Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Subject to the Higher Powers

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Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  (Romans 13:1)

Recently, my youngest son, who is a budding conservative politician of the Libertarian persuasion, posted a link on his social media page to an article about a female entrepreneur who was denied her “right” to operate a nude maid service in Lubbock, Texas.[1]  It is my understanding of the Libertarian mindset that the government should keep hands off of ALL personal “liberties.”  The thinking being that the “free market” will determine what enterprises fail or succeed.  In this case, it is assumed that if people in Lubbock do not support this kind of business, it will fail on its own without the need for government intervention.  Hence, Libertarians are in favor of legalizing all “vices” and allowing the market to determine what is acceptable and what is not.  I believe the assumption is that vice is attractive only because it is denied, and that once the restrictions are removed, “good” people will naturally lose all interest in it, and it will go away on its own.  Obviously, they have a higher estimation of man than God does.  For example, consider the following:  “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  “…the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)  “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:3).  “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  If there were any goodness in humanity, evil would not survive.  On the contrary, it not only survives, but flourishes; therefore, the “free market” is impotent to eliminate vice.

In responding to my son, I pointed out that, unlike the Federal Government’s incursion into personal affairs, this “local” community, Lubbock, Texas, had deemed sexually oriented businesses as illegal in their community.  It is perfectly legal and reasonable for local communities to institute such ordinances.  Residents can vote for or against such ordinances or, in the case of established local laws, they can work through their system to strike down such laws.  Those who disagree with what the community as a whole has approved, are always free to leave and find a community whose views are in keeping with their own.

Those who disapprove of any government intrusion into our personal lives are either unknowingly ignorant or willfully ignorant of God’s design for government.  (Either way, they are ignorant.)  Government is God’s idea; He initiated it just after the flood.  Responsibility for executing capital punishment in the case of murder was given into the hands of man.  “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.  Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:5-6).  As an aside, note that capital punishment for the shedding of man’s blood applies to animals equally: “at the hand of every beast will I require it.” 

These laws and many more were reiterated in the Law of Moses.  There are many today that protest Government’s intrusion into “the bedroom.”  Any sexual perversion between “consenting adults” is permissible in the privacy of one’s own bedroom they say.  Well, is that so!  There is no “privacy” where God is concerned.  Consider the words of the psalmist: 

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. (Psalm 139:7-12)

Keeping this in mind, consider that God gave laws concerning sexual conduct.  “If a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife” (Exodus 22:16).  So, who would be responsible for enforcing this law?  Or how about this one: “Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 22:19).  Who’s to know!  It is doubtful that the “beast” will have anything to say about it!  Upon whom does it become incumbent to ensure that these laws are not violated?  Obviously, the responsibility falls upon the people, the community, i.e., the government.

Of course, God’s laws cover more than just sexual behavior (and if one wants to be well informed of God’s law, one should seriously study the first five books of the Old Testament).  The only reason for having taken this tack is the case of the Nude Maid Service, which initiated this conversation.  There are at least three issues involved here.  First of all, such a “service” is in violation of God’s law (Leviticus 18, esp. v. 19).  Secondly, it is violation of man’s law which is synchronous with God’s law – in this case allowing maids to do their jobs in the buff.  And thirdly, the local community has been authorized by God to make and enforce such laws that benefit the community (Romans 13).

My son informed me that he had read Romans 13 and was unable to make much sense of it, so to that end I will devote the remainder of this article.

To begin with, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” (v. 1a).  “Every soul” is all-inclusive and allows no place for an elite ruling class.  More on this later.  The Greek word translated “subject” is hupotasso and it literally means to be under (hupo) obedience or under authority.  So, every soul is to be under the authority or “higher powers.”  “Powers” is the Greek word exousia which refers to governmental force or authority.  “Higher” is the Greek word huperecho meaning to “hold oneself above” (huper), or superior; thus, superiority.  So the “higher powers” are those who are in a position of authority over us.  Sentence construction in the Greek is unlike English (e.g., subject, verb, direct object).  Instead, words are placed at the beginning of sentences to give emphasis or to stress those words.  Literally translated, this sentence reads:  “Every soul unto powers higher let be subject.”  Note that “every soul” is foremost emphasizing the all-inclusiveness of the sentence.  “Powers” follows emphasizing the “force” behind those in authority who are our superiors under whose authority we should submit.  So, back to our nude maid – she may not like the law, but she is obligated (at least biblically) to submit to it.

So, from where does this authority come?  “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God (v. 1b).  “Ordained” is the Greek word tasso and it literally means to set things in order or to arrange in an orderly manner.  Our Greek word above for “subject” was hupotasso which is a compound word combining “under” (hupo) and “order” (tasso) – “under order.”  Our God is a God of order.  Paul in writing to the Corinthians says:  “God is not the author of confusionLet all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40).  This has always been the case; God has always taken credit for setting up and tearing down kings and kingdoms beginning with His promise to Abraham.  “And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee” (Genesis 17:6).  God is not just saying that kings and nations shall descend from Abraham, but that He, God, will “make nations” as well as their kings.

Nebuchadnezzar learned this when he was troubled by a dream in which he saw a great statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, legs of iron and feet of a mixture of iron and clay (Daniel 2:32-33).  In his interpretation of the dream, Daniel told the king, “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory” (Daniel 2:37).  Nebuchadnezzar soon forgot this point and erected a 90 foot statue of himself and demanded that his subjects worship the statue (Daniel 3:1, 5).  However, three faithful Jews defied the king’s decree and were sentenced to death by being burned alive in a brick kiln (Daniel 3:13-23).  To the amazement of the king (and everyone else) the men survived through providential intervention without so much as the smell of smoke on their clothing.  Upon seeing this, Nebuchadnezzar was forced to admit:  “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God” (Daniel 3:28).  Furthermore he said, “I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort” (Daniel 3:29).  One might think that a declaration of this sort shows a true change of heart.  However, it was not long until God gave Nebuchadnezzar another lesson by hard knocks, but not without first giving him a warning.  In a dream he was warned of what was to come and advice was given by Daniel, but not heeded (Daniel 4:1-27).  Instead, “The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?  While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee.” (Daniel 4:30-31)  For the next seven years, Nebuchadnezzar was demoted to the level of a wild animal spending his time out in the wilderness sleeping in the open air.  After his seven years, God restored him to his throne (v. 36), and he gained a new perspective: “Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase” (v. 37).

Scripture is filled with many such examples.  For instance, about 250 years before the fact, Isaiah names the Persian king, Cyrus and says this:  “Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel” (Isaiah 45:1-3).  Please take note that Cyrus was an idol-worshipping, pagan king that considered Yahweh just another god in the pantheon, and yet God set him up in his place of power.  One may wonder why it is that God sets up godless kings to do His bidding.  Proverbs tells us “The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).  A clear example of this is given to us in the book of Exodus where Pharaoh refused to set the Israelites free.  After the final and deadly plague of death upon the firstborn of Egypt, Pharaoh finally let the people go.  “And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel” (Exodus 14:8).  God used this event to show the children of Israel that He could protect them from human enemies and even open a dry path through the middle of the sea.  So, “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1b).

With all that in mind, “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Romans 13:2).  This seems pretty straightforward.  Anyone – and keep in mind that “anyone” is all-inclusive.  In a nation of laws, this applies equally to those who have been given power by the will of the people – anyone who resists the power (in our case, the law) resists the diatage (the arrangement, institution or instrumentality) of God.  In other words, when you are bucking the system, you are in effect bucking God (a losing proposition at best).  Those who do, bring “damnation” upon themselves – case in point:  the nude maid.

“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil” (v. 3a).  Those who follow the law have no need to fear the law.  Only lawbreakers live in fear of the law.  The question could be raised: what about unjust laws?  Well there certainly some of those, but the principle still applies.  If one complies with an unjust law, there is no need to fear, but if one rebels against an unjust law, that one will have to pay the consequences of that action.  Keep in mind that at the time that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, Nero was emperor, and he was not exactly a benevolent monarch.  Surely there were many unjust laws with which to contend.  To those who would mount their high horse and refuse to obey an unjust law Paul says, “Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?” (v. 3b).  If you are not, you should be.  Instead Paul advises, “do that which is good [i.e., obey the law], and thou shalt have praise of the same” (v. 3c).  “For he is a minister of God to thee for good” (v. 4a).  The Greek word translated “minister” is di├íkonos from which we get our word “deacon.”  It means one who serves, an attendant.  Again Greek word order comes to play here.  Strictly translated this sentence reads: “God’s servant he is to you for good,” emphasizing God’s dominance in this hierarchy with the citizen being the beneficiary of “the good,” the government agent or intermediary of the good, and God being the benefactor.  “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain” (v. 4b).  If you break the law there is reason to fear, because the government maintains the right to use deadly force.  This power for evil against evil is also derived from God. “For he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (v. 4c).  Note the phrase: “he is the minister of God.”  It is the same construct as the phrase at the beginning of verse 4.  This time, however, the government agent mediates punishment against the lawbreaker, but the authority still comes from God.

For this reason, Paul advises we comply with the governing authorities.  “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake” (v. 5).  When we comply with the laws, we have no fear of the authorities.  Moreover, our consciences are clear and we are at peace.  “For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing” (v. 6).  Yes, and there are taxes to be paid for the maintenance of the common good:  a police force for maintaining law and order, fire and rescue workers for our safety and protection, a military to provide for the common defense, building and maintenance of infrastructure, etc.  So, “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (v. 7).  Paul concludes this section with this advice:  “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law” (v. 8).  “Owe no man anything” is great advice especially in this economy.  Get out of debt and stay out!  But this means more than that.  We should never be beholden for anything to anyone.  That includes “favors” that someone does for you that they can later “hold over your head.” This is probably one of the greatest failings of our politicians – they accept “campaign contributions” from large contributors and once they get elected into office, those large contributors never let them forget the “favor.”  The only thing you should owe to anyone is to love them.  Jesus said the same thing:  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyselfOn these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).  “The law and the prophets” refers to the whole of Scripture, and one who can keep this law will not violate any man-made law.

Then you say, “That’s all well and good in a perfect world, but the world we live in is not perfect.”   Well, this is true.  God, for now, has left governance in the hands of man, and man is corrupt, but as I have shown from Scripture, God is ultimately in charge, and He has not left us without hope.  He does have a plan, and He has laid out that plan in His Word to give us the hope to carry on even in an imperfect world.  As bad as government can be, it is better than none at all.  Let the Libertarian consider the closing words of the book of Judges:  “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).  Believe me; these are not words of commendation!  “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18).  One might substitute “vision” with “leadership”:  “Where there is no leadership, the people perish.”

In closing, I would just like to interject my personal perspective on the fading greatness of our nation, the United States of America.  Our nation was birthed on the Word of God regardless of what the detractors of our history say.  As such, it is unique among all of the nations of the world.  There is no other nation like ours.  Our system of laws is based on the Bible, and our founders intended that the law would rule supreme and would be equally applicable to all citizens including those that are placed in a position of trust to see that those laws are protected and carried out.  But our nation has turned her back on the Author and Source of those laws.  Those who have been entrusted to protect and defend those laws feel restrained by them and are fervently working to cast them aside.  They wish to be above the law.  Moreover, they wish to be the lawgivers who subject the masses to their will, but yet insulate themselves against their own regulations.  Our nation was designed so that the rule came from the governed in accordance with the Constitution, but the governed have abdicated that authority through apathy.  It may already be too late to restore our nation to her former greatness, and soon, we will be a nation like all others in the world – nothing special.  What shall we do then in light of Romans 13?  We will submit to the “powers that be.”  And if the powers that be would force us to break the laws of God, it will be incumbent upon us to rebel.  Just keep in mind that rebellion will come at a price, and that too is in accordance with Scripture:  “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). 


[1]  “Cops May Throw Wet Blanket on Nude Maid Service” http://reason.com/blog/2012/04/13/cops-may-throw-wet-blanket-on-nude-maid. Accessed April 15, 2012. 

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