PBC Forum Class for 12/14/03

Our Relationships with Society (Romans 13)

Notes from Ray C. Stedman:

GOD'S STRANGE SERVANTS

Our study in Romans has brought us to that famous passage in Chapter 13 which deals with the Christian and his relationship to the government. It isn't very hard to think of President Jimmy Carter as a servant of God. His personal profession of a new birth has been well publicized. But I wonder if you have ever thought of Leonid Brezhnev as a servant of God? Or Idi Amin? Or even Adolph Hitler? And yet the amazing thing that this passage declares is that men like that are, in some sense, servants of God.

I think this shows how much we need to have our minds renewed, our thinking changed, as the twelfth chapter of this letter tells us, in order that we will not be conformed to the thinking of the age. I find that those who are not Christians have great difficulty in thinking of governmental leaders who are tyrannical, vicious, or cruel, as, in any sense, being servants of God. And yet, if we Christians are going to conform our thinking to reality, i.e., proof as God sees it, this is what we must begin to think. We need to have our minds renewed to what the Scriptures say, and to think along those lines about the life around us, in order that we might be able to present our bodies available to God to use in whatever situation we find ourselves. The first thing the apostle tells us about our government is where it comes from: Where does it originate? The answer is given in the very first verse:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Rom 13:1 NIV)

When Paul refers to governing authorities, he uses a phrase that can best be translated "the powers that be." He is not just talking about heads of state; he is talking about all levels of authority, all the way down to the local dog-catcher. These are the powers that be, those that exist. He tells us that the thing we must think about these governmental offices is that they are, in some way, brought into being by God himself.

I often hear people ask, "Which form of government is the best? Which is the one God wants us to have?" We Americans would love to think that democracy obviously is the most God-honored form of government. But I don't think you can establish that from the Scriptures. In fact, the Scriptures reflect various forms of government. So when you ask, "Which government is the best kind? Is it a monarchy? An oligarchy (i.e., ruled by a few)? Is it a republic? A democracy?" The answer of Scripture is not necessarily any of these. It is whatever God has brought into being. That is best for that particular place and time in history. God has brought it into being, considering the makeup of the people, the degree of truth and light which is disseminated among them, and the moral conditions that are prevailing. For that condition, for that time and place, God has brought into being a particular government.

Now, that government can change. God doesn't ordain any one form of government to be continued forever. If the people grow toward understanding of truth, and morality prevails in a community, the form of government may well take on a democratic pattern. Where truth disappears, government seems to become more autocratic. But, in any case, the point the apostle makes is that whatever form of government you find, God is behind it. Don't ever think of any state or any government as something that in itself is opposed to God, because it isn't. That includes Communism as much as any other form of government. That is the clear statement of this passage. I think we have to begin to clear our thinking along that line.

This truth is not confined to the New Testament. You find it in the Old Testament as well. In the book of Daniel, Daniel stood before one of the greatest monarchs the world has ever seen, one of the most autocratic of kings, and said to him, "God changes times and seasons, God removes kings, and he sets up kings," (cf, Dan 2:21a RSV). There it is made clear that God definitely has a hand in whatever is going on on the earth at any particular time. Sometimes we are tempted, or even taught, to think of God as being remote from our political affairs, that he is off in heaven somewhere turning a rather morbid eye on us human beings struggling along with our political problems down here. But Scripture never takes that pattern. He is not on some remote Mount Olympus; he is right among us, involved in the pattern of governments; and he raises up kings and puts down others, raises up rulers and changes the form of government. The apostle clearly sets this before us in Romans 13.

I think we Americans are slowly learning that not every body of people in the world can handle democracy. There was a time when, naively, we thought democracy was the best (and only enlightened) form of government, and all we had to do was go around the world and set up democracies and people would begin to function properly. Democracy would solve all their problems. Now, after many painful experiences, we know better than that. We know there are times and places where democracy just won't work. It can't work; people aren't ready for it. They can't handle that kind of liberty, that kind of responsibility. Therefore God doesn't give it to them. The government they have is better suited for their purposes than the one we have. We are slowly catching on to that.

When Paul wrote this letter to these Christians, they were living in the capital city of the empire, Rome itself. Rome by this time had already passed through several forms of government. It had been a monarchy, a republic, a principate, and now it was an empire. Nero had just begun his reign as the fifth emperor of Rome when Paul wrote this letter. What Paul is saying to these Christians is that whatever form of government may be in control, they are to remember that God is behind it.

Not only is God behind the forms of government we have, but he is also responsible for the incumbents, the ones occupying the offices at any particular time. That may be a startling thought for some of us, but that is what this verse says. Listen to the way the New English Bible translates the last half of Verse 1:

There is no authority but by act of God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him. (Rom 13:1b NEB)

Not only are the forms of government brought into being by God, but the very people who occupy the offices are put there by God. So if you thank God for Jimmy Carter and say that God gave us a godly born-again President, remember that he also gave us Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and all the others that we have had some trouble with. They came from God too. You see, God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He is not a Socialist, or a Marxist, or even an American! The biblical picture is that God not only sends us good men sometimes, by his grace, to lead us and heal us, but also he sends us bad men at times, to punish us. And we deserve them. Therefore, when Hitlers, Stalins, and other ruthless individuals come to the throne of power, God has put them there because that is what that people needed at that particular time in history. This is the biblical position with regard to government, and it is rather startling. And yet, it is the clear statement of this passage.

You find this position supported by other passages of Scriptures: We read this morning the passage from First Peter which says we are to "honor the king," (1 Pet 2:17). When Peter wrote this, Nero was the one who was seated on the throne. Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities, Peter tells us. In the book of Daniel we are taught the same thing. Nebuchadnezzar, that mighty monarch, had been brought low before God by God's dealings with him. In a great decree, which he had issued throughout his kingdom, he testified to that effect. He said God had taught him painful lessons "to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men," (cf, Dan 4:17 RSV).

Isn't that remarkable? God sometimes deliberately picks a man that is not capable, the lowliest of men, and puts him into power. So the first thing we need to recognize is that, regardless of the form of government we may be up against, the hand of God is in it. And not only is this true of the form of government, but also of the very ones that occupy the positions of power. God has put them there. The second thing we need to know about our relationship to our government is found in Verse 2:

Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Rom 13:2 NIV)

Clearly, if God is behind governments, then those who oppose the government and would overthrow it are really opposing God. I realize this has to be handled very carefully, because there are those who would use a statement like this to justify everything the government does -- no matter what it is. But we must recognize, first of all, that governments do have a God-given right to punish those who would overthrow them, to punish treason, to resist overthrow, to control riots, and to seek to preserve themselves in power by legitimate means. Governments do have that right. This the apostle makes very clear.

But, though Paul doesn't go into this side of it in this particular passage, we also must remember that Scriptures show us that such a right is always held under God. I thank God for the enlightened soul, a few decades ago, that set in line a motion that added to our pledge of allegiance the words "under God." That reflects biblical truth. This nation exists as a nation under God. What that is saying, of course, is that nations are to recognize that they have limited power. They are agents of God, but they are not God.

There are some things that nations have no right to do, or governments have no right to get into. The Bible is clear on what those kinds of things are. This is what Jesus clearly referred to in that famous incident when he was asked about paying taxes. He took a coin and held it up and said, "Whose image is on the coin?" They said, "Caesar's." He said, "All right, then give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar; but give to God the things that belong to God," (cf, Matt 22:20, Mark 12:16-17, Luke 20:24-25). By this he clearly indicated that there are limits to the power of government. Caesar has his image on certain things; therefore they belong to him -- and rightfully so, Jesus is saying. What Caesar put his image on belongs to Caesar. By implication he extends this to the world of things.

Governments have authority over what we do with our property and how we behave with one another, but our Lord clearly indicates they have no right to touch what God has put his image on, which is the spirit of man. In other words, Caesar has no right to command the worship of man or forbid his obedience to the Word of God. Rulers are under God; therefore they have no right to command men to do what God says ought not to be done, or to command men not to do what God says should be done. These are the limits of governmental powers. Governments are not to enslave men, because men belong to God. Governments are not to oppress men, because men bear the image of God. What bears God's image must be given on to God, and not to Caesar -- just as what bears Caesar's image must be given to Caesar, and not necessarily to God. And so I think that though this passage doesn't deal at length with this, it indicates clearly that believers have a right to resist oppression and religious persecution by nonviolent means, as they have opportunity, but they are not to resist the legitimate functions of government. We are to accept government as a gift of God. The legitimate functions of government are further described for us in Verses 3 and 4, and also Verse 6:

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. (Rom 13:3 NIV)

Do you hear what Paul is saying? If you are driving down the freeway and want to be free from having to look constantly in your rear view mirror, then keep the speed down! The officer will pull you aside and say, "Sir, you were driving so beautifully that I just want to commend you." Well, no, he won't do that. He may wish he had time to, but he will just pass by and wave at you.

For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of justice to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13:4 NIV)

This is a very helpful passage, and it says that there are two basic functions of government. Governments are to protect us from evil. That is, they are to preserve the security of people. They are to protect us from attack from without and from crime from within. And for that purpose, governments properly have armies and police systems and courts of justice to preserve us from evil in our midst. And then in Verse 6 we have another function of government:

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. (Rom 13:6 NIV)

Notice that in these three verses Paul calls government agents "the servants of God" three times. The first two times, in Verses 3 and 4, he uses a word in Greek from which we get our word deacon. They are the deacons of God. I don't suggest that the next time you pay your taxes you call the person who takes your money a deacon. But Scripture calls these governing agents deacons, for they are servants of God. The next time you are called up in traffic court, you must look at the judge as a deacon of God. He is a servant. The point these verses make here is that these things exist as an arm of God's work among men. It is really the way God is doing things. Therefore, God is behind them.

This not only involves punishment of crime and wrongdoing, but also the commending of good. Governments are to honor those who live as good citizens. They offer rewards of various sorts for those who have a record of keeping the law. Occasionally you hear of such commendations or rewards.

Even the courts are set up to recognize the right motives of people. Not long ago I read about a man who was hauled into court because he had stolen a loaf of bread. When the judge investigated, he found out that the man had no job, his family was hungry, he had tried to get work but couldn't, tried to get funds for relief but couldn't, and so in order to feed his family he had stolen a loaf of bread. When the judge found out the circumstances, he said, "I'm sorry, but the law can make no exceptions. You stole, and therefore I have to punish you. I have to assess, therefore, a fine of ten dollars. But I want to pay the money myself." He reached into his pocket, pulled out a ten dollar bill, and handed it to the man. As soon as the man took the money, the judge said, "Now, I also want to remit the fine." That is, the man could keep the money. "Furthermore, I am going to instruct the bailiff to pass around a hat to everyone in this courtroom, and I am fining everybody in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a city where a man has to steal in order to have bread to eat." When the money was collected, he gave it to the defendant. That represents the good side of justice. A court that will, on occasion, recognize the right motives of people, even though there may be wrongdoing involved. That is a legitimate function of government. But the government also has the right to defend, to maintain an army and a police system and courts of law, and thus fulfill what the Constitution of the United States calls "to provide for the common defense, and insure domestic tranquility."

There is also the function mentioned in Verse 6: providing various services. Here the word that is used for "servants of God" is not the word deacon; it is priest, ministering priests. The idea here is that the government is not only to provide for our defense and security, but also to provide certain common services that we all need and to function as priests among us, helping us in our needs. Out of this grows the function of government in providing mail service, utilities (water, sewage), schools, relief agencies, and many other functions of government. Now these are all proper functions of government agencies.

In order to make these services possible, governments, by God's grace, have two powers given to them. This the Scriptures clearly teach: One, they have the power of using force. That is what is meant by "he bears not the sword for nothing." The sword is the symbol of the right to use force, even to the taking of life. I don't think there is any area today in which people are more confused and muddled in their thinking than in this area of the use of force by the government, even to the point of capital punishment. Right now the state of California is debating this once more. Amazingly enough, the people of the state have declared with a loud voice that they want capital punishment, even though some of our leaders do not. I respect the conscience of these leaders, but I think the Scriptures indicate that there is a place for capital punishment. What people need to understand is that when the state, acting in line with the judicial system, functioning as it was intended to function, finally passes sentence on an individual to yield his life for a certain crime, then that is really not a man taking a man's life. God is taking that life by means of the state. That is what we need to understand. God has the right to take human life. All through the Old Testament you find him doing that very thing. He has also the right to set up human channels for doing this. This is what is meant here. This means that governments have the basic right to maintain armies for their defense, and that people -- even Christians -- are to serve in them.

I know I am touching on matters that are hotly debated, and I haven't time to fully defend these statements at this point, although I am glad to do so in private conversations or at other times. But governments have the right to maintain armies, police forces, to take life in capital punishment for certain crimes -- all with the recognition that these powers can be abused and have been abused. There is no question about it. Citizens have every right to protest these abuses and to seek to correct them. But it is folly to try to eliminate the rightful uses of authority because some of them are being abused. What we need to do is to correct the abuses and not eliminate the things Scripture ordains. I am not going into that any further, but much more can be said on this subject.

The second power this passage says governments rightfully have from God to enable them to perform their function of protecting, securing, and providing various common services, is the power to collect taxes. Now you may not like the amount of taxes that your government collects, but you can't object to the principle of taxation. Taxes are right, and governments have taxed their citizens from time immemorial, and will continue to do so. The apostle makes clear that the government has the right to collect taxes, and Christians should pay them. The final position of the Christian is summed up in Verses 5 and 7. In Verse 5 we see the attitude we are to have:

Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (Rom 13:5 NIV)

This has to do with our attitude about taxes and arrests and judicial systems, etc. We are not to obey the law just because we are afraid we are going to get caught. We are not to keep to the speed limit just because there is a police car in sight. We are not to pay our incomes taxes just because we know the government now has tremendous computers that can review any number of records and might catch us. That is a factor, and many more people are honest about their taxes because of it, but that ought not to be the Christian's reason for being honest in paying his taxes. The Christian's reason is that it is the right thing to do before God. Your conscience ought to be clear. You ought to pay the taxes because that is what God says to do, and not what man says.

I am sure you heard of the man who wrote to the IRS and said, "A few years ago I cheated on my income taxes. My conscience has been troubling me, and I haven't been able to sleep. So I enclose a check for fifty dollars. If I still can't sleep, I'll send you the rest." No, conscience demands that we keep the record clear for God's sake, and not for man's. Then Verse 7 tells us what actual actions ought to follow:

Give everyone what you owe him; if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue [Revenue refers to those hidden taxes such as sales taxes, customs duties, etc.]; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Rom 13:7 NIV)

Here the apostle is dealing with our actual response to what these demands of government are. We haven't the right to withhold taxes if the government doesn't use them quite the way we think they should. Governments are made up of fallible men and women just like us, and we can't demand that the government always handle everything perfectly. Therefore what Paul wrote to these Romans, who had the same problems we have about taxes, was, "If you owe taxes, pay them." You know, I think the proof that God is behind all this is that this message comes the week before our income taxes are due and before property taxes are due. I didn't plan it that way, but that is the way it worked out. I don't get any refund on my income tax for preaching this kind of message either.

The point the apostle is making clearly is: Don't resent these powers of government. This is all set within the context of Paul's word in Chapter 12, "Be not conformed to this present age," (cf, Rom 12:2a). Don't act like everybody else acts about taxes. The world grumbles and gripes and groans at paying taxes. You have a right, of course, as does everyone, to protest injustice and to correct abuse. There is no question about that. But don't forever be grumbling about the taxes that you have to pay.

I have had to learn some lessons on this myself. I remember the first time I had to pay an income tax, a few years ago. My income had been so low for a long time that I didn't have to pay any taxes. But gradually it caught up and I finally had to pay. I can remember how I resented it. I really did! In fact, when I sent my tax form in I addressed it to "The Infernal Revenue Service." They never answered, although they did accept the money. The next year, I had improved my attitude a bit. I addressed it to "The Eternal Revenue Service." But I have repented from all those sins, and I now hope to pay my taxes cheerfully. The largest amount I have had to pay is due this year, but I want to send it off with thanksgiving to God for the government that we have -- bad as it is in many ways.

I don't hold up any defense for the gross injustices that prevail in our American system. But the very fact that we can meet this morning and don't have to hide behind closed doors, the very fact that we have relative freedom from attack when we walk about is due to the existence of a government that God has brought into being. I want to make every effort I can, as a good citizen, to improve it and to see that it does things better. But I just thank God for the privilege of paying my taxes. This is what the apostle is after. He wants us to have a different attitude than the world around us about these matters. We are not to come on with gimlet-eyed fanaticism, attacking the government and seeking to overthrow it because it doesn't behave quite as we think it ought. But rather, we are to understand that God has brought it into being, and he will change it if the hearts of the people of the land warrant that.

Somebody has well said, "Every nation gets the government it deserves." And so as we pay our taxes, let us do so cheerfully. Remember that the apostle says not only that we are to pay our taxes, but if we owe respect, we are to give that; if honor, give that. Never forget that the worst of governments are, nevertheless, better than anarchy, and serve certain functions which God himself has ordained. Therefore let us respond as Christians, with cheerfulness and gladness for what we can do under God, and let us do so in such an attitude that people will see that there is something different about us. Thus we commend ourselves to God and the people around. Thus endeth the reading of the lesson: Pay your taxes.

THE NIGHT IS NEARLY OVER

When Paul wrote this letter to the Romans in the capital city of the Roman Empire, surely love was the thing that was most lacking in that empire. These people, under the subjugation of a military machine and a cruel, relentless emperor, needed desperately to learn how to love and how to display love amidst the pressure and oppression of that day. This was what was needed in the city of Corinth, with all its immoral sexual practices and its abandonment to pleasure, the city from which Paul wrote the letter to the Romans. In the midst of seeking after merriment and pleasure the Corinthians needed to learn the gift of love. Love is what is needed in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, and Sunnyvale, all up and down the Peninsula, across the Bay, across the country, and around the world. The greatest need of men anywhere today is to learn the secret of how to love. Love would make a difference. Listen to what Paul says to these Romans in Chapter 13, Verses 8-10:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom 13:8-10 NIV)

Have you ever struggled to obey the Ten Commandments? Have you found it difficult to face up to obeying these demands that you shall not murder or lie or steal or commit adultery? Well, Paul says it is really easy. All you have to do is love. Act in love toward people and you won't hurt them. You can't. The solution to all the problems we struggle with is this one thing. Have you ever thought of what would happen in this world if people could be taught how to love -- and then they did it?

The first result that occurs to me is that all the impending divorces would be happily resolved. Couples ready to split up because love has left their marriage could go back together and learn how to work it out. It wouldn't automatically solve all their problems, but it would make possible their solution. And think what would happen if all the divorces that this country is facing today would suddenly cease to be, and homes and families would be secure. What a tremendous thing that would be in this country!

If we could teach people how to love we wouldn't fight in wars. We wouldn't have to worry about disarmament. We could send the atom bombs and nuclear explosives and missiles off into space somewhere and let them join the rest of the space garbage. What a remarkable thing that would be! Think of how much energy and money is being expended in keeping up this endless array of armaments simply because we can't trust people to love each other. That is the whole problem.

If we could love each other, there wouldn't be any more crime. The streets of San Francisco would be safe to walk once more, and in all the great cities of our land you would feel safe and secure -- if people would learn to love. Of course, if there weren't any crime, you wouldn't need any prisons. All the money we spend on prisons and reformatories could be spent on something more useful. And you wouldn't need any courts of law, or police -- except to regulate traffic a little bit now and then. We need all these things because we are so deprived in this ability to love. And think what would happen to our tax burden if we could get rid of all wars and crimes and police and courts! It would be reduced to practically nothing! All the wealth that is poured into taxes today could be used to spread beauty and harmony and sufficiency of living to everybody on earth. Our biggest problem is our lack of love, our inability to love one another. Everything we know in life revolves around that problem.

This passage is telling us that the ability to love -- that and nothing less than that -- is the radical force that Jesus Christ has turned loose in this world by his resurrection. Therefore it has the power to radically change the world. Notice what Paul says about this to these Roman Christians. He implies that this has to start with us. If we are Christians, if we know Jesus Christ, we have the power to love. There is no doubt about that. If you know him, then you have the power to love. You don't have to ask for it; you've got it. If you have Christ, you have the ability to act in love, even though you are tempted not to. That is the whole issue. Therefore, Paul says: When you come up against people, when you rub shoulders with them, remember that your first obligation is to love them.

Act in love. Show courtesy, kindness, patience, understanding, longsuffering -- whatever it takes, whatever the scene demands, you can show that. It is a debt you owe that person. That is the first thing Paul says: "Owe no man anything but to love one another." Paul says very plainly that we are to think of this as our obligation to everyone. I wonder what kind of radical things would start happening among us if we were to start living on this basis. Every day, every person we would meet, we would say to ourselves first, "I need to show some love to this person. No matter what else happens, I have an obligation to pay him that debt."

I have owed money to people in my life, and I have noticed that whenever I meet people I owe money to, that is the first thing that comes into my mind. I remember the debt that I owe them, and I wonder if that is what they are thinking about too. This is what Paul says we are to do about love. We are to remember that we have an obligation to every man -- to love him. The second thing Paul says is that this obligation is to everyone. This is designed for your neighbor. Who is your neighbor? You think immediately of the people who live on each side of you. They are your neighbors. Why? Because they live next door to you. They are in contact with you. When you hear the word neighbor you think of them. But you can see that it really includes everyone. The people sitting next to you now are your neighbors. And so are the people you meet in business, and in your shopping. Wherever you are, the people you make contact with are living right beside you and are your neighbors for that moment. The word to us is that, since we have the ability to love, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. The butcher, the baker, the cadillac maker -- it doesn't make any difference, they are your neighbors.

The third thing Paul says is that, when you love like this, you go beyond the Law. The Law says to you, "Don't injure your neighbor." You can do what you like with you own property, but it stops at your neighbor's line. You can't do what you like with his. If you do, you are answerable to the law. But you see, love goes a step beyond that. It doesn't stop with the negative, "Don't injure your neighbor"; it says, "Do good to your neighbor." Love him, reach out to him, minister to him, help him. It is simply impossible to help your neighbor and hurt him at the same time. It is impossible to reach out to your neighbor and, at the same time, injure him.

That is why, as Paul says, love will not sleep with your neighbor's wife or husband; love won't commit adultery. Love will not murder your neighbor, or poison his dog, or throw garbage over the fence into his back yard, or do anything harmful to him. Love will not steal from your neighbor, or even keep his lawn mower for more than a month. Love will not covet what is your neighbor's, it won't drool over his pool, or stew about his new Porsche. Love does not want what your neighbor has, but rejoices with him over what he has. That is love. Love, therefore, fulfills the Law. You don't have to worry about keeping the Ten Commandments; all you have to worry about is acting in love, paying the debt that you owe every man, every woman, every child, every person you meet. If you pay them the debt of love you will not injure them. Furthermore, Paul says (Verses 11-14):

And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of your sinful nature. (Rom 13:11-14 NIV)

The thing that strikes me about this paragraph is the opening words. Love your neighbor, Paul says, pay the debt you owe him, understanding the time. That is, there is something about the age in which we live which, if you understand it, will compel you, motivate you, drive you to love your neighbor. If you understand the times, you will be able to do this. There are three things Paul points out about the times.

First, he says it is time to get going: "The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here." It is time to wake up, time to get going, time to look around and see all the opportunities to love that abound around you. I am amazed to see how many times in my own life I pass over the opportunity to love. I am always looking for opportunities with other people out there, further away. And yet I am surrounded in my own family with opportunities to show love, even when it is difficult. It is to love the unlovely that Christians are called. I am always amazed by how easily people can want to help somebody further away and yet ignore the present needs right around them.

A couple brought some clothes down to the church one day to take to the Rescue Mission. The lady was very concerned about the poor people's need for proper clothing. But I noticed that her husband had to hold his pants up with a nail. It struck me as very strange that people can get so concerned about helping others when there is such an obvious need right at hand. But that's the way we are, isn't it? Paul is telling us to wake up and to look around, because every day holds opportunities for us to pay this debt. If we wake up we can begin to see them.

Now, we don't have a lot of time to do this. The time is short. As Paul puts it, "our salvation is nearer than when we first believed." That is, the deliverance to which we are looking, when Christ returns again, is nearer than when we first believed. No one can argue with that. The Christian message has been going for 1900 years -- but how much nearer we have grown to the time when Christ is coming back! There is no doubt about that. "The night is nearly over," Paul says, "the day is almost here." On one occasion Jesus said, "I must work the works of my Father while it is day. The night is coming, when no man can work," (cf, John 9:4). Jesus was aware of the urgency of the time, and the fact that he had to labor because the day was almost gone. On another occasion he said, "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world," (John 9:5 KJV). That is what created the day. When Jesus was present on earth, then it was daytime. But when he left us physically, when he was buried in the grave, the night came. That night has been running on now for 1900 years. As the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians, "We Christians are to be like lights shining in the darkness of the night," (cf, Phil 2:15). The night is all around us, but the day is about to come. The night is nearly over; the day is at hand.

You say, "Wait a minute. Paul wrote this letter 1900 years ago, and he said it was nearly over then. How can we say that it is nearly over now? How could it be nearly over then, when 1900 years have gone by?" When you look at it from that point of view, it is difficult to understand. But there is a sense here in which these words are always true of every one of us. I am sure this is the way the apostle meant them for himself. Regardless of whether or not this is the generation in which Jesus Christ returns to fulfill his promise, the truth is that the night is nearly over for every one of us.

I look out on this congregation and I see several gray heads. I have a few gray hairs myself. And, for us, the night is nearly over; the day is at hand. If we are ever going to love, it has to be now. We can't wait much longer.

But how about you young people, fresh and strong and filled with excitement and energy? I often think of the words of George Bernard Shaw, "Youth is such a wonderful thing, it's a shame to waste it on the young."

But let me ask you young people, "How much time have you got left?" Who knows? We live on the edge of eternity. The night may be nearly over for any one of us, no matter whether we are old or young. So the argument of the apostle is powerful. He is saying, "If you are going to love, now is the time to do it. Now! You can't wait for tomorrow. You can't plan on doing this after you graduate from school. Start now. Now you must begin to love one another. "The night is nearly over; the day is at hand."

The second thing we need to understand about time is that it is time to give up some things: "So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy." If you are going to live in love, then there are some things that are going to have to go. There are some things that are incompatible with love. You can't do these things and love at the same time. Facing that fact, there are some things that have to go, and Paul has three categories of them.

The first one is, "Don't live for endless pleasures. Give up orgies and drunkenness." That covers a whole spectrum of things and means, "Don't devote your life to endless good times, things that you plan over and over again for your own self-indulgence, an endless round of parties or plays or concerts, opera, or even watching television." You can't love and do that. You are wasting your life. You've got only so many precious moments to show this mighty power, this release, this radical power of love. If you spend your moments in endless self-indulgence, you will never be able to live in love.

Second, "Don't live for sex." Sex is a powerful force that is highly exploited today. We are constantly surrounded with silken and sensuous temptations to give ourselves to. A new love affair, a new romance, a new sexual liaison will satisfy us, please us, fulfill us. That is what we are after. And the world urges us on to try it. There is no harm in it, they tell us. Paul says there is. He says if you live for these things, you can't fulfill what God wants you to fulfill. You will miss the excitement and the radical glory of loving people. You can't love people and live for sex. Paul covers the whole range of immorality here -- fornication, adultery, homosexuality, pornography. You can't indulge in these things and love; you will hurt people. You will hurt yourself. You will destroy others and destroy yourself. This is so essential that in order to experience the glory of what God wants, you have to lay aside these cheapened, tawdry things. I like what C.S. Lewis says:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

This is what Paul calls us away from. The third category is this: "Don't live for strife, causing dissension and jealousy." Again, it is amazing to me how many people get kicks out of being the cause of dissension. They can't seem to enjoy themselves unless they get people fighting and upset and angry -- either with them or with one another. It is amazing how many Christians do this. I remember a word of Jesus which has always helped me very much when I am tempted along these lines. He said, "He that is with me gathers; but he that is against me scatters," (cf, Matt 12:30, Luke 11:23). There is a way to measure your life. What is your effect upon people? Do you harmonize them? Do you gather them together? Are they noticeably happier because you have come in? Or do strife, division, and separation immediately begin to break out because you are there? What is your life doing? That is the way you can tell whether you are with Jesus or against him. If you are with him, you gather people; if you are against him, you scatter them. So Paul says it is not only time to get going, and time to give up, but it is time to put on, above all else: "Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to satisfy the desires of your sinful nature."

When I got up this morning I put on my clothes. And so did you, I notice. I put on my clothes with the intention that they would be part of me all this day, that they would go where I go and do what I do. They will cover me and make me presentable to others. That is the purpose of clothes. In the same way, the apostle is saying to us, "Put on Jesus Christ when you get up in the morning. Make him a part of your life that day. Intend that he go with you everywhere you go, and that he act through you in everything you do. Call upon his resources. Live your life in Christ." That is the way to love.

Notice that Paul uses the full name of Christ, "the Lord Jesus Christ." I think he does this deliberately, because Lord stands for his power to rule, his authority, his power to change and alter events, and control history, "to open and no man shuts; to shut and no man opens," (cf, Rev 3:7). When you put on Jesus Christ, you are putting on a power to operate and change events and effect people that you don't have without him.

When you put on Jesus, you are putting on the capacity to love. Read the Gospels and you will find that the striking thing about Jesus of Nazareth was his ability to love. He would put his hand on a loathsome leper to heal him, even though the law forbade that. He would reach out to a lost woman or a drunkard and speak a healing word in their lives. He treated the lowly the same as he did the higher-ups. He loved people. Everywhere people were struck with him. When you put on Jesus, that is what you are putting on -- the capacity to love. When you put on Christ, you are putting on the power to deliver. Christ is the word for anointed; it means "Messiah". It refers to his work. Christ came to deliver us, to set us free. And when you put on Christ, you have an amazing power to free yourself and others from what they are going through.So put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Remind yourself of his presence all through the day. Reckon on his power to supply love when you begin to obey the command to love. When you start to pay the obligation, he will supply the power to do so. And, as Paul says, "Do not think about how to gratify the desires of your sinful nature." Stop doing that, planning for evil and self-indulgence. That always ends in strife and rivalry and jealousy and debauchery. But rather, learn to love by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ.

These words have forever been made famous by their connection with the conversion of Saint Augustine. Augustine was a young man in the 4th century who was what we would call a swinger. He lived a wild, carousing life, running around with evil companions, doing everything they were doing. He forbade himself nothing, went into anything and everything. And, as people still do today, he came to hate himself for it. One day he was with his friend in a garden, and he walked up and down, bemoaning his inability to change. "O, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow! How can I free myself from these terrible urges within me that drive me to the things that hurt me!" And in his despair, as he walked in the garden, he suddenly heard what he thought was the voice of a child -- perhaps some children were playing in the garden next door -- and the voice said, "Take and read, take and read." He could not remember any children's games with words like that, but the words stuck. He went back to the table and found lying on it a copy of Paul's letter to the Romans. He flipped it open, and these were the words he read:

Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies, and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,... (Rom 13:13-14a NIV)

Augustine said that at that moment he opened his life to Christ. He had known about him, but had never surrendered to him. But that moment he did, and he felt the healing touch from Christ cleansing his life. He was never the same man again. He went on to become one of the greatest Christians of all time -- Saint Augustine.

A couple of weeks ago Eldridge Cleaver was telling me about his days as a Black Panther. He said that while he was a Black Panther he was filled with a terrible, roiling feeling of hatred and violence against any law enforcement agency. He couldn't help himself. Every time he would get with them he would feel this terrible sense of anger and murder and rage within him. It made him the leader of the Black Panthers, the violent militants of the early '60s. But a year or so ago, in the south of France, in a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, he had a vision, an inner view, of the face of Jesus Christ, coming out of his boyhood to him. It drove him to reading the Scriptures. He read Psalm 23 over and over again. He said that ever since that time on the balcony, he had never had that feeling of hatred again. He has looked for it, and expected it, but instead there has been a feeling of love for everyone he meets.

Now, that is what Jesus Christ is capable of doing. He gives us all the power to love. If we but choose to exercise this power in the moment that needs it, we can release in this world this radical, radical force that has the power to change everything around us. It will change our homes, our lives, our communities, our nations, the world -- because a risen Lord is available to us, to live through us. I love J. B. Phillips' translation of this last verse:

Let us be Christ's men from head to foot, and give no chance to the flesh to have its fling. (Rom 13:14 J.B. Phillips)

That is the way to live. (From: http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/romans2/)


Saint Augustine's Text

Romans 13:12-14: "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature."

There are some verses in the Bible that immediately bring to mind some great Christian leader or hero of the faith, just because they are so closely associated with that person's life or testimony. Romans 1:17 is the best-known example, because it was used of God in the conversion of Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation: "The just shall live by faith" (KJV). But how about Matthew 28:20, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (I\JV)? That was the life verse of David Livingstone, the great pioneer missionary to central Africa. Or John Newton's text: 'Thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondsman in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee" (Deut. 15:15, I\JV)? Newton, the former "slave of slaves," regarded those words as a description of his early dissolute life and of God's deliverance of him from it.

There are so many of these verses, all linked to the conversion or life work of some great Christian leader, that earlier in this century an Australian pastor 1713 named Frank W. Boreham produced a series of books on them that proved immensely popular. Most bore as a subtitle the words: "Texts That Made History."

At the end of Romans 13, we arrive at three verses that make anyone who knows anything of church history think at once of Saint Augustine, the words God used in his conversion: "The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Rom. 13:12-14). How it came about is a fascinating story.

Augustine's Early life

Saint Augustine's first name was Aurelius, though he himself never used it--we know it only from those who wrote about him. Augustine was born on November 13, 354 A.D., of mixed pagan and Christian parentage--his mother was a Christian, his father was not--at Tagaste, a small provincial town in North Africa. His parents had great ambitions for him, though their desires differed greatly. His mother's name was Monnica, and the passion of her life was that her son might become a Christian. His father wanted him to have a superior liberal education and by this means eventually become a great and wealthy man. So Augustine was educated first in his hometown, then at the renowned but notoriously corrupt city of Carthage, also on the northern coast of Africa across from Sicily. Augustine was trained as a rhetorician, one who made his living by arguing cases of law or giving speeches. He was brilliant and was so successful that he later moved from Carthage to Rome, and eventually, in 384 A.D., from Rome to Milan, where he had been appointed government professor of rhetoric. This post gave him high social standing and brought him into contact with the most influential people in Italy, even members of the Roman court.

In 400 A.D., about fourteen years after his conversion, which took place in Milan in 386 A.D., Augustine published his Confessions. This was a book of thirteen relatively short chapters in which he tells of the grace of God in his early life and how God led him to faith in Jesus Christ.

On the very first page, Augustine wrote this sentence: "Thou hast formed us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee. " He meant that of everyone, of course, but it was especially true of himself and is therefore the major testimony of his life. Augustine tried everything the world had to offer, but he found it all empty. He was indeed restless until he came to rest in Christ.

1. His youthful pleasures. To many people one of the most fascinating parts of the Confessions is Augustine's description of his early life. Because of what he says, Augustine has been thought of as having lived a wild and wasteful life, being something of an abandoned libertine and a rake. But there are two things wrong with this way of thinking. First, he was not as depraved as we suppose. He was promiscuous, sleeping with many women at age sixteen, but by the age of seventeen he had formed a long-lasting relationship with a woman whom he did not marry-his parents did not want him to marry, supposing that marriage at an early age would be an obstacle to his career--and Augustine and this woman were faithful to each other until they were eventually forced apart to make way for a "proper" legal marriage some fourteen years later. Augustine wrote that while they were together he was faithful to her, and the Confessions contain a tragic passage describing his personal heart. break when they were forced apart.

The second thing wrong with thinking of Augustine as a great libertine is that it somehow makes him worse than we ourselves are. Augustine was no better but also not much worse than everyone else in his time, and the way he lived is all too common even today. We live in an age of similar sexual "liberation," and the pattern of Augustine's early years is duplicated today many millions of times over, even by Christian people. So we are no better. And while it is true that he confessed his sins openly, and we usually do not, his sins were only those of which many of us are also guilty.

But here is the point. With ruthless self-examination and logic this great saint--for such he became--explains that even in his indulgences his heart remained restless. For a time he indeed lived for fleshly pleasures. But he found that even surfeited with all the pleasures of the flesh "our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee."

2. His quest for philosophical truth. Augustine did not only have a strong sexual nature, however. He also had a strong and restless mind, and his Confessions tell how he journeyed from one popular philosophical system to another to try to discover truth. He was awakened to this pursuit by reading a book of Cicero's, since lost, called Hortensius. The great Latin writer had written it to encourage love for philosophy, and this was its immediate effect on Augustine. From this point on Augustine resolved to make truth his sole pursuit.

His strong mind led him into the philosophy of the Manichaeans, who were the rationalists of their age. They expressed a high reverence for Jesus Christ, but their religion was all naturalistic, or antisupernatural. They were critical of the Bible and had developed a way of looking at evil that relieved man of responsibility for personal sins or failures. This was appealing to a young man, as you can imagine. It bolstered Augustine's intellectual pride, allowed him to speak well of his mother's religion, excused his moral failings, and freed him to live in any manner he pleased.

Augustine drifted away from the Manichees at about the time he left North Africa for Rome. For a short while he was disillusioned and skeptical about everything, but he was then introduced to the Platonists, who sought for an immaterial reality, good, or truth behind the observable phenomena of life. This had a deep effect on Augustine since, up to this point, he had been unable to think of anything immaterial as real.

But even this was unsatisfactory. Augustine was on the way toward true faith and God, but he still had not found what he was seeking. In a wonderfully perceptive passage he compares the books of the Platonists with what he later found in Scripture:

I read, not indeed in the same words, but to the selfsame effect enforced by many and divers reasons, that, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made." ... But that "he came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." That I did not read there.

In like manner, I read there that God the Word was born not of flesh, nor of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God. But that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," I read not there. . . .

That before all times, and above all times, thy only-begotten Son remaineth unchangeably co-eternal with thee. . . is there. But that "in due time Christ died for the ungodly," and that "thou sparedst not thine only Son, but deliveredst him up for us all," is not there.

In other words, Augustine learned about the immaterial, unchangeable mind, or logos, of God from the Platonists. The Platonists had surmised many true things about God. But Augustine did not find the incarnation of Jesus Christ or the atonement in their writings. He did not find the gospel. Therefore, he did not find forgiveness for his sins, and his heart remained restless because it had not yet come to rest in God.

3. His fame. When Augustine arrived in Milan as government professor of rhetoric at the university, he was immediately launched into the highest and most influential circles of Italian society. His mother was brought over from Africa. The circle of his old intimates gathered around him. Wealthy and influential friends sought him out. He had achieved the fame he sought. But, as often happens when people finally find the thing they have been fervently seeking, Augustine discovered that the realization of his life goal was unsatisfying. In fact, this became the most miserable time of his life. He even became sick of a chest or lung infection, and it was doubtful whether he would be able to continue his career in oratory.

4. His exposure to religion. Augustine was always somewhat religious, and his religion was never very far from the true evangelical religion of his mother, which was Christianity. Augustine was skeptical, but he almost always believed in God, and in these early days he would probably have said that in one way or another he was always striving to know him.

When Augustine arrived in Milan he came under the influence of Ambrose, the bishop of that city. Ambrose was a man of towering intellect, massive learning, and great godliness. Moreover, he was an outstanding preacher. So Augustine, who loved the technical skills of good speaking, went to hear him. At first Augustine was interested only in his homiletical style. But Ambrose was really an expositor of the Bible and thus also an outstanding teacher of Christian doctrine. Almost in spite of himself, Augustine was led deeper into understanding what the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ was all about, though he had not yet come to a point at which he could commit himself to Jesus and become his disciple. He began to read the Bible.

Augustine was also introduced to the lives of several very prominent Christians. One was Victorinus, a rhetorician like Augustine. He made public profession of his faith in Rome, though he was then well known and his identification with Christ was costly. Augustine was likewise influenced by the story of Antony and the legendary monks of Egypt. Antony renounced the world for Christ. This moved Augustine, who loved the world, but he did not believe the gospel. Augustine understood much about Christianity. But his heart was restless, because he had not yet come to rest in Christ.

"Save Me, But Not Yet!"

Augustine wrote of these days, 'To thee, showing me on every side that what thou saidst was true, I, convicted by the truth, had nothing at all to reply, but the drawling and drowsy words: 'Presently, lo, presently'; 'Leave me a little while.' But 'presently, presently; had no present: and my 'leave me a little while' went on for a long while.'" He looked to his past and observed, "But I, miserable young man, supremely miserable even in the very outset of my youth, had entreated chastity of thee, and said, 'Grant me chastity and continency, but not yet.' For I was afraid lest thou shouldest hear me soon, and soon deliver me."

On one occasion he cried out to his good friend Alypius, "What is wrong with us? . . . The unlearned start up and 'take' heaven, but we, with our learning, but wanting heart, see where we wallow in flesh and blood! Because others have preceded us, are we ashamed to follow, and not rather ashamed at not following?'"

The Scene in the Garden

At last there came the well-known scene in the garden of a friend's estate near Milan, where Augustine was converted. He and Alypius had been reading the Bible together, but Augustine became so distressed at his own lack of spiritual resolution that he withdrew to a distant part of the garden so he could give vent to his emotion and Alypius would not see his tears. These are Augustine's words:

I flung myself down, how, I know not, under a certain fig-tree, giving free course to my tears. . . . And, no, indeed in these words, yet to this effect, spake I much unto thee-- "But thou, O Lord, how long?" "How long, Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? O, remember not against us former iniquities"; for I felt that I was enthralled by them. . . . 'Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end of my uncleanness?"

I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighboring house, chanting, and oft repeating, "Take up and read; take up and read." Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in whilst the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him: "Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." And by such oracle was he forthwith converted unto thee.

So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell,-- "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof." No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended--by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart--all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

Alypius was converted himself at this time, and both of them went to tell Augustine's mother, Monnica, who had been praying for her son for years and now rejoiced and praised God for his conversion. It was not long after this that Monnica died, as she and Augustine were on their way back to North Africa, where Augustine eventually became a presbyter and then Bishop of Hippo Regius, serving the Lord there for more than forty years until his death on August 28, 430 A.D., at the age of seventy-six.

Augustine's Later Life

It is hard to overestimate the importance of Augustine's contribution to Christian theology and the church. Hippo was a second rate diocese, having no special prominence in itself. Besides, it was overrun by the Vandals at the very time Augustine was dying, and the bishopric, the school, and the clergy that Augustine had established and trained were all either widely scattered or destroyed. Nevertheless, Augustine's influence lived on, perhaps more than any other non biblical figure, through his writings. They gave form to the best of the church's life during the Middle Ages and were in a sense the true foundation of the Holy Roman Empire.

Adolf Harnack was no conservative theologian, but he called Augustine the greatest man whom, "between Paul the Apostle and Luther the Reformer, the Christian Church has possessed."

After his conversion Augustine produced many polemical works against the Manichaeans, Donatists, and Pelagians, interspersed with Bible expositions and theological studies. He is best known for four works that aptly crown the whole: (1) The Confessions, written about 400 A.D.; (2) On Christian Doctrine, written from 397-426; (3) On the Holy Trinity, written from 395-420; and (4) The City of God, written from 413-426. The fourth volume was the first attempt by any Christian writer to produce a philosophy of history, and it has become an acknowledged classic. In it Augustine describes two rival cities or societies ". . . formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. " It is a masterful way of analyzing history.

Don't Put Off Putting On!

Romans 13:13-14 was not only God's means of leading Saint Augustine to faith in Christ, it was also a summary of his life. Verse 13 describes what he was. Verse 14 describes what he became. The passage from the first condition to the second is what the Bible urges upon everyone. These two verses are best known for effecting the conversion of Saint Augustine. But if we think about them for a moment, it is evident that they are not in the first instance written to unbelievers to urge them to become Christians at all. This part of Romans, beginning with the first verse of chapter 12, is written to Christians to explain how they are to live. It really means that we who profess Christ are to live godly lives.

But God uses his Word in unexpected ways, and it is impossible to imagine any passage of the Bible that could not be used by God sometime for the conversion of someone. Is that how God has been using these verses in your life? Has he been using Romans 13:13-14 to move you from sinful self-indulgence, a pursuit of wealth and fame, or even religion, to faith in Jesus Christ? If God has been doing that with you, let me say clearly that now is the time to commit yourself to him. Do not say, "Presently, presently" or "In a little while." The present is now. This is the only perfect time to "clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ" and become a Christian. (James M. Boice, Romans, Vol. 4)


The Secret Government of Earth

I have entitled this message, The Secret Government of Earth, because that is what the church really is. It is God's secret community, spread throughout the earth at every level of society, designed to bring to bear powerful forces to control the affairs and events of men, in line with God's purposes, and thus to bring about things in the affairs of earth that would never otherwise happen. Do you think of yourself that way, as part of the secret government of earth?

What an honor when a man is appointed by the President to go to Washington and have a part in the government of earth. Yet, in a sense, that is but a puppet government. All earthly governments are puppets, subject to powers behind the scene. But a church prayer meeting can be a far more effective force to bring about peace and order in a community or a nation than a meeting of the leaders of the Pentagon, or of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That is the revelation of the Scripture.

If we do not utilize this amazing power, we are like soldiers attacking a strong fortress who have a powerful cannon available to them that could knock down the doors of the fortress, but they never use it. Instead, they keep peppering away at the walls with popguns. That is the church that does not utilize this powerful force of prayer. My challenge to you in 1969 is to pray. Concentrate on the Bay Area and make this Bay Area, under God, an island of peace in the midst of a sea of violence, as a testimony to the power of God to control violence among men (http://www.pbc.org/dp/stedman/battle/0291.html)

Contemporary views of the church today are anything but complimentary. One of the nicer things said about the church is that it is irrelevant as far as saying anything to today's world is concerned. There are many who look upon the church as nothing but a collection of religious creeps who are colorless, sterile, and dull, and who come to church only to sit with blank stares on their faces. They have no life to them at all. They remind me of the remark by the pagan philosopher, Nietzsche: "If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, then you'll have to look a lot more redeemed." Others think of the church as a group of religious bureaucrats who are forever issuing pronouncements to which no one pays any attention.

Some think of it as a group of plastic hypocrites who are forever trying to play waterboy to the game of life; whenever real issues are faced the church is there to say, "Me too." Some view the church as a group of "good time Charlies" who never have a serious thought and are little concerned about life. They do not care enough even to get their hands dirty. I know a former hippie (now a Christian) who resisted accepting Jesus Christ for years because he thought he also had to buy Pat Boone.

In all honesty, we do have to admit that the church has often been guilty of these things. There is much justification for these charges. But they are true only because the church so easily forgets what it really is. When the church acts as what it really is then it is not like these distorted views at all. The church, operating as it was intended to operate, is the most important body of people in any age -- far above and beyond anything else. It is actually the secret government of earth. It radically alters the status quo wherever it is found. As Paul the apostle says, it is "the pillar and the ground of the truth" {1 Tim 3:15 KJV}, i.e., the source and support of all realistic knowledge of life. That is what the church is supposed to be. (http://www.pbc.org/dp/stedman/acts/0412.html)

Invisible and visible governments

Do we truly realize the power that is available to us? Do we have any concept of the power Jesus intended for His church to wield in this dark and dangerous world? Or has our vision of the church become so dimmed that the word "church" suggests to us only a building on the corner where we go once a week to sing hymns and hear sermons?

The church, as God designed it and as the Bible describes it, is an amazing, dynamic, world-changing force. It is, in fact, a kind of invisible government, influencing and moving the visible governments of the earth. Because of the powerful influence of the church, the people of this planet are able to experience the benefits of social stability, law and order, justice and peace. Yes, the world is troubled and in turmoil--but we haven't seen even a fraction of one percent of the tribulation, tyranny, anarchy, and slaughter that would take place if the church were suddenly taken out of this world! (See Matt. 5:13,14; Phil. 2:14,15; 1 Tim. 2:1,2.)

Whenever the church has followed the biblical pattern and become more of what God designed it to be, righteous conditions have spread throughout society. When the church has abandoned this divine pattern, relying on worldly power, becoming proud, rich and tyrannical, then it has become weak and despised--and terrible forces of evil have been unleashed in the world.

"When all else fails, follow directions!" says the popular slogan. God has given us a set of directions for building a powerful, functional, dynamically effective church. In this book, we will open the Scriptures and examine God's directions for the church--which, as it turns out, are also God's directions for building a rewarding, effective, dynamic life. It is through the koinonia--fellowship of the church that we truly become all God intended us to be.

We find God's truth and instructions about His church throughout the New Testament, and especially in the writings of the apostle Paul--his letters are, after all, written specifically to individual churches and to church leaders, such as Timothy and Titus. Paul's masterpiece of the church is his letter to the Ephesians, which deals almost exclusively with the origin, nature, and function of the church, and its essential relationship to the Lord. So it is to this letter that we now turn, and especially to the first sixteen verses of chapter 4. There we will find our guideline to God's truth about the life of the body of Christ, the church. (http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/bodylife/body01.html) Selected from Ray Stedman's sermons. See his web site for much more, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/