Storms & Giants: Lectionary Readings for June 24, 2018

8789717f13169d2b6350faef1651ade5.jpgClick Here for Audio Recording

There are times when we are faced with something bigger than we can handle. And I know that statement runs opposite of the line “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”…But sometimes that statement does not match our experience. Sometimes that statement feels like an encouraging bumper sticker on a car that is being towed to the junkyard.

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Sometimes, yes, sometimes…we are faced with things that we CANNOT handle. But hope can still give light to our existence when our past, present, and near future times still appear as dark and murky. This hope does not minimize the pain of our current struggle, but it gives us the strength and nourishment that we need to get through our struggles. 

I believe that God is on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent. This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God. 


1 Samuel 17:1–49

I remember sitting with my parents a few months ago at their place watching an old Christian movie about David and Goliath that was almost two hours long, and it was only and solely about the big fight. It was the cheesiest, most drawn-out movie I have ever seen. 

But Goliath was a bodybuilder. And David was a twig. 

The Philistines were an established nation and force. And the Hebrew people were just starting out. 

So when the Philistines offered to forgo the big battle in exchange for a champion vs. champion fight — the Hebrew people were tempted, but they remained silent. 

No one wanted to fight Goliath. They would rather die in a big battle than die at the hands of a man who probably had the most gruesome rumors spread about him. 

David stepped up to the plate, and those around him probably thought he was being sarcastic…but he wasn’t. This crazy shepherd boy who plays the harp actually wants to fight a bodybuilder who could have torn him limb from limb. 

David’s faith motivated him to overcome his fear, and it drove him to face his demons because he had the God of the underdogs and the oppressed with him. He knew that God was on his side. 

Goliath fell victim to an inexperienced and ill-equipped boy with a slingshot because of the power and compassion of a Mighty God who stepped into a situation that an entire nation could not handle.


2 Corinthians 6:1–13

Facing giants isn’t a new theme for Judaism or Christianity. It is riddled in our history as an integral part of our identity and our relation to God. 

We do not worship God because we want our best life now. We worship God because God is worthy of our praise, even when we are facing giants, or in the deepest of valleys. 

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The Judaic/Christian faith is an honest faith. The Psalms are full of celebrations and laments. It’s not all rainbows and smiles — and I like that. It is life-giving, hopeful, but it also lets us mourn, grieve, cry, and even get angry. Therefore, our faith cannot be reduced to an encouraging bumper sticker on a car headed to a junkyard — as if all hope is lost when life hits us hard— our faith is more like the family and friends who surround us and support us after the wreck.

The Apostle Paul is an important influencer on the Christian faith, but he can sometimes be an intimidating character to imagine. There are times when you’d want to invite him into your living room for a nice chat, and maybe so that he can encourage you, and there are times when you’d like to leave him at the door. He’s kind of like that family member who gives you some tough advice that you really don’t want to hear in the moment, but then later you realize how right they were in that advice, and how their roughness around the edges was motivated by their intense desire to see you succeed and grow.

Paul wasn’t like a TV preacher with a shiny suit, and a Mercedes. What he said to those who were suffering was born out of his own experiences as one who had previously caused much suffering, and as one who currently suffers for the very message that he was presenting to the church. 

In 2 Corinthians 6:1–13, Paul writes of all that he has gone through in his pursuit of God, and in the pursuit of spreading his message. He lists that he and his peers went through “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger”, but he also maintains that unrelenting hope that we’ve been talking about. He writes, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

A beaten man who had been thrown into prison on multiple occasions continues to seek and follow God because hope was no longer a manufactured emotion, but an implanted sense of direction to lead him through his calamity.

God is on the side of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. And God sends out others to wade into brokenness and to point to when all things will be made new. il_fullxfull.438193639_q47r.jpg


Mark 4:35–41

As a Christian, no figure brings me greater hope than Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Gospel accounts. So much of how we should treat one another, how we are to understand Gods love for all (including ourselves), and to what great depths God was willing to go in order to redeem a broken world, is found in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The Gospel of Mark is an intriguing read. In it we find Jesus who is equally concerned about the people’s spiritual and physical needs — but Mark focuses on spiritual warfare and power, unlike any other Gospel account. 

In the first few chapters, you find story after story of Jesus performing exorcisms; literally casting out demons. In Mark 3:23–30, Jesus gives this INCREDIBLE explanation of why he is doing it; he said that when a person breaks into a house, he binds the strong person of the house so that he can gain control of the house, and take what he wants. He is saying that by casting out demons, by binding the devil, he is debilitating the effects that the powers of evil have — Christ is taking over control of the house. 

The people, who were formerly demon-possessed, used to be outcasts of society; their family disowned them, they could no longer go to the temple, and the religious folks gave up on trying to help them. But now they were free from the strong man that bound them, and they were free to escape their calamity and shame. Christ took over the house.

After this, Christ spends some time teaching parables — stories — that explain the importance of faith amongst, and despite of, the reality of turmoil and struggle. It is only fitting then, that the author of Mark places the next scene in the middle of a stormy sea. 

Image 06.jpgThe wind is howling, the waves are crashing, and water is beginning to get into the boat. The closest followers of Jesus on earth are scrambling to keep the boat afloat while Jesus is sleeping on a pillow — as if nothing was happening. 

Frustrated, they woke up the one person who may know what to do, and they asked him, in pure panic, “Don’t you care that we’re drowning??”

Jesus arose from his slumber and ordered the winds and the sea to be still.

All was calm. The boat remained afloat. And these followers of Jesus were left scratching their heads as they wondered who this man really was…the man who had control over the winds and the sea. 

Jesus demonstrated power and authority over the storms of people’s lives, and the storms that would cause them to lose their lives. Christ took over the house.


Application

There are times when we feel like those early followers of Jesus in the boat on the stormy sea — we cry out to God and we desperately ask: “Don’t you care what is happening to us?? Wake Up! Move! Do Something!”

And there are times when we observe others going through turmoil, shame, abuse, oppression, persecution, prejudice, and heartache, and we cry out to God with those same words.

But it is in times of destruction that renewal can most clearly begin to formulate in our vision — like a dead-looking tree in winter that begins to bud in anticipation of spring. We may see the leaves and the flowers, or maybe we won’t — but we now know that that tree is not dead. All Hope is Not lost. 

And when we realize this great hope that we had to have implanted within us, we are then called to share the source and the sustenance of that hope with those who need it most. 

In remembering the words at the beginning of this message:

God is a God who is “on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent.” This calls us to stand with those who are hurting, broken, and oppressed.

 “This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God.” This calls us to stand against the powers of evil in this world — to bind them and gain control for the Kingdom of God.

We may not be able to handle things on our own, but we have an ever-present God, and an ever-expanding support network to hold one another up.

“God is on the side of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. And God sends out others to wade into brokenness and to point to when all things will be made new.”

Hope is already, and Hope is yet to come. Amen.

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When taxes point to God

Context:   Ever since January, I have attempted to use the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) as a basis for my youth lessons, and for any preaching that I was asked to do during that time.  The RCL is a set list of scripture passages that is used by churches throughout the world as a basis for their messages on Sunday mornings.  I liked the idea because I like the “bigger picture” that it paints; I have always liked the idea of learning, saying, and doing things with Christians throughout the world, and throughout time.  I record most of these messages, and I put them out as a Podcast, which you can listen to by subscribing to the “Uncommon Lectionary Podcast” on your favorite podcast application, or by clicking here.  The following is one of those lessons put into “blog” form. 

Let’s read the following passage together:

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Matthew 22:15-22 – Common English Bible (CEB)

15 Then the Pharisees met together to find a way to trap Jesus in his words. 16 They sent their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are genuine and that you teach God’s way as it really is. We know that you are not swayed by people’s opinions, because you don’t show favoritism. 17 So tell us what you think: Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 Knowing their evil motives, Jesus replied, “Why do you test me, you hypocrites? 19  Show me the coin used to pay the tax.” And they brought him a denarion. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked.

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” 22 When they heard this they were astonished, and they departed.

A couple things to point out:

  • The Pharisees were strict adherents to the law of Moses, and they weren’t too keen on being ruled by the Romans who did not worship their God and charged high taxes.
  • The Supporters of Herod, called Herodians, were Jewish people who thought that being ruled by Rome wasn’t as bad as others thought, and they actively supported their local ruler (like a Governor) named Herod.
  • They went together to Jesus as two opposing opinions seeking to trap Jesus.  If he responds that people should pay their taxes, the Pharisees write him off as a heretic and his ministry is affected drastically.  If he responds that people should not pay their taxes, Jesus may be reported by the Herodians and be killed before his time.

And how does Jesus respond?

The empty-pocket celebrity asks to see a Denarion (a coin that equals a day’s wage) because he has none of his own.

He examines the coin and asks: “Who’s face is on here?”. The people respond that is it Caesar, and so Christ responds, “Okay, so give what is Caesar’s what is his, and give to God what is his”.

The people, confused and frustrated, walk away.

I have a hunch that Jesus responded this way to point out at least two things:

1) God is bigger than money, and money shouldn’t be something that distracts you from God (Speaking to the Pharisees).

2) God is greater and more powerful than any government on earth, even ones that demand complete allegiance from its citizens (Speaking to the Herodians).

And both of these two points relate to trusting in God: His rule, His provision, His truth.

Let’s take it a bit closer to home.  Let’s look at our US Dollar – think of a few things that stick out:

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We have George Washington’s face, 1, ONE, an odd Pyramid, the eagle, and of course we have “In God We Trust” written on our currency.

What does it mean to trust God?

What does it mean to trust and honor God with our money?

This dollar could be used for so many things that are not what we are called to do as Christians.  It could be used to buy drugs, buy CDs that degrade other people, and at a government level, it could be used to buy bombs and missiles, with no guarantee that those bombs would only kill “Bad people”.

So, while a dollar bill can never truly say “In God we trust” on it without being slightly ironic, you can, as individual Christians.

We trust in God when we use our dollars to help others who are needy, to go towards a church’s or other organization’s good deeds, or even to buy Christmas gifts for loved ones.

We trust in God when we start to see God as being more important than Money.

We trust in God we don’t let the pressures of this world…taxes, tension, war, heartache…cripple, or get in the way of, our belief in God. Sometimes, it may not make sense…but in those times, we still have to trust God.  Even in paying taxes, we are reminded that we, though we are citizens of our nation, are ultimately citizens of God.

So, the next time you see a Dollar, ask yourself….am I trusting in God? Or something else…

“There’s life after death…and taxes…” – Relient K (Link)

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Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 2 of 2)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 2 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

**Please Read Part 1 first! Click Here**

On Romans 13

Romans 13 is a chapter that is often quoted to provide “evidence” that a Christian going to war is justified, for they are serving their government, and governments are permitted to “bear the sword”(Romans 13:4).  The passage that is referenced does not encompass all of chapter 13, but just the first seven verses.  I will go through these verses exegetically, just as I did with Romans 12.

Romans 13:1-2

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Chapter 13 verses 1 & 2 state that we should be subject to our governing authorities, for God has appointed those in positions of authority.  We tend to ignore this truth when the elections come along, and when a president is in office that we do not like.  It is perfectly okay to not like who is the governing authority over you, but we are to be subject to them, which Paul explains later by stating that we should pay our taxes, respect them, and honor them to some extent; even if this simply means not blatantly slandering a ruler because you may not like their political policies, or them as a person.  

Romans 13:3-5

“3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

These verses are essentially saying: do good and you will not fall under their (the government’s) wrath.  But if you do wrong, the government does not “bear the sword in vain”(v.4).  Many Christians use this passage to justify their support of the Death Penalty, however, though I agree that God could very well use the death penalty to carry out His wrath on some individuals, being a mere man, I cannot know what is the will of God, and what is the will of man, so I would never put myself in a position where I would have to decide which criminals are to be put to death.  I also cannot help but wonder what advancement for the Kingdom of God could be done if His children trusted the judgment of governments more than the judgement of God.

Romans 13:6-7

For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Paul states that we are to pay taxes, repay what we owe, and respect and honor those who it is owed, and beings that governing authorities were appointed by God, I would take this to mean that we are to respect and honor our governing authorities.  The passage does not say that we have to be patriotic or nationalist, it merely says to respect and honor governing authorities; to respect their position, pay your taxes, and do good.  Things get messy when patriotism and nationalism penetrate into our faith.  And so the question is this: If the Word of God tells you to do something, and the Government tells you to do another, chose the Word of God.  If doing something for, with, or against the Government goes against the Word of God, chose the Word of God.  The Lord is Ruler of All, and we are to follow His Word.  The NLT Study Bible notes on Romans 13:1-2 (in reference to the Christians subjection to the government) state:

“Our submission to them [the government] will usually take the form of obedience.  However, because God stands over all governments, our submission to governing authorities must always be in terms of our ultimate submission to God (see Acts 4:19-20)”.

Therefore, if the government desires for you to enlist in the military, then, the Christian should refuse to do so based on the understanding of the Scriptures that I am convicted by. Thankfully if a draft ever happens again in the U.S., a person can chose to be a conscientious objector for religious reasons, and simply work in hospitals and the like in order to serve their country without violating their convictions.

As I pointed out earlier, many will use Romans 13 as justification for Christians to serve in the military because the military is permitted to “bear the sword”.   In the case of Romans 13, I believe it is mainly about, if not all about, domestic policy (governments, police, and judicial systems), and not so much about foreign policy (international conflicts/wars, military, etc.).  However, this doesn’t mean that God using a nation militarily is unbiblical, for other places in the Bible certainly indicate that God can use even a pagan nation to carry out His Will (Babylonians/Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Persians in the Old Testament, for example). In this fallen world, war is, at times, necessary for a nation to go into; not to make a statement whether or not certain ones are necessary, but to say that as a political body, a nation must defend itself and its people in order to survive. Therefore, I believe that God can use the United States (or any government, better or worse) in the form of war, if He so deems.  However, even if they do carry out God’s will in carrying out His wrath, they may still be held accountable for what they have done, as seen in the Old Testament with the Chaldeans in Habakkuk 2:2-20.  The NKJV MacArthur Study Bible notes on this passage state:

“In response to Habakkuk’s second complaint (1:12-2:1), the Lord announced that He would judge the Chaldeans as well for their wickedness. His reply included: 1) the instructions to write it down, as a reminder that it would surely occur (vv. 2,3); 2) a description of the character of the wicked in comparison to the righteous (vv. 4,5); and 3) the pronouncement of 5 woes describing the Chaldeans’ demise (vv. 6-20)”.

Therefore, it is seen that even in specific instances of God using a pagan nation and peoples to carry out His will, they are still to be punished for even those actions.  For Habakkuk was crying out to the Lord to administer justice on the Chaldeans (Babylon) for being an oppressive and violent people.  To carry this idea further, we see how God used Pharaoh in the Exodus of the hebrews to carry out His will, and then later punished Pharaoh and his people.  

Therefore, in light of the passage in Habakkuk, Romans 12, Christ’s words, and what I have found in the Old Testament, I believe that a Christian ought not to involve themselves in any office, organization, or position that could cause them to take a life.  For God will have His will accomplished, and we must leave vengeance/wrath to God and through the governments that he has appointed.

Romans 13:8-10:

“8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13 starts by speaking of how the citizens are to respond to the government, specifying the roles of the government, and then the chapter closes with words that are reflective of the message in Romans 12:9-19 in regards to the Christian’s response to their enemies, and how they are to interact with one another; setting a moral code to follow.  The inclusion of the final passage that was quoted confirms to me that Paul, in speaking of how the Christian is to respond and interact with others in Romans 12 and 13, referenced the government as an extension of this theme, and then concluded this theme by restating how the Christian is to act, as a contrast to how the government acts.  

Conclusion

I will restate that my purpose was to communicate the stance that I take on the role of Christians, government, and Christians serving in a position that may cause them to take a life, through the context of Romans 12 and 13.  I have done so exegetically in order to write in direct relation to the text itself so as to give the reader a view of how I view these apparently contradictory chapters, and how I honestly wrestled with each chapter.  The topic is important to me because I intend to always serve the church that I attend in whatever capacity that I am able, and I would like to at least be able to present them with my view, if asked or required, because to me, if a Christian kills another person outside of the will of God, even if they are within, or serving the government, they are committing murder.  If we are all created in the image of God, then all life is sacred.  

As stated before, I hold the views that I have because I have found them to be the most biblical through my own study, and through many discussions, on the subject matter that has lasted for several years.   I have been presented with views from other sides of the argument by my peers, pastors, and professors, however, none has seemed to be as biblically based as Christian Nonviolence.  I understand this because most people have a hard time letting go of the natural inclination that humans have towards violence and vengeance, and some have too much of an allegiance to their country that they are not even willing to consider the argument which I present.  I certainly would not naturally choose to believe in this argument if I did not firmly believe it to be what God would have me do.    I view this topic as I do others: pray about it, seek the scriptures, examine multiple passages- even ones that may seem to initially contradict, and then seek out opinions written by other people of God throughout the centuries.  

We are to follow God and His Will, regardless of our own personal stances. Are we willing to change our stances if God calls us to do so?


Works Referenced (In Parts 1 & 2)

Barker, Kenneth L. “Notes On: Romans 12:17.” Zondervan NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1999. 1654. Print.

Cranfield, C. E. B. “VII. 3. A Series of Loosely Connected Items of Exhortation (12:9-21).” Romans, a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1985. 316. Print.

Grudem, Wayne A. “Chapter 1: Five Wrong Views About Christians and Government.” Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. 54. Print.

Henry, Matthew; Bible, King James Version; Bureau, Better Bible (2013-10-24). Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Linked to Bible Verses) (Kindle Locations 230574-230579).  . Kindle Edition.

MacArthur, John. “Notes on Habakkuk 2:2-20.” The MacArthur Study Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Word Bibles, 1997. 1319. Print.

“Notes on Romans 13:1-2.” The NLT Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008. 1916. Print.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Five – On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Five

On Christians & Government: Romans 12 & 13 (Part 1 of 2)

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”  – Romans 12:21 (ESV)

There exists an apparent contradiction in viewing Romans 12 and 13 as a Christian; for we see that the very things that Paul instructs the Christian to not do, he states that the government has the authority to do.  A good amount of Christians today look at these chapters as independent and uncorrelated with one another, at least in practice, and most would pick the chapter that seems more akin to their own personal position on the subject of government and war, and nearly ignore the other.  The political pacifists will harp on Romans 12, and the Christian Political Right will harp on Romans 13; we are naturally drawn to what fits most comfortably with our own views.  However, to view these passages as independent of one another is a hermeneutical(interpretive) error; those who seek to come to the scriptures honestly must look at and wrestle with them both; not as two separate ideas, but as one idea related to various peoples.  The purpose of this chapter of my writings is to communicate the stance that I take, which is best defined as Christian non-resistance, by going through Romans 12 and 13, and honestly wrestling with each chapter.

As mentioned before, most people side with the chapter that is most akin to their current position. This is not to say that there are no exceptions to people choosing one chapter or the other, for there are Christians who are pacifists in their personal lives who believe that Christians should never kill, regardless of whether they are a mere citizen or a government official, but they may also state that the secular government does have the authority to issue justice in the form of violence and even death.  There are also those who believe that Christians in the government are permitted to kill when the government is issuing justice, but who feel that the Christian civilian should act the same as the Christian pacifist civilians and not take violence into their own hands.  This group would push for Christian involvement in politics because they feel that they need to maintain the law of God through their nation’s politics.  Wayne Grudem in “Politics according to the Bible” states:

“Good government and good laws can prevent much evil behavior, and they can teach people what society approves, but they cannot by themselves produce good people”(pg.54).

Grudem states this in order to convey that although pushing for God’s law within politics can prove to be beneficial, people are still sinners who need a Holy God.  Both of the positions described are honestly seeking what they believe the Lord desires, and they each wrestle with the question of how Christians respond to government and injustice.

As stated many times in this book already, the position I hold is one that states that the Christian is not to commit violence under any circumstance unless directly commanded, blessed, or instructed by God to do so (Something that seems highly unlikely).  Therefore, in presenting my view, the reader has to understand that I believe that in order to understand Romans 13, it must be viewed in light of Romans 12.  Any good book written on biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) should inform you that the surrounding text of a verse, passage, or chapter is useful to understanding the meaning behind the portion of scripture you are studying.  

On Romans 12

The context of Romans 12 is that it was written after the Apostle Paul explained the mystery of the Gospel (Romans 9,10,11), which is that Gentiles were grafted into God’s plan and household, and this is why Paul writes the following transition:

Romans 12:1-2

“1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The “therefore” is there as a bridge between Paul’s previous point about the mystery of the Gospel, and his point in chapters 12 and 13, which is broadly summarized as instructions to the Christian on how they ought to live.  Paul writes that we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices that are willing to lay down our lives metaphorically and physically for our devotion to Jesus Christ and His work.  He then goes on to verse two which states that we are to be transformed in our mind and lives because of our belief and adherence to God, which would then strengthen our ability to discern what is, and is not, the will of God with careful study, counsel, and prayer.

As English speakers, readers, and writers, we have the Bible in many different versions and translations to read from.  These Bibles are the God’s words to humankind, and are worthy of our study, and our application of its words to our lives.  Through the Bible, we can begin to discern what would be, and would not be, the Will of God. However, we must remember, in as much possible, to seek to put our political, religious, and personal opinions aside, and seek to understand what the text says; a troublesome concept for us all.  

Coming back to Romans 12, after writing about unity in the church in verses 3-8, Paul moves on by stating something that is quite reflective of Christ’s life and ministry on earth, and is quite challenging for most of us if we truly look at the passages that follow.  

Romans 12:9-13

“9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

This first passage is in reference to how Christians should treat one another, as well as how they should view faith; by being “fervent in spirit”, serving the Lord, rejoicing, patient through trials, constant prayer, and to not be “slothful in zeal”. Paul is telling his audience here that God desires more from His people than simply going to church, and having belief; God desires for us to act out our faith by adhering to His Son’s example, and following the other guiding words of Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.  Paul states that we are to contribute to the needs of the saints, and to show hospitality; how often does the church ask of the needs of its congregation’s members, be it financial, housework, or other things?  We must love our brethren better.

Romans 12:14-21

“14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In this passage, Paul is writing about how the Christian should act toward those who persecute them, as well as all people in general.  In verse 14, Paul writes that we are to bless those who persecute us, and not curse them.  He continues this thought in verse 17 by stating that we should not repay evil for evil; that we are supposed to do the honorable thing [to “overcome evil with good” – v.21].  It is important to note that the statement “repay no one evil for evil” is a quote from the Old Testament in Proverbs 20:22.  This is important because it shows that the message of the believer’s command regarding vengeance is the same in the Old Testament, as it is in the New Testament.  For as we discovered in the chapter on the Old Testament, Humankind is always subject to God, and violence was only permitted with God’s command and blessing.  The Zondervan NASB Study Bible in its notes on Romans 12:17 state the following about the high moral call to the Christian:

“Christian conduct should never betray the high moral standards of the gospel, or it will provoke the disdain of unbelievers and bring the gospel into disrepute (See 2 Cor 8:21; 1 Tim 3:7)”.

Many people that you come across who have negative views towards Christianity, usually have the same frustration:  Hypocracy.  They are tired of Christians saying one thing, and doing another.  They are tired of Christians who claim to follow Christ being the voice of hate in our culture.  It is in this observation that the relevance of the above quote comes into play; when Christians betray their high moral standards, unbelievers disdain them, and the message of the Gospel is injured.

To further this idea of a high moral standard, and repaying no one evil for evil, Romans 12:18 states that as much as it depends on us, we are to live peaceably with ALL.  Keep in mind, Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were being persecuted when he wrote them this message.  But what is most alarming about this passage is found in verses 19-21, which state in verse 19 that we are never to avenge (which is a synonym for taking revenge for) ourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is his to pay, for He is Just.  In addition, C.E.B. Cranfield in his Romans: A Shorter Commentary writes on the topic of the Lord’s Vengeance in verse 19 by stating the following in why the Christian ought to allow for God to have vengeance, and not take matters into their own hands:

“If one is to continue to live by grace, then one cannot do other than make way for this wrath – to do otherwise would be to cease to live by grace.  To give place to the wrath is to leave vengeance to God in the knowledge that He is the God who smites in order to heal”(pg. 316).

Cranfield reminds us that God is perfect and just, and if we were to live as if we understood that, we would live by grace by not taking God’s place in avenging people that are just as vile as we are if we were without the salvation of Christ.  Cranfield also reminds us that God desires for all to be saved, and God’s wrath may be a way to reveal himself to them for God smites “in order to heal”.

Moving on to verse 20, Paul instructs us to even feed, and give water to our enemy (basically looking out for their best interest) to “heap burning coals on his head”.  The burning coals on his head part of this verse seems completely out of place here because many people’s first thought is: We should be nice to them so that they get angry at us, so that they are punished, etc..  However, Matthew Henry gives the following interpretations for this part of the verse:

Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head; that is, “Thou shalt either,”

  1. “Melt him into repentance and friendship, and mollify his spirit towards thee” (alluding to those who melt metals; they not only put fire under them, but heap fire upon them; thus Saul was melted and conquered with the kindness of David, Sa1 24:16; Sa1 26:21) – “thou wilt win a friend by it, and if thy kindness have not that effect then,”

  2. “It will aggravate his condemnation, and make his malice against thee the more inexcusable. Thou wilt hereby hasten upon him the tokens of God’s wrath and vengeance.

The two reasons that Matthew Henry gives is that being kind will either conquer your enemy’s hatred to spur them to love you, or it will continue to show the corruption in their heart, and they will therefore have to answer to their maker one day.  The role of the Christian is not to take vengeance, but to love others, leaving vengeance up to God, and seeking His Will each day.

Verse 21 summarizes these points by stating, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”.  By instructing us to not be overcome by evil, Paul is meaning that we should not be passive in our dealing with evil against us (we are to pray, look out for our enemies best interest; showing them undeserved Grace), but we should not add to the evil being done by committing evil ourselves.  Again, Christians are called to rise above our natural instincts in the pursuit of following Jesus.

Based on this study of Romans 12, a Christian is not permitted to “play God” and carry out violence without His blessing.  I add “without His blessing” because that is the only way that violence was permitted in the Old Testament.  I will say, however, that there is no instance in the New Testament where followers of Christ were ever told to carry out violence.  Instead, God, and His heavenly armies, are the only ones who did, or were foretold to carry out judgement.

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*Works Referenced in this post will be within the Works Referenced section in Part 2*