There’s a lot of confusion in today’s world about authority. Do parents have authority over their children or does the State? Do local communities have authority over their schools or does the federal government? Does the Constitution have the ultimate legal authority in the U.S.A. or is our legal authority in the hands of judicial activists who overturn any law they don’t happen to like?
The growing secular view that the God of the Bible is irrelevant or inappropriate for general public discourse has removed the Christian faith from its former position of authority in society. When Christians argue from Scripture that issues such as abortion, evolution or gay marriage are wrong, non-believers reject the authority of the Bible. At the very least, they see it as made-up fairy tales; at worst, hate literature.
Even some self-professed Christians, who never bothered to study the Bible themselves, but rather take someone else’s word for what it teaches, have rejected Scripture as authoritative for their beliefs. They prefer to pick and choose what verses they want to believe in and ignore the rest, based on the ignorant assumption that the Bible can mean whatever one wants it to mean. But cherry-picking the “suitable” parts of the Bible effectively denies the authority of Scripture by requiring human editing.
All authority in heaven and earth have been given to me. — Jesus
Jesus also said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [Scripture]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law [Torah] until everything is accomplished.” The word “everything” is all-inclusive. Since “everything” has NOT been accomplished yet, God’s word is still in force.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. — Jesus
I would encourage all Bible believers to remember who is in authority over you. The authority that government has over you is limited to the degree that it truly represents God’s will. Oppressive government is not ordained by God and no one has a duty or obligation to submit to any abusive authority. (See Romans 13, The True Meaning of
Submission by Timothy and Chuck Baldwin.)
Some believers mistakenly think that Romans 13:1 commands us to submit to any government authority, regardless of its oppression or lack of justice. This is plainly wrong, as the Baldwins have exhaustively explained. The fact that governments’ authority is ordained by God does not justify the abuse of those under that authority. There have always been unjust leaders who have no right to hold a position of authority over others. One such example is the “contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given” (ESV) in Daniel 11:21. Many other examples from the Bible are the Kings of Israel and Judah who “did evil”. God never ordains injustice or evil-doing.
When it comes to understanding authority, you cannot do better than to read and study the Bible for yourself. The more you do, the more intimate your understanding will be of God’s authority and our accountability to him. It is reasonable to assume that non-believers will reject the authority of Scripture in their lives, but I cannot understand why any Christian would choose to remain ignorant and leave their Bible to sit and collect dust. Faith is a life or death proposition. Are you willing to leave it all in the hands of the clergy or church tradition?
Test everything and hold on to that which is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
Lately, I’ve been reading through the book of Psalms, a tremendous source of inspiration. Most Christians are familiar with psalms, as many of them have been put to music and sung as church hymns and choruses. For this reason, some may have the impression that all the Psalms are either pastoral, as in psalm 23, or for praise and thanksgiving, as in psalm 100. But, the Psalms go deeper and wider than that, as is the case for all of Scripture.
Another major theme found in the Psalms of David concerns warfare and having victory over one’s enemies. When I was young and naive, I didn’t “get” these psalms because I didn’t relate to David’s situation. Unlike him, I didn’t think I had any enemies. In fact, the very concept of being in a situation where I had to fight a real enemy was foreign to my way of thinking. It was no more than fantasy to me; no more than an imagined adventure. It took a bit of growing up for me to learn that I, indeed, did have enemies.
Unless I’m mistaken, many Christians today remain in denial that they too, have enemies, with whom they will, eventually have to contend. That’s just reality. To think you have no enemies is to live in a make-believe world. Someday when you least expect it, an enemy will attack. When that happens, life-long denials will leave you vulnerable and unprepared.
Some will say the psalms of David that deal with enemies apply specifically to him, not to the reader; that we are to learn from them as examples of wisdom without having to relate to the circumstances of a military leader or ruler. Such a rationale leans on the false assumption that only those who are combative or in positions of authority have enemies. So, some conclude that if they aren’t pushy, if they go along to get along, they won’t have any enemies. They point to verses like,
The meek shall inherit the earth. (Psalm 37:11; see also Matthew 5:5).
Others will say this verse is telling us to be non-violent; that while we may have enemies, we are to meekly avoid conflict, thus demonstrating our morally superior nature, even if we become victims. This actually is a Hindu philosophy that Gandhi applied to his political movement in India. But Psalm 37:11 means something entirely different. Psalm 37 is considered a “wisdom psalm”, one of the psalms written in the style of wisdom literature. It offers wise counsel to everyone.
Take a moment to read Psalm 37, then examine it more closely in order to grasp the meaning of, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” First off, the Hebrew word translated as earth (eretz) was always understood by Jews to mean the land — the Promised Land (geographical Israel, as differentiated from the people, Israel). Psalm 37 was written for Jews who inhabited the land and lived under the threat of wicked men. (The idea that the meek shall inherit planet earth is totally unsupported by the text.)
Secondly, basic hermeneutics (the proper interpretation of text) instructs us to understand a word in context to its sentence, a sentence in context to its paragraph, a paragraph in context to its chapter, and so forth. Citing the verse, “The meek shall inherit the earth” without regard to its context, creates an opportunity for any number of misunderstandings.
The idea of inheriting the land not only appears in verse 11, but is a major theme of the psalm. Quoting from the Complete Jewish Bible, verse 3 says, “Trust in Adonai [the LORD] and do good; settle in the land, and feed on faithfulness.” Verse 18 says, “Adonai knows what the wholehearted suffer, but their inheritance lasts forever.” Verse 22 says, “For those blessed by [Adonai] will inherit the land,”. Verse 29 says, “The righteous will inherit the land”.
Meek is just one of several words used in describing those who will inherit the land. Remember, the Psalms are poetry. Word meanings are used poetically. The same Hebrew word used for meekness is also used for humility in Psalm 45:4, where the awesome majesty and splendor of the warrior Messiah contrasts with the “humble” things he champions: truth, humility and righteousness.
When we look at the entire Psalm 37, we see that meek is used to contrast with “evil-doers” who prosper by wicked, unjust and illegal means. Other words describing those who will inherit the land are patient, righteous, wholehearted, blessed by God, pure, upright and peaceful. Taken together, these qualities paint a picture of God-fearing, law-biding good neighbors who constitute righteous communities and a righteous nation.
These qualities are not just the personal qualities of individuals, but they reflect society at large. And as such, they should be taken in the social context. A righteous community reflects the stable nature of relationships, built on reciprocal or mutual righteousness. Community righteousness is a shared social quality. It only takes one bad neighbor to threaten the stability of a neighborhood. That is why we need Godly laws and law enforcement which sometimes must use force to ensure that we may all live in “meekness”.
But what happens when decent laws are no longer enforced, replaced by new laws that go easy on offensive behavior? What happens when our leaders give credence to evil-doers and water down the Bible’s time-tested standards of truth, humility and righteousness? What happens when unrighteousness is given equal standing with righteousness; when justice is abandoned and virtue is perverted? Are we to accept as inevitable that a righteous nation, by its very character must meekly bow down to the will of an oppressive authority?
Is being “meek” in order to get along what the LORD wants of Christians? Are we not commanded to fight “the good fight”? And is that good fight simply our own private struggle against sin, or does it involve something bigger?
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:2)
There should be “many witnesses” to the eternal life to which we were called, and we shouldn’t be content with just the witnesses who assembled in church the day we made our confession of faith. There are plenty more potential witnesses in the world. The good fight of our faith takes us outside of ourselves and into that world.
Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
When Jesus said that, he took us by the shoulders and gently pushed us in the direction of those around us, to become living examples of his truth, to speak his truth to others and take a stand for his authority. That’s what the good fight is.
In order to be a positive influence for the Lord, we must not withdraw from public debate or the political process. The truth must be heard, not from a few leaders but from the armies of believers. Yes, as the song says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.” But as long as we are in this world, we should be impacting it for Christ. The “good fight” isn’t a Jihad. It’s a spiritual fight and it’s all about authority. Who has the authority in your life?
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)