Categories
authority government Uncategorized

The Christian And Government 

Neal Pollard

There is a passage that can be so disturbing because it is so adamantly clear. That passage is Romans 13:1-7. The early church fathers had a lot to say about this passage. They lived at a time when the government sponsored and led persecution and even execution of Christians simply for being Christians and sharing Christ with others. Nobody living in our country today has any experience with what this is like. Despite the pain and price inflicted by the Roman Empire on them, over and over the early Christians defended Paul’s words in Romans 13.

  • Basil—It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God is not violated thereby
  • Ambrosiaster—Those who believe cannot play fast and loose with the law
  • Apollinaris—To disobey rulers is condemned as a mistaken way of thinking
  • Chrysostom—There should be rulers and ruled and…that things should not just lapse into anarchy is the work of God’s wisdom (Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. VI, Oden, ed.).

Whether you long for the Obama administration or love the Trump administration, whether you love or loathe your governor, senators, and congressmen, Romans 13 applies to us today.  Whatever your feelings about law enforcement or our judicial system, Romans 13 applies to us today. No one should be more conscientious about their relationship to the Civil Government than a Christian. What does this text reveal to us about “the earthly powers that be?”

  • The government has a Divine source (1). They are “from God” and “established by God.”
  • The government is a divine statute (2). Paul calls their ruling “the ordinance of God” and he warns against opposing such.
  • The government is comprised of Divine servants (3-6). The term Paul repeatedly uses of those within such earthly institutions is “ministers of God” (“servants of God,” 6) bearing the sword, bringing wrath, and devoting themselves to maintaining divinely-ordained order on earth.
  • The government carries Divine stipulations (7). God calls for Christians to render them what is due to them, namely taxes, customs, fear, and honor.

The limit to this is if they command us (forbidding or making us) to do what would cause us to disobey God (cf. Acts 5:29). That is not the same as commanding us to do something that restricts our “rights,” “freedoms,” or “liberties.” There may be privileges we enjoy in a free nation which contribute to our comfort, happiness, and enjoyment. They may even be dubbed “unalienable rights” in our national constitution. May we never confuse earthly privilege with divine precept. The inspired Paul makes it clear that God is behind government for the reasons seen above. Peter, in a context about civil government, reminds us that we are “aliens and strangers” on this earth (1 Pet. 2:11; cf. 13ff). As we loudly, lustily sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through…”  “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15). May God give us the strength and wisdom to this end!

Maison Carrée, Temple of Rome and Augustus

Categories
perseverance perspective

“Being A Christian Is Hard”

Neal Pollard

The church office receives a monthly publication called Faith Connect. In the latest edition, they include some data from Barna Group on faith in America. In a sidebar of statistics to an interview with Barna’s Vice President, Bill Denzel, writer Kelly Russell reveals what the research organization found in interviewing those who identify themselves as Christians. They report feeling:

  • “Misunderstood” (54%)
  • “Persecuted” (52%)
  • “Marginalized” (44%)
  • “Sidelined” (40%)
  • “Silenced” (38%)
  • “Afraid To Speak Up” (31%)
  • “Afraid Of Looking Stupid” (23%)

These findings accompany the assertion that America is a “Post-Christian nation,” having forgotten or rejected its roots, history, and former culture and practices (Summer 2017, 49-51). The thing that strikes me is how “Christians” report feeling. Barna did not exist in the first-century, and as such there is no record of any polling of the original Christians. But if there was, can you imagine the New Testament church answering the way these respondents did? I’m sure they felt misunderstood and persecuted. How could they not? Reading New Testament books like Acts, Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation, along with early church fathers, we’re sure the Jews and Romans sought to marginalize, sideline, and silence them from the marketplace to the temples and synagogues. Our ancient spiritual family members were arrested, murdered, driven from their homes and cities, ostracized, stolen from, ridiculed, and more.

How they responded to such treatment is instructional for us today.  Peter reports their feeling:

  • “Living hope” (1:3)
  • “Great rejoicing” (1:6; 1:8)
  • “Love” and “believing” (1:8)
  • “Joy inexpressible” (1:8)

There are a lot of imperatives and exhortations throughout the rest of this epistle, written to encourage them to hold onto their faith however poorly they were treated by the people around them. Peter wants them living holy lives, but he also wants them to appreciate how great living the Christian life is. That’s a message we need to take to heart.

I hope we never put the focus in our spiritual lives on how hard it is to be a Christian. It can be! But, what will make the greatest adversity bearable is keeping our focus on our purpose, our promise, our privileges, and our peace. There is no better life than the Christian life. May we focus on our opportunities rather than our obstacles!

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Categories
church church of Christ faithfulness persecution perseverance Uncategorized

Pilgrims And Strangers

Neal Pollard

The two Sundays Kathy and I spent in Israel were with the church in Nazareth, about two hours north of where we are staying near Jerusalem. An interesting fact in a nation where an overwhelming majority of citizens are either Jews, the largest group, or Muslims, still a significant, but smaller group, is that there is a fairly small number of those professing to be Christians. The congregation in Nazareth, which has around 40 members, is comprised almost entirely of Arab people. As I spoke with one of the men yesterday, he said something that will stay with me a long time. He talked about how Arab Christians are viewed by their fellow-citizens. If Jews sees him standing beside a Muslim, they think he’s a Muslim. As most Arabs in Israel are Muslim, that seems logical. They see him as a potential threat and enemy. But, Arabs who find out he’s a Christian, and there are so many ways to readily see he’s not a Muslim–clothing, customs, etc.–see him as infidel or even a traitor. His remarks were in response to the sermon I preached from 1 Peter 2:21-25 on how Jesus handled persecution. He says that the Arabic Christians can tend to feel like people without a country.

Now, while you and I do not share the unique circumstance of Arab Christians in Israel, there is a similarity we see from earlier in 1 Peter 2. Peter tells Christians, “ Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (11-12). We’re going to “look” different, abstaining from fleshly lusts. We’re going to “act” different, keeping our behavior excellent doing good deeds. Whether we physically look like the people who observe us or we look different from them, our Christianity will be noticeable and observable. That’s not the same as doing your works in order to be seen of men (Mat. 23:5). Instead, living the Christian life–no matter what–will inevitably catch the attention of the people around us. 

I’m grateful for the object lesson I received. Pray for our Arab brethren, men and women in a spiritual sense who are “without a country.” Pray for our brethren in places where their faith in Christ is scorned and more overtly persecuted. Pray for us, that we will be salt and light which stands out and stands up for Jesus in our daily places where darkness persists.

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John and Carla learning a few Arabic words and phrases from the local Christians.
Categories
consecration holiness priesthood Uncategorized

CONSECRATING THE PRIESTS

Neal Pollard

An interesting ceremony occurs in Leviticus 8:4-11. Moses summons Aaron and his sons into the doorway of the tabernacle and consecrated them. This action consisted of four distinct things.

  • A command (4-5)—“This is the thing which the Lord has commanded to do”
  • A washing (6)—“Moses…washed them with water”
  • Specific clothing (7-9)—tunic, sash, robe, ephod, breastpiece, turban, and the golden plate
  • Anointing and sprinkling (10-11)—anointing the tabernacle with oil and sprinkled the oil on the altar and all its contents

For those of us in 21st Century America who are millennia removed from this ancient ceremony of the Jewish people, those actions are about as foreign as any that we might consider.  But, they all worked together as part of a process of “consecration.” Yet, the idea is timeless, that of being regarded as holy because of having been devoted to the Lord.

The New Testament tells Christians that we are “priests” (1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). Aaron and his family engaged in religious ritual and ceremony as well as representing people to God. While our function includes the latter, “proclaiming the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9), we have also been set apart to engage in religious actions for God (1 Pet. 2:5). Romans 12:1 tells us we offer up our bodies as living and holy sacrifices. Our lives are to be dedicated to Him, set apart for His use.

But the process of becoming a priest is just like the process mentioned there in Leviticus 8, if only in a spiritual sense. We are commanded to become priests (cf. 1 Pet. 1:22ff; 3:21). Our induction into this job requires a washing (Rev. 1:6; cf. Acts 22:16). We are given “special clothing” (1 Pet. 3:3; 5:5; cf. Gal. 3:27). The New Testament speaks of this in terms of “anointing” and “sprinkling” (1 Pet. 1:12). When we came into Christ, we entered a life of significance and importance. We were accepting a grand, sobering job. We have been made holy by the blood of Christ, special and dear to God. At the same time, we are set apart for God’s use. One is an undeserved blessing. The other is an unsurpassed responsibility. Let us be grateful for Jesus’ gift that made this priesthood available to us, then let us embrace the monumental task of representing Him to the world and showing the world about Him through our very lives!

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Categories
heart holiness

Take Time To Be Holy

Neal Pollard

In 1 Peter 1:13-19, there are three commands that relate to something that must be done regardless of how much time it takes to complete.  They are, “fix your hope completely on grace” (13), “be holy in all your behavior” (15), and “conduct yourselves in fear” (17). There’s a fourth command of this type in verse 22: “Love one another from the heart.” All of these are done as the result of a salvation taught by the prophets and revealed to us. Because we’ve been saved, we should fix our hope on grace, be holy in behavior, conduct ourselves in fear, and love one another from the heart. Considering what God has done for us, we should be eager to do what He tells us to do. At the heart of the discussion, Peter calls for holiness. “Holy” is found 10 times in 1 Peter, but there are synonyms in the book, too (“behavior” or “manner of life”—7 times; “do good” or “right”—13 times).  We want to be holy, do good, and behave, and this letter says a whole lot about how that looks. It’s faithfulness in suffering, distinctiveness in daily living, and keeping heavenly in focus. It’s captured in Peter’s petition (2:11). Our world places more emphasis on happiness than holiness, and if you have to choose one the world says choose happiness. But, God calls us to choose holiness. How do we do that?

  • Look within (13). Moral behavior begins in the heart.  So, he says to keep sober in spirit and fix your hope on grace. These are both heart matters.
  • Look out (14,17). Sanctification and obedience appear together in three different verses in chapter one (2,14,22). Holiness is a matter of obeying the truth. This has a negative aspect (14—“Don’t be conformed”) and a positive aspect (17—“Conduct yourselves in fear”). To be holy, we’ve got to keep our eyes peeled and be vigilant. We’re going to look out for the traps and tricks of this world because we know we’re only strangers here.
  • Look up (15-16). This letter is about our need of God’s help to be holy. There’s a wide gap between our holiness and God’s holiness, and we can never forget that. Peter says to be holy like He is holy.  That is an endless aspiration, a goal we’ll never achieve but must constantly work at.
  • Look ahead (17). God is going to impartially judge according to each one’s work. We should be holy now because we will stand before the Perfect Judge some day.
  • Look back (18-19). I love the way Peter ends the paragraph. It gives us such hope! The way to take time to be holy is to turn around and look back—at our salvation (1:4) and at our Savior (1:2,21). I can’t look at sin in my life and glorify it, rationalize it, defend it, hide it, or minimize it. Peter reminds us why He had to die (2:24-25).

We take the time for what is most important to us—sports, social media, hobbies, work, shopping, and the like. None of that ultimately matters. As we do anything, these or other things, we must make sure that we are holy in heart and conduct. It’s worth the time and will be worth it when there is no longer time.

Categories
Bible

Addicted To The Taste

Neal Pollard

On a slightly different life’s path, Kathy could easily be a world-famous, wealthy celebrity on Food Network.  Her culinary skills and creativity in the kitchen has yielded some incredible dishes that would cave the iron-willed. Incredibly, she has learned through the years to make things that are good for you not simply palatable but tasty!

In 1 Peter 2, Peter urges Christians, facing an ultimate inheritance from a God who wanted them though impeded by persecution by a world who did not want them, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1-3).

Peter urges them to purge from their spiritual diet those dangerous additives of attitudes in verse one.  They are more than malnourishing; they are poisonous!  Instead, he calls for them to hanker for the pure milk of God’s Word.  What would heighten their craving was having tasted the Lord’s graciousness.

May I suggest that this is a cyclical process.  In other words, we must be willing to begin feeding on the word.  For most, this is an acquired taste.  But from the first serving, the reader gets a taste of God’s good food.  It nourishes and satisfies.  It illuminates the soul.  It is practical in daily application.  It helps forge a closeness with God.  It gives strength in a difficult world.  The blessings of Scripture are multifarious, endless, and inexhaustible. The very experience of all of this by the consumer drives him or her right back into the Word for more!

Are you addicted to the sweet savor of Scripture?  If you are not partaking, you are starving your soul!  Those hunger pangs you feel cannot be satisfied by adulterated alternatives. Let us say with the ancient patriarch Job, “I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (23:12).