How are we to treat others when we disagree?
This one is simple. 1. We don’t just sweep things under the rug. We talk it out. We reason together. 2. We come to the table knowing that there is such a thing as truth and we “fight” for it. Fighting for something is drastically different than fighting about something. 3. We allow each other time to understand and process ideas and convictions. If God is patient then we have no right to be otherwise. If God allows a lifetime of maturation then we should allow that as well. 4. We give each other the benefit of the doubt, not jumping to conclusions. And not condemning or holding each other in contempt for our opinions. 5. We love, remembering that love never fails!
Romans 13 in an American Context
Here’s what Paul said:
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:1-8
Let’s first examine that there are multiple governments in the Scripture. Paul said that we are to submit to the governing authorities, plural. Here’s what we do know is included in this: 1. The government of the church (Eph. 2:17-22). 2. The civil government (Rom. 13:1-8). And 3. The government of the family (Matt. 19:4-6).
The church is responsible for governing the word and sacrament. Also the issues of spiritual and moral discipline. The civil government is responsible for justice and protection, although this extends to the family as well. The family is responsible for health, education, and welfare. Many of which, the family outsourced to the civil government long ago.
Now before we examine this, let me offer a quick reminder on Biblical interpretation. The order is important. In our interpretation we need to 1. Know what the Bible says. 2. Know what the Bible means within its context. And 3. Then (and only then) ask how (or if) it applies to us. In this case, how might the Romans 13 mandate apply within the American context.
So what does the Bible say, explicitly and implicitly? Explicitly: 1. Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. 2. All authorities have been established by God. 3. Resisting authority is opposing God’s ordinance. 4. Those who oppose will receive condemnation. 5. Rulers are not to be a cause of fear for those who do good but instead a source of praise. 6. Rulers are to be a source of fear for those who do evil. 7. Evil is the reason the government bears the sword. 8. We obey for the sake of wrath and conscience. 9. Rulers are intended to be servants of God.
There are also several implicit rules that need to be thought through before we can interpret fully. 1. Receiving condemnation for opposing the governing authorities does not override that fact that in Christ there is still no condemnation. This is not a salvation issue. It simply means that if you run the red light you’re going to get a ticket. 2. Although rulers are not to be a cause of fear for those who do good, if they do cause fear for good people it doesn’t follow that we are then allowed to disobey. 3. The very talk of good and evil and the universality of a government’s reward and punishment of each respectively implies that good and evil are absolutes. 4. Since governments and rulers are established by God and to serve God, the moral absolutes they govern belong to God and therefore are established in His Scripture. 5. Since there are multiple governments, our submission to each is required. More on this in a second.
We now know what the text says. But what does it say within its context? Peter provided insight in 1 Peter 2:13-17:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”
Romans and 1 Peter both say to obey. They even both propose the same reasons. And yet, Peter amplifies clarity. The will of God is that in our obedience we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Honoring all people, loving the brotherhood, fearing God, and honoring the King.
So what’s that third question concerning Biblical interpretation? It’s application. How (or does) this apply to us. How might the Romans 13 mandate apply within the American context.
The answer is that there are varying convictions. You may say but there is only one right answer. And I will respond that there was one right answer with regard to eating unclean food too and Paul said as long as the person is walking out their conviction in such a way as to please the Lord then you live at peace with them. Go ahead and try to persuade them. Go ahead and please reason with them. But whatever you do, don’t hold them in contempt because you believe yourself to be smarter.