the church accommodates the state in order to retains its favour), and partnership (church and state recognise and encourage each other’s distinct God-given responsibilities in a spirit of constructive collaboration). The fourth seems to accord best with Paul’s teaching in Romans 13”.

9. Which relationship model do you think is best and why?

When Paul wrote the letter, the Roman state did not have a Partnership relation model with the Christian church. They did not recognise the Christian faith and in fact, prosecuted Christian believers. Remember that Paul himself persecuted the early church, and later as a believer in Christ was persecuted himself. The relationship model that existed at that time was an extreme case of Eratianism. The only way the church could survive was by means of covert actions.

10. How then can we make sense out of Romans 13? Coming back to question 5. If God is in control and if his plan is to advance his kingdom, why would he allow for authorities which he instituted to resist His plan or His people?

The Christian and Corrupt Authorities:

To find the answer to this dilemma is best to refer to other passages in the Bible. Let us consider five examples in the Bible where the leaders and civil authorities opposed God and God’s people. Let us look at: (1) Exodus 1:17, (2) Daniel 3:16, (3) Matthew 2:12, (4) Matthew 2:13-14 and (5) Acts 8:3-4.

11. In each case, how did God’s people respond to the authorities who opposed God?

12. Aren’t these in contradiction with Romans 13?

Read also 1 Peter 2:13-21.

13. What do you make of this passage? Are we to submit and suffer under oppression?

In Romans 13, Paul is saying that God instituted all authorities. He does not disclose whether these are good or bad, but predominantly emphasises how our relationship should be with authorities who are in-line with God. In such cases, we are to submit to those authorities.

The purpose of Authorities.

We see that first and foremost the purpose of the State or Government is to enforce the law and to judge (verse 2) those who disobey. The Authorities are at power to commend those who do right (verse 3), apply God’s wrath through use of the sword (verse 4) and also serve as a mechanism whereby God is able to show his mercy (see Romans 12 – Love to others). Stott provides an elegant explanation about God’s authority to and the responsibility of the State (p 340 – p 342).

From the other passages however, we notice that it is our Christian duty to oppose all human authority which is against God. Our resistance can either be active or passive.

We must make a tactical decision based on our circumstances. We can confront the authorities head-on or opt for ‘peaceful resistance’. With last-mentioned, we could take up the role of activists trying to expose atrocities or we can immigrate or go into exile in other countries and in doing so, create awareness to the problems.

In 1 Peter 2:13-21 we notice the same argument as in Romans 13. However, we are also introduced here to the concept of suffering under human authority for Christ’s sake. This means enduring hardships as Christ did whilst on earth.

The important thing here is to know that God does not want us to be like sheep; only to be slaughtered by the hands of evil authorities or as in the case of South Africa, by external elements whilst the authorities do nothing. Remember, Christ did not suffer in vain. He suffered for justice and for love of others. So too should we.

We therefore have another option. We can decide to influence the system from within or support others that are suffering for the cause of justice. This may mean enduring hardship under human oppression for the sole purpose of helping others and displaying Christ-like love. Enduring suffering knowingly for the sake of others is noble and is certainly pleasing to God.

Answering to God:

14. How do you think God will judge people who are given Godly-instituted authority but who abuse their power, or opposes or jeopardises God’s work? Is God’s judgement the same for all? (see James 3:1)

Just like teachers of the faith, our civil leaders who are given Godly-instituted authority will be judged strictly and accordingly.

15. As Christians do we have a call to confront evil rulers and authorities? (Read Ephesians 5:12)

It is not God who makes Governments corrupt and evil. It is through sin and resistance to God by our leaders and moral decay of our society that we have this problem.

Paying Taxes:

16. What does Romans 13:6 say regarding the pay of taxes?

17. Is this only applicable to good governments? Look at what Jesus said about this when he was confronted about the Jewish people paying taxes to their Roman oppressors. Read Matthew 22:15-22 and Mark 12:13-17.

It does not depend whether or not the authorities are good or bad. We, as Christian believers have an obligation to pay our taxes. Tax boycott is not acceptable. The money is used for governance and to pay people.

Summary: Our Christian Duty:

As Christians it is our duty to first and foremost obey God. From the study, we see that we should to submit to authorities who are servants of God. We should allow authorities to work as an instrument of God’s judgement. We should also allow our authorities to apply God’s grace and mercy. However, we are not to submit to authorities blindly.

Authorities that opposes God and who is not serving God (Romans 13:6) and instead, who became ‘instruments of the Devil (Revelation 13), should be opposed.

Our means of opposition is however a tactical one which will depend on our unique situation.

Basically, as Christians we can (1) confront the authorities head on, and thereby run the risk of prosecution and physical suffering, (2) submit to the authorities and suffer for the sake of others or, (3) we can decide to retreat and cause awareness to the problems. These options are all Christian.

However, when we suffer either directly through disobedience to God by the authorities, or indirectly by giving everything up and moving away, it should be for the purpose of justice and for love of others. This includes first and foremost our family, then fellow believers in Christ, then non-believers (See 1 Timothy 5:8 and Galatians 6:10).

We should always pay our taxes, whether or not good or bad.

PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Please make time to conclude by personal reflection and prayer. Use this as an opportunity to review your personal motives to immigrate and review your critic towards the Government. Pray for our leaders to be strong in their faith and to execute God’s authority wisely and with zeal. Ask God to help you in your task whether this is to submit, or resist.

CLOSING PRAYER

Dear Lord, help us to be good citizens of your State. Help us to submit to your authority with humbleness. Cause us not hinder your servant the State in the execution of its God-given duties. However Lord please, make us aware to the presence of bad servants and help us not to be led blindly by evildoers who are abusing their authority for their own personal gain and devilish agendas.

Please give us strength and wisdom to know how and when to confront the oppressors and the corrupt. Use us as instruments to challenge the work of the devil and help us to support each another in times of hardship.

For you are our King and Lord. Amen.

REFERENCES:

1. The New International Version Study Bible

2. ‘Die Bybel, Nuwe Vertaaling’

3. ‘The Message of Romans’ by John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press 1994

4. Oxford English Dictionary

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Sparrow thnx for this. Gives us a lot to think about.

I have wondered about it a lot - some people use the Bible as reason for going, others use the Bible as reason for staying - as they say you can use the Bible to justify any thing - even why the blue bulls will win or loose. Now one thing I know the Bible says: what ever we have, is not ours - we are just custodians. And we cannot see how our brother is suffering, do nothing about it and then still call on God for blessings and mercy. What I find puzzling: if I go to Oz or if I stay, but still dont use my talents and gifts as I am suppose to - why think I am doing the Christian thing in going or staying. I think we (myself in anycase) do in any case what we want to do, then go and get justification for my deeds in the Bible.

I have a brother who lives in Tzaneen and who is really into church and stuff. Now I'm leaving for Aus and he is staying - but we respect each other and realise that God has a different view and path for each of us. For the past 3 years he has gone to Zimbabwe with supplies and some encouragement for the people. Now last week he and people from his congregation went to Zimbabwe, (left early Friday, took a 13 ton truck with food, medical supplies and even bicycle tyres and was back on Tuesday )and he did a sermon in Bulowayo early in the morning and then moved on to, I think Gwero for the next sermon. Anycase , quess what he says: despite hardship, it is going well with the Christians - they keep their eyes on God, they still praise Him and they really live with the knowledge to keep their eyes on God, not on people. He says it is a humbling experience. The Zimbabwians actually did the encouragement, not the 'earthly rich'out of South Africa! Then I just wonder: does God not sometimes give people hardship so that they can be purified? On the other hand I have seen how the new wealth and materialism has taken over lives - lots of money to be made in Poloks lately - but people become more and more gods in their own hands and then their lives start to fall apart.- But yeah, there is so much to think about, only the Holy Spirit and Gods word will give us peace . But thnks again Sparrow

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Then I just wonder: does God not sometimes give people hardship so that they can be purified? On the other hand I have seen how the new wealth and materialism has taken over lives -

Well the very first person who needs to be purified, is the source of Zimbabwe's woes: Robert Mugabe himself. Just look at the devastation he brought upon his own people, yet all his wealth is stashed away in European banks after looting Zimbabwe. I've been in Zimbabwe in 1992 and thought the country had wonderful people. They certainly didn't need any hardship. It's that madman Mugabe who gave it to them. Same in South Africa - the ANC elite are cashing in on all the BEE deals while the masses just get poorer.

I'm at peace with my move to Australia. I am not an African, have never been, will never be. I feel more at home in Australia than in South Africa and can use my talents here just as much as I could've used them in S.A.

In the end emigration is a personal matter, no one can tell me it's wrong to leave my country of birth and neither can I tell other people that they should emigrate too.

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This morning I came across two passages in the Bible that I thought were amazing. I think they are absolute gems for those of us who share assurance that our move to Australia is within His plan.

Jeremiah 29:4-7 “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity in the city of which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”.

Jeremiah 24:4-7 “Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard you as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart’”.

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Sparrow, is it not interesting how emigration out of Africa and immigration into the new country spiritually matures Christians and makes them willingly engage in a more intimate relationship with God than before? I think that God tries hard to reach the core of some people, as it was with me when we lived in Africa. Sometimes we are just too busy externally that we need to be carried away into exile to be able to focus and flourish in the richness our internal lives offer. I know your initial statement regards the decision to go or not to go but don't you think that sometimes the decision is not made by us, but we simply reach a point where we are willing to go along with the plan? :whome: In retrospect I see that this is the case with me. I was so unhappy with my life 5 years ago that I prayed for big change. And I mean big time. I remember the day, my feelings and how I sobbed and begged for a more meaningful life. As I look back at significant milestones in the road since that day, I now recognize that they were the stepping stones I needed in fulfilling what I have achieved so far and I now feel gratetude towards the trials I had to 'suffer' to reach here and now. The suffering has resulted in my delight and at praise at God's design.

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I think that God tries hard to reach the core of some people, as it was with me when we lived in Africa. Sometimes we are just too busy externally that we need to be carried away into exile to be able to focus and flourish in the richness our internal lives offer. I know your initial statement regards the decision to go or not to go but don't you think that sometimes the decision is not made by us, but we simply reach a point where we are willing to go along with the plan?

Sunflower, it is so true what you are saying. I agree 100%.

When I now reflect back on everything that happened to us, I too realise that it happened with a grand purpose.

In the end, the decision was really easy; as you’ve said, there wasn't really a decision to make. God was speaking to us in so many ways (and still is!). We received His promise for our lives and so too His instruction. At the same time, so many things happened to us that clearly couldn't have been by coincidence. God was opening doors and was talking to us. We simply had to go.

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Sparrow,

based on whats been said so far I am going to through a wild statement on the table: <_<:)Maybe it is not the right or wrong decision of emigration or our choices that scares us so much... it is the rejection and loss of love we know we will suffer that makes us withdraw from action. :ilikeit:

Although we all strive to act within God’s will, we are somehow made to feel guilty by other Christians if our view does not agree with theirs. Does this sound familiar?

This strikes a particular cord with me too. I feel so sorry for every person who have wrestled to the point of decision only to be struck down by guilt and shame from others we trust and look up to. How many opportunities have gone down the gutter in peoples lives due to our sensitivity to criticism and our inability to process our disappointments properly. I greatly respect your views outlined and I'd like to add a fresh perspective on life that I've recently acquired. Maybe it interests and inspires somebody.

Like many here I too come from a background where I have had to suffer guilt and shame for making choices that empower me and not benefit someone else or 'the tribe'. Emigration is just one of the many ways that we are made to feel like traitors when we don't follow the code of 'the tribe'.

The tribe can be anyone ranging from your family, your fellow Christians, your workmates, die braaivleis, rugby en bier boeties, fellow wannabe Aussies or any group of people that hold a common belief. There are three levels of personal power or as I like to refer to it here, three different views a person can have to empower him/herself. Tribal, Individual and Spiritual:

- When you function out of a tribal view of life, everything you do need to be validated and approved by the tribe to ensure membership and survival. This is the level of power in which loyal South Africans operate. Thinking outside the box does not belong in this category and acting outside of the rules is a sure way of being rejected, excluded and ridiculed by the group.

- Individual view of life is when you have finally thrown off the shackles the tribe hold over your choice of will and rejection from them does not move you emotionally. You simply couldn't care less about the manipulations of the tribe and they can't shake or move you to compromise your self. The power of choice is yours, not theirs.

- The spiritual view of life is the best to operate from. This is the level where you have realized that serving the tribe does not bring you fulfillment, that living from an individual view does not give you purpose in life and that true power lies in surrender to God. This is the level where you have given every part of your life and your will over to God. This is where faith achieves the impossible. This is where trust makes a person reach out to do wonderful things and miracles still happen. You need not fret over anything because you realize you are not in control and that greater things are at work and all will work out for the greater good.

All in all what I have been trying to say is that these three levels is the route your soul need to follow to mature. Understanding these three levels of power and knowing how to move forward can bring you an unbelievable amount of freedom. I so much admire the way Jesus operated in spiritual power. It made him seem untouchable. It allowed him freedom to be involved in peoples lives unlike ever seen. Because he needed nothing from them. No approval, no applause. Nobody had power over his will because he gave it over to his Father.

PM me if you'd like the names of the books I got this perspective from. It is quite life changing for me.

Edited by ~Sunflower~
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I hear what you are saying Sunflower and I agree that in SA the ‘tribal’ mentality is particularly strong. I guess this is partly because of us being in isolation for so long and being forced to protect our own. However I would be careful to say that Jesus was man(?) who seemed untouchable and who surrendered his will to the Father (if indeed that is what you are saying?). Remember, Jesus’ coming to earth was the will of the Father (Matthew 26:42), and Jesus being the second person of the Trinity (and fully God), emptied himself by taking on the form a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). As God, he was and still is untouchable but during his time on earth limited himself and sacrificed himself for the benefit of our salvation (Hebrews 8:3).

I agree that when someone is on that ‘spiritual level’ he/she is doing things first and foremost for God. That’s good. That is how we should live. However, as Christians we still have an obligation next to serving God to serve one another. Our service should be towards our fellow believers and also towards the ‘tribe’. Our service should be in love (See Romans 12, Galatians 6:10, 1 Corinthians 13:2-7). In short, we should be mindful of our 'tribe' and not write them off completely.

Edited by Sparrow
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I understand the technicalities you mention and I was careful of the word 'untouchable' but used it anyway because of a lack of a better word. It is Friday afternoon and the weekend has started. I don't want to fuss too much about the perfect choice of words. :) I admire that Jesus was untouchable in the sense that he did not fall for the illusions of this world. When the devil tempted him in the desert with illusions of physical wealth here on earth he did not give in. He could have engaged in endless discussions and power plays with the spiritual teachers of his time but he simply stated his truth clearly without fear of rejection and ridicule. He did and said things that did not make sense to his followers and yet people loved him. He did not seek anything like approval from them and because of that he had power to work in peoples lives in the most peculiar way. Because his focus is in the spiritual realm he had a sense of detachment from the world that makes him appear 'untouchable' to me. I like the fact that Jesus can hold his pose, stick to his guns and not compromise himself and his purpose for whatever reason. :ilikeit: I am not being disrespectful.

I do acknowledge there is a positive side to tribal affairs and I do not mean that we should write the tribe off. The tribe is where our sense of security, sense of belonging etc lies and we need to have that. IMO tribal views become a problem and shifts over to the negative side in personal growth issues and that is the portrait I was trying to sketch in my previous post. I think I did not make enough effort to express myself properly and perhaps I bit off more than I can chew. I don't usually engage in discussions that require detail and explaining. Well, I'm off to the weekend now. <_< I hope you have a good one. Cheers.

Edited by ~Sunflower~
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