Aloha Hope Chapel Honolulu!
Probably like most of you, I wasn’t expecting this pandemic to last so long. I also didn’t expect it to get worse eighteen months after the March 2020 shutdown or after the rollout of effective vaccines. I understand why, at least for some of us, words like “mask” or “vaccine” evoke an emotional response. I know that my wife doesn’t enjoy wearing a mask all day—despite having been vaccinated—to help protect both our elderly mothers and the children she works with who are too young to be vaccinated. I’m sure that those of you who are facing mask and vaccine mandates in your workplaces are facing difficult choices, just as those who are under-employed, have lost jobs or even businesses because of the pandemic.
News outlets are reporting that the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has become the most common infection locally and that we can still catch and spread this variant with or without noticeable symptoms. All of this is on top of the finding that those fully vaccinated are less likely to develop severe reactions that require hospitalization. This might make arguments louder still, but the worst possible choices are to panic or do nothing. I am aware of pastors and churches that are taking little to no precautions, and even know some who are pointing fingers at others who do. However, I continue to believe that the Word and Spirit of God make our role and responsibility obvious: “love and good works” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
Even if you agree that love and good works is our kuleana, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to speak and act out the truth in love. That’s why I felt led this month to take a closer look at Romans 13:1-14. It may take longer and perhaps require you to stop here and there to think about what the Word and Spirit of God are saying to us, but it seemed good to the Holy Spirit to first include the Bible text, so as not to just impose my thoughts and opinions on you here….
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7, ESV)
Arguably, the only kind of government clearly promoted in the Bible is theocracy: a government in which God alone is king. Since Adam and Eve rejected God’s rule in their lives, and at least since Israel rejected God as king in the days of Samuel the prophet (1Samuel 8:7), history reveals that while we have had many kinds of government, we have not had many righteous heads of government. In many times and places, various men and women have claimed to rule in the name of a god or even as a god, such as when the Apostle Paul wrote the aforementioned words. Throughout Paul’s life, the Roman Empire appeared to be the greatest political and military force on the planet. Its Emperor laid claim to divinity for his authority to rule, but Nero was not a godly man.
Even here in Hawai’i we have had men and women lay claim to a divine right to rule, but no man or woman is completely righteous and therefore no form of government—chiefdom, kingdom or democracy—has ever been truly and completely pono or righteous. And yet God’s Word says that anyone who rules over a village, tribe, nation or empire only rules because God allows that man or woman to rule. Why does God do this?
Perhaps simply because He knows that order is better than chaos, and the rule of law better than anarchy. The Word and Spirit of God make it clear that it is God who allows for human government (Genesis 1:26-28). We may not like the person who has authority over us, and that person may not wield that authority well, but because the source of that authority is God, except for when and where such authority would directly forbid or prevent us from the worship, discipleship and witness of Christ, we are to submit as if unto the Lord, and trust God for both result and reward.
8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10, ESV)
Although the expressions of submission to government in the previous section such as taxes, revenue, respect or honor are easy to understand within the context of submission to governmental authority, the examples in this section seem out of place. What do such things as adultery, murder, robbery or covetousness have to do with submission to government or good citizenship? I would like to suggest that there are at least two connections here that might not otherwise immediately come to mind: 1) the opposite behaviors of marital fidelity, forgiveness, generosity and satisfaction promote cooperation, peace and civil relationships, and 2) each of these forbidden behaviors in Romans 13:8-10 have pride, selfishness or even rebellion as their motivation, not love. In other words, each of these forbidden behaviors result from the selfish pursuit of personal pride, pleasure, possession and popularity at a price someone else must pay.
We sometimes mistake the meaning of verse 8’s “owe no one anything, except to love each other” as only forbidding the use of credit. However, we too often forget that the only thing that will really matter at the end of our lives is whether or not we loved God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind, and loved those whom God made to be our neighbors as we loved ourselves. The most obvious reason God allows human government is because the vast majority of people are either unwilling or unable to govern themselves. We need government because of the deceitfulness of sin—by “deceitfulness” here I mean the traps of pride, pleasure, possession and popularity—as well as our lack of personal discipline. It is important to note that the effectiveness of good government and capable leadership is limited by the choices and behavior of its citizens.
11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:11-14, ESV)
Biblically speaking, the last days began when Christ ascended to heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit. We can either choose to love this world and the things of it, or we can choose to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. Let’s choose to emphasize and practice relational responsibility over insisting upon our freedom, pleasure or rights. Let’s effectively show and tell the grace and truth of Christ through our words, works and relationships. Let’s seek to grow in our understanding and practice of worship, discipleship and witness while making our indoor gatherings as safe as possible for everyone who would participate in our Live Celebrations at 1712 S. King Street. As the CDC and Hawaii Department of Health continue to recommend masks in spaces such as ours, let’s demonstrate love and good works by implementing best practices such as vigilant cleaning and reservations.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1John4:7-8, ESV)
May the steadfast power, love and faithfulness of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be revealed to and through you and yours abundantly, I pray in the Name of Jesus Christ!
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