Series: Followers of Jesus
Message: In the World
Preacher: Japhet De Oliveira
Reflection: Japhet De Oliveira
Live Wonder: Zan Long
Live Adventure: Zan Long
Live Purpose: Don Pate
Editor: Becky De Oliveira
Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Romans 13:1-14 in the New International Version (NIV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: Did the NIV translation of this passage help you understand or make comprehension harder? What if you met someone who believed that absolute submission to all authorities is what is required of people, according to God’s order? You might be one those people yourself. What do you do with those who do not agree with that concept? Do you simply quote Romans 13 to them and hope they will fall into line?
It really does matter how we perceive the character of God. We can read this text and string other short ideas together to construct an image of God that is not healthy, beautiful, or true. People often combine this text with “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s” and conclude that it must clearly be a case of full compliance. They can similarly conflate this text with the one encouraging us to submit to one another and come to the same kind of conclusion (Ephesians 5:21).
I have watched online and sat around coffee shops (with decaf, of course—an inside joke for the Adventist tribe) while people have not just shared their views but argued vehemently that we should submit to both the government and the Church in all things. When authorities make a decision, it is up to the rest of us to abide by it. Compliance is the only way forward. Could it be that #resistance is futile is the hashtag for some of these decisions?
What I love about Adventism is that we appreciate the whole Bible. Not just one verse. We do not ignore the context within which Paul writes. We understand Chapter 13 has a backstory that begins in Chapter 12 and that is inspired by the First Testament and the Holy Spirit. So, in addition to what I mentioned yesterday about looking for the revelation of Jesus in every text, I maintain this practice with difficult passages that are thrown my way as “total final edicts”:
Prayer: God will reveal the truth
Premise: God does not change
Promise: God is love
You can read the story of Noah and his three sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth (which is not the way to pronounce my name, as my parents removed the “h” at the end). You can read about the mark being placed on Ham as a curse and suggest that it was a sign that he became black and was the father of the African people. Slice and dice that with Ephesians 6 (out of context, of course) and you get “slaves, obey your masters.” Just like that, you can “justify” the 10+ million Africans that were taken into slavery by Europeans in recent centuries.
But, when you allow Prayer/Premise/Promise to reside inside your heart, you start to see the true nature and character of God. He is not the architect of oppression, designing cruel regimes to hurt people. There is no way He would ever be an advocate for injustice. In fact, everything He does is with the aim of bringing more people into His Kingdom.
Recalibrate: If you were a PR guru, what narrative would use to bring your home or city or church or relationships into a healthier space?
Respond: Pray for the Spirit of God to inspire you to reconcile with more people.
Research: How do you understand the curse of Ham as outlined in Genesis?
Remember: “If you love your neighbor, you see, you have fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8, KNT).
Japhet De Oliveira is senior pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, and is co-founder of the One project. Originally from southeast London, he served in the South England Conference for nine years—as a pastor and later as conference youth director—before moving to the United States in 2006. He is married to Becky and they have two sons, Joshua (18) and Jonah (14).
Using a bedside lamp, make a game of turning the light on and off. When you turn the light off, pull a blanket up and put your head on a pillow saying, “It’s sleepy time!” Turn the light on, throw the blanket off and jump up from the pillow saying, “It’s day time—let’s play!” Repeat the game. Know that God’s got our days and our nights in His control—even though you may not get as much sleepy time as you planned. Choose to play well today.
Make a habit of doing things now. I’m very good at saying, “Yes, I’ll do that,” and then totally forgetting about it until I see the person I promised. Paul encourages us to live love now. Romans 13:13, in The International Children’s Bible, says “Let us live in a right way.” Think about this and talk with your friends about how you can live in a right way. What would that look like, sound like, and feel like?
OK—we’ve established that Jesus reached out to everyone and continues to call everyone to be His followers. There’s a simple truth under the surface of that claim: He leads; we follow. That’s why it’s a really hard decision to accept His invitation. He leads. We follow. This is not an equal partnership we get called into, this thing called “discipleship.” But the good news is that if He leads and we follow, we will never have to go where He hasn’t gone first. That’s even true of dying. He already led His people there and those who follow Him know He’s kicked down the door on the other side with resurrection. He leads. We follow. Where do you want to go that He has not already been? Just asking.