Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Biblical Response to Tyranny


In our nation, the cries of tyranny grow louder each day.  While there is much truth to the concerns, some of the cries are somewhat exaggerated.  There are many pastors taking a stand and crying out to preserve the freedoms we hold dear in this nation.  Many make the cries of civil liberty part of their gospel message and some forsake the gospel message altogether.  That, too, is troubling.  One pastor named Chuck Baldwin has basically turned his entire ministry into some kind of Revolution-era battle cry for freedom.  He has even written an entire book explaining how Romans 13 (the part about subjecting ourselves to governing authorities) does not mean what it clearly says.  In my experience, if someone has to write a whole book to explain away clear meaning of Scripture, then that person is going through heroic efforts to squeeze Scripture into their personal agenda.  So, if tyranny is to come to our land, what should our response be as Christian? 
And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.  Matthew 5:41 NKJV
For many, this is a very difficult verse.  The Jews hated to hear it at the time and anyone who understands what it means today finds it just as difficult.  When Jesus made this statement, the Jews were living under Roman tyranny.  As part of that tyranny, a Roman soldier could at any time for any reason compel any Jew to carry his stuff for a mile.  There are many things to complain about in America, but a police officer can not walk up to you and force you to carry his stuff around for a mile.  It was forced labor and was a source of humiliation.  How does Jesus tell them to handle this form of tyranny?  Did he write a book about the proper meaning of submitting ourselves to civil authorities having nothing to do with following civil authorities?  Did he preach rebellion?  Did he post articles on how the Jews should fight for their freedom?  He did none of those things. He told them to not only walk that mile, but to walk another.  He told them to submit themselves to that tyranny and even go above and beyond. 

I know, it is not an easy message.  No one likes to be humiliated, and any red-blooded man would have steam coming out of his ears at the very thought of this.  It is like your oppressor asking you to lick his boot and you offering the lick the other while you are down there.  It does not sit well at all.  It challenges any bit of pride we have.  I mean we are not only to allow the humiliation of tyranny, but offer even more.  Talk about "Thank you sir, may I have another."  But that is exactly what Jesus asks us to do.  That is exactly how Jesus asks us to respond in that kind of situation.  Humbling ourselves to greater humiliation in the face of the one who is taking great pleasure in our humiliation is a hard pill to swallow.  It should be no surprise, though.  Jesus makes this point many other times. 
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.   Matthew 5:44-45 NKJV
We are not to respond with disdain to our oppressors, but we are to respond in love.  That is why when the Roman guard would ask the early Christian to carry his stuff, he would offer to carry it further.  It was not about the humiliation but about the opportunity to share the Gospel.  What we may think shows weakness, but really shows the strength of our convictions as we stay true to the calling to love our enemy, no matter how badly our enemy treats us.  It is not about our own humiliation, but about the lack of self-concern.  This is only possibly when we make that ever so important first step in following our Lord.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. "  Matthew 16:24 NKJV
The idea of submitting even to tyranny is impossible if you do not first deny yourself.  God seems to have built an inborn hatred of being under tyranny into our human nature.  God used tyranny at many times throughout the history of Israel to turn His people back to Him.  Even today, many give their lives to end tyranny over their lives.  It is not fun to be unjustly persecuted.  In fact, it is miserable.  But it is only miserable when your concern is yourself.  It is only miserable when you are concerned with yourself and not those around you.  It is only miserable when your hope is in this world and not in the world to come.  Christians have lived under tyranny for much of its existence and continues to live in those conditions in many places in the world today.  Many Christians have died standing true to their faith and following in the example of their Lord.  From the first unjust death of Jesus Christ who allowed Himself to be humiliated and executed for our sakes, Christianity has grown through the blood and tears of its heroes. 

I know this message may not be popular in today's Christian world, but it is what the Bible teaches.  I know someone can take me through the Old Testament and show countless examples of how the people of Israel fought with the power of God to release themselves from tyranny.  All of those examples, however, must be viewed in light of the New Testament teachings of Jesus.  There is a time for a nation to go to war to free themselves from the chains of tyranny, but for the individual Christian, our responsibility is to share the love of Jesus even with our enemies.  When Israel acted to free itself from tyranny, it was usually as a means to judge or punish the oppressing nation.  When God wanted to reach someone to reveal His glory, we have the examples of Joseph and Daniel.  They did not fight for freedom, but denied themselves and submitted themselves to the authority of their oppressors.  Even Paul lived that example as his spent much time in prison.  The only time they disobeyed their oppressors is when those oppressors asked them to go against their God and their faith.  It is important that we also follow that example as well.  No earthly authority as the right to ask us to violate our faith. 

Tyranny may be coming and life may get hard.  Our response must be with the love of Jesus Christ.  Our example is to preach the gospel by our testimony and our lives.  If there should come a time to judge, God will handle that.  Until that time, we are to share with them the means to repentance.  It is easy to kiss the hand that feeds us, but we are called to kiss the hand that strikes us.  Jesus set the example by allowing Himself to be led to the cross, scourged, beaten, and humiliated, but without complaint.  He died for our sins while we were still sinners.  He came to die for our sins when He could just have well have come to judge the world for its sin.  We must die to ourselves and love even our oppressors.  We serve a greater purpose than even our earthly freedom, we serve the Lord and we are ambassadors called to spread the message of eternal life to a hostile world.  Next to Jesus, nothing should be more important to us than to reach the soul of those who do not know Him. 
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but [rather] give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance [is] Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:18-21 NKJV

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