Condemnation, attempts at heavy-handed transformation, or a mission-denying withdrawal and separation are not the means by which either Paul or Jesus asked for or expected the culture to be countered. Remember, Jesus saved his denouncements for the leaders of the people. Rather, the culture is countered, and the transformation into a culture that comes closer to living as the true humanity originally intended by the Creator, through the kingdom-modeling, sacrificial, love-motivated and service-oriented activities of the members of the body of Christ, as they demonstrably and tangibly live out, in imitation of Jesus their claim that Jesus is Lord, and that He is Lord even over the Caesar that bears the title of “son of god.”
What appearance will be taken by these activities? Naturally, one can find the answer on nearly every page of Scripture. Believers can look to the Jesus tradition as embodied by the Gospel accounts. They can look at Acts. When it comes to Paul, an observer can look at the entire body of work that is attributed to him in order to formulate an answer to this question. However, this study is focusing in on a letter to Timothy, to whom Paul refers as his genuine child in the faith, seeing there what can be understood to be, regardless of Timothy’s “position” in the church, a personally directed letter that demands a personal response of a single member of the body of Christ, who is presumably attempting to live and to serve as part of a community that is yet one small component of a global kingdom. Thus, realizing that there is a helpful counter-cultural message in the text of the letter may show the letter to be even more useful than some have previously imagined.
When one thinks about countering the culture, it is almost inevitable that the first thoughts run to laws and to government. In many ways and in many places, humans are brought up to think in such ways, believing governments to be either the source of problems or of solutions to problems, and are thereby ingrained with an almost unshakeable desire to effect changes that they would like to see through the coercive power of laws and regulations. Government is recognized as the locus of power for the enforcement of laws. By extension then, a government is an entity that has the power to regulate behavioral changes. Such thinking was probably just as true in the days of Paul and Timothy as it is now.
As the church presented a counter-imperial and counter-cultural ethic, it would be quite easy for the members of the body of Christ, who saw themselves (and should still see themselves) as representative of a kingdom to which all other kingdoms are subservient, to slip into a mindset that being counter-imperial or counter-cultural also meant that they were to be anti-government, especially if that government was actively oppressive towards Christians. It is quite understandable why their Roman rulers were suspicious of so many Christians, considering the fact that Christians claimed to serve a Lord that was far superior to the emperor, while at the same time affirming their loyalty to a kingdom that was not Rome.
It was one thing to maintain loyalty to tribal deities and to long-standing territorial power structures that could be taken advantage of by Rome as a means of preserving order and extending its reach, and which could stand side-by-side with Roman imperial ideology and worship, but it was quite another to take a position that ran contrary to that ideology that also served to discount the worship of Caesar, and even going so far as to place a criminal that was executed by Rome at the center of its worship and allegiance. This was a direct affront to the power of Rome and to all community and civic sensibilities.