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Lesson 9: Discipling the Powerful *

Introduction: Is government good? God tells us that it is. If that is true, why is it that government does so much evil? Government authority killed Jesus! How should Christians relate to those in power? Let's race into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!

  1. Christians and Government

    1. Read Romans 13:1. Did God get Ronald Reagan elected president? Did God get Barack Obama elected president? If you have a hard time saying, "yes," to both questions, what do you think this text means? (These are two U.S. Presidents with different views of the role of government.)

      1. We can all think of authorities like Hitler and Stalin who killed thousands (millions?)of their own citizens. North Korea is currently murdering its citizens. Would God establish them? (I think this text means that God generally establishes governmental authority.)

    2. Read Romans 13:2. The church in Germany has been condemned for not standing against the murder of millions of Jews during Hitler's reign. How would you understand and apply this text?

      1. We would never have had the American revolution if this text had been followed. Was that movement contrary to the Bible?

      2. If you say, "God supports some authority and not others," you run into Romans 13:1 that says that God establishes all authority. Is there another way to look at these verses?

    3. Read Romans 13:3-5. We will look at Jesus' trial toward the end of this lesson. Is it true to say "rulers hold no terror for those who do right?" Paul knew what happened to Jesus. Jesus was right and Jesus faced terror! (Two things. First, the context. It was important for the early church members not to be seen as enemies of Rome. This message helped in that regard. Second, I think Paul is speaking generally here. We know this is not literally always true because of what happened to Jesus. However, it is generally true.)

      1. Is Paul only writing about practical matters? (No. He says he is writing because of practical considerations (punishment) and "also because of conscience.")

    4. Read Romans 13:6-7. Are Christians to pay taxes even if they disagree with government policies? (Yes.)

      1. Are Christians supposed to show respect to Nancy Pelosi (or fill in the name of some other controversial politician in your country)? (Yes. A few years ago, I read this text again and it convinced me to quit referring to a leading politician in a disparaging way.)

    5. Read Romans 13:8-10. Why are debts and love part of this line of teaching? How do they fit in with paying taxes and avoiding revolution? (All of this deals with the obligations of Christians. They have an obligation to pay their bills, they have an obligation to avoid harming their neighbor, they have an obligation to be good citizens. All of this obligation arises out of the obligation of love.)

      1. Wait a minute! If the underlying foundation from which all of these other rules arise is the rule of love, what does that say about the Jews under Hitler and living under Stalin? (If the underlying rule is love, then Christians would defend the Jews and would resist Stalin's murders.)

  2. The Disciples and Government

    1. Read Acts 4:1-3. We just read Romans 13:3 which says that those doing right have no fear of the government. Is that true here? (No. Peter and John are preaching the gospel.)

    2. Read Acts 4:4. What does this teach us about whether Peter and John were doing what is right? (Their words converted sinners!)

    3. Read Acts 4:5-12. Romans 13:7 says give respect and honor to those whom it is due. These are legitimate leaders, is Peter showing them respect and honor?

      1. Is it respectful to say, "Were we arrested for being kind and healing a cripple?" "You claim to have the power to arrest us, but you killed the Messiah!"

    4. Read Acts 4:13-14. Has Peter chosen a winning strategy? (Yes! His opponents don't know what to say in response, and they decide to regroup.)

      1. How does this inform our understanding of Romans 13? (We are within the rule of love to resist government when it opposes us promoting the gospel.)

      2. We need to stop a minute here. When we use the term "oppose government," does that have the same meaning in a democracy as it does in a totalitarian state - like Rome? (Absolutely not. Authority is in the hands of the voters in a democracy. Therefore, to resist in accord with the laws is part of supporting the legitimate functioning of the government.)

    5. Read Acts 4:15-17. The rulers are meeting to map out a strategy. What is their goal? ("To stop this thing from spreading." To stop the gospel.)

    6. Read Acts 4:18-20 and read Romans 13:5. Peter and John ask if they should obey God or men. How can they create that distinction since God says to obey those in authority? If a ruler gives a command, you follow it! (Apparently not.)

    7. Read Acts 4:25-26. Here is a different view of rulers and government than what we read in Romans 13:1. This says that government plots against the work of God, while Romans says that authority is established by God. Which is it?

    8. Read Acts 4:27-28. What does this say about God's power and will and the evil deeds of rulers? (This says that the most evil deed - the murder and torture of Jesus - was what God had previously decided "should happen.")

      1. Is God behind the evil done by rulers like Hitler and Stalin? (No. In this case, God decided that He would die for our sins. Satan and his human allies decided to make it painful.)

      2. Can you see a parallel between the discussion in Romans about God and earthly authority and this discussion about God and the death of His Son? (I think so. It is God's will to have authority on earth. It was God's will, once we sinned, to die in our place. The fact that God has a general will for something to be done, does not mean that God endorses the evil that is done by the exercise of human free choice.)

    9. Read Acts 4:29-30. Are the disciples praying that God will enable them to disobey authority? (Yes.)

    10. What, then, should be the rule for Christians about evil done by authority? (We should not be part of it. But note that we may be punished for being disobedient: "consider their threats and enable your servants." Please, God, help us to be able to suffer the punishment of doing Your will.)

  3. Jesus and Government

    1. Read Matthew 26:59-62. Obviously, the government is up to no good here. Should Jesus have answered? Isn't the highest authority asking Him to answer? (Read Deuteronomy 19:15. The Bible has a form of the rule against self-incrimination. You cannot be punished on your statement alone. Therefore this was an improper question.)

    2. Read Matthew 26:63. Did Jesus invoke the "Fifth Amendment?" (Yes! For those who are not Americans, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens against self-incrimination.)

    3. Read Matthew 26:63-66. Is the high priest violating the law? (Yes. He should not have demanded in the name of God that Jesus incriminate Himself, and he knew that Jesus' testimony alone was not sufficient for a conviction.)

      1. What does this teach us about dealing with authority? (Authority is not always good, and it is not always fair.)

      2. When we are faced with unjust government authority, on what should we ultimately rely? (Read Daniel 2:44. God controls kings and kingdoms. He will ultimately destroy all these earthly kingdoms.)

    4. Re-read Acts 4:27-28. In what can we take confidence? (Even though unfair things may happen to us, we know that God is in charge and that in the end His will must prevail.)

    5. Friend, what is your attitude toward government? If it is hostile, why not today recognize that God establishes human authority. While it might not act appropriately, God calls on us to obey the government unless a moral issue is involved.

  4. Next week: Discipling the Nations.
* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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