Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Subjection and Supplication

If God’s children are living in the world, but we are not “of the world,”[1] how are we then to live in relation to the governments that rule the world?

After all, we’re facing whatever government is running the country in which we live, including decisions they make that are for the good of the world and not Jesus’ church. In some countries, the government is decidedly against Jesus’ church and is doing all they can to snuff it out. In others, like Canada and the USA, movements abound with the aim of manipulating government into doing only what is good for Worldlings, and nothing that is good for Jesus’ church.

How should we then live?

For starters, we must understand our identity. Whose we are, and who we are because of him, is the primary determinant of how we live in the world.

Lately I have been strongly influenced by the description of God’s people as, “beloved sojourners and exiles”.[2] This tells me that I am living in the world with the primary identity of a beloved child of God who lives in imitation of God as his beloved children.[3] As a sojourner, I live as one who is only here for a brief time, a mere blip compared to the eternity yet to come. As an exile, I’m living in a foreign country that is not my true home, for Jesus has gone ahead of his church to prepare a new home for us and will soon return to take us there.[4]

The two aims of the beloved sojourners and exiles of God is that we are to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul,” and, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”[5] The negative aim is to avoid the passions of the flesh/sark. The positive aim is to live a God-honoring life characterized by God-glorifying good deeds. This applies to everything we do in the world, and every relationship we are in.

The way this relates to our local governments is stated like this:

13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (I Peter 2)

What stands out front and center is that, while God’s beloved sojourners and exiles are called to, “be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution,”[6] our identity as the beloved sojourners and exiles of God keeps us always in subjection to God above all. Woven into this paragraph are these expressions:

·  “for the Lord’s sake” = we do not move from under the Lord’s authority to the government’s authority, but we do everything for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, even when we subject ourselves to the authority of human institutions. We are the beloved sojourners and exiles of God, and so even our good behavior in the world is in submission to Jesus Christ.
·  “this is the will of God” = whatever is going on in our society, and our particular expression of government, the good we do is according to the will of our heavenly Father because we are his beloved children who are temporarily residing in this foreign country of the world.
·  “living as servants of God” = it is as servants of God that we subject ourselves to human institutions. This is what God’s servants do. It does not mean we do not seek to eradicate slavery as Wilberforce did. It does not mean we allow atrocities at the hands of governments. It does not mean that we live with the evils perpetrated by governments and do nothing to help the oppressed. It just means that we are in this world as the servants of God, and the general idea of our sojourning in the foreign countries in which we live is to live in subjection to whichever government is running the country as far as serving our Savior allows.
·  “fear God” = while we seek to honor people and governments and authorities and institutions around us, whatever is put in place to govern the foreign land in which we live, and we seek to love the brotherhood of believers as the kingdom in which we truly live, the home-away-from-home kingdom of God, and as we honor the emperor, or president, or prime minister, or monarch, or mayor, or premier, or whatever other authorities are in place, we do everything in the reverential fear of God. God is the ultimate authority and there is a way that we honor and fear his authority above all things, knowing that it is under his authority that we subject ourselves to the authorities around us.

Thankfully, what God teaches his beloved sojourners and exiles is in glorious contrast to what we see taking place in our world today with all the anarchistic movements that flood the news. It brought to mind a long-ago situation in which God’s beloved sojourners and exiles were in subjection to a government that was oppressing them with slavery. You can read about this in the book of Exodus.[7]

The over-riding thing that stood out was that, in contrast to an anarchistic movement that seeks to overthrow one government and establish another, the people of God did what was consistent with their identity as the children of God.   

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.[8]

The point for me was that the people of God groaned and cried out for help, looking to the King of their kingdom, not the government that oppressed them. Their subjection to God led to their supplication about their unfair treatment. God’s faithfulness to his covenant shone out and he began working in answer to his children’s prayers. This reminded me of the great revivals throughout history that were not brought about by Christians staging protests against their governments, but by uniting in prayers of repentance and faith that God would intervene and turn their countries back to him in a big way.[9]

As God hears the prayers of his people, and prepares the way for their deliverance, we get a wonderful example of how God’s children live in subjection to God while in subjection to a government. First, when Pharaoh commanded that the Hebrew baby boys be put to death, we are told that, the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live.”[10] Living in fear and subjection to God will lead us in how to disobey specific laws of a government while still living in subjection to that government. A government has no right to command the murdering of babies (prior to birth included), and so our subjection to God requires defiance of such unjust laws while continuing to live in subjection to the general laws of the land, so to speak.

As the situation unfolds, when Moses was born, and Moses’ mother protected him from the king’s law, the book of Hebrews describes it like this, “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict.”[11] Because Moses’ parents were living by faith, they were not afraid of an evil governmental edict even though it put them in danger of being caught and punished for disobedience. They were not boycotting, or setting up lobbyist groups, or publishing tweets and posts about the terrible Pharaoh of the land. They simply lived in subjection to God, subjecting themselves to a life of slavery, praying in supplication that God would intervene, while refusing to subject themselves to the murderous edicts of a wicked king.

Conclusion: because our primary identity in the world is as the beloved sojourners and exiles of God (not citizens of whichever country we are living in), our subjection to human institutions of government is governed by our subjection to God our Father and Jesus Christ our King. This means abstaining from the fleshly, sarky passions that would cause us to relate to worldly governments just like the Worldlings around us, and it means living such honorable lives filled with such good works that, even if people presently accuse us of being evil for not endorsing their sin, at the return of Jesus Christ they will see that the church Jesus was building has indeed revealed his glory after all.

© 2017 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] John 17:14-16
[2] I Peter 2:11
[3] Ephesians 5:1-2
[4] John 14:1-3
[5] I Peter 2:11-12
[6] I Peter 2:13
[8] Exodus 2:23-25
[9] Here is a short audio/video clip of Duncan Campbell recounting the great story of the revival that God poured over the Hebrides Islands of Scotland between 1948-1952:
[10] Exodus 1:17
[11] Hebrews 11:23

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