Like Peter in 1 Peter 2:13-18, Paul in Romans 13 writes in rather absolute and seemingly unqualified ways about civil authorities and the Christian response to them: “Be subject to the governing authorities. …whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed. …he is God’s servant for good.” But why write in these such absolute and seemingly unqualified ways? Why emphasize the right of government and the need for submission, and leave out any and all exceptions? Perhaps we can query a couple of sermons from John Piper for answers to these and similar questions.
In a sermon on Romans 13, Piper explains why Paul wrote Romans 13 as he did:
He is more concerned with our humility and self-denial and trust in Christ, than he is about our civil liberties. In other words, Paul risked being misunderstood on the side of submission because he saw pride as a greater danger to Christians than government injustice. I cannot imagine Paul writing this way if Paul thought that the ultimate thing was being treated fairly by the government. But I can imagine him writing this way if faith and humility and self-denial and readiness to suffer for Christ is the main thing.
Or, in other words:
[Paul] wants us to know that the danger to our soul from unjust governments is nowhere near as great as the danger to our soul from the pride that kicks against submission. No mistreatment or unjust law has ever sent anyone to hell. But pride and rebellion is what sends everyone to hell who doesn’t have a Savior.
But is there ever a proper place for civil disobedience? From the same sermon, Piper answers:
…some Christians have come to the point in history where they believed laws were so unjust and so evil, and political means of change had been frustrated so long, that peaceful, non-violent, civil disobedience seemed right.
What factors would be involved in consideration of civil disobedience? Piper suggests that “it would be a combination of at least these four things.”
- The grievousness of the action sanctioned by law. How atrocious is it? Is it a traffic pattern that you think is dumb? Or is the law sanctioning killing?
- The extent of the unjust law’s effect. Is it a person affected here or there? Or is it millions? Does the law have an incidental inconsistency? Or is it putting a whole group of people into bondage because of their ethnic origin?
- The potential of civil disobedience for clear and effective witness to the truth. This is the question of strategy, and there will certainly be room here for differing judgments about whether a particular act of civil disobedience will be a clear and effective statement of what is just.
- The movement of the spirit of courage and conviction in God in people’s lives that indicates the time is right. Historically, there appears to be a flash point of moral indignation. An evil exists for years, or perhaps generations, and then something strange happens. One person, and then tens of thousands of people, can no longer just get up and go to work and say, “I wish it weren’t this way.” A flash point is reached, and what had hung in the air for years as tolerable evil explodes with an overwhelming sense that this state of affairs simply can no longer be!
So, if and when that time comes, what should civil disobedience look like? What is its tenor and heartbeat? Piper looks to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-48), which contrasts retaliation and love in response to enemies. Then he concludes with these guidelines:
The words of Jesus rule out all vindictiveness and all action based on the mere expediency of personal safety. The Lord cuts away our love for possessions, and our love for convenience. That’s the point of Matthew 5:38-42. Don’t act merely out of concern for your own private benefit, your clothes, your convenience, your possessions, your safety.
Instead, by trusting Christ, become the kind of person who is utterly free from these things to live for others (both the oppressed and the oppressors; both the persecuted and the persecutors; both the dying children and the killing abortionists). The tone and demeanor of this Christian civil disobedience will be the opposite of strident, belligerent, rock-throwing, screaming, swearing, violent demonstrations.
We are people of the cross. Our Lord submitted to crucifixion willingly to save his enemies. We owe our eternal life to him. We are forgiven sinners. This takes the swagger out of our protest. It takes the arrogance out of our resistance. And if, after every other means has failed, we must disobey for the sake of love and justice, we will first remove the log from our own eye, which will cause enough pain and tears to soften our indignation into a humble, quiet, but unshakeable, NO. The greatest battle we face is not overcoming unjust laws, but becoming this kind of people.
Church, let’s pray to that end!
Here are a few resources in follow up to Sunday’s message, “Dual Citizenship,” from 1 Peter 2:11-17.
- Collin Hansen’s article, “Pay Your Taxes But Trust in Christ,” reflects on and summarizes a great message by Mark Dever, ”Jesus Paid Taxes,” from Mark 12:13-17. This message on how Christians relate to the state is a helpful complement to Sunday’s message.
- While preaching through Romans, John Piper unpacked the meaning and implications of Romans 13 across four messages, “Subjection to God and Subjection to the State” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).
- John Piper also has several messages on Sunday’s passage of 1 Peter 2:”Slaves of God: Free from All to Honor All,” ”Good Deeds and the Glory of God,” ”Being Pro-Life Christians Under a Pro-Choice President,” “Christ, Culture, and Abortion.”
- Jonathan Leeman’s article, “Love and the Inhumanity of Same-Sex Marriage,” is a careful reflection and exhortation for all of us as we consider how to navigate the waters ahead on this issue. David Murray’s article, “Prepare for Gay Marriage,” is along the same lines.
- Tim Keller’s article, “Old Testament Law and The Charge of Inconsistency,” helps us think about how to think and feel about being mischaracterized by the surrounding culture.
- D.A. Carson’s recent book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, explores the cultural and philosophical shifts that have landed us where we are today. Here’s an interview with Carson on this book.
- For a little reading on the subject and for a constructive reflection on how Christians can positively approach political engagement, read Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner’s City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era.
- For clear analysis of the nature and consequences of the sexual ethic embraced by our culture, read Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance , by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Dr. Mohler writes about the issues we discussed on Sunday regularly at his blog and in his audio podcast, The Briefing.
If you have relationships or know someone who does, then keep reading.
Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane have teamed up on a number of writing projects over the years, including How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. Earlier this spring, Tripp and Lane joined us at Desert Springs Church to address the theme, “One-Anothering the Word,” at Clarus ’13, The Gospel Coalition’s Southwest Regional Conference.
These men have thought carefully and deeply from the Bible about how our broken relationships can be redeemed, and about how God actually uses our relationships with “one another” to conform us into the image of his Son. Every relationship, even difficult ones, are a gift of God’s grace for our growth in the knowledge and likeness of Christ.
In addition to a panel discussion, each of the men spoke three times. Below you’ll find a round up of their talks, including links to audio, video, and blog summaries, followed by session videos in the order they were delivered. Photos from the conference are available at the TGC Albuquerque Facebook page.
“Preparing for the Future in the Age of Facebook,” by Alex Chediak
“Our best work simply can’t be done in five minute increments between text messages.”
“Raising Arrow Children,” by Douglas Wilson
Don’t reduce your children to being “adorable,” and miss out on the promise of formidable children, arrows in the hand of a warrior.
“Donald Rumsfeld’s Rules for Successful Meetings,” by Donald Rumsfeld
Common grace wisdom for the dynamic work of leading people through meetings.
“The Gay Marriage Campaign and the Despotism of Conformism,” by Justin Taylor
A helpful analysis of “the peculiar non-judgmental tyranny of the gay-marriage campaign, which judges harshly those who dare to judge how people live.”
“Advice for the Pop Culturally Perplexed,” by Ted Turnau
Consider five ways to understand popular culture, and therefore engage popular culture.
“Gosnell, Law, and Modest First Steps,” by Christopher O. Tollefsen
The Gosnell case shows us that a society’s laws teach, and if they teach a lesson of injustice they will corrupt its people over time.
“The Real Life of the Pro-Life Home,” by Rachel Jankovic
“But the truth is that abortion is the sacrifice that our religion of selfishness requires . . . Motherhood is the big-leagues of self-sacrifice . . . It is the real life of the pro-life movement, and it will change the world.”
“‘Supercharged’ heart pumps blood up a giraffe’s neck,” by Jody Bourton
Giraffes display the glory of God with their long necks and custom designed hearts.
“9 Things You Should Know About Pornography and the Brain,” by Joe Carter
Joe Carter discusses the neurological dynamics involved with pornography addiction in this frank, though non-graphic, discussion of this always urgent subject.
That’s a question we should be able to answer for ourselves and for anyone who asks. It’s a yes or no question, and on the basis of Scripture we must say, “Yes! There is a way to God, and that way is Christ.”
Here’s R.C. Sproul’s answer to the question:
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Sunday morning’s sermon, “Like Newborn Infants…” was about our need for the Bible. We need the Bible like infants need milk. This requires the devotion of our time to actually reading our Bibles.
Few people could say that same thing better than D.A. Carson. Here’s an excerpt from his book, Love in Hard Places.
“Christians must recapture the Bible-reading habits of some earlier generations. . . . The impact of the cultural pressures upon us, not least from the media, is so devastatingly great that only a mind steeped in thinking God’s thoughts after him will begin to withstand the onslaught. What this demands of every believer who can red is devoted, reverent disciplined reading and rereading of the Word of God, a reading discharged in an attitude of eager attentiveness. And what such reading presupposes is time. I am not trying to impose a new legalism. I am sadly aware that it is possible to read the Bible a gerat deal and merely become self-righteous or wallow in unbelief; but I doubt that it is possible to obey the fist command without reading the Bible a great deal.”
In this post we would like to link to a number of helpful articles, books, and resources for helping you read your Bible better. Each book mentioned below is available at Amazon, with a link provided, but also at DSC within a dollar or two of Amazon pricing at the Book Nook.
Bibles and Bible Study Helps
- If you have a commute or time for listening in general, there are several ways to listen to the Bible. Check out the ESV Bible online or download audio from Faith Comes By Hearing.
- There are many fine translations, but at DSC we use the ESV Bible published by Crossway, available online, or at DSC for 40% off at the Book Nook.
- Bible study booklets can also be helpful for helping walk you through a book of the Bible with thoughtful questions. The “John Stott Bible Study” series is worth checking out, along with Crossway’s new, “Knowing the Bible” series.
Resources for those who aren’t Christians
- If you are new to the Bible, start with the book of John.
- For some, an introduction to the Bible’s basic message and teaching will be especially helpful. Two great first reads are, John Stott’s, Basic Christianity, and, J.I. Packer’s, Knowing God.
- For a brief online presentation of the heart of the Bible, the gospel message, check out “Two Ways to Live.”
Bible Reading Plans
- For the Love of God (Vol. 1, Vol. 2) is a two volume series of books written by D.A. Carson providing daily reading to supplement the M’Cheyne reading plan. This plan assigns reading to days, so it is the easiest to begin this plan at the head of the year, but you could also jump in now.
- For a reading plan without dates assigned, look into The Bible Reading Record, by Don Whitney. It’s a simple list of every chapter in the Bible. With this, you can read at whatever pace you like and keep track of what you’ve read until you’re through the Bible.
Encouragement for Reading the Bible
- For a great introduction to the delights and effects of God’s Word, listen to Ryan’s sermon on Psalm 1, “If You Wanna Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life…,” or Psalm 19, “God’s Words – Better Than Gold!“
- Here are two articles that may help whet your appetite for the Bible: “How to Read the Bible: A Beginner’s Guide,” by Fred Zaspel, and, ”Dr. Seuss and Good Bible Reading,” by Jason Lee.
- Jonathan Leeman’s book, Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People, will help you think more biblically about the Bible in your life and the life of the church.
- David Helm’s book, One-to-One Bible Study: A Simple Guide for Every Christian, will help you read the Bible more and better with other people.
- If you have struggled with Bible reading in general, read Ryan’s article, “How’s Your Bible Reading Going?,” and if you’re a mom with young kids and changing possibilities with your time, starting with reading this new mom’s testimony and this good advice from Don Whitney.
- Two chapters in John Piper’s, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, are well worth the cost of the book. Chapter seven, ”The Worth Of God’s Word In The Fight For Joy: Seeing The Measure Of This Mighty Weapon,” and chapter eight, “How To Wield The Word In The Fight For Joy: Musing, Memorizing, And The Message Of God.
Help for Interpreting the Bible
- The ESV Study Bible includes a number of excellent articles, introductions to Biblical books, and commentary across Scripture.
- In his article, “Hearing the Music of the Gospel: Christ-Centered Bible Study,” Keith Johnson helps us think carefully about how to read Scripture with the big picture of Christ in view.
- There are many books that help us get a sense for the Bible’s background, books that help us see its big picture, and books that outline principles for interpreting Scripture. Here are a few examples: How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour, by Gordon Fee, Douglas Stuart. According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, by Graeme Goldsworthy. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible, by Vaughn Roberts. The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, by D. A. Carson; The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept, by Mark Dever; Survey of the Old Testament, and Survey of the New Testament, by Paul Benware; Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word, by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach; 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible, by Robert Plummer.
- John Piper is a reliable pastor and theologian with an almost silly amount of material published to the web. Stop by Desiring God to search by Scripture for material written or preached by John Piper.
- For more help on specific subjects related to the Bible, or for help in reading the Bible in general, stop by the Resources Page for recommendations.
There are many ways in which we should not be like babies, but there is at least one way in which we must. In Sunday’s sermon, “Like Newborn Infants…,” Ryan drew out the comparison that Peter makes between infants and Christians 1 Peter 2:2, ”Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk [of the Word].” As those who are born of the Word, Christians should cultivate and feed an appetite for the Scriptures so that we long for Scripture as much as we really do need it.
Here’s how C.H. Spurgeon put it:
“Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord—not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our in most parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible.”
If you have struggled with Bible reading in general, read Ryan’s article, “How’s Your Bible Reading Going?,” for a reflection on some of the reasons we have a hard time sticking with the Bible. Then, pick up the Bible and feed, remembering Jesus’ own words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).