Saturday, January 23, 2010

Subject To Rulers & Authorities (part 2 of 2)

After recounting his own position, that of his people, and undoubtedly that of humankind in general as part of his insistence that believers in the Lord Jesus Christ rightfully submit themselves to rulers and authorities, in spite of foolishness, disobedience, being misled, enslavement, evil, enviousness, and hatefulness, Paul writes, “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of His mercy” (Titus 3:4-5a). Effectively, for Paul, the kindness of God appeared when Christ, the Messiah, appeared. He adds to that, that the kindness was applied “through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (3:5b). This washing and renewing, again, demonstrating the kindness of God, was fully manifested in “Jesus Christ our Savior” (3:6b), for it was in Him that God “poured out on us in full measure” (3:6a), the Spirit that would lead to the reception of His salvation.

With the possibility of multiple underlying meanings, and in what is perhaps yet another hearkening back to considerations of the covenant and the responsibility of God’s chosen people within God’s covenant plan, Paul notes that “He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of His mercy” (3:5a). Throughout his writings, when Paul uses the term “righteousness,” he is not doing so in a broad-based way or in a nod to performance of what might be considered to be “good works” in the moral sphere. Almost without fail, when Paul writes “righteousness,” he is making a direct reference to God’s covenant faithfulness. Here, in light of what comes immediately before it, as he is both encouraging believers to be submissive to authorities while at the same time remembering his own people’s failure to be properly submissive to those authorities, it is reasonable to hear Paul extolling God’s covenant faithfulness yet again, by reminding his readers that neither God’s people Israel, who had been given the knowledge of God’s covenant, nor God’s people of renewed Israel in Christ, had entered into righteousness. That is, none had been faithful to God’s covenant requirements to be a light to the nations so as to bring Him glory. In spite of that, God proffered His salvation, dragging His people out of their long exile in the realm of death and separation from Him, and gifting them with His eternal life through belief in the Lordship of His Christ. This was done entirely through His mercy.

Looking again to the fifth and sixth verses, and the all-important Resurrection power that is shared with us through our union with Christ by the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith (washing and renewing), we are propelled forward to verse seven, and find that “since we have been justified by His grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (3:7). In other words, by the work of the Holy Spirit we are justified. We are made faithful to God’s covenant. We are made faithful to the message of the Gospel, and its message of the eternal Lordship of Jesus Christ, which began when He was shown forth for all to see that He was the Son of God by the power displayed through His Resurrection. Naturally, this justification, this being brought to the place of trusting that God has been faithful to His covenant because of Christ, is the result of the gracious gift of faith that is delivered through the hearing of the Gospel. That gift of faith is delivered through the preaching of the Gospel that is the very power of God for salvation.

The confident expectation of eternal life is based on the Resurrection of Christ Himself. Because He was raised, we also expect to be raised, overcoming the power of death in the same way in which Christ overcame that power. We enjoy that expectation because we have been given a measure of His eternal life, which we know that we have as we believe the Gospel by the Spirit’s empowering gift of faith, enjoying that measure of God’s Resurrection power right here and right now, and serving Him by that same power. We are raised with Christ in confident expectation and hope of a renewal to come, and our hope is such that death has no victory over us, for we know in Whom we have believed.

This confident expectation of eternal life is why it should not be a challenge to be subject to rulers and authorities, and why Paul can comfortably urge citizens of the present, inaugurated kingdom of heaven to present request, prayers, intercessions, and thanks “on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity,” adding that “Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1b-2). This demonstrates what must be the highest form of submissiveness, that of praying for those that might very well be enemies. Not only that, but submission in such ways furthers the spreading of God’s kingdom and the blessing of all peoples, as Paul reminds Timothy of God’s desire to draw peoples to Himself from all nations, writing that “He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2:4). This stands in accordance with the directives found in Titus, understood in the context of not only his and Israel’s own failures to live up to this ideal, but their active fight against doing so.

To this saying that is to be found in verses four through seven of the third chapter of Titus, which begins with the kindness of God our Savior and concludes with the confident expectation of eternal life, and is contexted by subjection, obedience, and a reminder of God’s people’s failure to be faithful to the covenant, Paul adds: “This saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on such truths, so that those who have placed their faith in God may be intent on engaging in good works. These things are good and beneficial for all people” (3:8).

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