November 15, 2009
PLAINER WORDS ONLINE …THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT ( 6 )
With the background presented in the last issue, The One Lord, we can look at a most controversial and misunderstood section of Scripture which, clearly, sets forth the ministry of the spiritual “lords” who ruled over the Acts period Church of God.
ROMANS 13—THE TRUE CONTEXT
(First published on December 1, 1977; Plainer Words Vol. VIII-17)
“Let every soul be subject unto the HIGHER POWERS. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1).
In order to gain the correct interpretation of Romans 13:1-7, it is absolutely crucial to place the writing in the context of the time it was written. What was the atmosphere surrounding the writing of Romans? What was the believer’s frame of reference as to the time in which they were living? Believers knew they were to be subject to the “higher powers.” Who were the “higher powers?” To discover this, it is not difficult. The Acts Period saints knew. Twenty-First Century Christians, for the most part, don’t know who the HIGHER POWERS were.
Israel, after the flesh, was under subjection to the Roman Empire at the time Christ showed up in Palestine as a “minister of the circumcision” to confirm God’s promises (Rom. 15:8). In the year of 33 A.D., on the Day of Pentecost, the Lord brought forth a new nation—“the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). It was during the Acts Period that the risen Christ began to form “the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph. 2:12). The “Church of God,” during “The Acts of the Apostles,” was the functioning Nation of God. The citizens of this new Nation renounced their allegiance to Rome and Rome’s Caesar because the saints’ allegiance was to their own King—the Lord Jesus Christ. Citizens of His New Commonwealth were to be submissive to Him and the men He ordained to be His ministers. His ministers, to wit, His Governmental Officials, would carry out the administration of His Acts Period Kingdom. The Acts Period Kingdom was the blade stage of the Pre-Millennial Kingdom of God (Mark 4:26-29).
The “higher powers” did not refer to civil authorities. These were men who had a “higher” authority than any civil magistrate, governor, or king. These were men who were selected BY THE WILL AND APPOINTMENT OF GOD. Mere civil authorities were appointed by man. The best that can be said of them is that they had their office by “the permissive will of God.” The “higher powers” in Verse One are a reference to the men who ruled over the Church of God. They were the “lords” of the Divinely-arranged Pentecostal economy. They were the “ordained of God;” as the result, the believers were subject to the “lords many” (1 Cor. 8:5).
In the true context of Romans 13, to equate the men of God with the civil authorities of that day does a flagrant and repugnant injustice to God’s rulers of the New Nation of Israel. These men will be part of the body politic of the “Israel of God” when the Kingdom is restored!
“Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Rom. 13:2).
Members of the Acts Period Church who resisted the “powers” [i.e., lords] were, in fact, resisting God. These “powers” were established by God to rule over the Church of God. The Lord Himself was ruling through them. He chose them, appointed them, and positioned them to be an extension of Himself. To resist this Divine order was an act of defying God and would bring about “damnation.” The word, “damnation,” refers to “judgment which leads on to condemnation” (see Bullinger’s Lexicon and Concordance). To read into this as—worldly politicians—frustrates the revelation of Truth.
“For rulers [over the Church] are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same” (Rom. 13:3).
Again, it is obvious, based upon the context, that the “rulers” didn’t refer to civil authorities. Rulers of this world have heaped honors on workers of evil while, at the same time, they have ridiculed, debased, imprisoned, and murdered the workers of good. Civil authorities are not inclined to heap praise upon those who are righteous in light of God’s Word. Remember John the Baptist; just to name one.
The rulers of Romans 13 were not a “terror” to the believers “who [walked] not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1). But, to walk after the flesh during the Pentecostal Dispensation led to condemnation. Those who walked after the flesh would be terrified by the authority wielded by “lords” because their power was awesome.
Verse Three indicated that some saints complained about the power and authority which the lords of the Acts Period had. The Apostle Paul reminded them there was no need to fear the power—walk in harmony of their calling, and the “lords” will praise you. There would be no reason to fear as long as they did what was good.
“For he [a lord] is the minister of God to thee [the saints] for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4).
Twice, in Verse Four, Paul referred to the ruler as “the minister of God.” As God’s appointed, in the Divinely-arranged economy, he was super-naturally endued with the gifts of “government” (1 Cor. 12:28). These gifts to His “ministers” qualified them to be the “higher powers” of Romans 13:1 to whom all believers were to be in submission.
“For he [a lord] beareth not the sword in vain;” bearing the sword is a figure of speech which means having the power and authority to exact, or inflict the extreme penalty—to wit, capital punishment. The penalties to be inflicted upon evil-doing believers would be determined by the “higher powers” who were, in the broad context, the “ministers of God.”
“Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake” (Rom. 13:5).
This is to say, in plainer words, the believer must be subject to the “higher powers” in order to avoid God’s wrath and escape the punishment. He should be submissive as a matter of principle and for the sake of his conscience sake. These Divinely-empowered ones ruled as “lords” during “The Acts of the Apostles.”
In Acts Chapter Five, we see the Apostle Peter wielding the “sword” as he inflicted capital punishment upon Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). The sentence of death was executed at his word. Peter was God’s minister to them for good, and those who did evil, certainly, had reason to be afraid. The execution of Ananias and Sapphira made such an impact upon those who were not of that number that they dared not join, or associate with the Church members because they were fearful (Acts 5:13). Later, in Acts 3:6, we note Peter used his great authority to heal a crippled man.
We see in Acts 8:20-24 where Peter pronounced the death sentence on Simon, the sorcerer. His words were, “thy money perish with thee” (Acts 8:20). However, the sentence was withheld while repentance was held out to Simon who fully recognized the seriousness of Peter’s words.
Acts 13 gave the details of Paul using his authority, as a “higher power,” upon Elymus, the sorcerer, who hindered Paul’s work in the Gospel. Paul pronounced blindness upon Elymus which came to pass, even, as Paul spoke the words (Acts 13:11).
Paul gave specific instructions, in 1 Corinthians 5, concerning the judgment of one who was walking after the flesh and not after the Spirit. This makes for “good and profitable read.”
Not only the Apostles, but others, also, were ordained to be numbered among “higher powers.” Simon Peter advised the “elders” to be examples to the “flock of God” and not to just, simply, “lord it over them” as “lords.”
“The elders [lords] which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder [lord], and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory [Mount of Transfiguration] that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:1-3).
The elders were “lords over God’s HERITAGE [His Acts Period Church],” but as such, Peter said it would be better for them to be examples to the flock. We should pay attention to the fact that the Lord had placed “lords” throughout His scattered assemblies. The Pentecostal Dispensation witnessed that there were many “lords.” By contrast, in the Dispensation of the Grace of God, there are not many lords, nor are there a few lords—there is but ONE LORD (Eph. 4:5).
In summary, it should be said that the Church of God was the new nation He was forming, the Israel of God, which was to exercise governmental rule—in the blade stage of the Government of God. It was a small nation, mostly, unrecognized by the other nations. A few recognized that this group of Christians “had another King” (Acts 17:6-10). God’s Government (in-miniature) even had Its Ambassador who was the Apostle Paul. His reception as the Ambassador to Rome was not well-received by Caesar. In fact, Paul had to conduct his Ambassadorship in chains, and his embassy was his “own hired house.” The affairs of state which he conducted; he did so as a prisoner.
During the Acts Period, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Paul was “The Lord-in-Chief.” Paul was the leading lord of the period. But, when God shut down the Acts economy, all of the “lords,” who believed the latest report from God, exchanged their power and authority for the GIFT OF GRACE.
The Acts Period believers understood that there were “lords” who were over them. However, with the Church of God being placed in abeyance at the close of the Acts Period, the spiritual authority given to the “lords” was rescinded. All “gifts of the Spirit” were withdrawn. So, what we have said is; the Church of God was the “Israel of God.” It was governed by the God-ordained rulers; they were the “lords.” They were to rule in accord to the purpose and plan of Jesus Christ Who was the KING of kings, and LORD of lords. (Rev. 19:16).
The announcement coming from Rome, out of the “hired house” of Paul, was that the “Israel of God” was set aside, and there were no longer any “lords.” For the “new creation,” the “One New Man,” that is to say, the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him has no “lords” BUT ONE—THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
“For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they [the lords] are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing” (Rom. 13:6).
In view of the context of Romans 13, the “tribute” mentioned in Verse 6 must refer to financial support owed to the “ministers of God.” You wouldn’t expect the “tribute,” mentioned, to be owed to Roman, or Jewish political authorities. They were the ones who crucified our Lord Jesus Christ. Most everyone, who is a recognized theological expert, believes that the “tribute” money, mentioned in Romans 13:6, refers to a “tribute tax” imposed by Rome upon the nation of Israel. This type of tax was imposed on a nation who had been conquered by another. The conquering nation required a “tribute.” This tax was a form of insurance to protect the conquered nation from being conquered and subject to another alien nation. This type of “tribute” was imposed on a conquered nation and enforced by the threat of the state’s “sword.” Or, as “Vine’s Expository Dictionary” says; “denotes tribute paid by a subjugated nation.”
However, the context throughout Romans 13 is about the “rulers,” or “lords” of the Church of God, not civil politicians. It was to them, that is to say, the “lords,” that this “tribute” was to be paid. It is interesting to find that “Webster’s Third New International Dictionary” had one definition of “Tribute Money” as being; “the annual tax of a half-a-shekel paid by each Jew for the support of the temple.” Friends, a shekel was a silver coin designed by God. God told Moses what its design was to be and what its silver content was to be. It was “God’s Money.” That is to say, “a shekel after the sanctuary” was a silver coin whose silver content was determined by God, to wit, twenty gerahs (Ex. 30:13). To do business in the Lord’s economy, as long as Israel stood before God, the money to be used was the “shekel-after-the-sanctuary.”
However, the shekel-after-the-sanctuary was probably not in use by the Diaspora, the Dispersion. Gentiles, as well as members of the Diaspora, the Dispersion, more than likely paid their “tribute” in coins of the nations in which they dwelled.
“Tribute” was money to be given to the “lords” of the Church of God. This was voluntary on the part of the saints.
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7) NIV.
Consider the following verses to confirm the voluntary nature of the “tribute” to be given: 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, 9:15; Galatians 6:6-8.
This study will be concluded by looking at Romans 13:7.
“Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Rom. 13:7).
This verse does not change the subject, within its context, from spiritual authorities, i.e., the “lords over God’s heritage” to that of civil authorities. The believers, as members of the Church of God, were to render tribute to the “higher powers” to whom the tribute was due. Render custom to whom custom was due; fear to whom fear was due, and honor to whom honor was due. That which was said to be rendered was to be render to the rulers, bishops, deacons, elders, and Apostles, all of which were “lords.”
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE “ONE LORD” TODAY
2000 YEARS LATER
Today, most all Christian denominations assume the present dispensation began at Acts 2, Acts 9, or Acts 13. By assuming this erroneous posture, they allow the “pastors” of local churches to assume the roll as the God-anointed leaders over the congregations. As such, they are to be looked to as special men who have been “called” by God to be “ministers of God.” There was a time when these so-called “ministers of God,” no matter what title they operated under, exercised great influence, not only over their constituency, but, also, over governments.
However, failure to rightly divide the Word of Truth, today, in Christian circles allows for more than One Lord, no matter how unwittingly. Most Christians will give “lip service” to the fact that there is but One Lord. They would never admit to more than one, but by the very fact that they cannot accurately distinguish when the Church began, they cannot keep “The Unity of the Spirit.”
In the words of Paul, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren” concerning the many lords during the Pentecostal Dispensation, does not mean there are “lords many” in the Dispensation of the Grace of God. Blindness to this Truth, unknowingly, allows “church operators” to function as “lords of the church.” This title will not be used. Others, however, will be inserted in the place of “lords,” but the meaning will be the same. In the “Church, which is His Body” (Eph. 1:22-23), our God has not given any man a title of authority over any member of “His Body.”
The Bible does state that members of the Church of God had men who were “over you in the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:12), and those who ruled over them were to be obeyed (Heb. 13:17). Failure to “rightly divide” gives a place of importance to present “church operators” which the rightly divided Word does not.
The revelation of the Mystery makes known that, NOW, there are no higher authorities in the One New Man—the One Body—or said another way; there is no hierarchy in the Church over which Christ Jesus is the Head. All who embrace the Mystery acknowledge that all members are on the same level. We have no officers, today. There are no God-appointed ministers, such as, apostles, prophets, evangelists, or teaching pastors.
When Paul placed the truths of the Mystery in writing, it became “standard knowledge” for “all men to see.” That does not mean that all will believe, but it is for ALL TO SEE. There is no place of prominence for any member of the One Body. There is absolute equality among everyone of us who have been memberd into the One Body.
The arch-enemy of Truth, Satan, must delight in the fact that so many fail to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” (2 Tim 2:15). His purpose is to obscure truth so that Christian people may be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the Truth”
(2 Tim.3:7). He knows that failure to “rightly divide” allows for him to have a bunch of “little lords” to run the churches.
“The Unity of the Spirit” which we are to keep, or guard insists that there is but ONE LORD.
From Plainer Words
The Unity of the Spirit - Part 6
Posted in: 2009
By Tom L. Ballinger
Nov 17, 2009 - 4:00:20 PM
Nov 17, 2009 - 4:00:20 PM
© Copyright 2009 by Plainer Words