I Am Not Alone: The God Who Delights in Mercy (part 2)

By Guest Author, Stephen Scaggs

Read Part 1 Here: I Am Not Alone: The Ever-Present God, Israel, and the Church

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” In the beginning God said about humans that, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). While this, in context, refers to the creation of the woman as helper, Paul looks back on this chapter retrospectively and writes, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32).

The entire world is feeling this right now: we are doing something that does not feel natural because it is not natural to be socially distant. Even when we are by ourselves, we have not developed adequate skills for meditation and true friendship. We were created to be social creatures, and at the time of writing this article and the present COVID-19 pandemic, we feel this incredibly painful absence, even while needed.

While this particular strain of the coronavirus is novel, social distancing to avoid plagues is not. In fact the people of God were to separate themselves from lepers because they bore the mark of the corruptible. You can read about that in length in Leviticus 13, everyone’s favorite Bible book! If the leprosy was found the priest was to “shut them up” away from other people. But this was considered an “act of mercy,” and God delights in mercy.

The God Who Forms

The Law of Moses was not given to save Israel from their sins: no, they had literally just been saved from oppression in Egypt. These saved people are now then gathered at the Mount “of God’s redeeming love,” where he tells them that they are his and says to them “I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). He saved them for a reason, for formation, for assembly. Indeed Stephen the Martyr refers back to that assembly as “the congregation in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).

It was here at Sinai God makes a partnership with Israel, where he meets his church at the mountain. And in the middle of this formation God himself wanted to live with them. Immediately after God gives the basic package of laws (Exodus 20-23) and after making the covenant official (Exodus 24), he then wants them to make a portable access to his presence right in the middle of the church. The laws might seem tedious but the reason behind the sanctuary is beautiful: “Let them construct a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). In a real sense this is why God saved these people: he wants to dwell among them!

If the story ended right around Exodus 31, we would be able to neatly close our Bible. But unfortunately Israel breaks the first 4 of the 10 commandments (at least how I understand #3 and #4!) This was tantamount to a bride immediately running down the wedding aisle following the “I Do’s” and running into the embrace of a stranger, not her now-husband. But luckily for you and for me, God doesn’t zap Israel (although he wants to! [Exodus 32:9-11]).

Instead he speaks who He is and tells them a little more about His Name that they’ve taken in vain:

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even through the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.” – Exodus 34:5-9

For God to dwell with us is for us to be God’s inheritance. I love those two thoughts paired together. When the church meets and professes the Name of Jesus, we are his and he is ours. Even while we’re experiencing social distancing right now, let us seek the God who delights in mercy and is “abounding in lovingkindness and truth.”

I Am Not Alone: The Ever-Present God, Israel, and the Church (part 1)

Article written by guest author, Stephen Scaggs

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” In the beginning God said about humans that, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). While this, in context, refers to the creation of the woman as helper, Paul looks back on this chapter retrospectively and writes, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32).

It is still a staggering number of Christians who claim they can be spiritual without the church. Even though many want “Jesus, but not church,” the inherent tragedy is the misunderstood Jesus. For people who make such statements, if you were to ask them, “What was Jesus’ mission?” or “What did Jesus teach about more than any other subject?”, the likely response would be his mission was about individual salvation and his subject was about love, grace, and forgiveness.

What is clear from people who say such things is that they do not actually read the gospels, to see what the Jesus of history actually was about. Nor do they seem to know anything about the Hebrew Bible, divorcing the gospel from its story. If we picked up Return of the King or Return of the Jedi without having read/watched the saga so far, we would not have a clue what was going on, who the characters were, what was the tension needing to be resolved, etc.

The purpose of this series of articles is to magnify the church as the bride of Christ, and to help persuade my fallen brothers and sisters that, in the words of one person, “[Church is] more than an obligation, it’s our foundation: the family of God. I know it’s hard, but we need each other. We’re brothers and sisters!”

The Ever-Present God

Ever since man was expelled from Eden, God has never gave up his pursuit to reclaim what was lost. From the calling of Abraham to the formation of Israel at Sinai, God has been committed to restoring “blessing to all families of the earth” (Genesis 12:1-3) and frequently expresses his desire to “live among his people” (Exodus 25:8).

Back in the beginning of Exodus when Moses encounters God in the Burning Bush, it is the first time where God seems to reveal the divine name. But before that he states community: he says, “I am the God of your father: the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” (3:6). We’re not ethnically Jewish (at least most of us aren’t!) so those names may not mean the same to all of us: however, not only does this communicate God’s promises to bless, but as Jesus points out (Matthew 22:32), this implies that they were present with God even though they have been dead for 400+ years.

And God confesses that “he has not forgotten about his promises.” He says,

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land…. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

This may be somewhat humorous: “I am going to deliver them… I will send you to bring my people out of Egypt!” I think Moses was on board for the first part, but not for that last part! Moses? A deliverer? Moses asks, “What makes you think anyone will listen to me?” To which God replies, “I will be with you.” That would be enough, wouldn’t it? But then Moses asks, “What name should I give them?” And then God replies, “I AM WHO I AM” (EHYEH) and then in the next verse he says, “YAHWEH (this is the 3rd person of EHYEH), the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob sent me to you.” This is usually translated in our English translations as LORD in all capital letters, or Jehovah.

The very name of our God communicates that God is both immutable and ever present, from generation to generation. Time, space, and matter cannot deter our God. Even if the church has been in exile in Egypt for centuries, God has not forgotten his people. He will dwell once again with his people: this is his promise, this is his blessing. This is the mystery of Christ and the church, and what this starving world needs.

Barton W. Stone’s Lecture on Matthew 5:38-48

The Christian Messenger; July 1844

Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
– Matthew 5.38

The law of Moses admitted of, yea, enjoined strict retaliation on its subjects; the reverse of which our great Lawgiver Christ Jesus enjoins on his subjects with equal strictness. “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil.” The word evil is an adjective, and doubtless agrees with person understood, resist not an evil or injurious person – if he smite thee on thy right cheek, retaliate not by smiting him also, rather meekly offer the other cheek. By doing thus you may overcome the injurious person, and bring him to submission to the truth. Christ himself, set the example. When he was reviled he reviled not again, when he suffered (more than a stroke on the cheek) he neither retaliated, nor threatened the injurious, but counted himself to him that judgeth righteously. If this precept of Jesus be binding on one of his followers, it is binding on all, and his example sanctions the obligation. “Surely these people will learn war no more,” neither the art nor the practice of it. If genuine Christianity were to overspread the earth, wars would cease, and the world would be bound together in the bonds of peace. This is Christ’s kingdom – the kingdom of peace. A nation professing Christianity, yet teaching, learning and practicing the arts of war cannot be of the kingdom of Christ, nor do they live in obedience to the laws of Christ – the government is anti-Christian, and must reap the fruits of her infidelity at some future day.

But what shall be said of the nation which seeks to injure another, and in face make a trade of it? Yet professing Christianity? The answer is easy. They are leagued with the powers of darkness, and shall share of all their pains.

So far has the Christian world fallen from Christianity, and so long lost sight of it, that its professed advocates have in many instances amalgamated with paganism, and push Christianity into the back grounds. War, so contrary to the kingdom of peace, is taught as a science at military academies, and that too at the expense of the nation. Legislators condemn dueling, and impose severe penalties, and yet these same legislators will justify the same principle on a larger scale – a war between two nations. Their principle is to resist the injurious – but our legislator says, resist not the injurious. Whom shall we obey? God or man?

And if any man sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
– Matthew 5.40

This man who sues you is an injurious person. If he takes away your coat resist not the injurious, rather let him take thy cloak also. Show what a low estimate you place on worldly possession, that your treasure is above. This course may save your enemy. The same principle is continued. Rather than resist the other person,

And whosoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not away.
– Matthew 5.41-42

These precepts are in as plain language as can be expressed. I pretend not to make them plainer. This will, or should satisfy those who say the scriptures mean what they say, and say what they mean. They are certainly against avarice, selfishness and unkindness, and plainly express the contrary. We must make God our example. If we admit one exception to the rules laid down, we may admit others for a similar reason, and know not where to stop; one may explain them away, and act as is generally done, as if such a law was not in existence, and yet profess the Bible to be the sole rule of our practice.

Ye hath heard that it hath been said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you.
– Matthew 5.43-44

The rule of conduct, by which the ancients were regulated, was to love their neighbor and hate their enemy. – It is necessary to inquire with one of old, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus gave the inquirer a practical definition in the Samaritan, doing good to an unknown man in great distress, who had been abandoned by the priest and the Levite of his own nation. The Jews were martial enemies to the Samaritans, yet this Samaritan shewed mercy to a Jew in great distress, when he well knew he was his enemy. He was the neighbor, not the enemy. They are set in contrast. An enemy is described in the next verse, as one that curses you – hates you – and despitefully uses and persecutes you. A neighbor is described as one that loves, blesses and does good to them that curse and hate him, and prays for them who despitefully use and persecute him. This definition of a neighbor, is the same as that given above in the case of the Samaritan. How lovely – how divine is the portrait! If all who confess Jesus were of this character, what a body of light and glory would shine upon our world! They, the world, would have to shut their eyes against the light or yield to its power and become neighbors too! This character, drawn in miniature, is the very character of the Father of the universe, and manifested in his son, and in providence to the fallen world. Christians are thus enjoined to act towards their enemies – to all mankind, for the purpose stated in the next.

That ye may be the children of your father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.
– Matthew 5.45

Now, who are the children of our heavenly Father? Those who labor to be, and to do, like him – those who are neighbors in heart and practice. None else will acknowledge by the Savior of sinners – none else will be admitted into heaven. Such a society on earth would resemble heaven itself. “In such a society as this my weary soul would rest.” Such a society as this can only profit the world, and without it the world would be lost. The wrangling of the carnal bands of nominal Christians in hostile array against each other, spending their strength in vain disputing about opinions, do they profit the world? Are they not a stumbling block to them? Keep your heavenly father always before your eyes as your pattern. This you will do by keeping in constant view Jesus, the image – the express image of his person, for in seeing him you see the Father, – the mercy, grace, and love of the Father flowing from the lips, the hands, the eyes, and wounds of Jesus for a rebel world. Such a compassionate, tender spirit should we possess, and such a love in deed and in truth, should we exhibit to the world, not only to our neighbors, or those that love us, but also to our enemies that hate us.

For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the Publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the Publicans so?
– Matthew 5:46

By cultivating and cherishing such a spirit as recommended above, and by such conduct towards our enemies, is the pain line drawn by the divine hand between the Christian an the world – it is in fact the discrimination between them. If the present generation of professed Christians were judged according to these rules, who could stand?

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
– Matthew 5:48

O let us labor after this perfection! Let the preachers set the example to their flocks, that they may present them spotless and blameless to their Lord. Their reward shall be great, not in this world’s goods, but in heaven. They that go forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless return again, bearing their sheaves with them. O Christians, be diligent to make your calling and election sure. Look up, help is at hand, your redemption is nigh.

B. W. S.

And Man Became a Living Soul

Article written by guest author, Stephen Scaggs

Soul, spirit, and body. These words make their rounds in our Christian vocabulary and they have a rich depth of meaning. I hope that in exploring this we learn to appreciate the importance of the body, and better understand the hope for resurrection and the eternal destiny of the soul.

Throats and Souls

What in the world does your throat have to do with your soul? Well, quite a lot actually. The word used predominately in the Bible for soul in its most literal definition means “throat” or “neck.”

This is how it is translated into English in many passages. In Psalm 69, the psalmist David is in the thick of turmoil. In verse 1 he writes, “Save me, God, for the water has risen to my neck.” Notice the wordplay here. The Hebrew people see your neck as a connection or bridge to life. And your life becomes endangered when you are on the verge of drowning. So David depicts his dire straits as water coming up and nearly drowning.

Perhaps the most famous example of this usage is from Psalm 42. Notice how the psalmist begins. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” While this may seem like an endearing image of a stag longing for God, the reason the deer is panting is because it is dying of thirst. As the rest of Psalm 42 bears out, this is a psalm for help and deliverance. But notice the subtle wordplay where you drink water with your throat, and the psalmist uses this metaphor to describe his deep longing for God’s presence.

You Are a Soul … and a Body

The first time the word soul appears is on the second page of the Bible.

…Then Yahweh God formed the man [Hebrew adam הָֽאָדָ֗ם] of dust from the ground [Hebrew adamah הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man [Hebrew adam הָֽאָדָ֖ם] became a living soul [Hebrew nephesh לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ].
– Genesis 2:7

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul; you have a body.” This is sometimes falsely attributed to C.S. Lewis. But what I find interesting about this statement is that nowhere do the biblical authors seem to have this ideology. Rather the first time the word soul appears in the holy scriptures, humans are not given souls, but rather the dust becomes a soul.

Is there a distinction between your body and soul? Yes… and no. Even Jesus recognizes that there is a distinction between body and soul (Matt. 10:28 ESV). But Jesus’ statement here is in no way validating a low view of the body. The point here is that for the biblical authors your body is an integral component of your identity. It has been pointed out that the word soul functions more of as a life spark for man. It is who you are. But your body is an integral component of your soul, and should not be thought of as expendable or temporary.

Motivation for Godly Living

In many circles it seems that there is some significance given to the body, but that the body is ultimately expendable. But this is not the case for the apostle Paul. This emissary for King Jesus spends much time talking about the connection between your body and how you should then live your life. Notice some often quoted but glossed over texts:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
– Romans 12:1-2

Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
– 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

…According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
– Philippians 1:20

Hope for Bodily Resurrection

Despite many popular misconceptions, the Bible nowhere describes our heavenly hope as a bodiless or soulish existence. Biblical hope for the Christian is anchored in redemption: the holy prophets and apostles appeal to the bodily resurrection as the hope in which we are saved. For the New Testament authors, the bodily resurrection is not another check off the itinerary list as part of the Judgment Day: rather it is a core event. And in this bodily resurrected state, it is then we will be with the Lord forever and ever (1 Thess. 4:17).

To this point, arguably one of the clearest texts is Romans 8:18-25. Notice what the apostle Paul considers the hope of our salvation:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. … But we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies: for it is in this hope we were saved! Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Some object to this bodily hope with appellations to 1 Corinthians 15, which is ironic. It is ironic because 1 Corinthians 15 is precisely saying the opposite. “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…” (15:44). Those who attempt to use this verse to argue against bodily resurrection must completely separate this verse from rest of the context in order to argue their point. Also, we need to be using the words “natural” and “spiritual” here as Paul uses them in chapter 2. The difference between natural and spiritual is not that one is immaterial or ethereal, and the other is dirt. The difference here is between what has become corrupted and what is incorruptible, what has become weakened by sin and what is strengthened by the Spirit of God (i.e. spiritual). Also, it is still a body, not a ghostly apparition.

Some also object with phrases like “flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of heaven” or other miscellaneous texts about not being able to see God. But I think it is important for us to stop when we read “flesh and blood” and realize that Jesus describes his spiritual, glorified resurrected body as “flesh and bone” (Luke 24:39). The phrase “flesh and blood” is actually a Hebrew idiom, and if you trace how it is used in the Bible (five other times), it is used to describe fallen, unregenerate, corrupted man (Matt. 16:13-17; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 6:12; Heb. 2:14).

Some also appeal to 2 Corinthians 5. But I encourage you to not to read 5:1 in isolation from the entire context. The argument Paul is making from 5:1-10 is not that “our earthly tent” is torn down. While in this present existence “we groan,” and we “long to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven,” which is what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 15. The dwelling from heaven and the building from God is our resurrected body. Notice for the apostle Paul what it means to be dead and out of the body: “we will not be found naked … we do not want to be unclothed … what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.” (vv. 3-4). For the apostle Paul he desires earnestly to be in the presence of the Lord, but his ultimate hope is to be in his glorified body and in the presence of the Lord. It is not an either/or, but a both/and.

The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

Though some may think of their bodies as expendable, simply housing what is truly important, the hope of the resurrection of the body is utterly crucial to our faith. Not only does Jesus debate strongly for bodily resurrection (Matt. 22:29-33), but it is for the resurrection from the dead that the apostle Paul most frequently preaches on (Acts 23:6). When Jesus was resurrected, at no point does Jesus discard his appearance. When he was risen, Jesus actually eats breakfast on two separate occasions with his disciples (John 21:12). He describes himself. In fact, even at God’s right hand, Jesus is still a human (1 Tim. 2:5).

What do we mean by resurrection? Well, we have a lot of examples of what resurrection meant for the people of God. Every time the dead are risen in the bible, it is in their own body: Lazarus (Jn. 11), Jairus’ daughter (Lk. 8:40ff), Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43), Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12). And ultimately, of course, Jesus (Lk. 24:39; Acts 2:31; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). The difference between the resurrection of Jesus, the firstfruits of the dead, and the others raised is that Jesus would be raised never to die again: he was immortal, incorruptible.

The resurrection from the dead that we long for is precisely this. “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:4 ESV). As John the Beloved writes:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
-1 John 3:2

Where Does This Leave Us?

Many Christians are comfortable talking about the resurrection of the body. But I suspect for many Christians this talk is uncomfortable. I think that it is uncomfortable because we all, as the apostle Paul mentions earlier, “groan in this present existence.” The material body itself is not evil: it is part of what God called “very good.” A statue is not evil even if black paint is vandalized on the image: all it needs is to be cleaned. So our experiences in this body, whether it is cancer, sickness, disease, chronic pain, or death, does not mean our body is bad or subpar: it means it needs redemption.

So as Christians, let us learn to love our bodies, which will one day be redeemed from the grave, redeemed from bondage, and will finally exist in all its created glory in the presence of our Savior.

Tough Questions Concerning Romans 13

Romans 13:1-7 is a passage that invites several tough questions. It is my intent to explore some of these questions and perhaps offer a few answers regarding this difficult text. Hopefully, these questions will draw us closer to the truth, but sometimes we have to set with the questions before we can see the truth clearly. Of course, this will only happen if we approach this section of Scripture with open hearts and open minds.

Who is Paul’s intended audience?

We must begin by acknowledging that we see Romans 13 through a particular lens. The vast majority of people who live in America love this country. We have no problem with Romans 13 because we are a patriotic people. We have pride in our nation, and we want to trust our government. We must keep in mind that Romans 13 was not written solely for Christians living in 21st America. It was originally written to Christians living in the Roman empire. This was a government that at times persecuted Christians and enforced emperor worship. This text was also written for Christians living in communist China. It was written for Christians who are living in the middle east under sharia law. Whatever this passage says about America, it also says about these other countries. We cannot apply it one way when we are talking about a good and decent government, and another way when we are discussing a government bent on evil.

What is commanded of Christians in Romans 13?

This passage centers on one commandment. It is the first sentence in verse one. Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Everything that follows is an expansion or explanation of this one statement. To submit to someone or something means we yield to them. It means we give up some right, privilege, desire, etc. we have in order to serve a bigger cause. Submission implies doing something we would not ordinarily do. If we were going to do it anyway, then we aren’t truly submitting. The command to submit to the governing authorities is broad. It could mean many different things. When Peter gives similar instructions in 1 Peter 2:13-17, he specifically mentions the emperor and governors. It could be that Christians in the first century were leery about submitting themselves to someone like Pilate or Nero. Zealots argued for open rebellion, but both Peter and Paul give instructions for another way. Paul specifically mentions paying taxes (13:6-7). Some Christians may have wondered why they should give their hard-earned money to a government that does not respect them and at times persecutes them. The answer is that Christians are called to be peacemakers (Rom. 12:14-21). We are to be good citizens even when we may not like it. We are not to fight power with power. The Zealots fought power with power and lost. Christians sought peace and Christianity flourished.

Does Romans 13 offer justification for a Christian to serve in war or participate in the death penalty?

Romans 13 associates violence with government. Violence is part of the fallen world in which we live. Governments are responsible for wars, capital punishment, etc. Governments maintain some sense of order through violence and order is preferred over chaos. Anarchy would invite even more violence. Although violence exists and at times may serve some sort of purpose, is Paul giving his blessing for Christians to participate in this violence? In this passage, Paul speaks about the government and the role of the Christian under the government. He does not address the role of the Christian within the government. If someone wants to use this passage as justification for Christians serving in war or participating in the death penalty, then there are some serious questions one must consider first.

Would it have been alright for a Christian to participate in the executions of Jesus, Paul, Peter, or any other Christian that was put to death by the Roman government?

Does Romans 13 authorize a Christian to participate in an unjust war? If not, then why not?

Romans 13 was written for Christians living under all governments. This means it was written for German Christians and British Christians in WWII. Does this mean a German Christian would be equally justified for following Romans 13 as a British Christian?

Paul is specifically speaking about the Roman government in Romans 13. He wanted Christians to respect the government and not rebel against it. He wanted them to pay their taxes, but this was also a government involved in evil, and they would later be punished for it by God. The book of Revelation is about God’s judgment on Rome. It is evident that although Christians are to live peaceably under the Roman government, God does not approve of all the actions of the Roman government.

Does Romans 13 mean I should do anything the government commands?

No! How do we know this? The man who wrote Romans 13 was put to death by the Roman government. We can assume that Paul paid his taxes, obeyed the laws to the best of his ability, etc., but there were some compromises Paul refused to make. Romans 13 describes a system in which God is the ultimate authority. God will tear down and build up governments. God is the authority we must obey above all else.

What does loving my enemy have to do with Romans 13?

Context is important. The one thing that has caused the most problems in interpreting Romans 13 is its separation from Romans 12. Often people will try to say something about Romans 13 without ever considering Romans 12. In Romans 13, Paul commands us to submit to the government and pay our taxes, but in Romans 12, he gives us many more commands. We are to bless anyone who persecutes us (12:14). We are to repay no one evil for evil (12:17). We are to live peaceably with all (12:18). We are never to avenge ourselves but leave vengeance to God (12:19). We are to feed our enemies and give them something to drink (12:20). Whatever Romans 13 means, it cannot contradict the commands Paul has just given. I do not think this is an issue as long as we understand Romans 13 as instructions on how a Christian should live under the government, not within the government.

We should notice that Romans 13 is situated between commands for us to love others (12:9-10; 13:8). At the end of Paul’s instructions regarding Christians and government, he makes the following statement.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. – Romans 13.1-8

The one thing Christians should be known for is love. If our interpretation of Romans 13 takes us away from this end, then we have not interpreted it correctly, and we should take another look. Governments will come and go, but the kingdom of God will stand forever. The ethics of governments vary drastically, but the ethic of the kingdom of God is love. Let us make sure we are devoting ourselves to the right ethic.

Originally published by Start2Finish and republished with their permission.
Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.
Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version).

“Thirteen Propositions” of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address

Editor’s Note: Thomas Campbell, upon withdrawing from the Seceder sect of the Presbyterian church, had gained considerable influence among the Christians in Washington County, Pennsylvania. In 1807 Thomas Campbell and several other like minded Christians formed the “Christian Association of Washington” for the purpose of promoting Christian unity and encouraging denominations to unite together on the faith and practices revealed in the Bible. Neither Thomas Campbell nor any other member of the association had any intention of forming a new sect. (It is therefore important to remember that at this time the phrase “Church of Christ” was used not to refer to one particular sect, but was rather used to describe the one universal church). In order to clarify the intentions of their newly formed association in a clear and definite manner, a “Declaration and Address” was written and adopted by the association. The following thirteen propositions were written to encourage Christians to put an end to controversies caused by matters of opinion, expediency, and human inferences. These thirteen propositions will continue to be of great interest to any who desire to see greater unity among Christians.

Let none imagine that the subjoined propositions are at all intended as an overture toward a new creed or standard for the Church, or as in any wise designed to be made a term of communion; nothing can be further from our intention. They are merely designed for opening up the way, that we may come fairly and firmly to original ground upon clear and certain premises, and take up things just as the apostles left them; that thus disentangled from the accruing embarrassments of intervening ages, we may stand with evidence upon the same ground on which the Church stood at the beginning. Having said so much to solicit attention and prevent mistake, we submit as follows:

PROP. 1. That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.

2. That although the Church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another, yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them, to the glory of God. And for this purpose they ought all to walk by the same rule, to mind and speak the same thing; and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.

3. That in order to do this, nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God. Nor ought anything to be admitted, as of Divine obligation, in their Church constitution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles upon the New Testament Church; either in express terms or by approved precedent.

4. That although the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are inseparably connected, making together but one perfect and entire revelation of the Divine will, for the edification and salvation of the Church, and therefore in that respect can not be separated; yet as to what directly and properly belongs to their immediate object, the New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament Church, and as perfect a rule for the particular duties of its members, as the Old Testament was for the worship, discipline, and government of the Old Testament Church, and the particular duties of its members.

5. That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the Scriptures are silent as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be, no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency by making laws for the Church; nor can anything more be required of Christians in such cases, but only that they observe these commands and ordinances as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the Church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the Church, or be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.

6. That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession.

7. That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of Divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient, and the more full and explicit they be for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of Christian communion; unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the Church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment, or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the Church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.

8. That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all Divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the Church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge; but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice, and of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ, accompanied with a profession of their faith in and obedience to him, in all things, according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his Church.

9. That all that are enabled through grace to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and Father, temples of the same Spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same Divine love, bought with the same price, and joint-heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.

10. That division among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is antiscriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is antinatural, as it excites Christians to contemn, to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them. In a word, it is productive of confusion and of every evil work.

11. That (in some instances) a partial neglect of the expressly revealed will of God, and (in others) an assumed authority for making the approbation of human opinions and human inventions a term of communion, by introducing them into the constitution, faith, or worship of the Church, are, and have been, the immediate, obvious, and universally acknowledged causes, of all the corruptions and divisions that ever have taken place in the Church of God.

12. That all that is necessary to the highest state of perfection and purity of the Church upon earth is, first, that none be received as members but such as having that due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge described above, do profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures; nor, secondly, that any be retained in her communion longer than they continue to manifest the reality of their profession by their temper and conduct. Thirdly, that her ministers, duly and Scripturally qualified, inculcate none other things than those very articles of faith and holiness expressly revealed and enjoined in the word of God. Lastly, that in all their administrations they keep close by the observance of all Divine ordinances, after the example of the primitive Church, exhibited in the New Testament; without any additions whatsoever of human opinions or inventions of men.

13. Lastly. That if any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of Divine ordinances be not found upon the page of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose should be adopted under the title of human expedients, without any pretense to a more sacred origin, so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the Church.

Excerpts from “An Interview Between an Old and a Young Preacher” by Barton W. Stone

Editor’s Note: It is often argued that since God ordained governments, it is right for Christians to support and maintain those governments. In the following article, Barton W. Stone addresses this commonly held belief. This excerpt is taken from “Interview Ninth” from “Interview Between an Old Preacher and a Young Preacher”, originally published by James M. Mathes in the “Works of Elder B. W. Stone” (1859). You can read the interviews in their entirety here. For additional study, take the time to view the hyperlinks you will find throughout this article.

Old Preacher–Well, my son, what success have you had in enlisting soldiers for the holy war since we last met?

Young Preacher–None, none. The way is completely obstructed by counter currents of worldly policy, called politics. This appears to be the all-absorbing theme, and spring of action among the people of every age, sex, religion and profession in the land. It is a thick veil thrown over eternity and eternal things–it is an opiate which has induced a senseless torpor to religion–it is ruination to Christian character–it has banished shame from the heart of the professor, who seems to enjoy the revels of the day… The small still voice of religion can not be heard in such a turmoil, nor can she have entrance or abode into hearts so heated with politics….To preach during such excitement appears in vain; and yet to refrain I can not. I find a few, and but a few mourners in Zion, who weep for her desolations. This upholds my sinking spirit, with the heart-cheering truth, the Lord reigneth. Here the young preacher’s sorrows burst into a flood of tears, and prevented further utterance.

 O. P.–My son, wipe your tears and trust in the Lord. It is true a dark cloud hangs over the world, which may burst in vengeance or mercy. An exterminating war has long been waging between religion and the world, and “the fight will be maintained until the weaker dies.” A compromise can never be effected between them; for whosoever loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; and whosoever will be a friend of the world is an enemy to God. The friendship of the world is enmity to God. To seek the friendship of the world and the friendship of God at the same time, can not be done consistently with truth–it is a vain work; and yet this work, vain as it is, seems to mark the professors of Christianity at the present day; almost an armistice seems to be concluded between the world and professed Christianity. The God of this world has blinded the eyes of professed Christians, and is fast leading them deceived into their ranks into captivity–into bondage and death. Christians are virtually forsaking the government and laws of heaven to prop up and sustain the governments and laws of men, whether those men and laws be ecclesiastical or political; in fact, they are based upon the same foundation.

      Israel were always scattered when they forsook the laws and ordinances of heaven and followed their own devices. Their enemies prevailed against them, and led them into captivity; nor were they ever gathered together from their dispersions, till they returned to the laws and ordinances of God which they had forsaken. These things were written for our example, on whom the ends of the world are come. We must return to the government, laws and ordinances of our rightful king, the Lord Jesus, before we shall ever be gathered together and become worthy subjects of his kingdom. We must unite our energies, advance the government and kingdom of our Lord, and meddle not with the government of this world, whether human, ecclesiastical, political or civil; all others aside from that of heaven will be put down by a firm decree of our Lord before the end come.

Y. P.–You astonish me. Are not the civil powers and governments that be, ordained of God? And is it not the duty of Christians to be subject to them, and to sustain them? Do instruct me on this subject.

O. P.If it be the duty of Christians under one worldly government to uphold and support that government, then it is the duty of Christians living in every worldly government to uphold and support that government; those living in North America must uphold and support the democracy of all the United States; those in Britain must support the monarchy of England; those in Russia must support the despotism there; those in Rome must support the government of the pope, the man of sin, the Antichrist of our rightful Lord; those in South America must support every petty tyrant that wades through blood to sit in the supreme chair of State. These governments must be supported and sustained by all their power, influence, blood and treasure. Can we for one moment think that the Lord enjoined on his people under the Caesars of old to uphold and defend their bloody governments, which enjoined the extirpation of the Christians, or to force them to abandon their religions and sacrifice to idols? Can we think it possible that the government of the pope, the man of sin, the true Antichrist, must be supported by Christians at the expense of all their influence, blood and treasure, and that by oath, and I may add, at the expense of their own souls? I grant that Christians are bound to submit to the powers as far as to pay their dues, as custom, tax, etc. But they are not enjoined to seek for nor fill those powers, and thus sustain the government. How awful the thought that the Lord would enjoin on his followers to sustain and support the antipodal, the antagonistic government of Rome, which aims at the subversion of his own!

 Y. P.–You confound me; but are not the powers or governments that exist ordained of God? Is it not then right for Christians to support or maintain them?

O. P.–If all the governments which exist are ordained of God in the common acceptation of the term, then it undeniably follows that all the jarring governments on earth are Divine and good–constitute parts of his own government. Will this be admitted by any intelligent man? No, not one. The translation of the verse (Rom. 13.1) has caused this confusion. The words are ordained, in our version, are in the present tense, but in the original, are in the perfect, and should be translated have been ordained. Trace the history of God’s government from the beginning, and we shall find that he, as monarch of the world, always gave his own laws to his people for their government, but always ordained or appointed men to rule under him according to those laws. But we never find that he ever gave authority to uninspired men to make laws in any age or nation for the government of his people. The authorities or executors of any laws but his own, it is evident he did not ordain.

The people soon, through their depravity, became dissatisfied with God’s government and laws, and began to depart from the laws of Heaven, and to legislate for themselves; yet they retained the authorities and offices which God had ordained. Then were the people scattered, and formed nations, and made laws, and instituted governments for themselves, retaining the offices Divinely ordained to execute the laws, not those laws given by God, but those made by themselves. Thus the whole world is divided into kingdoms, states, governments and parties, whose opposite laws and governments, create collision of interests, strife, war and carnage. The kind purpose of God was to reunite the jarring world, and to make them one, and to reconcile the world unto himself by his Son. This will never be effected till they all return to the government and laws of God, and forsake their own. These laws are given us by Jesus Christ, and when received and fully acted upon will unite the world in harmony, love and peace; wars will cease to the ends of the earth, and discord and strife be known no more forever. It will truly be the kingdom of peace–of heaven on earth.

Y. P.–Could we live on earth in safety without civil government? Would not the strongest sect of professed Christians persecute and oppress the weaker, unless checked and restrained by the civil authorities? Would not the wicked part of the world continually bring upon us tribulation and distress?

O. P.–We may imagine a thousand difficulties; but have we not a king in Zion, who is jealous for the glory of his Church upon earth? Is he not almighty? Can he not check and restrain opposing powers? Will he not hear prayer, and interpose in time of need? To these queries our enlightened judgment answers in the affirmative; but where is our faith? Can we trust in this king? Persecution would add a score to the ranks of Immanuel for one cut off. The Church would continually gain from the world by the truth, and sufferings for it, until he whose right it is to reign triumphantly over all. While civil governments exist, we may, as did Paul, appeal to Caesar from the judgment of our enemies; he is to keep his subjects from injuring us, because we honestly and punctually pay our dues to his government. The amalgamation of Church and State is an unholy alliance, and every advance to it is a departure from truth. The world is beginning to be awake to this subject. Yet some of the parties seem to cast a wishful eye to the highest.

Standing Up For Your Rights

by David Lipscomb

The Gospel Advocate; July 6, 1882

A man who insists on having his rights, will frequently find more wrongs than rights in this world. This world is not the world where right rules; on the contrary, it is an evil world,—a world where Abel dies while Cain lives; a world where God’s servants are killed all the day long, and are accounted as sheep for the slaughter; a world where the wisest of men see that in the place of judgment wickedness is there, and in the place of righteousness iniquity is there,—and find their only consolation in the fact that at last God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, and so right the wrongs that nothing else will ever remedy. We may as well accept these facts at first as to learn them by bitter experience at last; and we may as well content ourselves to bear the iniquities, the falsehoods, the slanders, robberies and wrong-doings that occur in this world, for so surely as we undertake to right the wrongs that are perpetrated, we shall receive fresh injuries and be made the victims of still greater wrongs. Charity “beareth all things,” and though there may be times when iniquity de­mands rebuke, and wrong-doing requires exposure, still he who does this with the hope of securing his own advantage, may expect to be disappointed. For one’s own personal profit it is better to endure almost any wrong than to undertake to obtain redress. We are in an enemy’s land, and a man may find perils where he least expects them. Hence we are to arm ourselves with the same mind that Jesus had, and suffer patiently, over­coming evil with good. The Talmud has this saying, which illustrates the life of one who beareth all things in the spirit of Christian charity:—“He who says, Mine is mine and thine is thine is a just man; he who says, Mine is mine, and thine is mine, is a wicked man ; he who says, Thine is thine, and mine is thine, is a pious man. ‘Love seeketh not her own.’” This principle of yielding, bearing, and endur­ing is not merely the dictate of Christian forbearance and charity, but it is also, in an evil world, the dictate of worldly prudence and com­mon sense. Unless a man can make up his mind to a life of warfare and strife, which may in the end involve him in injustice and personal wrong­doing to others, through a determination to have his own way, he may well make up his mind to suffer injury trusting in God who, in the day of final account, shall make all things right and shall give reward to his servants the prophets, and to his saints, and to them that fear his name, both small and great.