Is government good? God tells us that it is. If that is true, why is it that government does so much evil? Government authority killed Jesus! How should Christians relate to those in power? Let's race into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!
DISCIPLING THE POWERFUL
March 1, 2014
Key Thought : The wealthy, world-loving souls can be drawn to Christ, but they are the most difficult to access.
Have a volunteer read Romans 13:1-7.
Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
Why should the Christian submit himself, or herself, to governments, police, or bosses on the job if they are not being honest, fair, or nice? Share your thoughts.
c. Personal Application : Is civil disobedience or demonstrations or encouraging disrespect for authority ever acceptable for Christians? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your relatives states: “The government is illegitimate. I refuse to pay taxes. They misuse tax money, they are a corrupt system, and I refuse to give them my money. Christians shouldn’t submit themselves to a similar government.” How would you respond to your relative?
Have a volunteer read Matthew 12:8-16.
Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
Why were the authorities so bent on destroying Christ? Why was He still trying to reach out to them and reason with them?
Personal Application : Are you an “up-front” kind of person, or a “behind the scenes” kind of person? Does it matter? Share your thoughts.
Case Study : One of your neighbors states, “What do you Adventists believe anyway? Give me three main teachings that your church has.” How would you respond to your neighbor?
Have a volunteer read Matthew 8:5-10.
Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
Share an example of the church showing your accountability to the public or congregation in leadership.
Personal Application: What kind of impression do you want to have with those you interact with concerning your Christian witness? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : One of your friends states, “You can’t witness to rich and powerful people unless you already know them well, because they don’t know who to trust or believe without thinking you have an alternative motive for approaching them. They would never listen to you in the first place.” How would you respond to your friend?
Have a volunteer read Luke 23:1-7 ">
Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. What would you consider success in being before the influential in your community?
c. Personal Application: What are you and your church known for in your community? Does it give you an influence on the leaders in your area? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study : Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this week’s lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(Note : “Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared.” MH p. 149.
Discipling the Powerful
Commentary for the March 1, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
“‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’”
“Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…’” John 19:10-11, NIV
Christians have long struggled with how to relate to the powerful. In the first centuries after Christ’s incarnation, the authorities often represented persecution, at times seeing the church as a seditious sect needing to be extirpated. This was because religion was closely intertwined with government and that religion was typically expressed through the worship of the pagan deities of Greece, Rome and even Egypt. In practice, any religion was tolerated that did not challenge the cult of the Emperor which venerated him as divine.
While paganism was polytheistic, including the Emperor in the pantheon was easily accommodated so the various pagan beliefs of countries accreted to the Empire were not a problem. However, the monotheism of Judaism, and later Christianity, was problematic because the only deity they would recognize was not the Emperor. The record of the Jews long struggle against the pagan societies that surrounded them and eventually Rome is well documented by Josephus in his “The Antiquities of the Jews” and “The Wars of the Jews.” Because of this long history, the Roman Empire granted a grudging toleration of this Jewish idiosyncrasy as long as they did not openly rebel. However, Christianity had no such long history.
At first they were perhaps simply considered a sect of Judaism by their Roman overlords. But after several Jewish revolts and subsequent persecutions of the Jews by the Romans, the need for Christians to separate themselves from that identity became apparent. But that separation became a two-edged sword. By establishing themselves as a separate and new religion, they were delivered from the problems the Jews faced, but their theology, previously recognized as simply part of that strange Jewish thing, now began to appear seditious, perhaps even being a rebellion dedicated to overthrowing the emperor. Some of the Christian rhetoric about serving kings and kingdoms who were neither Caesar nor the Roman Empire may have served to further the suspicion. Little wonder that some rulers would require a loyalty test or oath to alleviate such suspicions. This was a trying period for the early church. Many lost their lives over these issues, with the church often seeing such tests as a matter of proving faithful to God and the government seeing it as a matter of patriotism.
In the early fourth century, this relationship underwent a sea change. The Emperor Constantine came to power, assisted, he believed, by the Christian God.[i] Naturally, he began a policy of toleration and even governmental nurturing of the previously outcast religion. Because the long period of persecution and disfavor had resulted in many disparate dioceses under relatively independent bishops presiding in cities scattered throughout the Empire, discrepancies in doctrine and scriptural canon had arisen. In an effort to resolve these issues, Emperor Constantine called for the first empire-wide council of bishops at Nicaea in Bithynia in 325, AD.[ii]
While many welcomed an end to the persecution of Christians, this close relationship between church and emperor essentially placed the church in exactly the same position the pagan religious authorities had occupied previously, and they began to turn the government power to persecute against not only the pagans who had previously persecuted them, but also against those with theological perspectives not endorsed by the bishops who were closest to the Emperor. Arius and Meletius are two examples of bishops who found themselves at the wrong end of the government’s rod of authority. As a result, although doctrinally distinct, they joined forces and became a major source of opposition to the imperial church.[iii]
The reason all of this history is significant is that it helps us to understand the church’s strange relationship to governmental authority. In its earliest incarnation, the Christian church had to understand how to be good citizens under a government that was trying to destroy you and considered you seditious. Paul tried to address this in his letter to the Romans.[iv]
Since Rome was the seat of empire, this question was perhaps more apropos there than anywhere. In spite of denying the deity of the Emperor, Paul nonetheless recognized that his authority was divinely derived. Therefore he encouraged obedience to the duly constituted authorities of the state. Perhaps this is where the concept of the “divine right of kings” to rule originated.
This doctrine, no doubt encouraged by the various emperors in Rome and Constantinople over the years, perhaps became most firmly established from the time of Charlemagne’s coronation by the Bishop of Rome, Pope Leo III, at the end of the eighth century as Holy Roman Emperor[v] and on down through various dynasties to Louis XVI of France and other similar potentates who met their end as the result of populist revolts beginning during the “Age of Enlightenment”[vi] and continuing to some degree into the present.
Once one accepts that all authority is divinely constituted, any idea of usurpation of authority by any human means comes into question. Therefore, since patriotism becomes by definition an act of faith, any act of rebellion against the government must of necessity become a tossing overboard of that faith as well. This was well illustrated in the French Revolution,[vii] were faith was ostensibly replaced by reason in order to provide justification for revolt. The Reign of Terror that ensued, sending 40,000 or more to their deaths[viii] caused many to realize that reason alone could not ensure morality and compassion. In the end, the populace was so disenchanted with the results that they soon regressed to imperial rule under Napoleon Bonaparte, a regression that had implications not only for France and Europe but even impacted Mexico and other lands in the New World.
So in view of all this, where should the Christian stand in relationship to governmental authority? What will be the best witness of our faith to those in such authoritative positions? If we take Paul’s counsel in Romans, chapter thirteen, then we will become model citizens, obeying the authorities, paying our taxes willingly, and showing respect and honor to those ruling us. However, anyone who has even waded slightly into the arena of political factionalism will see that some who profess the Christian faith do exactly the opposite of this advice from Paul.
Christians sometimes freely excoriate those who happen to belong to the political faction that opposes their own. Sadly some of the vilest insults and slanders are presented as though they were truths from the Holy Scriptures themselves. Gender, race and religious orientation are often viciously attacked as though the incumbent, the candidate, or their supporters were the Devil incarnate. The rhetoric at times becomes so violent that some individuals even advocate for armed insurrection and assassination of public officials. All of this, they advocate in order to deliver “god fearing” people from slavering heathen in the form of communists, Muslims, socialists, Nazis or any number of other bogeymen that threaten our supposedly Christian nation. And to add icing to this questionable cake of fear, it is urged that every Christian arm themselves with enough personal firepower to overcome this phantom menace.
Perhaps this whole scenario would not seem so strange if we did not understand that Paul wrote his counsel at a time when the government truly was a threat to Christians everywhere. However, instead of advocating revolt and overthrowing the Emperor, he urged loyalty and honor. If anyone would have been justified in urging a survivalist mentality and a resistance to government, he might have been. Perhaps instead he took the model of Jesus, who meekly submitted to execution, knowing that divine providence overruled the affairs of men.
Some might consider this a “pie in the sky” type of Christianity that isn’t practical when faced with the immoral actions of modern governments. However, Paul was not a stranger to these issues. Not only was he wrongfully executed in Rome, but he had early on witnessed the unjust execution of Stephen in Jerusalem for simply being a Christian. He himself had been stoned, arrested and imprisoned unjustly. Yet, he could still in good conscience write those words in Romans.
When we encourage resistance to governmental authority, where do we draw the justification from? Do we assert a higher morality than those who rule over us, even knowing that we too are moral failures?[ix] While it may be true that rebellion originated in heaven,[x] it did not originate with God. Whenever we encounter that spirit, whether directed at elected officials or duly appointed governmental authority, perhaps we should sincerely question its derivation. The idea of Jesus with an assault rifle leading an attack on the Whitehouse to establish a supposedly Christian government is not only repugnant it is ludicrous. Why then would those who are supposed to be His followers even hint at such a behavior for Christians? It staggers the mind.
While I am not an advocate of creeds beyond what Jesus lived out every day of His thirty plus years, perhaps these few verses in Romans should be a measuring stick for us each to measure ourselves by to determine if our lives model a Christ like behavior or the behavior of someone who fell from heaven long, long ago and is still recruiting for his army. When it comes to that army, maybe we all should be conscientious objectors.
[i] "Battle of the Milvian Bridge," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Milvian_Bridge
[ii] "First Council of Nicaea," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea
[iv] Romans 13:1-7
[v] "Charlemagne, 'Coronation'," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlemagne#Coronation
[vi] "Age of Enlightenment," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_enlightenment
[vii] "French Revolution," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution
[viii] "Reign of Terror," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reign_of_Terror
[ix] Romans 2:1
[x] Revelation 12:7-12
"Discipling the Powerful"
March 1, 2014
Texts: Romans 13:1-7; Mark 2:23-28; Matthew 8:5-13; Matthew 26:57-68; Matthew 27:11-14; Acts 4:1-12
One of the recent top stories in the news is that Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO of Facebook, acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion dollars. According to the WhatsApp website, WhatsApp messenger uses the same Internet data plan that we use for email and web browsing. In addition to basic messaging, WhatsApp users can create groups and send each other unlimited images, videos, and audio media messages. WhatsApp can be used anywhere in the world on any smartphone. The designers believe that neither cost nor distance should ever prevent people from staying in touch with their friends and loved ones.1
To put this merger in financial perspective, Michael Wolf, chief analyst of NexMarket Insights, breaks down the value of an individual user. Wolf points out that WhatsApp has 450 million monthly active users with one million new users being added every day. The projected value of each user is $42 dollars. Instagram's cost per user is $28 dollars, and Tumblr's per user is $33. In 2006, Google paid the highest price per user for YouTube at $48 dollars. Irrespective of price, this past week Facebook acquired the world's most popular social messaging app.2
In the October 2013 list of Forbes magazine, Zuckerberg ranked 24th and is the youngest person on their list. His rank on the list follows that of Vladimir Putin of Russia who is seen as the most powerful man in the world. Barack Obama of the U.S. ranked number two, Xi Jinping of China number three, and Pope Francis of Rome number four.3
God broke down the value of individual users when sending Jesus to die in order to give Christ's followers eternal life. While on earth Jesus mingled with powerful people. In Jesus' day there was no separation between church and state. High priests, scribes, and elders were religious leaders but were also rulers and judges. The Pharisees were the guardian of the Law of Moses while the Sadducees were of the wealthy ruling class. Jesus met their needs when asked, yet the most powerful condemned Jesus to death on a cross.
Barry C. Black is the 62nd Chaplain of the United States Senate. He is not ranked on the Forbes list, but he mingles daily with powerful people. During the U.S. government shutdown, Black's prayers in the Senate chambers were noticed. His Facebook page shows visitors where he gets his power-from his friend, Jesus.4
We can't all pray in front of powerful people that impact a nation, but we can pray for Chaplain Black as he does. We can also look for ways to mingle with and pray for the powerful people in our local community.
Jesus' method alone is our model for reaching powerful people: win their confidence, pray with or for them, and minister to their need as opportunities arise.
1. Introduction. Have you ever thought of yourself as powerful? Have you ever held a position of authority that led others to think of you as powerful? When you were a youngster, did you ever long for a position that would place you as the person in charge? As Christians and therefore followers of Christ, are we given the special skills needed to share God's love with people in positions of power? Should we be fearful of exercising those skills? Why not?
2. Respecting Authority. Today a common phrase to describe a person who is not showing due respect is "disrepect" as in "He disrespected me," or "Don't disrespect me." Is that a fair term to describe how Jesus was too often treated? Do people you know in your church speak in a critical way of local, state, and national officials? How do Christians you know react when they get stopped for speeding? or running a red light? Should we become angry at our government for taxes? laws we don't like? bad behavior on their part? What are the only conditions under which opposing authority is justified?
3. "Have you not read...?" What was it that kept so many of the people from accepting Jesus' advice about being merciful? Was the people's negative attitude towards Jesus a barrier to their salvation? What about ours? Can we do all the right things but still harbor selfish or unkind thoughts? Do you think that God in heaven, looking down on our lives today, feels sorrow when we think of ourselves almost exclusively rather than of the physical and spiritual needs of others?
4. The Centurion. Was the centurion a man of high position and authority? Why was he hesitant to draw Jesus into a conversation about his servant who was ill? What do you think changed his mind? How do you think this Roman official obtained such a measure of trust in Jesus for both His ability and His willingness to heal the servant? Even though the centurion felt unworthy before Jesus, what did He ask Him to do? Why did Jesus say the centurion demonstrated an amazing amount of trust?
5. Judgment Day. In your imagination, can you place yourself in the courtrooms and other rooms of government where Jesus was taken before He was crucified? Can you see, one by one, the powerful figures representing authority that Jesus faced at this time? Do you think any of them--Pilate, Herod, Caiphas--eventually saw the whole picture and gave themselves to God? If not, was Jesus' witness to these powerful men in vain?
6. The Early Explosion. What happened to the group of early Christians after Jesus' death and resurrection? What gave them the energy and the conviction that their only purpose was to spread the word about Jesus and His saving power? The apostle Paul encountered several powerful people during his ministry among fellow Christians. What was their response to Paul's message? How can people be filled with such hatred for witnesses of God's love? Should we be stirring up anger in our preaching today? Be careful with your answer!
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