Paul's Passing Thoughts

Romans 12:14-13:7; Forgiveness

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on December 16, 2013

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This will be the last message in chapter 12, and next week we will move on further in chapter 13. Let’s begin by reading our text for tonight:

Romans 12:14 – Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

13:1 – 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

I have never done this before, but I deliberately titled this message incorrectly for as you can see there is nothing about forgiveness in this portion of Scripture at all. Primarily, this text deals with the issue of relating to our enemies. Just like last week in regard to meeting the needs of others, something here is conspicuously missing in the discussion. Last week, the “tithe,” a Christian staple, was missing. This week, in regard to relating to our enemies, “forgiveness” is missing.

As you know, I am under the persuasion that Christians today function on a lot of things that are not the truth because they listen to men, and do not search the Scriptures for themselves. Christ majored on the major, and one of His primary concerns was the traditions of men and how that led to people disregarding the law; i.e., the Bible. And there is a lot of tradition afoot regarding the issue of forgiveness that we must address because the error is also applied to instruction regarding our enemies. If we have forgiveness wrong, we will interpret this text with an errant prism.

Now, as stated last week, the apostle Paul plunges the depths of justification in chapters 1-11, and then begins to address sanctification in chapter 12. Stated another way: he plunges the depths of God’s salvation in 1-11, and then he begins to address Christian living in 12ff. God, in saving us, justifies us—He makes us righteous so that we can dwell with Him forever as family members. Justification is a work of God; sanctification is our loving work for God. Sanctification is a word that means to be set apart for godly living. As we grow in our Christian walk, there is a wider and wider gap between who we now are and what we were. The old us that died with Christ is ALWAYS spoken of in the past tense in Scripture. Always.

This is an interpretive construct. When we read our Bibles, we must interpret almost every verse in the context of justification or sanctification. Is the verse talking about our Christian walk, or salvation? Galatians is an example. Up to Galatians 5:16, Paul is writing about justification; starting in 5:16, Paul takes a hard right turn into sanctification. Much of Paul’s writings are divided in this way. When you consider that most Christians today do not understand the difference between justification and sanctification, what does that tell you about their ability to understand the Scriptures? That’s why we make such a big deal out of this issue.

But it speaks even more to how we function as Christians. Many, if not most in our day teach that this interpretive dichotomy should be used in the following way: we meditate on the works of God in the first part, and that results in the majesty of God being elevated in our minds. This results in what they call a “filling of Christ.” The first part shows us how holy God is and how wicked we are leading to what they call “deep repentance.” When we empty the warehouse in our heart that is an “idol factory,” that void is filled with Christ and His works flow out of us as a “mere natural flow.” So, the second part of the dichotomy is a “fruit catalogue” that informs us as to the kind of things God is going to do through us. This is called, “new obedience.” As a result, many of the premier teachers of our day teach that we often obey without possessing the necessary wisdom to do so because it is not us doing the work.

Some years ago, I heard John MacArthur say that we can’t obey what we don’t know, but yet in a recent Q&A, in response to a question regarding his marked departure from practical application, he stated that it was his job to present the text, and the Holy Spirit’s job to apply it. He then informed those attending that if they were perplexed by the effortless flow of obedience in their life, now they know what’s going on. That resulted in a round of applause. Truly, we live in perilous times when people refuse to endure sound doctrine.

In contrast, Paul’s Scriptural dichotomy is meant to instill boldness and freedom in the believer. Justification is FINISHED, and NOTHING we do in sanctification can touch our salvation. We are free to work hard at obeying the law in our Christian life because the law has NOTHING to say to us in regard to our justification. Let me repeat that:

We are free to work hard at obeying the law in our Christian life because the law has NOTHING to say to us in regard to our justification (Romans 3:19).

Not only that, we have the help of the Trinity to boot! This is the difference between fear in sanctification that something we do can affect our justification versus the mentally that justification is a finished work that cannot be affected by the progressive work of our Christian life. That bears repeating as well:

This is the difference between fear in sanctification that something we do can affect our justification versus the mentally that justification is a finished work that cannot be affected by the progressive work of our Christian life.

Justification is the power of God unto salvation, and the revealing of God’s righteousness. Sanctification is the revealing of those made righteous by God through the new birth. This is important because what we are studying in chapter 12ff. is not a fruit catalogue, it’s not a list of credits for a gospel movie, it’s instruction to be learned and obeyed as faithful followers of Christ in a foreign land.

Now, as stated last week, Paul presents a Cliff Notes version of sanctification in 12ff. He states a Christian living category and a short sentence to go along with it. These pithy sanctification statements by Paul connects this letter to the rest of Scripture. If we took each of these statements and used other passages to expound on them, we could easily be in Romans another five years. So, as we did last week, we will give some of these sentences mention while focusing primarily on what Paul instructs concerning our enemies. However, things are a little bit different this week as all of these verses are closely connected to the subject of enemies and have profound implications for the Christian environment that we find ourselves in today.

Let’s begin,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Note that Paul says to bless them, and doesn’t say to forgive them. As we will see, this is not theological hair splitting. If you do a word study on “persecute” (diōkō) you find that the idea of a long-term sustained persecution cannot be excluded. But what does it mean to “bless” our enemies? Well, one example is Luke 23:34;

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.

Note that Christ didn’t say, “I forgive them,” but rather asked the Father to forgive them. What’s going on here? Christ is praying for their salvation. Christ is praying that the Father would grant them repentance. Obviously, God is not going to forgive them unless they repent. Likewise, this is one of many ways that you can bless your enemies, by praying for their salvation. From the perspective of a Christian, it is probably why they are persecuting you to begin with. You can consider this one of the put off/put on commands in the Bible; in regard to enemies, put off cursing and put on blessings. Curse (kataraomai) has the idea of wishing doom on a person. Instead, we are to pronounce a blessing, not a curse. This doesn’t mean we hold our nose and ask God to buy them a new car, this is talking about eternal blessings.

Now, verse 15 is closely related to this,

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Here is another principle of interpretation that is good to remember: even though some verses seem to be dropped in out of nowhere, they usually have a relationship to the surrounding verses; in this case, be happy when your enemy is blessed by God in some way. Don’t be like Jonah who got mad at God for blessing the Ninevites. Furthermore, don’t rejoice when they are befallen by tragedy:

Proverbs 24:17 – Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, 18 lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him. 19 Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked,

So, in regard to your enemies, don’t rejoice when they weep, and don’t weep when they rejoice. Why? Because in contrast, we are to take a personal interest in them:

Live in harmony with one another (16).

The word “harmony” is,

g5426. φρονέω phroneō; from 5424; to exercise the mind, i. e. entertain or have a sentiment or opinion; by implication, to be (mentally) disposed (more or less earnestly in a certain direction); intensively, to interest oneself in (with concern or obedience):— set the affection on,

In fitting with context, this is a focus on being concerned with the wellbeing of others. It is a focus on the big picture in regard to the lives of others. What they did to you is the small picture; we are to take an interest in the sum and substance of the lives of others. Deficiencies in the lives of others points directly to how they treat people. A concern for their character and some kind of contribution to changing it circumvents the offences that make them your enemy to begin with. In this endeavor, the following helps, not thinking that you are better than others:

Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight (16).

An attitude of superiority begins a downward spiral of personal conflict. Idiosyncrasies that flow from this mindset starts rubbing people the wrong way and starts a downward spiral of tit for tat. Paul prescribes a practice to circumvent this mindset: make it a point to associate with the lowly, and respect their outlook. Give their perspective a full and fair vetting. When all of this wisdom slips between the cracks, and you are offended in some way,

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight    of all (17).

Repayment for evil is always evil. It’s tit for tat, and starts a downward spiral of evil in motion. And returning evil for evil takes many, many, many, different forms. Instead, Paul says to respond by doing what is equitable before all. Let’s look at some examples.

Proverbs 15:1 – A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

This is a big one. There are innumerable people in the world who are dead because they didn’t heed the advice of this simple proverb. As a pastor who has done my share of counseling, I can tell you that domestic violence could be cut in half if this advice was heeded. This is not “blaming the victim,” this is the simple fact that tit for tat word battles start a nasty downward spiral in motion. And by the way, ignoring the other person as if they are not alive is not a soft answer. Paul is talking about wise words fitly spoken. We are to grow in our wisdom regarding equitable responses to offences. Equitable responses also set the example for others resulting in less evil in the world. A lot is at stake. But notice that Paul passes on telling you to just simply forgive the offender. Paul has many tempting opportunities here to interject that idea, but he doesn’t. Instead, Paul says,

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (18).

“If possible”? If we are to simply forgive everyone, why the “if.” Paul is clearly conceding that we will have enemies—how can we have enemies if we are to simply forgive everybody? To the contrary, Paul wrote the following:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (19). To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (20).

Paul states, “it is written.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 32:41and Proverbs 25:21,22. The citation of the latter follows:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, 22 for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

Unlike Proverbs, Paul does not mention the “reward” for not taking revenge, but nevertheless, what is this reward? Well, if you remember our citation of Proverbs 24:17-19, if we rejoice in the downfall of our enemies, God will turn away His anger from them. I believe the reward is either reconciliation or revenge. I believe the reward is closure. I believe that we are being taught that as people who have sincere concern for the lives of others, we prefer reconciliation and the “gaining of a brother.” But if reconciliation doesn’t happen regardless of our godly and equitable responses, God will avenge our adversaries. By doing our part in circumventing a downward spiral of evil, and doing good to them, we are in essence pouring hot coals on their head which speaks of God’s future judgment if our enemies do not reconcile. Hence,

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (21).

Our revenge can only result in being overcome by evil ourselves. Our revenge only results in a tit for tat proliferation of evil. We must overcome these downward spirals of evil with good. Doing good to our enemies, or putting off revenge and putting on doing good to our enemies, leaves room for God’s revenge if necessary, but only God can take revenge without a proliferation of evil. God’s revenge ends evil, our revenge increases evil.

Not only that, as opposed to, “forgiving and forgetting,” accepting that person as an enemy and waiting for an opportunity to do good to them can lead to reconciliation. There is much talk about “forgiving others the way God has forgiven us,” but God does not forgive us unless we are reconciled to Him. “Forgiving and forgetting” circumvents the need for reconciliation, and without reconciliation, there is no forgiveness. Not only do we see this in Matthew 18, but it begs the question in regard to Matthew 18, if we are to simply “forgive and forget,” why all the fuss with the four-step process? There is no forgiveness without reconciliation.

Go with me to Exodus 23:4,5;

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.

If there has been  carte blanche forgiveness, these acts of goodness do not present opportunities for reconciliation, you just help your enemy and go about your business. And look, I have correspondence with people who were wronged in horrible ways many years ago, and be sure of this, nobody “forgives and forgets.” Per Mathew 18, God demands that we forgive if there is reconciliation, but those who we are not reconciled to are enemies, this would seem evident.

And Romans 13:1-7 is not just parachuted in to the conversation here—it’s connected to the subject at hand. Revenge, and not overcoming evil with good can get us in difficulty with the governing authorities, no? Our revenge proliferates evil, God’s revenge ends it, and besides that, our revenge is usually against civil law, no? And civil law always waits precariously at the end of the downward spiral. In contrast, look at the text, God may use the civil authorities to execute His judgment, and often does. Due to this fact and the other ways God uses the civil authorities that He sovereignly appoints for good, Paul says that we ought to be happy to pay taxes. This raises a peculiar question; if this is the case, why do churches want to be tax exempt? If the civil government is an instrument for good in the hands of God, why not contribute to the ministry thereof?

Passages like this are not designed to show us how bad we needed our original salvation, this passage is typical of the wisdom we desperately need to live our Christian lives. When we practice this wisdom, God is not only glorified, but there is far less evil in the world. Christ came to fulfill His law through us and to put the deeds of darkness to death—that is not accomplished through ignorance of God’s word.

6 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on December 16, 2013 at 6:06 AM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.

    Like

  2. Glenn said, on December 16, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    Good Morning Paul,

    I have a question that I hope you will be willing to help me with. As I am sure you are well aware Romans 13:1-7 is usually taught in a manner that makes Christians almost completely subservient to government. With very few exceptions I have been taught that I need to do what government tells me to do even if what the government is doing is completely evil. Probably the best summary of this is what I heard a pastor once teach: “short of violating the ten commandments a Christian has to obey the government.”

    What you are teaching makes sense to me and it doesn’t appear that you believe Romans13 teaches that I must be an accomplice to evil. That brings me to my question: the other New Testament passage used to teach subservience to government is 1 Peter 2, do you believe that the interpretation of 1 Peter 2 is consistent with your teaching of Romans 13? In other words is 1 Peter 2 about reconciliation like Romans 13 is?

    I would appreciate any feedback you can provide.

    Glenn

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 16, 2013 at 4:47 PM

      Glenn,

      I will answer your question shortly, but please indulge me in a digression.

      I believe God has called Christians to the arduous task of thinking. The Scriptures are written in a way that assumes reason. I think Acts 17 says it all in the way the Bereans were called honorable for holding an apostle accountable to the authority of Scripture.

      I believe the Bible speak to the individual, and contains its own hermeneutics. If someone instructs us on how to interpret the Bible, let them prove it from the Bible. As a pastor, it is my role to aid people in interpreting the Bible for themselves—it is my job to equip while being judged by the Bible itself.

      Romans 13 is in context of relating to our enemies. I may yet do another message on 13:1-7 because “justice” was not addressed. Nether was loving our enemies the way God loves His enemies. We are to forgive the way God forgives and love our enemies the way God loves His enemies. He doesn’t forgive without reconciliation, and He blesses His enemies. Love does not always equal forgiveness. If God’s love brings people to repentance, so should ours, but blank-check forgiveness excludes the need for repentance. If we forgive carte blanche, we are in fact purifying their worship as they no longer have to leave their gift at the alter and be reconciled to us.

      Justice is very important to God; He is a God of justice. Romans 13:1-7 does not imply that government is only at the disposal of God to inflict justice, but also at the disposal of Christians. The apostle Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:1-27). When Paul stated that it would be better to be defrauded rather than to take a brother to court, he was talking about a hypothetical situation where the church was unable to settle the dispute. Does that mean you don’t go to the authorities if a church refuses to deal with a rape case? Hardly. The only case where the church is unable to resolve an issue should be in regard to someone refusing to repent. The result of that is Scriptural permission to treat the brother “like” an unbeliever. That means the option to take him to civil court.

      For the most part, even wicked governments are pragmatic and honor good behavior. Governments are primarily interested in stability. For the most part, governments could care less what people believe about God. The problem governments run into is being outnumbered by the populous. The good intention of government often runs afoul when you have church states; now the state is interested in getting rid of the competition. In either case, the balance is “we must obey God rather than man.” We are not obligated to obey government any more than we are obligated to make truth complicit in evil.

      Hence, if you are hiding Jews and the Nazis come and ask you if there are any Jews hidden in your house—you lie and say no. Telling the truth is not righteous in that regard, it is making the truth complicit in a murder. This is why Rahab was commended for lying to the officials who were searching for the spies.

      No, we do not always obey government. The teaching that you obey government, no matter what, is a Reformed tradition because the Reformers were always in bed with the government.

      Like

  3. Glenn said, on December 16, 2013 at 8:40 PM

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you for your detailed response. I wasn’t trying to argue from authority that your interpretation of Romans 13 is wrong. In fact it intrigues me because I consider the interpretation of Romans 13 I was always taught to be very dicey. I have been searching for an interpretation of that passage that doesn’t make me, at the very least, a passive party to evil.

    I have always been dispensational in my theology. I know that you hold to Remnant Theology which I have no quibble with (I probably won’t switch until I understand how Remnant Theology affects eschatology). The reason that I wrote my first comment was because the 2012 Chafer Theological Seminary Conference dealt with our (Christian) responsibility to the government. In particular the paper by George Meisinger titled “Is It Ever Right for a Christian to Disobey Civil Authority?” was exactly what I was taught growing up. After watching the videos (I ordered DVDs of the conference) I was frankly depressed. I realized that if their teaching is right then the founders of this country were wrong and I will have the responsibility as a Christian to hold up my hands and allow the government to put me in chains if it ever comes down to that.

    The 1 Peter 2 passage is the other New testament proof text that is almost always used to tell me to be passive before government no matter what. I was wondering if you have an interpretation of that passage that dove tails with your interpretation of Romans 13.

    Thank you.

    Glenn

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 16, 2013 at 9:26 PM

      Right, I understand. And yes, I have another perspective. Romans 13 is in context of taking revenge and not leaving room for the Lords wrath. We are to love our enemies as a way of possibly leading them to repentance (the assumption is that we have done everything we can to live at peace with all men) while leaving the wrath to God. Paul’s point is that government will judge us if we do wrong, particularly in regard to unlawful revenge. Paul didn’t drop that subject in there out of nowhere. The government is God’s “minister” in regard to JUSTICE. However, in other places, numerous places, God’s people disobey government when the government is propagating evil. Almost all “you have to obey the government no matter what” theology comes from the Reformed tradition and dominion theology. The “no matter what” part comes from the idea that the unenlightened masses are incapable of discerning what is best for the “group” and enslaved to existentialism. Bottom line: the American Revolution was primarily a rebellion against Puritan colonialism. That is why the separation of church and state is one of the pillars of the constitution. God’s ministers (the government: Rom 13, 1Peter 2) are not a higher authority than God himself: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Do you know why churches are tax exempt? During colonial times, the “tithe” was a tax that supported the church, state, and seminaries such as Harvard, Yale, and later Princeton. It was the law. LOL! It’s why the “tithe” is taught the way it is today–all tradition. Puritanism died because they were stripped of their governmental powers. This still stings the Reformed pride, and I have a mass of manuscripts that have an outright anti-American tone from many of the who’s who of evangelicalism. THROUGHOUT scripture, God says to take up the cause of the oppressed and secure justice for them–sometimes that entails standing up to a government. Again, the traditional “you have to obey government no matter what” comes from camps that were historically in bed with the government. That’s where it comes from.

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    • paulspassingthoughts said, on December 17, 2013 at 3:54 PM

      Glen,

      If you could email me your mailing address at mail@ttanc.com, there are some thing I would like to send you in today’s mail.

      paul

      Like


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