But Seriously (6) – Romans 13… starts in Romans 12….


The chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles are quite handy for finding references; but they weren’t put in till centuries after the texts were originally written, and sometimes they can be a bit misleading.  The division between Romans 12 and 13 is just such a case – all too often we start with Romans 13 as if it were the start of a new bit of the epistle not directly connected to what went before, whereas in reality it is part of a longer exposition which begins… well, really at the start of Romans 12, though it does shift focus significantly partway through that chapter. 

In Chs 9-11 Paul has dealt with the relationship between Israel and the Gentile Church as represented by the Romans, and has also taught a great deal about God’s sovereignty, ending in a paean of praise to God’s wisdom and rich grace.  Then he moves on; “I beg you therefore (i.e. in light of that teaching, appreciating the wonder of God’s grace to you as Gentiles now incorporated into his people)… present your bodies a living sacrifice… do not conform to the present world scheme, but be transformed by a complete renewal of mind, so as to sense for yourselves what is the… perfect will of God”. (I really like the JB Philips translation in v2, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mould”!)  Then Paul expounds how this will work out in various areas….

He warns them not to value themselves higher than they should, but to be humble.  Then he looks at how to apply this in the Church, among your fellow-Christians….

For precisely as in one body we have many members, but not all the members have the same function, so the many of us form one body in Christ, while each is related to all the others as a member, but possessed of varied talents according to the grace bestowed on us

Though this is true of the local congregation, Paul clearly also has a wider meaning; this one body is the worldwide church – ‘the many of us’ throughout the world ‘form one body in Christ’, on the one hand united in our Lord, on the other hand very practically acting as his body in the world, his feet to go to people, his hands to do his work.  The state we live in may well try to claim our primary loyalty – but as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, our first loyalty must be to God, to Jesus as Lord, and to the body of Christ the church.  We must not let the world divide us from our fellow Christians, or set us against one another.  Paul spells out the ‘church-and-state’ issues more specifically in chapter 13, but when we get there, remember that this point about the body of Christ must be part of that context.

Paul then briefly refers to various gifts including prophecy, teaching, charity work, then shows how we must love one another….

Let your love be perfectly sincere, clinging to the right with abhorrence of evil; joined together in a brotherhood of mutual love; allowing one another to enjoy preference of honour; never slacking in interest; as the Lord’s servants keeping spiritually aglow; joyfully hoping as you endure affliction; persistent in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints; practising hospitality.

Much of this also applies to or affects our relationships with people outside the Church; now in v14 and to the end of the chapter he moves on to consider those external relations, which is why these verses are part of the context of the teaching that continues in chapter 13…

Bless your persecutors; yes, bless and do not curse.

‘Bless’ is ‘eulogeite’; the same basic word as ‘eulogy’ or ‘eulogise’, though presumably in this context it means ‘good speaking’ to and for the persecutors rather than merely about them as in a funeral eulogy, and so means ‘wish them well’.  I think, though my NT Greek skills are limited, that this is not just that we individually bless our persecutors – the church is to work together in this, supporting one another in avoiding the temptations to hatred and ill-wishing which arise from persecution, together in wishing well to the persecutors (though not wishing them ultimate success, of course!), together in loving the enemy as Jesus taught.   

Share the joy of those who are glad, and share the grief of those who grieve.  Harmonise with others in your thinking; do not aspire to eminence but humbly adjust yourselves to humble situations; do not become wise in your own conceits.

Sharing the grief and joy of others; Paul may have written elsewhere that Christians are to ‘come out from among the pagans and be separate’ but it seems he is not advocating that Christians be totally separate from the surrounding society

In no case paying back evil for evil, determine on the noblest ways of dealing with all people; if possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

This is basic; it looks back to Jesus’ teaching and example of ‘turning the other cheek’.  ‘Living in peace with everyone’ constantly comes to my mind when I’m hearing news from Ulster of those parades and the civil disturbance which so often attends them.  There is no New Testament command or requirement to stage these triumphalist and intimidating events, and much including this passage that says we shouldn’t.  How is it ‘living in peace with everyone’ to have hundreds, occasionally thousands of Protestants marching noisily through a Catholic neighbourhood celebrating, in effect, that Protestants won the 17th century wars and now dominate over their Catholic fellow-citizens?  Neither the marches nor the massive protests when they are refused sound to me like ‘providing for good things before all men’ (as my ‘interlinear’ Greek/English version literally renders the phrase about ‘noblest ways’), even when the protests are peaceful, which too often they aren’t! 

Of course, if Christians are following the idea of a ‘Christian country’ it seems natural to do such things; that’s how ‘kingdoms of this world’ operate!  Those who thus break peace with their neighbours think that in asserting their ‘Protestant country’ they’ve got a legitimate exception to passages like Romans 12; but all they’re actually doing is contradicting the Lord who said explicitly that His kingdom is ‘not of this world’!

Do not revenge yourselves, dear friends, but leave room for divine retribution, for it is written “It is Mine to punish; I will pay them back, the Lord says.”

Instead, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; in case he is thirsty, give him drink; for doing so you will pile burning coals on his head.  Be not overpowered with evil, but master evil with good.

I don’t really need to add much to that!  The ‘burning coals’ refer to the shame that should be induced when the enemy finds his evil met with such generosity; though it may also refer to the ultimate judgement awaiting an unrepentant persecutor.  We should remember that as a former persecutor Paul will have felt that shame when Jesus met him on the Damascus road, and would understand better than most the effect on the persecutor of victims who love in return.  In this context ‘Be not overpowered with evil’ seems to me to mean not letting the evil of revenge overpower us and make us as evil as the enemy.

This seems an appropriate place to tell one of the classic stories of Anabaptism.  The Anabaptist leader Dirk Willems was on the run in wintry Holland; with pursuers close behind, he ran across a frozen river on the ice.  One of the pursuers fell through the ice and was at risk of drowning.  While the man’s colleagues were fearful and hung back,  Dirk Willems rescued the man and hauled him out – and the rescued man then arrested Dirk, who eventually suffered martyrdom!  That is the way of Christ; holy wars, riots, the bombs and guns of paramilitaries, are the exact opposite.  As Paul said elsewhere, ‘Our warfare is not with physical weapons’, and as Jesus said and showed by example we are to love our enemies even to the point of dying for them.  Theories of ‘Church-and-State’ which lead us to other courses of action should be regarded with extreme suspicion….

And when we come to Romans 13, this chapter is its context; we must be careful that we do not interpret Chapter 13 in ways which contradict chapter 12.  That in turn means don’t isolate chapter 13, don’t treat it as a separate subject. 


Marching as to War

Another night of riots over parades in Ulster.  As near as I can work out, what has happened is that last year a ‘Loyalist’ parade provoked considerable disorder in a ‘Republican’ area.  As a result, the authorities (The Parades Commission?) revised the route of this year’s march.  Loyalists complained that this was ‘rewarding’ the Republicans for the previous year’s violence so they called for a protest which more or less inevitably descended into violence and riot despite calls for peace from the Orange Order and various politicians.

Now the democratic right of protest/demonstration I’m quite happy with.  But this particular cause of violent protest I’m very unhappy about.  Why?  Because these people purport to be ‘Bible-believing Christians’, and their conduct doesn’t fit with biblical teaching.

The basic purpose of these parades is to commemorate the ‘Protestant’ victory of the 17th Century.  The practical effect in modern terms is that the Orange Order and similar bodies stage triumphalist marches whose message is that we won and you Catholics and Republicans lost and are second-class citizens in our state.  Obviously there is no major disorder problem when these events take place in ‘Protestant’ areas; but there are places where the routes run through ‘Catholic’ areas.  I don’t know how much this is original intention – i.e. that the routes always ran through Catholic enclaves with provocative intent – or how much it may be because populations have shifted over the years; but clearly staging such triumphalist parades in Catholic areas is provocative in itself.  Complaining at the Catholics for being provoked is … not really a fair complaint, is it?  Staging your own riot and bomb-throwing in response, at great cost to the public purse and great risk to the police (most of whom are still as individuals Protestants and theoretically on the same side as the rioters), seems a rather strange reaction.

Worse, it’s an unbiblical reaction in all kinds of ways.  Two straightforward quotes just to start with, one from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, one from Paul in Romans 12.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called God’s sons.

In no case paying back evil for evil, determine on the noblest ways of dealing with all people.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Now can someone please explain to me how staging these provocative triumphalist parades can possibly be interpreted as ‘peace-making’?  Simply on that ground, Bible-believing Christians should have nothing to do with them in the first place, let alone be claiming that they are for a ‘Bible-believing Christian’ cause!!  Should they not be seeking to receive the blessing as peacemakers, rather than risking the implicit judgement upon those who break the peace?

In no case paying back evil for evil” – even if you are unhappy at having your parade shortened, the rioting looks to me remarkably like paying back evil for evil.  It certainly doesn’t look like what Paul says about following the noblest ways in dealing with people, or ‘living at peace with everyone so far as it depends on you’ ; still less does it look like what he says at the end of that chapter…

Do not revenge yourselves, dear friends… instead, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; in case he is thirsty, give him drink.  For by doing so you will pile burning coals on his head (i.e. you will make him feel guilt and shame for his evil at your expense).  Be not overpowered by evil, but master evil with good.

Furthermore, defying the Parades Commission and other authorities brings this conduct under Paul’s words in the next chapter, Romans 13.

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been appointed by God.  Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.

So the authorities curtailed your parade – be subject to them and let it go!  Now I am aware of ‘the one exception’ to this, which is Peter’s statement in Acts 5; 29 that “We must obey God rather than men”.  I have on my bookshelves Robert Haldane’s massive tome on Romans in which he clearly states that one exception; and I also have on my shelves Ian Paisley’s commentary in which he quotes Haldane on that point.  Or rather, misquotes him, for the one thing Haldane makes clear is that Peter’s words still do not justify ‘resisting the authorities’ by military or other force.  If you have access to a copy of Haldane, check that out for yourself.

Let me explain; it isn’t fully obvious in the English, but Paul in fact is using Greek semi-puns here, words which have a common root.  A bit ago for a sermon I paraphrased the text to bring this out, losing I grant a bit of accuracy but showing the common roots

“Everybody must be subject to the state authorities, because there is no authority except under God, and those that do exist are part of God’s project.  Whoever objects with violence to the existing authority opposes that divine project, and by opposing brings divine judgement upon himself.”

I phrased it ‘object with violence’ because I recall a querulous ‘I violently object ’ as being a somewhat comic or even ‘camp’ phrase not giving quite the right impression.  Paul’s actual word means something on the lines of ‘stand in array against’ like an army, whether a formal army of a state or the less formal forceful opposition of rioters.  It is precisely about resisting the state by force.  Of course Paul recognised the idea of ‘obeying God rather than men’ and in instructing us to ‘be subject’ he is not advocating a servile obedience to whatever wrong the state might require us to do.  But our obeying God does not justify a forceful or violent response; hey, this is the same Paul who clearly told us that “…we do not war with carnal weapons.  For the weapons of our warfare are not physical weapons, but they are powerful with God’s help for the tearing down of fortresses.”

Peter has the same basic position as is clearly shown both by the context of his statement in Acts and by the teaching of his First Epistle.  In Acts, Peter is not raising a rebellion, or gathering Christian paramilitaries to oppose the authorities; he and his fellow apostles were simply preaching the gospel!  When they were arrested, they did not fight back – Peter had learned better on the night of Jesus’ arrest – they peaceably allowed themselves to be arrested and would have clearly submitted to/‘been subject to’ any penalty the authorities might have inflicted.  And Peter teaches the same in his epistle.

Read for yourself the sequence starting in I Peter 2; 12 through to 3; 17 (and echoed in much of the rest of the epistle).  Peter repeats Paul’s admonition to ‘be subject’ to the authorities, and then not only with the authorities of government but also with the lesser authorities of slave-owners and unbelieving husbands, he instructs his readers to be willing, following the example of Jesus, to suffer unjustly.  Again, not to rebel, not to riot – not even to be ‘allotriepiskopoi’ or ‘self-appointed managers of other people’s business’ (4; 15), but to be peaceable ‘parepidemoi’ which almost literally translates to our modern phrase ‘resident aliens’ (i.e. citizens of the kingdom of heaven living on earth).

Applying this to the parade situation; well, stop the inflammatory parades!  They aren’t ‘obeying God rather than men’; there is no biblical command or other requirement for Christians to conduct themselves that way, and much to say we shouldn’t.  And likewise, no riots about the authorities limiting the parades; because in addition to the parades being wrong in themselves, the protests are far from obeying the teaching to be ‘subject to the authorities’, and the riots even further from what Paul and Peter instruct us to do.

What might we do?  Well, Christians could obey God by getting out there and preaching the gospel.  Peaceably, humbly and respectfully, and with no retaliation if they meet hostility.  If the authorities intervene, preaching the gospel would be a properly biblical case for saying ‘we must obey God rather than men’.   And if then the authorities decide to imprison or otherwise penalise you – well, the Bible says suffer unjustly following the example of Jesus, Peter, and Paul.  And beyond preaching the gospel, how about some of that turning the other cheek, feeding the hungry enemy, giving the thirsty enemy a drink, going an extra mile.  At simplest, just free your enemy of the fear and aggravation of your noisy provocative parades – show your enemy followers of Jesus who themselves follow the self-sacrificing example of their Lord.

Of course for this preaching and this practical love of the enemy to be credible, you’ll have to give up the idea of Ulster being a ‘Protestant country’, and of needing to defend that country by any kind of force.  It may take a long time, and a great deal of gentleness, to convince Catholics/Republicans that you represent the biblical loving Jesus rather than an enemy who hates them and wants to dominate them and have them as second-class citizens.  You will have to follow Jesus in rejecting a ‘kingdom of this world’ for your party, for your ‘Protestant culture’.

But I submit that if you start on such a road you will be even more ‘Bible-believing Christians’ than you already are; you will be fighting the Christian fight as Paul said you should, not with ‘carnal’ or ‘physical’ weapons, but with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  The worst damage you can do with that weapon is to raise guilt and shame in your ‘enemy’; and if you love him as Jesus said you should, you won’t take glee or satisfaction in piling those ‘burning coals’ on his head – you’ll be too busy bringing Jesus’ healing to him.

PS; As I prepared this for final posting, the news was that the Orange Order had actually applied for a fresh march down the contested streets.  It has been refused and I suppose we will have to wait and see whether that provokes yet more riots.  But seriously – by what twisted logic could that possibly be considered compatible with Jesus’ teaching to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’?  Teaching which Jesus backed up with a parable, ‘The Good Samaritan’, set against the equivalent in Israel in his day of the sectarian divide in Ulster….

PPS; The Orange Order apparently did march but no further than was allowed; three lodges had been accompanied by some 1000 supporters who eventually dispersed peacefully in the late afternoon.  I’m obviously glad there was no further violence; but a radio news item showed that one leader had been concerned there would be such a result.  And in any case, how does a march with 1000 supporters square with showing love to your opponents or ‘living at peace so far as it’s up to you’?

And even since then they’ve applied again to do the march next week.  Of course nothing has changed and the Parades Commission are unlikely to allow it, so presumably there will be another march to the brink with the attendant risk of further violence – which of course the march organisers will blame on everything but ourselves.  How can they believe this is biblically justifiable????

PPPS; Though still short of full coverage, these issues are further discussed elsewhere on ‘Steve’s Free Church Blog’, particularly the item ‘As Peace in Ulster Flags’.  Detailed discussion of Romans 12 and 13, and of much of I Peter, is also in preparation.

Prophetic Wisdom from CS Lewis


Last year, being a bit of a railway nerd when not blogging, I took a long day out riding trains to Milford Haven in South Wales.  I knew that it would be dark for much of the return journey, so took a book with me – a Betty Rowlands detective story, as it happens.  All was well till somewhere near Craven Arms in Shropshire when we came to the proverbial ‘juddering halt’ – nowhere near a dead stop, but clearly something unusual.  Over an hour passed before the errant electronics in the brakes could be reset; beautiful as Shropshire is, I’d already read a fair chunk of my book before the train restarted.  Arriving two hours later than expected at Milford Haven, I just had time to shop for a hot pasty before joining my train home.  Instead of getting at least back into England before it went dark, we didn’t get much past Carmarthen.  Good as it was, my book barely lasted back to the English border; luckily another traveller discarded a ‘Guardian’ whose crossword occupied most of the remaining journey.  I did some serious thinking; being, courtesy of that Mr Asperger, decidedly hyperlexic, any book (indeed probably books) which would last such a long voyage would use a lot of space, and add a considerable weight for a back which is dodgy since a car accident a few years ago.  Much as I prefer real ink-and-paper books, this situation seemed to require that I entered the 21st Century and got one of those Kindle contraptions. 

My initial Kindle loading was not all exactly light reading for train journeys; Calvin’s Institutes, Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary (which can occupy about two feet of library shelf in book form), and the NIV among others.  But I also found what called itself ‘The Complete CS Lewis’, (“Dear Trading Standards Officer; ‘complete’ it ain’t!”) a selection of the most popular Lewis non-fiction/apologetic titles at a reasonable price.  

For various reasons I’d not read much from my Lewis collection for a few years, but now I’ve started rereading.  It came as a bit of a shock to realise that later this year will be the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’ death (an event obscured at the time by the supposedly more important Kennedy assassination).  Lewis fan though I am, it has to be admitted that while the basic ideas in the books still stand up very well, there’s a lot of stuff in them which is now showing its age a bit and might not seem very relevant to a modern young reader.  I would still basically strongly recommend them; even when I disagree with Lewis I know I’ve been in a serious argument, not just a trading of ‘sound-bites’.    And then, in chapter 2 of “The Four Loves”, I found the following, after a discussion of patriotism and love of country….

“…the sort of love I have been describing… can also be felt for bodies that claim more than a natural affection; for a Church or (alas) a party in a Church, or for a religious order.  This terrible subject would require a book to itself.  Here it will be enough to say that the Heavenly Society is also an earthly society.  Our (merely natural) patriotism towards the latter (i.e., the church as earthly society  SL) can very easily borrow the transcendent claims of the former (the church as Heavenly Society  SL) and use them to justify the most abominable actions.  If ever the book, which I am not going to write, is written it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery.  Large areas of ‘the World’ will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they?  We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.”

Lewis it seems didn’t fully make the connection of Christendom itself, the attempt at having ‘Christian countries’, being the fundamental problem here.  Both from my own memories as a young teen in the 1960s and from my reading, I think I sort of understand why, in the circumstances back then, when such issues were shall we say quiescent, and with his desire to avoid denominational controversies and stick to ‘mere Christianity’ he didn’t easily see it.  He still saw more than most of his contemporaries and many of the things he said in various contexts helped prepare me so that when the troubles in Ulster (Lewis’ home province) kicked off in the late 60s, I was able to see the connections.  Lewis, if you like, was among the giants on whose shoulders I stood to get a view beyond their own; I can’t claim much credit for it, but I do want to invite the rest of you to get up here and appreciate the view.

I’ll repeat the key bit of the quote to hammer it home; we are still waiting for “the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery.”  It is proving increasingly true in the modern world that “Large areas of ‘the World’ will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past.”  And I think it is really time to recognise, as Lewis sadly couldn’t quite, that it is not just the past we need to disown; we also need to disown and thoroughly repent our continuing temptation to keep trying at variations of Christendom and constantly wanting to build for Jesus the ‘kingdom of this world’ that He himself rejected.  It won’t make us perfect – we will still be sinful human beings – but at least we may remove ourselves from the worst of the destructive possibilities of “enacting the service of Moloch”.  As Lewis pointed out about a page earlier than the portion quoted, there is a terrible logic that “If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation”, annihilation which believers, Christian or others, may perform thinking they are entitled to a clear conscience. 

Until we disown Christendom we not only risk adding on our own account to “the sum of human cruelty and treachery”; we also set a terrible example to others such as the extremists of Islam.  We cannot counter their terrorism from a position almost indistinguishable from their own!!  Let us be “shouting the name of Christ” in a way that honours his actual teaching.

Gower on Holy War – Poetry from the Crusading Era.

This item is from poems by John Gower (dates 1330-1408), a contemporary of Chaucer; I include a rough ‘modern English’ version of my own ….

I prei you tell me nay or yee,

To passe over the grete See

To were and sle the Sarazin

Is that the law?


 … Sone myn,

To preche and soffre for the feith,

That have I herd the gospell seith,

But forto sle, that heire I noght.

Modern version ….

I pray you tell me yes or no; to pass over the great sea to war against and slay the Saracen – is that lawful?


 …..My son, to preach the faith and suffer for it, that I have heard the gospel says; but to slay for the gospel, I hear nothing in it of that.

Second Poem

To slen and feihten ous bidde

Hem whom thei scholde, as the bok seith,

Converten unto Christes feith.

But hierof have I gret mervaile,

Hou thei wol bidde me travaile;

A Sarazin if I sle schal,

I sle the Soule forth withal,

And that was nevere Christes lore.

Modern version …. 

They bid us fight and slay those who they should, according to the Bible, convert to faith in Jesus.  And it seems to me something to marvel at, how they tell me to work in such a way; for if I slay a Saracen, I shall also slay his soul (because he will die ‘unsaved’ SL) – and that was never Christ’s teaching. 

(I found these quoted in “God of Battles”, by Peter Partner, who acknowledges “The Complete Works of John Gower”, ed. Macaulay GC,  Oxford 1901.)