In chapter 2 of his letter to Titus, Paul gave some instructions to specific groups within the churches—older men, older women, younger women, younger men, slaves—as to how they should live out the gospel, how they should distinguish themselves from the world around them, and he gave a theological basis for that lifestyle.
In chapter 3 he does the same thing again, but this time giving general instructions for everybody. In general, how do Christians live so as to stand out from the world around them? He focuses on two specific areas of outworking: how we treat the government (v 1), and how we treat non-Christians (v 2).
Seems to me that we might find a little help in these two brief verses about how we should conduct ourselves in the current polarized political climate.
So how do we position ourselves with reference to the government?
Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed (Ti 3.1).
Subjection. Obedience. Eager obedience. Seems to me that the passage strongly implies respect. It’s a posture, a mindset, as well as simple grudging adherence to the law.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to us. We’re all familiar with Romans 13, where Paul says the same thing at greater length. And most of us know about 1Peter 2.13-17, where Peter writes in agreement with Paul.
Of course there are limits to this subjection. The same Peter faced down the Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin, when to obey them would have been to disobey a direct order from Jesus himself (Ac 4.18-20; Mt 28.19-20). Sometimes we must disobey the political power in order to obey God.
But it seems to me that many Christians are much quicker to pull that trigger than they ought to be. If the government told me not to evangelize, I’d have to disobey them. But if they told me not to hold a Bible study in my home because the neighbors were complaining about all the cars parking on the street, I’d be able to figure out some other way to obey the Scripture.
Sure, we live in a democratic republic, not under the kind of authoritarian state that was common in biblical times, and we have options open to us that the New Testament believers—and pretty much any believers before 1776—simply didn’t have. We can vote the rascals out. And we can publish our arguments for voting the rascals out. And we can take the rascals to court. And so on.
But we can’t violate the law—or encourage others to violate the law—unless a clear biblical command is at stake. We can’t ignore laws just because we think they’re unwise or inefficient.
I see a lot of people who hate anything the Trump administration does or advocates, just because they think Trump is a scoundrel. (I suppose this year’s Independence Day event in Washington is the clearest recent example of this.) OK, you’re free to disagree with the man and to oppose his policies in any legal ways, but you need “to be ready for every good deed,” and in a context of submission to authoritative government mandates. “Not my president” is simply not biblical (or legal, really).
And the pro-Trump folks don’t get off the hook just because their guy’s in office. I see them advocate that citizens who don’t like this country should be kicked out.
Um, you can’t do that. They’re citizens. The law says they have a right to stay, even if they’re disagreeable. In fact, even if they’re felons. You don’t kick lawbreakers out of the country; this country doesn’t have a legal mechanism for withdrawing citizenship if the citizen wants to stay.
Someday, Mr. Trump won’t be president anymore. Someday the president will be at the other end of the political spectrum (whatever that means). And then the situation will be reversed, and again Christians on both sides are going to need to suppress their fleshly impulses and obey the law.
Work to change it, sure. But obey it in the meantime, if at all possible.
What does “if at all possible” mean?
It means that when a bad law comes along, you obey as long as it’s in force and as long as you can obey the Scripture at the same time. And if the two are in conflict, you get reeeaaaalllly creative and try to figure out a way to obey both the law and the Scripture simultaneously, and you try to get the law changed through any available legal means.
And if there’s just simply no way to obey both, only then do you break the law.
My friends, the contemporary American church has some work to do.
And some repenting.
For disobedience, sure.
But also for words. And for attitudes.
Think on these things.