A foundational tenant of conservative Christian orthodoxy is that God is incarnate in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, Father God reveals Himself. Jesus Christ is incarnate in His disciples through the agency of the Holy Spirit. The intention is that the disciples of Jesus Christ should re-present Jesus in the world. Christian preaching, teaching, and writing should be incarnational. The Christian teacher allows the living Word of God to permeate their being in a transformational manner. The living Word of God includes both the “Logos” word (the inspired written word) and the “Rhema” word (the newly revealed word). The teacher then imparts the transformational truth to others. An “arms-length” communication of truth skips this critical transformational process. An “arms-length” transmission catches the word in the hand like a baseball and quickly tosses it to others. “Arms-length” instruction may be informative, but it is not transformative.
I have made it a priority to be incarnational through my communication as a minister of the gospel. The gospel is simply God’s good news. My sermons, teachings, and writings are usually delivered publicly after an appropriate period of gestation. Because of this, my good news communications reveal who I am in Christ. These messages disclose the core values which have shaped my life and ministry.
“Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Matthew 10:26)
The novel coronavirus pandemic has been a test for humanity and the church. This test reveals core values. Tests like this indicate the level of relationships. Core values create deeper personal connections and serve to cement long-term relationships. My wife and I do not always agree. Our 52 years of friendship and 48 years of marriage testify to our shared core value system.
This pandemic has exposed attitudes and core values concerning attitudes toward earthly government. My attitude toward governmental authority during this pandemic was, in part, predetermined by an oath I swore when I became a US citizen. The oath taken was:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
I posted my first blog on this venue to celebrate my citizenship:
When my Governor conscripted me to join the battle against the novel coronavirus, I checked on her legal standing to do this. Realizing that it was her legal executive right, I willingly submitted to her mandates and recommendations. Also, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I reminded myself of the relevant teachings of Jesus. He taught that when a government official conscripts me to go one mile, I should determine to go 2 miles. During the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, a Roman soldier could compel a citizen to carry his military gear one mile.
“And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” (Matthew 5:41)
During the first mile, the government is in dominion. In the second mile, I am exercising self-control by volunteering my services. Going the second mile is an expression of the ninth fruit of the Spirit, self-control.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23)
Self-control involves accepting personal responsibility for my thoughts, emotions, body, and behaviors. I set personal boundaries based on my value system and do not allow others to violate those boundaries. Living in a community requires submission to others and legitimate leadership authority. Submission is the positioning of myself appropriately in relationships to receive grace. It is not about allowing others to violate my boundaries.
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:18–21)
Jesus has structured His Body, the church, to allow God’s graces to flow among the Body members, thus strengthening the Body. God sovereignly endows individual Body members with His graces. Whenever I honor members of the Body of Christ and acknowledge their graces, the door opens for me to receive those graces.
“He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” (Matthew 10:41)
The primary model for this principle is our relationship with Jesus Christ. We submit to Jesus by honoring Him and acknowledging him for who He. This submission positions us to receive His graces.
Upon further reflection, I realized that there might be a way to be in dominion during the first mile. Thoroughly learning the lessons that Jesus teaches requires practicing those lessons. Otherwise, these lessons remain merely intellectual and theoretical. Such is the case with Jesus’ “go-the-second-mile” principle. There is a more profound lesson learned through practice. When conscripted by a legitimate governmental authority, going the first mile may feel like a restriction of personal dominion even though the decision to submit was voluntary. If my goal is self-control, how do I accomplish this during the first mile? The answer, I must be proactive. For example, assume I live in Jesus’ day and spot a Roman soldier laden with all his soldierly accouterments. I volunteer to carry his soldierly paraphernalia before being conscripted. I am now exercising self-control during the first mile. In 2020, when I first hear about the novel coronavirus pandemic, I heed scientists and immunologists’ guidance. I practice social distancing, mask-wearing, social distancing, hand washing, etc. Suppose I do this before my Governor exercises her legal executive powers for governing during an emergency. In that case, I am exercising self dominion from the first mile. Whenever the Governor chooses to announce appropriate restrictions, I am already in compliance and ready to go the second mile.
Here is a link to an article about a proactive Pastor who got it right and saved lives:
Whenever I think of submitting to governing authority and going the second mile, I remember an incident involving the Reverend Will Campbell. Rev. Campbell was quite a character as a Baptist minister. I’ve read a couple of his books and even had the opportunity to chat with him on the phone a few decades ago when I was a more conventional Baptist minister. One of the stories he related took place during the early days of airport screenings. He was walking with a cane at that point in his life. The screener, obviously a bully wanting to flaunt his authority, insisted that his cane be x-rayed and that the Reverend walk through the metal detector without his cane. (From personal experience, I’ve learned that since that time, screeners offer a substitute wooden cane while one’s cane is x-rayed) Rev. Campbell objected, the screener insisted, and the cue waiting to be screened grew. Finally, the Reverend handed the screener his cane. The Reverend Campbell then dropped down on his hands and knees and crawled through the metal detector. The screener was astonished. The gathering crowd jeered the screener. The Reverend demonstrated self control!
For a summary background about Rev. Will Campbell:
Also applicable to my thinking and behavior during this pandemic is my core value of service above self. I am looking for ways to serve proactively. This core value shapes my lifestyle, and I am more likely to be in the dominion of myself because of it. My motivation and my Governor’s intention during this pandemic is to protect as many lives as possible from the scourge of Covid and its potential long term maladies and death. The incentive is also to protect our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. The Governor’s motivations are my motivations, and her restrictions easily meld with my core values.
My aspiration for the next generation of Christians is to capture the content of Jesus’ teaching and His core values. In a recent Facebook post, an acquaintance from that generation wrote affirming Jesus’ core value of service above self.
“I am grieved that in the selfish insistence of our rights as US citizens, we who call ourselves followers of Christ have trampled the cause of Christ which is this, That none should perish but all should have eternal life. We are called to take up our cross daily and follow Him. But we refuse to wear a mask or curb our in-person interactions to protect the vulnerable and help keep businesses open? Do we not see that in these refusals we testify to our selfishness rather than the self-sacrificing love of our Savior? I urge my brothers and sisters in Christ to consider the eternal consequences of acts of love that cost us only our comfort. This simple act of obedience may be training for when we must truly lay down our lives for the sake of the gospel. May we, by God’s grace be found faithful now in the small things and then when our faith is tested.” RG
The value system expressed by this young person is the value system that has been the catalyst for the growth of Jesus’ global kingdom. RG is the child of missionaries called to share the love of Jesus and His good news with First Nation people. Jesus’ commission to daily take up the cross is an expression of the value system that led me into full-time vocational ministry. It’s the value system that keeps my hand to the plow of ministry.
“But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
Godly authority structures are conduits for His graces. Proper submission to God-ordained authority imparts grace. The Greek word for submission means “to arrange under.” We appropriately arrange ourselves under Godly authority by honoring those in authority.
The basic relational structure of a human community, the family, exemplifies this principle. God has endowed parents with authority over their children. When children honor their parents, God’s graces flow.
“Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise:” (Ephesians 6:2)
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16)
Honoring the authority of government and those serving in government also opens the doors for God’s graces to flow.
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this, you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:1–7)
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God, our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1–4)
“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:13–17)
This principle also applies to godly authority structures in the Body of Christ.
“And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers . . .” (1 Corinthians 12:28)
“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:17–19)
“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” “Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints.” (Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24, NKJV)
Recommended reading: Culture of Honor by Danny Silk (Destiny Image Publishers, Copywrite 2009)