Civil obedience is the topic at hand, and here we have only one verse. Paul teaches more extensively elsewhere. Here on the isle of Crete Christians may have been involved in causing political agitation and riots and violence and upheaval. We must NOT give them the opportunity to say so. We obey. But how far does this obedience go?
On this point I agree with Luther, and Bonhoeffer, and Paul elsewhere–we obey as long as it does not interfere with our obedience to God. God uses civil authorities to restrain evil, but when evil creeps into the governing authorities’ rule–then we disobey them and obey God in doing what is truly good by His standards. In matters of opinion we suck it up and obey the civil authorities. In matters of Good vs. Evil, we choose the good.
Are Democracies more godly?
We, in the United States of America, live in a democratic republic; and if we are not careful we begin to think that our form of government is the one sanctioned by God. There can be ungodly governments–governments that do not serve His purposes. Yet we must not mistake our government as the one and only godly form.
Think for a moment: where does Scripture outline how nations should operate, or how governments should be formed, or whether monarchies are to be overthrown in favor of democracies? There can be ungodly and godly people operating in a monarchy, a republic, a tribe, …Marx and Engles make it quite clear that to be a communist one must be an atheist. So we might put communism on the list of lesser preferred governments, ones we would try to escape from.
Which authorities do we obey?
Not just the godly, but all the ones who do not ask me to disobey God. John Stott quotes an ancient historian, Polybius, who relates that in Crete, the crowds of citizens were continually involved in “insurrections, murders and internecine wars.” They were overtaken by Rome in 67BC, and most citizens remained insubordinate since. 1
This cannot be our attitude, beloved. It may be that our current president has a well documented history of plagiarism and lying; yet I will not be a part of violence against him. He is not trustworthy, but he has not yet asked me to enable anything evil, or in other ways to disobey God. If he demands my conscience give way to a law contrary to Scripture, I will disobey.
In the meantime, we obey, and pray. See 1 Timothy 2:1ff, and make this part of your regular prayers! We do not give unconditional obedience, but remain loyal to God’s Kingdom first, and to the earthly kingdom we sojourn in, secondarily.
Ready for every good work!
What holds us back–finances, over planning our calendars, or even having blinders on to the needs around us? These are not the good works mentioned in chapter 2, directed to life in family and church; these are good works loving my neighbor, being a good citizen.
Make time and space and provision to be ready and able. To every good work He presents you with, not every good work possible under the sun. We are limited, He knows that–but He expects us to act in wisdom so as to use the time and provisions He gives us for His purposes.
This is a call not only to obey the authorities where we live, where we work, etc; but we also seek the good of the city! See Acts 5:29, Jeremiah 29:5-11.
Prime example of when to disobey government:
gleischaltung in Germany, 1930’s-40’s. The churches were listening to Luther (even his works that were not godly), Nazi propaganda, and a non-Christian (Hitler) controlled what could be preached, published, or taught in the churches. The Confessing Church worked underground for many years–but eventually, one leader in this group and its seminary, Bonhoeffer, plotted with others to kill Hitler. He had reached out to other countries for help, no help came.
Germany lost WWII, but while they waited for that outcome, the church was right to disobey by hiding Jews and gypsies and Christians, by having secret seminaries, by preaching the gospel in full rather than preaching that Jesus was a Gaul, etc. Was Bonhoeffer right to use violence–this is the topic of a book, not a short discussion.
Gleishcshaltung During the German Church Conflict
A fancy German word coined by Hitler, it was his program for bringing the church in line with his ungodly ideology. I give you here a few quotes from Luther’s writings, and my own Masters Thesis on the topic:
If anyone attempted to rule the world by the gospel and to abolish all temporal law and sword on the plea that all are baptized and Christian…pray tell me friend, what would he be doing? He would be loosing the ropes and chains of the savage wild beasts and letting them bite and mangle everyone….Martin Luther, “Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed, 1523” in Luther’s Works vol. 45, translated by J.J. Schindel, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962), 56.
Thus the word of Christ is now reconciled, I believe, with the passages which establish the sword, and the meaning is thus: No Christian shall wield or invoke the sword for himself and his cause. In behalf of another, however, he may and should wield it and invoke it to restrain wickedness and to defend godliness.Martin Luther, “Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed, 1523,” 59.
But what motivated me most of all was this: They undertook to fight against the Turk in the name of Christ, and taught and incited men to do this as though our people were in an army of Christians against the Turks. 27
“Luther did not teach a priori rejection of all war, but was teaching against the guise of religious crusades, or wars fought by the Church for so-called holy purposes.” page 10https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=masters
“There is no fear in obeying a harmful state because it will only harm one’s body, not one’s soul, with the exception being a state that commands one to do something contrary to God’s will.” Page 13
*our own discussion on this topic was wonderful! I encourage you to engage with this idea further: We obey God rather than men. We must act out of the whole counsel of God’s Word rather than looking for one magical verse that will tell us what to do. Do we lie to an enemy? Well, would we rather fight evil, or help evil in its design to murder? We must be steeped in God’s Word to walk in His wisdom, not our own. As it was a misunderstanding of Luther, and minds not steeped in Scripture, that led many German churches to follow Hitler–so it will be with us. We cannot obey God if we try to live on mere snippets of His Word.
Verse two outlines specific actions we take toward all our fellow citizens–not just authorities. We malign no one. No word or deed that is “evil, spiteful, critical in manner.” No walk away, no cold shoulder, no “either/or” and no criticism. We do not call evil good–so while we do not malign, this does not mean that we approve of all actions, choices and opinions, but that our conversations would be seasoned with grace (Colossians 4:6), and we do not slander.
Peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. We avoid quarrels! Sometimes this means we realize we cannot discuss a topic, for the the person we are talking to would become argumentative. Sometimes this means we do not throw our pearls before swine, realizing they would turn on us. Jesus instructed us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We speak in humility, and are slow to speak, choosing our words in His wisdom.
We show consideration to all men!
Not just those we easily get along with. Why? We were foolish too! Paul claims that both he and Titus were once foolish, etc; this is our claim as well. This is part of Christian empathy, remembering our need for redemption in Christ.
The basis of our empathy is not self righteousness, but a reminder of who were apart from our Union with Christ. In Christ, we are different, He has made us anew. But we also, who are called to teach things and live this way, were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived,enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.
As we privately approach this list, examples may come to mind. The LORD is not asking His people to spend myriads of time remembering their sin and feeling defined by it. Rather, it is sufficient to sum it up–we were all this way. All of us. All of humanity apart from Christ fits this bill. Whether you came to know Him early or late in life–you were once deceived, disobedient, etc…
But when He appeared!
He appeared. The Kindness of God appeared. His love for mankind appeared. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only Begotten Son of God! John 1 And He does not share that glory with another. Isaiah 42 Jesus Christ is fully God–and He came down to reveal His kindness and love.
The word for love used here is philanthropia, the root of our English word philanthropy; it bespeaks God’s love for the world (John 3:16), it reminds us of how He is often “moved with compassion” (see Matthew 11:28, Luke 19:41; Matthew 9:36). He longs to give us rest, and in the greatest move of His philanthropy He takes on flesh, and takes on our sin, and dies for us. He is for us. (Hebrews 9:11-14, 24 and 7:25) We continue this discussion next week by looking at what He accomplished by coming in the flesh.
I close with a quote from John Owen’s Communion with God, page 28.
“By nature, since the entrance of sin, no man has any communion with God. He is light, we are darkness; and what communion has light with darkness? He is life, we are dead–he is love, and we are enmity; and what agreement can there be between us? Men in such a condition have neither Christ, nor hope, nor God in the world (Eph 2:12); ‘being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them’ (Eph 4:18). Now, two cannot walk together, unless they be agreed (Amos 3:3). Whilst there is this distance between God and man, there is no walking together for them in any fellowship or communion. Our first interest in God was so lost by sin, as that there was left to us (in ourselves) no possibility of a recovery. As we had deprived ourselves of all power for a return, so God had not revealed any way of access to himself; or that he could, under any consideration, be approached by sinners in peace. Not any work that God had made, not any attribute that he had revealed could give the least light into such dispensation.”
But, when the kindness of God appeared!!! In Christ we have access; no one comes to the Father but by the Son. Remembering our past life, and focusing on how God was the One moving toward us, our perfect Mediator–causes the heart to soar, to enliven, to rest in Him alone…
photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.