This week Greg taught on Romans 13, a Scripture that has been in the news recently when Attorney General Jeff Sessions used it as basis for why the American government is separating children from their families at the southern border. This passage, although helpful for us to understand how to respect the authority of earthly government in matters of polices, law and order, is not the final word for Kingdom people on how we should live.
Sometimes, we’ll encounter Scripture used outside of our church contexts. We may hear our favorite celebrity, influencer, or politician use a passage and in those cases we need to know how to listen with a Kingdom perspective and speak out against unhelpful interpretations of Scripture. As Jesus disciples, we are a part of what Greg calls, “Jesus’ PR campaign,” we are called to share the message of God’s unsurpassable love for all people and when bad interpretation of Scripture gets in the way of that, then we are a called to speak out. Romans 13 presents one such section of scripture that has been misinterpreted to justify acts of governments that tend to dehumanize or take advantage of people in need in order to advance their agenda. Jesus followers have one agenda and that’s to advance the Kingdom of God and his message of love even through we live in and are subject to the policies of earthly authorities.
In order to do this we must remember:
- To not get sucked into the toxic polarity of earthly governments/ politics.
- We must honor the ambiguity of the political realm because good, intelligent people can and will disagree on political issues. So, we must have grace in the disagreeing.
- Have your opinion on controversial issues, but never left those opinions keep you from seeing people, even those on the other side of an issue, as worthy of love and dignity.
If we remember this then we will be vigilant to not let the affairs of earthly governments get in the way of our Kingdom ambassadorship. This is what Greg calls, “keeping a Kingdom perspective”.
In the case with the misinterpretation of Romans 13 to further the American agenda of border control, we can have a Kingdom perspective by remembering that love of stranger is at the heart of the Gospel. In Ezekiel 22 one of the primary reasons a nation was disciplined by God is because they did not treat the foreigner well. The story of God’s love is one of hostility for strangers, foreigners, and those on the outsides. God made the outsiders, insiders and welcomed the foreigner into this Kingdom. We should be motivated to do the same. In fact, Jesus personally identified with the outsiders in Matthew 25: 45 when he said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
So, if we are remembering that our first agenda is to the Kingdom of God and not earthly Kingdoms and we know that the heart of the Gospel is restoring dignity to all people then when Scriptures like Romans 13 are used to justify policies and keep us from speaking out, according to Greg, we must resist. In the case of the children separated at the border, we know there is trauma which is antithetical to the healing love of Jesus, so we speak out.
So what does Romans 13 actually mean? The interpretation Jeff Sessions uses has been used ever since the marriage of church and state because it’s helpful in keeping people in line. But the Scripture is not offering a carte blanche stamp on all polices and acts of all earthy governments. No, it describes God’s agreement to work with us, right where we are. In fact, throughout the Bible we see that God desires to be our only authority and for us to only value the agenda of the Kingdom of God, but because of fear and comparison, in 1 Samuel 8 the Israelites asks God to give them a king. He didn’t want to, but he did and in doing so, we reminded them they are ultimately rejecting his authority. But God knows that we are fallen and live in a broken world so Romans 13 describes how God chooses to use our governments and how we as resident aliens in earthly kingdoms should interact with earthly authority with the Greek word, tasso.
Understanding the meaning of tasso is essential if we want to properly relieves some of the tension this passage brings. Tasso means appointed to a task, so God’s design is that governments are appointed to the task of punishing wrongdoers and keeping the peace in so far as they respect the dignity of humans and do not interfere with the agenda of the Kingdom of God. If you resist a leader who is keeping peace and treating people well then you are resisting God because he has appointed leaders. But, if a leader is rejecting their call to care for people and creating policies that challenge God’s ultimate authority then are encourage to ante-tasso: reject that leaders’ authority in that appointed role because they are acting outside of the will of God.
The will of God is narrowed down to one passage, Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus declared, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” So when our policies, government, or authorities reject this and attempt to use Romans 13 to justify, we can resist with confidence knowing that we are faithful ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.
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