After challenging Titus to deal with false teachers, promoting sound doctrine, the responsibilities of the elders, young men, older women, and slaves, he closes his letter with how Titus is to remind and teach. Chapter 3 is a recap in a way as well as new challenges for Titus. Paul does not stop challenging everyone around him until the very end of his letters and his life!
“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” Obviously, Paul had never run for public office. Otherwise, he would be talking about draining the swamp, the government and its institutions as the enemy of the people, and how evil his opponents were, while stirring them up to be opposed to anyone with a different perspective. In spite of Paul’s sometimes combative nature he knew there was a better way – what we might call the Christian way today. It was the way of humility and the way of being peaceable and not slandering, lying, brawling, and being inconsiderate. Was Paul naive or did he know something about God that we have forgotten?
Christians and Jews
Paul speaks about being subjects and not citizens of a republic or a democracy. His expectations about ruling power were much different from ours. The earliest Christians never looked to create a Christian culture. That came much later and has caused problems ever since. No, the earliest Christians considered themselves a persecuted minority and accepting suffering was part of their inheritance. Paul says to Titus that we are heirs having the hope of eternal life and that means our inheritance is the wealth and the suffering of Christ – but not the appreciation of this world. Like the Jews, in Paul’s mind no matter how well we act or how good a witness we present to the world there will always be a reason in the minds of rulers to find fault. Look at the rise of anti-Semitism today with Jews voting as Democrats being called traitors and enemies. There will be a time when Christians will be treated the same by those who define Christian only as the ones who vote a certain way. In Germany, the Jews were singled out first but then the Christians who resisted (Bonhoeffer and others called it the Confessing Church) were persecuted and forced to leave or die along with the Jews. In 1937 the Minister of Church Affairs addressed the German pastors and said:
Positive Christianity is National Socialism … [and] National Socialism is the doing of God’s will…. Your leader … has tried to tell me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ as the Son of God. That makes me laugh … Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle’s Creed …. [but] is represented by the Party …. the German people are now called … by the Führer to a real Christianity …. The Führer is the herald of a new revelation.
Yes, I do believe there is a special relationship between Christians and Jews but it is the relationship of eventually being considered enemies of the people.
Called To Suffer – Not To Rule
Ordained government established by God is an agent of God’s protecting us both from ourselves and from those who do wrong.
In fact, if you look at the several passages in 1 Timothy, 1 Peter and Titus there is a consistent theme. “Pray and be grateful for those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” There were no qualifiers on that even though Roman authorities were harsh, overbearing and often cruel. We all know the horrific stories of Nero’s madness and how he ruthlessly and perversely persecuted Christians. Still, they were not to rebel but to suffer. “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:20-21). “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9). This is why it is so ironic in the political debates that the candidates professing to be Christians are encouraged to do just the opposite by their campaigns as well as their supporters. It is more than ironic. It is sad. We reward them for behavior that is just the opposite of what Paul is teaching.
So, the first thing we see is that the true source of government is God. It is not an invention of man. Whether the authority is benevolent or cruel. Whether we are treated well or badly, the authorities over us and to which we submit are there by God’s design and to rebel against them is to rebel against what God has instituted. It does not mean that every feature of government is divinely instituted. It does not mean there is one particular form of government that is more ordained than another. It simply means that we need government and authority of some sort whether it is bad or good. The option is violence and anarchy.
Christians As Good Subjects
Some commentators believe Paul was especially strong on this point because the Jews were seen as rebellious, hard to govern and haters of authority so they had to be treated with a heavy hand. Paul did not want the fragile church to be identified with rebels and dissidents. As well, there were some in the early church who disputed the rightful authority of the secular government because they claimed there was only one King and that was Jesus. Any other had no authority over them. In either case, Paul saw the danger of being known as opposed to government and wanted the authorities to see Christians not as threats but as good citizens anxious only to be left in peace. He wanted Christians to honor those who protected them from evil. They were God’s servants worthy of respect.
However, and I know some of you are waiting expectantly for this one, the role of government is chiefly a negative one. In other words, the main purpose of government is to protect us from each other and to provide safety and security so that we might live quiet lives in harmony free from chaos. For Paul, the state preserved the world from chaos. “Take away that Empire…and the world would disintegrate into flying fragments” is the way William Barclay puts it. Government is necessary because of those who do wrong and it is God’s servant in dealing out punishment and securing peace. “We must not expect too much from the state because the business of the state is mainly negative. Its main function is to control and to limit evil and the manifestations of evil.” D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.
Government’s first responsibility is not to provide good things. It is not to shoulder the burden of making life more satisfying or easier. It is not a leadership position. That is where Luther went off track and eventually provided the background for the Lutheran State church to go along with Adolph Hitler. They saw the government as a leader and not a servant whose role was to protect people from violence. Once it becomes a master and has a taste of that enormous power it is likely impossible for it to reverse course and voluntarily become a servant again. Government is there to allow people to live in peace and not be fearful of those who would rob them of that. When government strays from that it turns good intentions – even the best of intentions – into tyranny because it has overstepped its ordained limits and violated its mandate. Think about all the good things inspired by Christian values over the years that have ended in disaster. Love your neighbor. Take care of the poor. Bear one another’s burdens. Don’t treat the rich as special people. All of these things are good but government by its very design is incapable of doing anything more than what was intended – to be God’s servant in protecting us from evil and violence.
People In A Lifeboat
That would not have been much of a concern to Paul or the early church. Whether the Emperor was good or not was not a point of discussion. What role Christians played in government was moot. They were essentially powerless – even disinterested in such things. They had to learn to live with a hostile environment and as invisibly as possible. The early churches saw themselves as people in a lifeboat waiting to be rescued and not as people hoping to infiltrate and change the structures of the world.
Now, I don’t want you to think that Paul is describing an institution whose sole authority comes from those who are governed. He could not have held to that. These are not Paul’s words or the words of the Apostles. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”
Do you see the difference between that passage from the Declaration of Independence and Romans 13 and Titus 3? What is the source of government authority in the Declaration? Government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. How is that different from Romans 13? Government derives its legitimate powers from God himself. In the one system we are citizens and the final authority while in the other we are subjects and are required to submit to the authorities. This is very difficult for Americans and other democratic countries to swallow. It is especially difficult for societies like ours that were birthed with revolutionary values and whose founding fathers often spoke of the value of revolution whenever governments overstepped their bounds. For Paul, the rulers and magistrates did not protect individual or collective “rights” but was put in place to protect us from chaos and punish wrongdoers.
Compare that to Thomas Paine: “The trade of governing has always been monopolized by the most ignorant and the most rascally individuals of mankind.”
So, as Americans raised on the belief that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed, we find ourselves living in the tension between Paul and Thomas Jefferson. When the government is doing what we want or our party is in power we lean toward Romans 13 and demand others do the same. However, when the government is in the hands of people we don’t favor we lean toward having the right to alter or abolish it. We are never going to resolve that tension.
No Call For Revolution Or Rights
Paul had not read John Locke and not been formed by the Enlightenment. Neither had his audience. While they were the objects of the worst kinds of persecution, they did not have the mindset or the means to mount a revolution. In fact, it was only when the State demanded to not only be obeyed but to be worshipped as God that the Christians refused. They did not refuse to pay taxes or put up with indignities and restrictions. They were not concerned about losing their non-profit status. They chose to suffer instead. They accepted the consequences of their disobedience.
But that does not mean that we are to try and fit ourselves and our circumstances into theirs. We have a different form of government but even so its function in God’s eyes is the same. To protect and not to provide. It is only when the prospect of chaos and insecurity is imminent that there is any reason for government to expand to meet the threat. Of course, that is how growth happens. The threat goes away but the increase doesn’t. Fortunately, we have a means to change the government without revolution or rebellion. Civil disobedience, yes, but not outright rebellion and armed insurrection. Our way is slow and ineffective. It is dependent on our involvement and, in a very real sense, not being involved even at the very lowest level of voting is allowing it to become tyranny and not what God intends. It ends up mired in gridlock but that is the way it was designed. James Madison said it this way in The Federalist Papers No. 51 on the reason for separation of powers:
”It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
Grateful For Government
We should be grateful for the form of government we have. I regret that part of our legacy from Thomas Paine is a fundamental distrust and disdain for government and those who serve there. I am concerned that we now see the ultimate source of government not as ordained by God but created and accountable only to us. I have no interest or trust in a Christian government as it would only become another form of tyranny in time and I believe that the State has more to fear from the Church than the reverse. However, as Winston Churchill said, “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Finally, I would say that if we spent half the time praying, interceding and giving thanks for those in authority that we give toward plotting against our partisan enemies we might well have more of what we desire and less of what we deserve. Instead of focusing on controversy and disputes it might be better, as Christians, to follow Paul’s advice to Titus.
“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”
Let’s devote ourselves to living in harmony and humility, being at peace with one another, practicing hospitality, honoring one another and doing what is good. I know that is not the way of the world and it is likely not the way to win political battles and power. But Paul was not giving practical political advice, was he? He was telling how we are to live as citizens of another kingdom even while we are subjects here in the world.