Following The Leader

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May 27, 2019 

I want to remind the Daily Text Nation that this week Paul’s letter to Titus is taking us into the realm of politics and religion, so we’ll spend the next four days in this one passage. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to first read or listen to the previous post called Take My Hand. 

Titus 3:1-8 (NLT)

Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 

But when God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. 

This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.

CONSIDER THIS

My junior year of college in 1992 was the first time I could vote for the President of the United States. It was also the first time ever my dad could vote for his leader. As a previous Green Card holder he could not vote in federal elections, but now he was a U.S. citizen. So we went to the polling place together, and my mom took pictures of:

The two of us signing in.
Getting our ballot.
Going behind the little partition.
Putting our ballot in the box.

As soon as we walked out the door, my father asked, “Son, who did you vote for?” We had cancelled each other out, and he wasn’t happy. Mom didn’t get a picture of that. “Not my president,” would become a common refrain between us.

“Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good.” I read this text as a citizen of the United States where we celebrate the “peaceful transfer of power” and the phrase “submit to the government” can be safely championed or ignored based on which party is in power.

NT Wright reminds us that in a fallen society, before Jesus returns, we need some sort of civic order: “[All] societies need some regulation, some ordering, some structure of authority… and this ordering is no use unless everyone is, at least in principle, signed up to it…” A world without civic services, the ability to call 911, and laws to protect freedom and justice would be a world of chaos for a God who is a God of order. So yes, government and its officers is necessary. But…

But what about my Dad who was voting as an immigrant from Iraq, where he grew upin a time when his dear leader was chosen for him? How does “submit to the government and its officers,” translate when Sadaam Hussain is you government? Or Communists? Or Hitler?

What do we do with Martin Luther King, Jr.? He didn’t submit. If he had then his dream would have been a nightmare. Neither did the frontmen of the Revolutionary War. If they had followed this Scripture there would be no fireworks on the 4th of July. Were they wrong?

What’s going on when Paul writes this here (and in Romans)? Some scholars say Paul drops this line to protect the fragile minority of persecuted Christians in the midst of the anti-Christian Roman Empire. Submit to stay under the radar so to speak.There is some validity to this, but that can’t be the whole story.

If this statement from Paul is absolute, then the whole story of the Bible is frustratingly inconsistent with it. First of all, Paul says this kind of stuff from prison because he is not submitting to the government and so they kill him. If this statement is absolute then consider:

  • Midwives should have submitted to Pharaoh and killed all the Hebrew babies, including Moses.
  • Moses should have submitted to Pharaoh and just gone back to work.
  • Rahab should have submitted to the king of Jericho and turned over the Israelite spies.
  • Nathan should have submitted to King David and not called him out on his rape of Bathsheba.
  • Daniel should have submitted to King Darius and not been thrown in the lions den.
  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego should have submitted to King Nebuchadnezzar and not been thrown in the furnace.
  • John the Baptist should have submitted to Herod and not lost his head.
  • Jesus should have submitted to Pontius Pilate and not been crucified.
  • John should have submitted to Caesar and not been imprisoned on Patmos.

So what is really going on here? What is the takeaway for us, and how do we put this text in its proper place today? We want it to be a black and white statement, but it isn’t. Especially when there are more non-submission stories in Bible than submission ones.

There’s confusion and danger here, so stay tuned because there’s a lot more to say. But here’s a good place to start regarding following the leader: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

To be continued…

THE PRAYER

Jesus, I submit to you as my leader, knowing you will lead me along the right road. Amen.

THE QUESTION

What are your thoughts or concerns about politics and religion as we go down this road, and what is the Holy Spirit posibliity? 

For the awakening,
Omar Al-Rikabi

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Omar Rikabi is a United Methodist Pastor serving in North Texas. When not telling stories, Omar likes to watch movies with his wife Jennifer, read books with his three daughters, and work in the kitchen cooking and grilling for family and friends. You follow him on Twitter @omarrikabi or visit his blog omarrikabi.com

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