Avoiding the Truth Won’t Void the Consequences

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.”
Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
    Has the Lord grown impatient?
    Are these his deeds?
Do not my words do good
    to him who walks uprightly?
But lately my people have risen up as an enemy;
you strip the rich robe from those who pass by trustingly
    with no thought of war.
The women of my people you drive out
    from their delightful houses;
from their young children you take away
    my splendor forever.
10 Arise and go,
    for this is no place to rest,
because of uncleanness that destroys
    with a grievous destruction.
11 If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
    saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
    he would be the preacher for this people!
Micah 2:6-11 ESV

Micah, like the rest of God’s prophets, had a very unpopular message to deliver. His words concerning God’s pending judgment were not received well by the people. No one liked hearing that they were guilty of grievous sins against God and stood justly condemned to bear His divine punishment.

The people begged Micah and the other prophets to shut up. They thought that if they could silence the doom and gloom messages of these men, all their problems would go away. The people to whom Isaiah prophesied begged him to simply change the tone of his message.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right.
Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:10-11 NLT

They didn’t want to hear the truth, even if it came directly from the lips of God Almighty. Amos, another prophet of God, was told by his contemporaries, “Don’t prophesy against Israel. Stop preaching against my people” (Amos 7:16 NLT). Again, they thought they could change the outcome simply by changing the content of the message. This mindset led to the rise of a virtual cottage industry of false prophets, who gladly told the people what they wanted to hear. They told them nice things. They lied to them. These false prophets took it upon themselves to deliver contradictory yet much-more tolerable messages to the people.

And Micah refers to these naysayers who were demanding that he stop preaching his message of judgment.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They were prophesying that Micah should stop prophesying. They were claiming his message to be wrong and theirs to be right. And you can imagine how the people responded to these two competing visions of the truth. They sided with the false prophets. They gladly accepted the lie because it was exactly what they wanted to hear. And because these false prophets claimed to be speaking for God, the people soaked up their message eagerly and without discernment.

Generations later, the apostle Paul warned his young protege, Timothy, about this natural propensity on the part of God’s people to reject the truth for a lie.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

That is exactly what Micah was facing. His audience would prefer to hear him lie than have him speak the truth of God. Micah’s competition was practicing an early form of positive motivational thinking. They were presenting nothing but good news, preferring to focus on what they believed to be their unique position as God’s chosen people. They were counting on the fact that they had a covenant relationship with God Almighty and He was not going to abandon them. It is likely that they turned to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, and cherry-picked passages that would support their more positive point of view.

“Today the Lord your God has commanded you to obey all these decrees and regulations. So be careful to obey them wholeheartedly. You have declared today that the Lord is your God. And you have promised to walk in his ways, and to obey his decrees, commands, and regulations, and to do everything he tells you. The Lord has declared today that you are his people, his own special treasure, just as he promised, and that you must obey all his commands. And if you do, he will set you high above all the other nations he has made. Then you will receive praise, honor, and renown. You will be a nation that is holy to the Lord your God, just as he promised.” – Deuteronomy 26:16-19 NLT

But they conveniently avoided any passage that might paint a more negative outcome.

“But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you…The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you.” – Deuteronomy 28:15, 36-37 NLT

Micah argued with the people, demanding that they not kill the messenger. He was simply telling them the truth and rearticulating the very message that God had conveyed to Moses hundreds of years earlier. This outcome had always been a distinct possibility. In fact, it had been guaranteed by God. If they obeyed His commands, they would enjoy His blessings. But if they chose to disobey, they would suffer His curses. Obedience was optional, but God’s judgment was not.

The people were counting on God’s continuing patience. After all, He had tolerated their sinful behavior for generations, so why not now? But Micah warned that there was a limit to God’s patience. And they had nothing to fear from Micah’s message – if they lived uprightly. But the sad reality was that no one was honoring God with their lives. As a nation, they had turned their backs on God and were guilty of practicing all kinds of egregious sins that were far worse than the pagan nations around them.

And once again, Micah is forced to point out their sins with painstaking clarity.

Yet to this very hour
    my people rise against me like an enemy!
You steal the shirts right off the backs
    of those who trusted you,
making them as ragged as men
    returning from battle. – Micah 2:8 NLT

They treated God’s prophet like an enemy. They mistreated their fellow Judahites, practicing every form of injustice and ignoring God’s calls for mercy, love, and compassion.

You have evicted women from their pleasant homes
    and forever stripped their children of all that God would give them. – Micah 2:9 NLT

Notice that Micah’s indictments have to do with their treatment with one another. He is not just listing their idolatry and their practice of religious pluralism. This wasn’t just about worshiping false gods. It was their rejection of the one true God that led to behavior that was out of step with His divine will. Again, the apostle Paul warned Timothy about a coming day when people would display these same ungodly characteristics.

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

When people reject the one true God, they end up displaying behavior that is contrary to His divine will. Idolatry is not just the worship of a false god, it is the embracing of a lifestyle of ungodliness and unholiness. And Paul described what happens when men reject the truth of God and embrace the lie.

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:28-32 NLT

This was the atmosphere in Judah during the days of Micah. The people had fully embraced the lie and had rejected the truth of God’s Word. They knew better. And they surrounded themselves with prophets who would tell them what they wanted to hear. And Micah called them out for their unapologetic search for positive motivational prophets.

Suppose a prophet full of lies would say to you,
    “I’ll preach to you the joys of wine and alcohol!”
That’s just the kind of prophet you would like! – Micah 2:11 NLT

The truth had become relative. And a prophet was anyone who told you what you wanted to hear. But Micah had more bad news for these easily deceived and highly delusional people.

Up! Begone!
    This is no longer your land and home,
for you have filled it with sin
    and ruined it completely. – Micah 2:10 NLT

No amount of false prophets were going to change the truth concerning God’s judgment. Rejection of God’s divine will was possible, but escape from His wrath was not. They could continue to live under the delusion that all would be well, but reality would eventually set in and their fate would turn out just as God had warned. They could choose to ignore the truth, but they could never avoid the consequences.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Oh, What Tangled Webs.

Now when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, the Amalekites had made a raid against the Negeb and against Ziklag. They had overcome Ziklag and burned it with fire and taken captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great. They killed no one, but carried them off and went their way. And when David and his men came to the city, they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. – 1 Samuel 30:1-6 ESV

It was in his epic poem, Marmion, that Sir Walter Scott first penned the now-famous words: “Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” And no story proves the veracity of those words quite the one concerning David as he returned to Ziklag after having been sent home by Achish. No doubt, David was feeling a bit relieved after having narrowly escaped having to go to war with the Philistines and risk exposing the subterfuge behind his whole scheme. He had deceived Achish into believing that he was on his side. He had convinced the Philistine king that he and his men had been occupying their time attacking the enemies of Philistines, when in reality, they had been raiding the enemies of Israel. David never should have been in Philistia in the first place. He had received no direction from God to take his two wives along with all his men and their families and seek refuge among the enemies of Israel. But he had. And now, his life of deception was going to result in a less-than-happy reception when he returned home.

David and his men discovered that their town had been raided by Amalekites while they were away. Believing that their wives and children would be safe, David and his men had mustered for battle, under the pretense that they were going to aid the Philistines in their war against the Israelites. It is doubtful that David would have ever raised his sword against Saul or his kindred. More than likely, he and his men would have turned against the Philistines as soon as the battle started, but he would still have had to deal with Saul, his mortal enemy. David’s rejection by the Philistines was a godsend. He was blessed to have been given a reprieve by God and been allowed to go home. But what he found when he arrived was devastating. Ziklag had been burned to the ground and every person in it had been taken captive by the Amalekites, including David’s two wives. And we don’t have to imagine how David’s men reacted to the scene. They blamed David. It was all his fault. No doubt, they had questioned the wisdom of David when he first came up with his plan to hide among the Philistines. They had probably grumbled and complained as they made their way to the front lines, facing the prospect of having to fight against their own people. But now, their sorrow and frustration overflowed. We’re told that “they wept until they could weep no more” (1 Samuel 30:4 NLT). And then their sadness turned to anger.

David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. – 1 Samuel 30:6 NLT

David had been in difficult circumstances before, but nothing quite like this. His wives were gone. His men wanted to stone him. Things could not have gotten much worse. And all of it was David’s doing. He had been the architect behind this fiasco. It had been his decision to seek refuge among the Philistines. It had been his idea to use his base in Ziklag to launch raids against the enemies of Israel. He may have fooled King Achish, but he obviously had not fooled the Amalekites, who made it a point to raid and sack the very town in which David and his men lived. All the way back in chapter 27, we read:

Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish. – 1 Samuel 27:8-9 ESV

In attacking the Geshurites, Girzites and Amalekites, David had actually been doing the very thing God had commanded the Israelites to do when He gave them the land of Canaan. He had commanded that they completely destroy all the inhabitants of the land. Why? Because if they didn’t, He knew the Israelites would find themselves being negatively influenced by their presence. In a way, these pagan nations represented sin and ungodliness. They practiced idolatry and their societies were marked by immorality and godless behavior. God’s command to remove them was in order to keep the Israelites from becoming like them. But the Israelites had failed to do what God had commanded them to do. So, David’s attacks against the Amalekites had been in obedience to God’s professed will for the people of Israel, but there is no indication that God had commanded David to carry out his raids from the safety of his headquarters in Ziklag. David was attempting to do God’s will his own way. He had been trying to remain faithful to God while, at the same time, failing to trust God to keep him safe in the land of Judah. Like Abraham seeking relief from a famine by seeking refuge to Egypt, David had discovered that his plans, made apart from God’s input, had resulted in some very unsatisfactory and uncomfortable consequences.

But David found strength in the Lord his God. – 1 Samuel 30:6 NLT

This is a key moment in the life of David. In the midst of one of the most difficult moments of his life, David turned to God. The Hebrews word translated “strength” is chazaq and it carries the idea of encouragement or finding courage. David, at a very weak moment in his life, found courage by turning to God. He had made a mess of his life, but he knew that He could turn to God for strength, support, and the boldness he would need to handle the situation. With his men seeking to stone him, David sought solace and strength in God. And he would learn a valuable, life-changing lesson from this moment in his life. He would later use the very same Hebrew word when penning the words of his psalms.

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! – Psalm 27:14 ESV

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord! – Psalm 31:24 ESV

We can weave some very tangled webs in our lives. We, like David, have the unique capacity to get ourselves in all kinds of predicaments, through disobedience or our own stubborn self-sufficiency. It is so easy to leave God out of our decision-making and then wonder how things got so screwed up. But in those moments of confusion and weakness, we need to do what David did. Turn to God. Seek strength, comfort, encouragement and courage in Him. David could have easily followed up one bad decision with yet another one. He could have begun scheming and planning, trying to figure out how to get himself out of the jam he had created. But instead, he turned to God. He found strength in the Lord his God. And in spite of all that had happened and all that David had done, God would come through. He would prove faithful yet again. And God would untangle the the web that David had weaved. He would graciously clean up the mess created by David’s choice to rely on deceit rather than divine guidance.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Evicted From the Land of Promise.

Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the whore, forsaking your God. You have loved a prostitute’s wages on all threshing floors. Threshing floor and wine vat shall not feed them, and the new wine shall fail them. They shall not remain in the land of the Lord, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria. They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the Lord, and their sacrifices shall not please him. It shall be like mourners’ bread to them; all who eat of it shall be defiled; for their bread shall be for their hunger only; it shall not come to the house of the Lord. What will you do on the day of the appointed festival, and on the day of the feast of the Lord? For behold, they are going away from destruction; but Egypt shall gather them; Memphis shall bury them.

Nettles shall possess their precious things of silver; thorns shall be in their tents. The days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come; Israel shall know it. The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad, because of your great iniquity and great hatred. The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God. They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins. – Hosea 9:1-9 ESV

The land of Canaan had been meant to be a land of promise, blessing and abundant provision. Even before they had entered it and taken possession of it, Moses had told them, “The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. You must fear the Lord your God and serve him” (Deuteronomy 6:10-13 NLT). God had kept His word and had given them the land as their possession, but they had forgotten all about Him. They had failed to fear Him and serve Him. So now, God was bringing curses upon them for their disobedience. The land that had once provided them with abundant provision would no longer do so. “So now your harvests will be too small to feed you. There will be no grapes for making new wine” (Hosea 9:2 NLT). Not only that, they would no longer be able to stay in the land. They would be forcibly removed by the Assyrians and taken into captivity. They would experience the indignity of slavery in a foreign land just like their ancestors had. There in the land of Assyria, they would attempt to appease God with sacrifices and offerings, but it would do them no good. It would be too little, too late. Hosea warned them, “None of your sacrifices there will please him. They will be unclean, like food touched by a person in mourning. All who present such sacrifices will be defiled. They may eat this food themselves, but they may not offer it to the Lord{ (Hosea 9:4 NLT).

Even if they could somehow escape the Assyrians, they would suffer defeat at the hands of the Egyptians. There was no way out. Their destruction was inescapably inevitable. For years, they had rejected the warnings of God’s prophets. Men like Hosea had been pleading with them to repent and return to the Lord, but they had said, “The prophets are crazy and the inspired men are fools!” (Hosea 9:7 NLT). They could not imagine that God would actually destroy them, because they were His chosen people. They wrongly believed that they were untouchable and immune to God’s judgment. And yet, God had warned them for generations that failure to obey His commands would have dire consequences. And He had given them ample warning and more than enough opportunities to repent. But God’s sad prognosis was, “The things my people do are as depraved as what they did in Gibeah long ago. God will not forget. He will surely punish them for their sins” (Hosea 9:9 NLT). To understand just how bad God viewed their sinfulness, we have to go back and see what happened in Gibeah. A Levite and his concubine were traveling and stopped in the town of Gibeah to rest. They were greeted by an old man in the town square and he encouraged them to stay with him, but not to remain at overnight night in the open. That night, some men from the town surrounded the house.

While they were enjoying themselves, a crowd of troublemakers from the town surrounded the house. They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, “Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him.”  The old man stepped outside to talk to them. “No, my brothers, don’t do such an evil thing. For this man is a guest in my house, and such a thing would be shameful. Here, take my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. I will bring them out to you, and you can abuse them and do whatever you like. But don’t do such a shameful thing to this man.” But they wouldn’t listen to him. So the Levite took hold of his concubine and pushed her out the door. The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning. Finally, at dawn they let her go. – Judges 19:22-25 NLT

This story is very reminiscent of what took place in Sodom and Gomorrah during the days of Abraham. Gibeah, an Israelite town, had become as immoral and corrupt as Sodom. God ended up destroying Gibeah for what had happened. And now Hosea warns that God viewed the entire nation of Israel as evil as He had the people of Gibeah.

There are times when we believe our sins are not all that bad. We somehow think that what we are doing is not offensive to God and we justify our actions as somehow acceptable and tolerable to Him. But God desires holiness and He has given us His Spirit to make the life of holiness possible. He wants to bless us and abundantly provide for us. But like the people of Israel, we can be guilty of turning our backs on Him, rejecting His will in favor of our own. We can become disobedient and stubbornly resistant to His warnings to return to Him. Yes, He is gracious and merciful. God is ready and willing to forgive. But we must always understand that God cannot tolerate sin. As believers, we will never have to suffer the penalty of sin, because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf. But we will always have to face the consequences of our sinful behavior. We can miss out on the blessings of God and fail to enjoy the joy, peace, comfort and provision He so richly offers us. Like the Israelites being evicted from the land of promise, we can find ourselves living in exile from His blessings and suffering the consequences of our stubborn refusal to live in submission to His Spirit and according to His gracious will for our lives.

Reason To Praise.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. – Psalm 51:14-15 ESV

Psalm 51

David was guilty of murder. He had arranged for the death of an innocent man, all in order to justify his taking of that man’s wife. What started out as an act of adultery ended up leading to murder. And David was fully aware of his guiltiness before God. But because he knew of God’s unfailing love and mercy, he asked God to deliver him from the very guilt he deserved. The Hebrew word David uses is natsal and it literally means, “to snatch away.” David was asking God to reach down and rescue him out of the predicament in which he found himself. Like someone who finds himself drowning in a river, David desperately called out to God for deliverance. He couldn’t save himself. David could confess his sin, but he couldn’t do a thing about his guilt. He needed salvation. He required God’s divine intervention and deliverance.

The penalty for David’s two sins of adultery and murder was severe. At best, he deserved alienation from God. At worst, he deserved death. But here he was, begging God for mercy and forgiveness. He was asking God to forgive and deliver him from his well-deserved guilt. In essence, David was asking God to commute his death sentence. The seriousness of David’s situation sometimes escapes us. We are so used to reading this Psalm and so accustomed to viewing God as merciful, loving and always forgiving, that we fail to recognize what David did – that God is holy and obligated by His nature to deal with sin in a just and righteous manner. He cannot ignore or overlook it. To do so would make Him an unjust judge. He also cannot be impartial, treating David differently just because he was a man after His own heart. God loved David, but He was not going to disregard David’s sin. David’s sin deserved death. And while God would spare David’s life, the baby born as a result of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba would die. The prophet, Nathan, shared with David the judgment of God. “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12:13-14 ESV). Not only that, Nathan warned David that one of his own sons would end up doing to him what he had done to Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba. “Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun” (2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV). David would escape death, but he would not escape the discipline of God.

It is most likely that David wrote this psalm after he had received this bad news from Nathan. He knew punishment was coming. He would mourn the death of his young son. But he would also praise God for His loving deliverance of his life. David had deserved death, but he had been allowed to live. He had been allowed to continue serving God as king of Israel. While his actions had forfeited him that right, God had shown him mercy, rescuing him from his guilt and shame. And David would go on to praise God for all He had done. David had promised God that he would “sing aloud of your righteousness” and “declare your praise.” And David would do just that. He would write many more psalms declaring the greatness, goodness, graciousness and glory of God. He would spend years singing of God’s mighty deeds and shouting about God’s unfailing love. David’s life would not be easy. He would see one of his own sons rape his half-sister. He would watch as one of his other sons took revenge by murdering the brother who had committed this act. David’s sin would have long-lasting implications. He would experience God’s forgiveness and deliverance, but he would not escape the consequences of his actions. Our sins, while forgiven by God, still have consequences. Our actions have implications. David was graciously forgiven by God and allowed to live, rather than die as he deserved. But David’s sin would have a ripple effect that impacted the lives of his children. David would have to watch as his infant son died. But immediately after David received the news of his death, the Scriptures tell us, “Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20 ESV). David praised God. He knew that God had been just in all that He had done. David didn’t rail against God. He didn’t become angry and bitter. He knew that God had saved him. He realized that God had delivered him from the guilt of his sin and provided him with life when what he had deserved was death. He had reason to praise God, so he did. He had motivation to be grateful, so he was. In spite of David’s sin, God had been loving, gracious, kind and forgiving. And David was forever grateful.

Romans 13:1-7

Living Civilly With Civil Authorities.

Romans 13:1-7

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. – Romans 13:1 NLT

Now Paul changes his focus from discussing our relationship with our enemies to how we should interact with the government under which we live. Keep in mind that Paul is writing to Christians living in Rome. They are under the iron-fisted rule of one of the most powerful nations that has ever existed. So when Paul tells them to submit, his readers immediately had to think about the heavy-handed reign of Caesar and his far-reaching empire. The Romans ruled from England to Africa and from Syria to Spain. Every one in four people on the planet at the time lived under Roman law. The Roman Empire governed all of life, including a person’s social status. Roman rule could be both sophisticated and brutal. It was the Romans who perfected the use of the cross as a means of capital punishment. The Romans were intolerant of dissension or civil unrest of any kind.

And yet, here is Paul encouraging his readers to submit to governing authorities, including the Romans. Why? Because according to Paul, all authority comes from God. He is the ultimate authority and no one rules on this planet outside of His overarching, divine authority, including Satan. It is interesting that Paul concluded chapter 11 with an admonition about taking revenge into our own hands. For those living under Roman law, there would have been the constant temptation to rebel against or at least resist their all-encompassing influence – perhaps to even consider retaliating against what they believed to be unjust and unbearable requirements. Even the disciples had an expectation that Jesus, as their Messiah, would at some point overturn the rule of the Romans and reestablish the Jews as the authorities in Palestine. But Jesus’ agenda was not political, but spiritual. When confronted about whether or not the Jews should have to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus replied, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21 NLT).

The real issue here is about the sovereignty of God. As believers, we must understand that God is the ultimate ruler over all things, including earthly governments, whether good or bad. Paul says that we are to submit, not just obey. That word conveys a willing decision to come under the authority of another. When we do so, we are really coming under the authority of God, recognizing that, in His sovereignty, He has ordained where we were born and under what government we live. And ultimately, government is a God-ordained institution designed to provide order, protection, and punishment for wrong when necessary. Paul writes, “The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong” (Romans 13:4 NLT). Governments inherently establish law as a necessary means to maintain order. Order prevents chaos. Much like Paul’s discussion of the Law of Moses and its role in the lives of men, civil law provides a bench mark for behavior. We have traffic laws in order to establish and maintain some sense of order. Without them, it would be every man for himself. The laws provide standards for behavior, that when broken, require punishment. Paul says that we are to submit to those laws or standards, willingly and with the understanding that when we rebel against the authority placed over us by God, we are really rebelling against Him.

In saying all of this, Paul is not encouraging blind submission or allegiance to an unjust, unfair government. Those in authority over us must also ultimately answer to God as their authority. When civil authority contradicts the divine authority of God, we must obey God, which may require us to disobey those in authority over us. But we must do so submissively, willingly accepting the consequences of our actions. If the government should require a believer to do anything that contradicts the will of God or to violate our belief system, we are obligated to disobey, but we are also obligated to accept the consequences of our disobedience. Daniel disobeyed the civil authorities of his day when he refused to bow down and worship King Darius as if he was a god. His punishment? He was thrown into a den of lions. Daniel obeyed his God, but willingly submitted to his fate for disobeying the civil authorities.

There is no perfect government. Governments are ruled by fallen men with wicked hearts. Even those with the best of intentions are marred by sin and prone to selfishness. And yet Paul lets us know that God has ordained all governments. They are tools in His hands to accomplish His divine will. All throughout history, God used both good and evil rulers to bring about His divine plan. He used the Pharaohs to enslave the Israelites for 400 years. He used the Babylonians to conquer the southern kingdom of Judah, and the Syrians to conquer and capture the northern kingdom of Israel. God used King Herod to attempt to eliminate the baby Jesus, forcing Mary and Joseph to seek safety in Egypt, all in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Our problem is that we are cursed with a limited perspective. We have a hard time seeing government as good. We focus on the flaws and fret over what we see as the inequities of their rule over our lives. But Paul would say, “Submit!” He would encourage us to recognize all rulers and authorities as having been placed there by God. So at the end of the day, we are really submitting to the sovereign authority of God over our lives. We must trust Him, much like Daniel did. We are to “give respect and honor to those who are in authority” (Romans 13:7b NLT). That is our God-appointed duty. Should the time come that we must disobey that authority because it requires us to do anything that goes against the will of God, then we must do so submissively, not violently. We must be willing to obey God AND accept the consequences of our actions. And when we do it that way, we can do so with a clear conscience. Jesus willingly submitted to the authorities in His day, accepting the punishment of death on the cross, even though He was guiltless and innocent. His only crime was claiming to be the Messiah, the King of the Jews. All He had to do was renounce His claim and He could have saved His life. But He refused, because that would have been to disobey God. So He willingly submitted to the civil authorities, and accepted their punishment of death on the cross – a Roman cross. At no time did He lash out. He didn’t rail against the Romans and their tyrannical rule. He didn’t attempt to start a rebellion in order to save His life. He submitted to His authorities as though placed their by God, and willingly accepted His fate – all to God’s glory and our ultimate good.

Father, this is difficult. We live in a world where governments are corrupt, untrustworthy, and even ruthless in their treatment of their citizens. We struggle with remaining obedient to what we believe to be unethical systems of rule that violate our freedoms and trample our rights. But Paul reminds us that, while we are citizens of heaven, we must remain submissive and obedient to the authorities under which we live. We must view them as placed there by You, and trust that You have a plan in place of which we are ignorant. You left us in this world, with its corrupt and flawed government, for a reason. Show us how to live as children of light in the midst of a dark and depraved world. We need Your help and a glimpse of Your perspective. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 5

Femme Fatale.

“For the lips of the immoral woman are as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil. But in the end she is as bitter as poison, as dangerous as a double-edged sword.” – Proverbs 5:3-4 NLT

Sin is so tempting, and it’s allure is real, making it a constant problem for men and women alike. And while Solomon wrote his proverbs a long time ago, some things never change. We still need to hear his words of wisdom and warning. He spends an entire Proverb warning his sons against the dangers of the immoral woman or prostitute. It was a problem then and it remains a problem today. Promiscuity is alive and well, and it may be even more acceptable today than ever before. The increase in casual sex and a growing comfortableness and complacency with sex outside the confines of marriage make this message particularly timely for our sex-saturated society. Solomon’s warning to his sons was necessary in his day and it is needed in ours as well. But it sounds so antiquated and puritanical! At least that’s what many in our society would say. But it is a warning against the lies of all temptations. Satan is the father of lies and the great deceiver. He loves to package his product in such a way that it hides the dangers within. He is the master of manipulation and deception, creating the allusion of pleasure, but all the while hiding the true consequences. The prostitute is a perfect illustration of his methodologies. She is attractive, flattering, enticing, and appeals to man’s basic instincts. She knows man’s weakness and aims right for it. The apostle John warned us, “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT). That is Satan’s strategy. Everything he offers is designed to appeal to what we crave and desire, to fulfill our insatiable need for pleasure, and to satisfy our hunger for significance. A prostitute goes out of her way to make her “client” feel wanted, important, and significant. She offers to provide him with physical and emotional pleasure and to satisfy all his needs. But in the end, “her feet go down to death.” Like all sin, the consequences are dangerous and deadly. It never delivers as promised. It is the ultimate in false advertising, yet we fall prey to it each and every day in so many ways. We take the bait and suffer the consequences of broken marriages, unfulfilled expectations, destroyed reputations, and shattered lives.

So what’s the solution? Wisdom, wise counsel, and discernment. Solomon warns his sons in graphic detail of the dangers facing them. He doesn’t sugarcoat it and he doesn’t ignore it. He paints a vivid and compelling picture of the dangers of sin. He talks openly about the consequences and even seems to speak from experience. “You will say, ‘How I hated discipline! If only I had not ignored all the warnings! Oh, why didn’t I listen to my teachers? Why didn’t I pay attention to my instructors? I have come to the brink of utter ruin, and now I must face public disgrace” (Proverbs 5:12-14 NLT). Our children need to know the truth. Our congregations need to hear the truth. The enemy is filling their minds with lies day after day, and he has more resources available than ever before. The media provides him with a constant venue for propagating his lies and distributing his message of falsehood. We need to speak truth. We need to share the wisdom of God’s Word. We need to promote the non-negotiable requirement of living according to God’s way – unapologetically and boldly. The dangers are real. The consequences are devastating. Wisdom, wise counsel and discernment are needed more than ever before.

Father, give us the boldness to speak truth in the midst of a society that has become mesmerized by the lies of Satan. Help us to warn our children and to promote Your way over the world’s way. Don’t let us sit back and complacently watch as the lies of the enemy destroy our young people, marriages, homes and churches. Give us a desire to declare the wisdom or Your Word and share wise counsel with all who will listen. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org