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Formations Lesson for Nov. 7: Submitting to authority
Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham
October 26, 2010
3 MIN READ TIME

Formations Lesson for Nov. 7: Submitting to authority

Formations Lesson for Nov. 7: Submitting to authority
Christopher Moore, minister of education, children and senior adults, Durham Memorial Baptist Church, Durham
October 26, 2010

Focal Passage: Romans 13:1-7

The government is persecuting
Christians in my neighborhood.
Every week, dozens of believers are being stopped and fined by civil
authorities for no other reason than traveling to attend a morning worship
service.

Of course, I suppose I
should mention that these “martyrs” are also travelling to church at 85 miles
per hour, and that this “persecution” comes in the form of blue lights and
speeding citations. I’d hate to deface such regular churchgoers with a moniker
like “speed demons,” so I’ll call them “swift saints.” In their efforts to worship the Lord on
time, “swift saints” represent a sad and silly effort to show devotion to God
by disobeying the government.

In our passage for today,
Paul encourages the Roman Christians to submit to the governing authorities.
However, Christians have not always agreed as to how Paul’s instructions should
be understood.

Sure, we should obey the
authorities when they tell us not to rob each other, but what if the government
was to outlaw something like praying? If such a scenario seems alien to us,
remember that Paul might be composing this epistle during the reign of
Nero.

Paul knew persecution was a
possibility, and he instructs believers accordingly (Rom. 12:14). However,
notice too that Paul writes that “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but
to bad,” (v. 3a).

Paul’s observation
presupposes a government that has some discernment of right and wrong, thus
it’s tempting to doubt that Paul had the maniacal reign of Nero specifically in
mind.

The Greek word from which we
get the term “martyr” is martus, meaning “a witness.” Under Roman persecution,
believers were tortured and executed before jeering throngs, and thus it was
the martyrs’ courageous civil disobedience that served as a public witness to
the life-altering power of Christ. Even though many of us will never face such
atrocious persecution, we too are called to bear witness.

By obeying the laws of the
land, Christians show themselves to be a people dedicated to the common good, a
people willing to respect and submit to authority. Through our example, the crowds who watch our every move can
still witness the transformed lives of those who bear Christ’s name.

As “swift saints” burn down
the highway at Mach 3, their hearts palpitate with each patrolman they pass in
the median. They live in fear of authority because they do wrong (v. 3b). Hopefully, churchgoers can cultivate a
different reputation in the future. Christians must instead be known as that
strange lot who proclaim God’s truth regardless of a ruler’s stance, all the
while audaciously claiming citizenship in a kingdom not of this world.