The Gospel, Anger and Romans 13

Anger has come to dominate the headlines. Members of Congress have ventured out from the safe haven of the Washington Beltway back to their home states. Their reception by the home folks has been less than peaceful. Many constituents have exchanged the traditional summer grilling of hot dogs and burgers for grilling their congressional leaders. One hallmark of town hall meetings has been anger. The proposed healthcare plans by the Senate, House, and White House all have provisions that have fed angry interchanges at meetings across the country. Since all of the plans for health care reform are still just plans, it is difficult to debate what might  be. Nevertheless, as concerns are raised about such provisions as end of life counseling, rationed health services, government funding for abortions, mandatory family counseling provided by the government, and the possible demise of private health insurance, tempers and fears run rampant.

Your children are observers and learners in this debate. What are they learning from you? I will grant that there are many proposed changes that warrant grave concern. Thankfully, Christians have other options than merely being angry. Romans 13 encourages Christians to submit to the governing authorities, for God has established them for our good.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Romans 13:1-2 ESV

At first, these words may seem disconcerting. Upon reflection, however, you should recognize that they are words of great hope. The underlying truth of this passage–which should bring comfort–is that God is the one who is actively in control of governments  and their actions. There is also comfort from an historical perspective. During the era when the Epistle to the Romans was written, the Roman Emperors in power were Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. This group of decadent Caesars can hardly be called friends of the church. Yet Paul, writing to the Roman church, says to be subject to them. Certainly, he was neither endorsing the murderous persecution of Christians by the government nor supporting the accepted practice of the day of leaving unwanted infants at trash heaps outside the cities. Paul is reminding us that God is the one whom we serve. God is the God of justice. Paul has just finished saying in chapter 12 of Romans that we are to return good for evil and leave room for God’s vengeance.

The anger that many feel toward these troubling proposed changes in health care and insurance must not be expended in the same way the world expends anger and solves problems. What is more urgent than health care concerns is the need for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be given to a lost world. To paraphrase–what profit is there if we gain good health care and yet lose souls to the enemy?

Paul tells us in Romans 13 that there is something more vital at stake than health care issues. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 we are told to wage war in ways that are different from the world’s methods of warfare. We have better weapons than the world does–but we must have the faith to use them. Paul is not saying that Christians should be silent or passive in the face of unwise government actions. Paul was certainly not passive! He used his Roman citizenship and knowledge of Roman law to his advantage to advance the gospel. In Acts 16:35-39, he used this knowledge, as a citizen of Rome, to prevent the authorities in Philippi from mistreating him. In Acts 25 Paul used his understanding of Roman law to advance the gospel in a way that shows his ultimate commitment to Christ. By appealing to Caesar he began the legal process that would lead to his death.

How can you be salt and light in the face of anger and discontent at proposals that can dramatically impact the health care industry? God calls us to something different than venting anger. He calls us to hold out the gospel of Christ and to help people see the One to whom we must give an account. This is the perspective that God wants you to give your children. Christians do not need to react out of fear or dread. The same God who controlled the authorities in the time of Paul is still in control. And like Paul, we have the same mission–proclaiming the gospel of Christ Jesus to the lost.

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