Friday, January 22, 2010

Subject To Rulers & Authorities (part 1 of 2)

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. – Titus 3:1 (NET)

Why would the Apostle Paul need to write such things to Titus? If we give it a moment’s thought, we’ll realize the eminent practicality of this communication. We can embark upon the process of realization by asking what it was that was the substance of the message that Paul preached? He preached, above all things, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Along with that over-arching message, Paul preached the crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. For Paul, Christ’s Resurrection is what demonstrated His Lordship over all things. Paul posited that the power that raised Christ from the dead was carried into the world for and through the preaching of the Gospel message, for the purpose of gifting eternal life to those who would believe that message, doing so by a faith gifted through the working of the Holy Spirit. Those who believed the Gospel, and thereby acknowledged Jesus as supreme Lord and Master and Savior, were then said to be in union with Christ, transferred from Satan’s kingdom into the kingdom of Christ.

With his understanding of human nature, Paul would have been keenly aware of where it was that such a realization could lead. As we come to terms with the substance of this message for ourselves, we’ll have to admit that it would be quite easy for us to take the position that, since we are under the Lordship of Christ, and seeing as how He is Lord of all, with all principalities and power and rules and authorities under His feet, then we no longer need to submit to the human rulers to whom we find ourselves subjected. “If we are a part of Christ’s kingdom,” some might think, “then we are in union with Christ and rule with Him, so we do not need to indulge any human authorities with our continued obedience or support.” Such thoughts that would have naturally arisen are why it was so practical and appropriate for Paul to tell Titus to “Remind them,” that being the believers in his charge, “to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”
Of course, this is not the only time that Paul touches on this subject. In his letter to the Romans, Paul instructs the recipients of that letter, believers that are located in the power center of the world, writing “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (13:1). “Yes,” Paul would say, “Jesus has had all things put under His feet, and yes, all are subject to Him, even the Caesar;” but also, “there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment” (13:1b-2). By way of digression, we could note that the truth of Paul’s communication would be remarkably displayed during the Jewish revolt of 66-70 A.D., which resulted in the devastating destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the banishment of Jews from their promised land.

Returning to Titus, Paul adds to his instructions regarding subjection, obedience, and readiness, writing that “They must not slander anyone, but be peaceable, gentle, showing complete courtesy to all people” (3:2). This is Paul’s charge to those that call Christ Lord. The question of “why” would probably have been ventured at this point. Answering that question, Paul writes, “For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another” (3:3). Paul could very well have been speaking biographically here, reflecting on his attitude towards the Roman rulers and authorities to whom he had been subject for the entirety of his life.

If he was speaking biographically, then it would have been natural for him to extend his thinking beyond his own mindset and to consider the attitude towards Rome held almost universally by the nation of Israel. In that attitude and mindset, in which hopes of rebellion and revolt played such a large part---with its narrow focus on the nationalistic benefits to be obtained through God’s action on behalf of Israel through a warring and conquering Messiah---words such as foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved, evil, envious, and hateful could have sprung to mind. If Paul was indeed reflecting on God’s covenant with His people who were given the responsibility to be a light to the nations and a blessing to all peoples, and their failure to come anywhere close to that ideal though given repeated warnings and experiences of God’s power that should have jolted them on to that path, then perhaps such thoughts were entirely appropriate.

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