Romans 13:1-7 – Paul and Empire (Part 2)

In the previous post, I argued that Paul commands obedience to the government.  I pointed out that the Roman government at the time was as oppressive as any in history and permitted any number of practices that we modern American Christians would not put up with more a moment.  Yet Paul said quite clearly that the Christian was to submit to the government because it was God’s appointed minister of justice!

I think that over all the Occupy Wall Street is a law-abiding and legal protest.  Most of the time the people involved work with city officials, obtain permits, etc.  The issue that they are raising is important as well – America is incredibly rich and ought to do more to care for the less-wealthy.  There is no way anyone in America should be hungry, malnourished, uneducated, or lack access to health care.

Despite the fact that Paul says to obey the government in Romans 13, I am not as happy with the  solution offered by the OWS, that the government do something to spread the wealth.  It is not a capitalist / socialist issue, it is a matter of responsibility.  The responsibility party for caring for the poor in a society is not the government, but rather the Church.  As I read Romans 13, I see nothing about the government providing a social safety net, only that they ought to enforce law and keep the peace.  The church is to care for the poor and needy, so that there are no more poor and needy.

I hinted at the end of the last post that Paul did in fact have rather subversive plan to reverse the evils of the Empire.  Like Jesus, Paul is interested in transforming people from death to life.  These members of the new creation will then transform society.  Paul was interested in caring for the poor and underclass, and the followers of Jesus modeled their meetings after the table fellowship of Jesus himself.  All shared food and fellowship equally.  That all are equal in the Body of Christ is amazingly subversive in a society which was predicated on social strata and inequality.

An example of the sort of subversive action which had an impact on poverty in the early church is found in 1 Clement 55.  In this letter written at the end of the first century, Clement praises Gentile Christians who have risked plague in order to save fellow citizens, allowed themselves to be imprisoned to redeem others, and sold themselves into slavery in order to feed the poor.   I cannot imagine anyone in the twenty-first century taking out a second mortgage and donating the money to a local inner city ministry that cares for the poor.  Someone may have done this, but it is exceedingly rare.

IngsocI think the church does a good job on social issues, but given the wealth flowing through most American churches, so much more could be done.  I am not necessarily talking about throwing money at the problem.  There are many creative low-cost efforts to relieve the conditions which cause poverty.  What would happen if the Church dedicated itself to solving poverty in the inner cities of America instead of building big glass churches? What if a single mega-church dedicated their offerings to poverty relief rather than building improvements?  What if we spent as much on helping African orphans as we do on the sound systems for our churches?

What Paul started in Acts 13 brought down the Rome.

8 thoughts on “Romans 13:1-7 – Paul and Empire (Part 2)

  1. In Galatians 2:10, Paul says “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (ESV). We as the church should be eager to help the poor, and we should be eager to serve them, but rather we avoid them, and we act like it is someone elses problem and we do not need to worry about it. If we as the church would stop pushy the responsibility of the poor onto others, and we wold reach out to them with an offering of help to give them food or clothes or a warm place to stay, there would be a lot less stereotypes of the church today. Many times the church is seen as being stuck up, or nothing different from others, but I believe that if we would reach out to the poor in the way that we are supposed to, with eagerness and joy, it would be lot easier for us to be seen as different than those people in the world.

  2. I fully agree, its not quantity that is the issue it is distribution that’s the problem. Solutions offered by the government would be solutions offered through a communistic, capitalistic, or socialistic path of approach. This idea testifies, to the fact that some people just never learn. You can’t expect milk from a rock. But you can expect milk from a cow and if a cow isn’t producing milk there needs to be action taken to figure out what the problem is and attempt to continuously fix it. We can never help those in poverty financially or spiritually if all we are doing is praying, ‘that God will help’. God doesn’t work on the extreme end of dependence he works on the middle point evenly marked between dependence and discipline. We have to have faith in God that through us He can change circumstances and situations. The oo’s and aww’s of our artistic Church buildings and cool trendy ‘stuff’ should not be the pinnacle and remembering point of what and who God is. The outreaching relationships and impact on his people should be.

  3. Political issue or cultural issue? or maybe the church isnt doing what its called to do. Often times in American culture we have two responses to a problem such as the homeless. first is to throw money at it because thats what Jesus would have done right?. secondly we think its not our problem and leave it for another person to fix. But Jesus didnt have money on earth to spend wildly, he didnt live a high life in fact his friends were the lowest of the low. His ministry was with the people he broke bread with. Maybe the thing we are missing isnt that our government isnt helping the right people, but maybe its the church stopped. what would wyoming michigan look like if we did start meeting peoples needs and being relational.

    • These are great insights! Maybe we are too caught up in our money rather than our time. We do desire to fix problems, but we don’t desire to fix them enough to take time to fix them. Rather, we pursue a short cut to helping by throwing money at the problem. Frankly, money tends to make the situation worse because it fuels problems, such as drug abuse or gang related violences. Sadly, we don’t seek taking the time to relate, love, or change (ourselves) so as to help others. Jesus didn’t throw money, like you said, but rather loved others so unconditionally that he spent time, time which in his physicalness was precious. As the church we should be reflecting an openness to giving up our time in order to attempt to fix the problems that face the world today. It’s absolutely true that God never established the government in order to fix the problems of today, He set aside, “called out,” the church to be His hands and feet to the world. Being His hands and feet take time, not money.

  4. If the church stopped worrying so much about the brick and mortar ‘church’, and spent more time and money on worrying about those that are ‘lost’ and need help – both physical and spiritual – then the church would be more of a Church. We spend so much time planning out and thinking of ways to draw people into our churches by making sure it looks good or has the latest and greatest, that we forget that, in the end, people are going to be more attracted to seeing God’s people out helping other people and serving. I’ve heard it said that we are most like Christ when we are serving – and I would have to agree. I don’t think God has blessed us with all of ‘these’ resources and all of this money to plant a flower garden or get new light posts in the parking lot. I think He blesses us with all of this to turn it over and give it to the people who need it – because we sure don’t! Romans 12:13 says, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice Hospitality.” It’s not necessarily the governments job to provide for those who are in need – God calls Christians to do that! I don’t think fitting money in the budget for a flower garden or new paint is helping anyone or showing hospitality in any way to anyone. The only thing it does is make the church more materialistic. When Jesus was on this earth he was almost always with people – serving them, getting to know them, etc. We need to do the same – not hide out in our ‘churches’.

  5. We as the church have a great responsibility to take care of the poor and the needy. If we spent less time worrying about our church buildings, the number of people that attend, and how great and extensive our programs are then we would be able to better serve the people around us. Yes, the government could do more for the general good of the people, but we as the church need to step it up and start to provide for the homeless, the hungry and the uneducated. When talking about the passage in Romans 13, Polhill says, “Paul’s third section relates to love of one’s neighbor (13:8-10). In this context the word neighbor probably reaches beyond the Christian community and includes conduct toward those outside” (Polhill, 298). We are called to love our neighbors, so we should show them love by providing for their physical needs; so that they can see Christ in us by our caring for them.

  6. Another great point here! I so often hear about the issues that come with deciding where this fund should go or what new updates need to be undertaken. Not all are necessarily bad, but if that’s all we think about I do not think we are living into our full capacity of what the church can and should be. It is also important not just to throw money at issues, that acts more lake a quick patch for an issue, rather, true justice focuses on getting to the root of problems and figuring out how to fix them from there. I read an interesting statistic a while back from a book titled “Deep Justice in a Broken world”. It stated that if America cut its ice cream intake by half for the next 5 years and used the excess funds for justice, the money could be used to feed and give basic health care to most of the world What if we, as the church, took a stand and began to cut back on spending funds on the little unnecessary things and started using it for justice… The world could look a lot different.

  7. I will always take the stand that the church could be doing much more to help the poor in society. I think that sometimes churches spend so much money on making sure everything about their building is up to date that they forget what is important. It seems that the problems in our society could benefit a lot more from churches who are using every possible resource to help rather than continue to improve. I’m not saying that church improvement is a bad thing, rather it shouldn’t be number one on the list. Church is too often a game of numbers, focused on marketing that specific church above all others. When it ought to be a game of kingdoms, focused on marketing the kingdom of heaven above everything else in the world.

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