I can still remember the feeling that I had when I was a boy upon entering the church’s worship auditorium and seeing the table positioned before the pulpit draped with a white cloth. Immediately, I knew the service was going to be longer on that day. I would sigh inwardly because I knew that it would take longer for me to get home where I could engage in the fun things that I wanted to occupy my time.
Today, when I walk into that very same room and see the prepared table, I feel completely different about it. I’m both excited with anticipation of what that table means—as well as anxious regarding the responsibility as a pastor to properly fence the table and present the gospel of Jesus to the church.
When we read 1 Corinthians 11 and see Paul admonish the church in Corinth regarding their abuse of the Lord’s Supper, we should not read over it too quickly as if it’s not possible to be guilty of the body and blood of our Lord. It would serve as a great spiritual blessing to us personally and to the church corporately if we properly prepared ourselves for the receiving of the Lord’s Supper.
Preparation Prior to Sunday
On a practical level, if your church observes the Lord’s Supper once per month, it would do you well to prepare the week prior in prayer and consideration of the importance, goals, and worshipful purpose of the observance. That would mean that Saturday evening you are thinking about it and praying about it in a more intense way than you would normally pray for your church service—unless you’re receiving the Lord’s Supper weekly.
Such preparation enables you to properly examine yourself leading up to the Lord’s Day. It enables you to focus on sin in your life and hindrances to church unity in a way that might not be attainable in a few minutes prior to the elements being distributed from the front of the room.
Such a focus on preparing before the Lord’s Day sets in our minds and the minds of our entire family the solemnity of the Lord’s Supper. It drives that point home which elevates the Lord’s Day worship and the observance of this solemn feast far above how we prepare ourselves for a family vacation, recreational sport, or any other cultural gathering. At the end of the day, it causes our church to understand that the Lord’s Supper matters.
Preparation Prior to Receiving the Lord’s Supper
As we enter the room and see the priority of emphasis placed upon the Lord’s Supper table—it should be directly connected with the preparation we have set forth in our hearts and minds all week—culminating in that moment upon entrance into the room.
As the pastor properly fences the table—explaining the purpose of the Lord’s Supper and giving clear directions for those who are welcomed to the participate with the church in the observance as well as explaining who is not invited to participate—this is the moment where we are to once again examine ourselves both on a vertical level and horizontal level. Is there any sin that is hindering our worship and service of God in our lives? Is there any sin that is dividing our church or hindering the flourishing of relationships in our hearts and minds? As the pastor properly leads us to bow in prayer—rather than baring ourselves from the Lord’s Supper—we are to engage properly in self-examination and then draw near to God and actually partake of the meal as Christ has directed us.
Notice the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:
1 Corinthians 11:28–34 – Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.  So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
In verse 28, Paul commands the church to examine themselves, but then he states, “and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Notice that he doesn’t encourage self-baring from the Lord’s Supper. We are to eat and drink after having properly examined and repented.
The word translated examine is the Greek term, “δοκιμάζω” carrying the meaning “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine.”  It was George Swinnock who wrote the following about the examination of oneself prior to the Lord’s Supper:
The days of mourning for the death of my dear Savior and everlasting Father are come, and now I will slay my most beloved lusts; now will I be revenged of them for their endeavour to rob me of my spiritual birthright, to wrong me of my eternal blessing. 
In the examination process, we should look at our lives vertically, horizontally, internally, and externally.
- In a vertical manner, we examine our relationship with God. Are we in real intimate communion with Him or do we see a separation due to sin (James 4:8)?
- In our horizontal examination, do we find any division between us and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Ephesians 4:32)?
- In our internal examination, do we find unconfessed sins, idols of the heart, or private sins that we keep hidden from the public (1 Corinthians 11:28; 1 John 2:15)?
- In our external examination, do we find anything that’s preventing us from engaging with our church to reach the neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20)?
In a special way, Christ dwells with his people and is honored through the observance of the Lord’s Supper. As followers of Christ and children of the most high King, we should leave the worship of Christ around the Lord’s Table with hearts of joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving—but also with a heart of anticipation for Jesus’ return.
People who are living in sin do not long for the return of Jesus because they don’t long for the day of reckoning and judgment. They don’t have a heart of joyful anticipation based on their sinful state. When we leave the Lord’s Supper, we should anticipate and long for his return like never before.
When that happens, and it should, you will know that you have properly prepared yourself to worship Christ at the Lord’s Supper and the work of grace has had a good effect in your heart and mind. Consider the words of James Montgomery Boice:
At the heart of the present significance of the Lord’s Supper is our communion or fellowship with Christ, hence the term “communion service.” In coming to this service the believer comes to meet with Christ and have fellowship with Him at His invitation. The examination takes place because it would be hypocrisy for us to pretend that we are in communion with the Holy One while actually cherishing known sin in our hearts. 
- William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 255.
- George Swinnock, The Works of George Swinnock, M.A., Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1868), 190.
- James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith-Book I,(Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 603.
All through the Scriptures we see shepherding analogies. We find the relationship between God and his people described in such terms. As it pertains to the church, the people of God are called God’s flock. It is Christ who is described as the good Shepherd who actually lays down his life for the sheep.
Building on this analogy, pastors are called to shepherd God’s flock. The office of elder in the local church is a spiritual leadership office designed to shepherd souls by faithfully leading and overseeing them through God’s Word. God’s people, like sheep in the field, need faithful shepherds to lead and guide them.
So, what about the pastor’s preaching? Should it be funny? Is the pastor to be looking for the ultra-relevant sermon style in order to connect with his modern audience? Is it his job to entertain people—causing them to leave feeling good each week as they have been presented with a helpful moralistic speech filled with relevant stories for application? Actually, none of these approaches to the pulpit accomplish what God has in mind for the church of Jesus. God’s will is for preaching to have an authoritative tone.
In Titus 2:15, we find these words from the apostle Paul to Titus:
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Authoritative Preaching Defined
We live in a world filled with privacy fences. People in our culture enjoy a rugged individualistic approach to life—especially in the American culture where I live. Many people are resistant to authority and do not appreciate other people speaking into their lives. Yet, God knows the human heart and the propensity to sin far better than the most skilled theologian. That’s why he designed preaching to be authoritative.
The word translated authority in Titus 2:15 is the Greek term, “ἐπιταγή” which has in mind an authoritative directive, command, order, or injunction. Out of the seven times this term is used in the NT, it’s translated “command” or “commandment” six of the seven times. Only here in Titus 2:15 do we see it rendered as authority. The idea is that the pastor should be preaching with a commanding authority.
This term is connected to another Greek term which is common in the NT—“ὑποτάσσω” which is often translated “submit.” It’s often used in connection to wives being subject to their own husbands or the church of Jesus submitting to Christ.
All true biblical preaching is authoritative. When the crowds heard Jesus’ preaching—they were astonished. He preached as one who had authority (Matt. 7:28-29). You cannot preach the Bible without preaching with authority. This is why Paul does not permit women to teach or preach in the context of the church because she would be exercising authority over a man which is a violation of God’s design for the hierarchical structure of authority in the life of the local church (see 1 Tim. 2:12).
Authoritative preaching is not centered on the office of the pastor. The pastor does not have any ecclesiastical authority due to his position. The Roman Catholic Church has made this error throughout history. They have developed an ecclesiastical power system that includes the papacy and papal Infallibility among many other structural power grabs. This is not the authority that God has in mind when it comes to his church.
There have been many other grievous errors as it pertains to authority within evangelicalism. One common approach is visible within the charismatic circles where personal authority is built by a person claiming to have direct communication with God. For instance, when someone claims to receive direct revelation from God their popularity soars and people want to hear what they have to say on social media, in books, or in conference settings. Why? It’s directly connected to a perceived authority—due to the mysterious channel of communication that the person has with God. This is certainly not what God has in mind when it comes to authority.
Another error that we see often in evangelical circles is the heavy handed dictatorial leadership that is very prevalent within legalistic circles. The pastor serves as the CEO of the church where he commands, directs, and demands obedience out of the entire church—often majoring on cultural additives rather than the Word of God. This is extremely common within the KJV Only circles. This is not the form of authority that God designed for the church and for pastors.
To be clear, the authority of a pastor begins and ends with the Scriptures. If a pastor is merely commanding people to obey him and his ideas apart from chapter and verse of holy Scripture—he is guilty of overreach. The faithful pastor commands and thunders “Thus says the Lord”—expecting that people will hear the Word of God and obey. Listen to Paul’s commendation of the church in Thessalonica as he writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:13:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
As the Word of God is proclaimed, the pastor serves as a herald who announces to the people a message from the King, and the people are to receive it as a message from the King rather than a message from the herald. Just as a herald’s message was to be received as if the king himself were present delivering the message—so the church should receive the faithful preaching of God’s Word as if Jesus himself is standing in the pulpit preaching.
Authoritative Preaching Is Positive and Negative
Paul directs Titus to exhort and rebuke the people. This involves both positive and negative aspects of preaching. The pastor is to encourage as he calls people alongside him and seeks to lift them up and comfort them in the faith. He is likewise to engage in rebuke in order to lead them away from sin and toward holiness.
The trend of our culture today is positivity. Everyone wants to be nice and positive. Any negativity is viewed as culturally unacceptable—unless it’s a major political season and then the gloves come off. When it comes to preaching, within the local church setting, many people are looking for a really nice guy to give really nice speeches about really helpful morality without being negative. That is simply not biblical preaching. Sheep wander off and walk straight toward predators. Sheep have a tendency to walk away from good water and good food into desolate, dry, and dangerous land. Sheep need to be rebuked.
That’s why Paul instructed Titus to rebuke the church. That’s likewise why Paul instructed Timothy to rebuke the church in his preaching (see 2 Tim. 4:1-5). The Greek term translated rebuke is “ἐλέγχω” which has in mind the idea of bringing a person to the point of recognizing wrongdoing. The focus is upon convicting or convincing someone of wrongdoing. That is the role of a pastor.
Faithful preaching involves commanding with authority from God’s Word in such a way that both encourages and rebukes as is necessary for everyone in the church.
Authoritative Preaching Demands Obedience
Paul gave Titus a clear command regarding his preaching ministry on the island of Crete—“Let no one disregard you.” The island of Crete was filled with lawless rebels and raging heretics who were teaching a works based salvation by circumcision. Both of these groups of people were impacting the churches on the island of Crete.
As the rogue mentality of lawlessness made its way into the church, it would be very common to have people who resist bold authoritative preaching. It would not be uncommon at all to have people who wanted to reject the pastor’s preaching based on their own private interpretations. That’s why Paul commanded Titus to be persistent in his preaching ministry.
The term used by Paul which is translated disregard is unique. It’s the Greek term, “περιφρονέω” which means to have disdain for, disregard, look down on, despise, or to evade. This is a compound Greek term. Phroneō means “to think,” while peri means “around.” The point Paul is driving home to Titus is that he must not allow people in the church to “think around” him as he preaches the Word and shepherds souls.
It’s common to have people rationalize their sin based on what they believe or what they have always heard. Paul’s charge to Titus was that they were not to be allowed to avoid or evade the clear teaching of Scripture. Titus was to be persistent in his preaching and he was to disciple the other pastors on the island to Crete to do the same thing in their approach to the pulpit.
Think about God’s design of authority and his calling of pastors to preach and teach holy Scripture in the life of the local church. Shallow preaching that avoids a tone of authority and seeks to please people will be disastrous for the health and vitality of the church.
It was Martin Luther who once said, “Always preach in such a way that if the people listening do not come to hate their sin, they will instead hate you.”
One of the greatest challenges for the church through the season of social distancing has been the need to maintain and cultivate Christian fellowship. We have been told to isolate into our personal bubbles and to forsake assembly as much as possible through this pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control have encouraged social distancing practices from the beginning in order to flatten the curve.
If local churches are not intentional—this season of social distancing will flatten far more than a COVID-19 curve.
The Call to Assemble and Fellowship
The basic component of the local church is our visible identification with Christ in a public manner. Our conversion is something that happens internally as a work of the Holy Spirit. Our repentance may or may not be visibly seen at the moment when we call out to God. However, our profession of faith in Jesus Christ and the subsequent reality of our conversion is very much a public event at our baptism (Acts 2:38). Following our baptism, we are called to assemble together on a normative basis as the Christians gather in local churches for the purpose of worshipping and serving our Lord (Acts 2:42-47; Heb. 10:24-25).
The early church prioritized Christian fellowship in a way that is almost embarrassing to the modern local church. In short, there should be a clear difference between the friendship that is developed at the local ball field and the friendship that is developed in a small group Bible study in the local church. A friend that you fellowship with in Sunday school on Sunday mornings should have a deeper and more solid connection than your friend at your place of employment.
Social distancing is antithetical to the calling of the local church to assemble. Limitations on personal interactions and fellowship is a true hindrance to the God ordained functionality of the local church. We must beware of the damage that a pandemic can do to a local church family. We must see the threats of politicizing a pandemic and how that will have a massive impact upon the health and strength of the local church. We can do without restaurants and college football, but we cannot do without the local church.
The Threats of Social Distancing
With all of the talk of flattening a growth curve of the pandemic, many Christians have likewise flattened the growth curve of their local church. No, I’m not just focused on the numerical growth curve of membership. I’m referencing the growth curve of friendships that occur through the bond of Christ as well as Titus 2 discipleship opportunities.
Friendships take time to grow. The strongest and most valuable solid Christian friendships are cultivated over long periods of time where trust is earned and much of the development of such friendships occurs through service and worship opportunities within the life of the local church. While deep conversations over a good cup of coffee help—it’s the normal ebb and flow of serving together, worshipping together, and breaking bread together that serve as the bedrock foundation to genuine Christian fellowship. This doesn’t happen during a season of social distancing.
Social distancing threatens the unity of a local church. With more than five months apart, the members of the local church have navigated the pandemic differently. Some have taken in far less information from the media than others who are watching every news report and news briefing on a weekly basis. Just as our world is divided on many different political issues, the pandemic has created new dividing points regarding data on masks and other vaccine related controversies.
Add to the COVID-19 politics the ethnic division surrounding George Floyd and opportunities for division drastically increase. Unless the pastors and members are very intentional about maintaining the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3), the cultural controversies can sweep right into the church and create massive dividing points.
What does maintaining the unity of the Spirit look like during a season of social distancing? How do pastors shepherd people when they aren’t assembling? How do members love one another and work out differences through pixels on a screen? All of this requires great sensitivity and intentionality in demonstrating love toward one another.
Personal Responsibility of Membership
It doesn’t matter if you are a member of a local church that does not have a specific church covenant that is recited every time you gather for the Lord’s Supper or if you have no official church covenant that makes up your governing documents. In either case—as a member of a local church, but the very nature of church membership, you are in a covenant with one another that is established by Christ.
We live in a day where there is a prevailing low view of church membership. People join local churches flippantly and then “transfer” their membership to another church down the road if they have something more attractive to offer their family. The idea of consumerism has replaced the covenant in the membership of the local church.
As membership who covenant together—we have a responsibility to engage in the life of the church. What does this look like during a season of social distancing? Regardless of the size of the church, both members and pastors have a responsibility to connect with the church family during this pandemic season.
Intentional Connection Opportunities:
- Physical Letters
- Phone Calls
- Text Messages
- Private Gatherings (unofficial church gatherings)
Some individuals who have underlying health conditions are unable to return to the life of the church as fast as others. However, there are still opportunities for such individuals to engage with the church. Consider online meetings and fellowship opportunities. While it’s not the same as in-person gatherings, it’s nevertheless an opportunity for reconnecting and having much needed conversation with church members.
If you have simply turned into a hermit and avoided the church for five months, you might be feeling the pain of isolation and the coldness that comes with a lack of Christian fellowship. In such cases, rather than blaming other people for how you feel, consider asking yourself what you’ve done to engage in the life of the church and overcome the challenges of social distancing during this season.
Since the call to Christian worship and church fellowship involves the basic component of public assembly—it is our duty to avoid isolating ourselves away and cutting ourselves off from the church for lengthy periods of time. Fight through this season. Exercise wisdom. Maintain unity. In order to make your church strong rather than weak, it will take effort on your part and other members and leaders in the church who are striving for God’s glory to be made visible through the love and fellowship of the local church.
When Paul wrote to the church in the city of Rome, he labored the point of submitting to governing authorities for a reason. All authority comes from God and if we are to remain a faithful light of Christ in a dark world of rebellion, one means of consistent Christian character is faithful submission. Faithful submission to governing authorities glorifies God. Paul goes on to make the point that the government is a blessing for all people—including the church of Jesus (Rom. 13:1-7).
However, it is quite possible for the government to become a burden for the church of Jesus—and at whatever point the ruling authorities demand something from God’s people that would cause us to actively or passively disobey God—we must obey God rather than man. While our primary calling is to submit whenever possible, there are times where submission would be sinful and rebellion would be glorying to God. Wisdom and discernment is necessary at this juncture, because the stakes will be high when it’s time to rebel against the very people who bear the sword and have the authority to use it.
America and the Story of Rebellion
Four hundred years ago, in the fall of 1620, more than one hundred colonists sailed for the New World on a well-known sea vessel known as the Mayflower. These Separatist Christians renounced the religious practices of the Church of England and believed that the Church of England was beyond redemption. In 1630, another group would join the Separatists in the New World. This group is known as the Puritans.
During the “Great Migration” of the 1630s, some 21,000 English settlers came to New England. This group was made up of farmers, fisherman, merchants, lawyers, and entire families. When they came off the ship, they brought their personal belongings—including an important book. It was the Geneva Bible. The Geneva Bible was birthed out of the Protestant Reformation and was the very first study Bible—complete with study notes in the margins that pointed out the errors of the Roman Catholic Church.
The United States of America has a rich history of rebellion against ungodly leadership and the pursuit of religious freedom. The First Amendment of the Constitution provides us luxuries that the church in other nations do not enjoy.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
We the people have freedom to exercise religion and the US Government is not free to prohibit the practice of our religion. We likewise have an ability to petition the US Government regarding grievances—which is not a luxury for the church in China.
According to the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, we have a right to form a militia and to bear arms.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
This is a unique freedom established from the beginning in order to have a built-in system of free rebellion against the Government in order to prevent overreach and burdensome rule that would be harmful and potentially dangerous to the welfare and religious freedom of the people in America.
Can God Be Glorified Through Rebellion?
While submission, even during difficult circumstances, is glorifying to God; is it possible to glorify God through rebellion?
When the midwives were given the charge to murder the Hebrew babies, rather than obeying the command of Pharaoh, they defied his wicked command and spared babies (Ex. 1:15-22). The Hebrew midwives had God’s law written on their hearts and they knew that murdering those babies was wrong. At that point, they chose to obey God rather than the king.
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were accused of not falling on the ground and worshipping the golden image of King Nebuchadnezzar, as they had been instructed to do upon hearing the music from the instruments, they were brought before the king to answer the charges and subsequently threatened with the fiery furnace. At this point, the three men responded by saying:
If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (Dan. 3:17-18).
In the New Testament, the apostles were arrested for preaching the gospel of Jesus (Acts 5). They were released by an angel in a miraculous covert operation, and the very next scene they’re in open defiance of the rulers by preaching the gospel in the most public venue possible—the temple. After being arrested again and threatened, they responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Five hundred years ago this year, Martin Luther was summoned to stand before the Diet of Worms to answer for his preaching and writing. After requesting for additional time to consider his answer, on the following day as he stood before the hierarchy of the Roman Empire—Luther answered with brilliant clarity by stating the following:
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant of anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand – may God help me. AMEN.
As Luther was being escorted out of the room the loud shouts calling for Luther’s life were ringing in his ears. As he was taken back to his private quarters—upon entering the room he was instantly relieved that he had made his stand. He then turned to a friend and said, “If I had a thousand heads I would rather have them all lopped off than to abandon my gospel.” The Roman Catholic Church had the authority to execute Luther. They had already done so with Jan Hus in 1415. Yet, Luther openly defied their teaching and their authority. In essence, he was standing on the shoulders of the apostles who were unwilling to disobey God in order to obey man.
Resistance Results in the Sword
Several years ago, I was in Amsterdam and I had the privilege to visit the Rijksmuseum. I was able to stand in front of the famous painting by Rembrandt known as “The Night Watch.” However, one of my most vivid memories of that museum was a painting that was hanging in an adjacent room to the Rembrandt masterpiece. It was much smaller, but it was a painting that delivered a very sobering message. The painting is a vivid picture of Herodias’ daughter holding John the Baptist’s head on a platter. It was a striking reminder of the cost of faithful preaching and the results of resistance. While the sword can be a blessing to God’s people, it can likewise become a burden.
When a wicked plot was devised and set in motion by the servants of King Darius as a trap for Daniel, he was subsequently cast into the den of lions as a result of his faithful daily prayers to God. There are consequences to disobeying laws and orders given directly by the ruling authorities. Although God is the one who places the sword in the hand of rulers—sometimes they will wield the sword in a way that is sinful and ultimately destructive. We see this with Pharaoh, Herod, and various other rulers throughout history such as Hitler and other monstrous figures who surface from time to time.
Paul would eventually be arrested for faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus. The very man who penned Romans 13:1-7 would be imprisoned in Rome. Paul understood well that no system is perfect and that no ruler is perfect, but when possible we are called to submit to their rule and glorify God. When their rule conflicts with the rule of Christ—a different path is mandated. When the kingdom of darkness clashes with the Kingdom of Christ—we are called to bow to Christ and accept whatever consequences may come our way.
Such persecution was promised by Jesus. This allegiance to Jesus’ throne is what caused James to be cast off the pinnacle of the temple and subsequently clubbed to death, Peter to be crucified upside down on a cross, and Paul to be beheaded in the streets of Rome. Such a commitment to the kingship of Christ is what cost Polycarp his life and is likewise what caused John Bunyan to be imprisoned for 12 years in Bedford, England.
There is a cost to obeying Christ and resisting evil rulers—and yet the cost is well worth it and the persecution—even the bloodshed of saints is particularly glorifying to God. Tertullian once said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
No matter if it’s imprisonment for “hate speech” or the loss of tax exemption status for openly defying wicked laws and defying government restrictions upon the regular gathering and worship of the local church—we must be prepared to accept whatever consequences will come our way as a result of defying Caesar.
Until Christ comes—we render unto Caesar what belongs to him, and we render unto the Lord what belongs to him. When we understand that principle properly—we see that Christ’s throne is far superior to Caesar’s throne and our ultimate commitment must be to Christ our sovereign King.
Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!
One of the characteristics of our God is that he is orderly rather than disorderly. He is a designer—and our entire world is shaped by his genius. Everything from the creation of the universe to the establishment of a ruling government points to a sovereign divine designer. Therefore, any attempt to create a world, a city, a town, or a country that lacks law and order and is plagued by anarchy is a movement away from God.
When Paul penned his letter to the church in Rome, he laid a robust foundation of doctrinal clarity regarding justification by faith alone in the first eleven chapters of his letter. Beginning in chapter twelve, Paul directed the believers to put on display the gospel of Jesus in practical everyday opportunities. After outlining the characteristics of genuine Christianity, he moved on to chapter thirteen where he opens with the responsibility of Christians to submit to governing authorities. It’s here that Paul not only gives the command to submit, but he likewise details the blessings of a government.
Restraint of Evil
As we navigate through life, we spend time in three basic spheres of life. We spend time in a family structure of some kind. As Christians, we spend much time in the sphere of the church. No matter where we live, we spend time in the sphere of the state or under some form of civil law. God is the source of all authority, and he establishes all of the hierarchies of authority in these different spheres.
Regarding the family, it is God who has setup the father as the leader, provider, and protector of the family. He has called wives to submit to their husbands (Gen. 2; 1 Pet. 3:1; Eph. 5:24) and children to obey both mother and father in an honorable manner (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16; Eph. 6:1-3). This is God’s design for the family and through this structure of authority, it restrains evil by keeping children in subjection rather than running wild and free into lawless behavior.
Regarding the church, God established elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7) as the spiritual leaders and deacons as the servants within the church. The church is called to submit to their spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17) as they seek to shepherd them and equip them for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). When it comes to sin and lawlessness, Christ has commanded the church to be a pure bride. Not only are pastors to reprove and rebuke the church as necessary (2 Tim. 4:1-5), but Jesus gave a command regarding church discipline in Matthew 18 which serves as a means of reconciliation between members of the body, but ultimately between the church and Christ. This structure of authority and discipline is ordained by God.
As it pertains to the state and civil rulers, the call of the church is to submit to the governing authorities. We see this in Romans 13, but likewise in places such as 1 Peter 2:13-17:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Even as Paul wrote the words in Romans 13, he understood that the system itself and the rulers were not perfect. In fact, this is the very same government that would be responsible for his execution within a few years—yet so long as it was possible and so long as they did not mandate the church to disobey God, they were to submit. That same principle is true for us today.
One of the blessings of rulers and governing authorities is the restraint of evil. Paul writes, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:3-4). Lawless individuals should fear the rulers for they do not bear the sword in vain. They have been given the responsibility of establishing law and order in a civil society.
The church can be blessed by such an orderly rule established by governing authorities.
Execution of Justice
In a way that is quite different than the sphere of the family and church—the government is given the sword. Paul calls the rulers “avengers” which comes from a Greek term “ἔκδικος” that literally means punisher. It is the role of governing rulers to act as God’s servants which is another Greek term that comes from the same root word from which we derive the English term deacon. Rulers are to execute justice and the sword is not given to them in vain. They are to use it and when it’s exercised properly, it’s a blessing to the whole of society—including the church of Jesus.
In 1995, Timothy McVeigh placed a bomb outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In an act of terrorism, McVeigh detonated a bomb that killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. After being arrested and convicted for the crimes, McVeigh was executed by the State of Oklahoma by lethal injection on June 11th 2001. The sword was not given to the rulers in vain.
Today, months after the tragedy with George Floyd—we continue to see American cities filled with rioters, looters, and mobs who are interested in destroying businesses, government property, and creating mass chaos along the way. One of the common hashtags floating around on social media throughout this entire process has been #DefundThePolice. A movement away from law and order and toward anarchy is a movement away from God. The hierarchy of authority was established by God himself. Although every system is impure since every human system is operated by sinners, nevertheless, such impure systems are far better than lawlessness and anarchy.
The blessing of ruling authorities who have the sword and can lawfully execute justice is evident when mass murderers are put to death and when simple 9-11 calls are answered by police officers in small towns all across our nation. The entire society, as well as the church of Jesus, benefits from a ruling hierarchy of civil leaders and laws who not only restrain evil, but are given the authority to execute justice.
For that reason we can thank God for ruling authorities. We don’t want to live in a world plagued by anarchy. Thankfully, God has established an orderly hierarchy of rule for our good and his glory. In order to glorify God, we should not only submit to them, but we should strive to pray for them as well.
1 Timothy 2:1–2 – First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Following the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2016, people were seen protesting by bashing out glass windows, looting stores, and destroying property. A headline appeared in the BBC network that read: “Two Americas in 24 Hours — The America of Friday followed by the America of Saturday.”
Division is common in our world. We see it in corporate America, the University system, and even in our present-day political strife—through ethnic division. It’s common to see people divided over ideas, philosophies, and politics. What is common in the world must not be common in the life of the local church. We must strive together to maintain unity and to avoid division.
One of the great goals of the devil is division. Paul says that we should beware of the schemes “μεθοδεία” of the devil. This particular word is from which we derive the English word methods. It means cunning and craftiness. Satan’s schemes are real:
- Satan blinds spiritual eyes so people can’t see the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4).
- Satan hinders God’s children (2 Thess. 2).
- Satan influences the whole world (1 John 5).
- Satan is a real unique personal being – not a force.
- Satan is called the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2).
- Satan is called the spirit who works in the sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2).
- Satan is referred to as the prince of the demons (Luke 11:15).
- Satan is called “Satan” – meaning adversary – 52 times in the Bible.
- Satan is called “the devil” – meaning slanderer or one who slanders.
- Satan is called the “old serpent.”
- Satan is called the “great dragon.”
- Satan is depicted as a “roaring lion” – alluding to his power.
- Satan is called the “Evil one” in John 17:15.
- Satan is called the destroyer in Revelation 9.
- Satan is the tempter in Matthew 4.
- Satan is the accuser of the brethren in Revelation 12.
This is why Paul warned the church in Ephesus to “give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:27). When we consider the schemes of Satan, we must consider how he seeks to divide Christians in order to prevent the work of local churches in local communities and beyond through global missions.
All throughout the Bible, we find passages that point out how the church is called to be a “together” people. Over and over again, we find the idea of oneness as the Scriptures describe the “one another” aspect of the functionality of God’s people within the context of the local church.
Give your attention to the “one another” passages focused on unity:
- Be at peace with one another (Mk 9:50)
- Don’t grumble among one another (Jn 6:43)
- Be of the same mind with one another (Ro 12:16, 15:5)
- Accept one another (Ro 15:7)
- Wait for one another before beginning the Lord’s Supper (1 Co 11:33)
- Don’t bite, devour, and consume one another (Ga 5:15)
- Don’t envy one another (Ga 5:26)
- Gently, patiently tolerate one another (Ep 4:2)
- Be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving to one another (Ep 4:32)
- Bear with and forgive one another (Co 3:13)
- Seek good for one another, and don’t repay evil for evil (1 Th 5:15)
- Don’t complain against one another (Jas 4:11, 5:9)
- Confess sins to one another (Jas 5:16)
Consider the “one another” verses regarding humility:
- Give preference to one another in honor (Ro 12:10)
- Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Php 2:3)
- Serve one another (Ga 5:13)
- Wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14)
- Don’t be haughty: be of the same mind to one another (Ro 12:16)
- Be subject to one another (Ep 5:21)
- Clothe yourselves in humility toward one another (1 Pe 5:5)
Look to the Scriptures and see the “one another” passages centered on love:
- Love one another (Jn 13:34, 15:12, 17; Ro 13:8; 1 Th 3:12, 4:9; 1 Pe 1:22; 1 Jn 3:11, 4:7, 11; 2 Jn 5)
- Through love, serve one another (Ga 5:13)
- Tolerate one another in love (Ep 4:2)
- Greet one another with a kiss (Ro 16:16; 1 Co 16:20; 2 Co 13:12)
- Be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Ro 12:10)
Consider how the “one another” intimacy functions within the church:
- Do not judge one another, and don’t put a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Ro 14:13)
- Bear one another’s burdens (Ga 6:2)
- Speak truth to one another (Ep 4:25; Col 3:9)
- Comfort one another concerning the resurrection (1 Th 4:18)
- Encourage and build up one another (1 Th 5:11)
- Stir up one another to love and good deeds (He 10:24)
- Pray for one another (Jas 5:16)
- Be hospitable to one another (1 Pe 4:9)
In Ephesians 4, we find Paul writing about spiritual unity as he explains how the church is brought together in one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all (Eph. 4:4-6). It was Charles Spurgeon who once said, “Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in. He attaches far more importance to godly intercourse than we do. Since union is strength, he does his best to promote separation.”
When people in the local church divide over non-essential matters—children watch parents and grandparents move from one church to another over trivial issues that could be corrected with a bit of hard work and love. It creates a consumerism approach to church membership in the eyes of children who will either repeat such practices or eventually walk away from the church altogether due to a lack of respect for the local church.
Set your mind upon the essential unity that God has demanded among his people. Consider what that looks like and how such hard work and eager maintenance produces health within the local church that will leave an indelible mark upon families and an entire community for the glory of Christ.