In Part I of “Christ and the Powers” we looked at Ephesians 6 which talks about the need to stand firm against worldly powers in the power of Christ. However, the Apostle Paul has much more to say about the powers in some of his other letters. It turns out that it is more complicated than just saying the words, “I’m going to stand firm in Christ” and then pretending we are unaffected by the powers of this world. The lines between God’s power and the powers of this world are not always easy to discern.
In fact, in Colossians 1:15-16 (NRSV), we have these remarkable words:
15 He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.Colossians 1:15-16 (NRSV)
In Colossians, the powers are seen not so much against God, but created by God in Christ. Paul actually lists the powers among the “all things” created in Christ. He finishes the sentence by saying, “all things have been created through him and for him.”
How can we say, as we did last week, that the powers arise from the sinful collective spirit of different groups of human beings, yet on the other hand that these powers are created through Christ and for Christ?
It is clear that God wants a relationship with human beings both as individuals and as groups. God also wants human beings to have relationships with each other. Because humans are finite creatures, limited in time and space, they can only relate to a certain number of people. God thus provides for groupings around different times and places. These groups become power centers as they represent the power of the individual persons who form those groups. This applies to families, clans, tribes, nations, ethnic groups, etc.
God’s purpose is to create an orderly world with an order in which human beings can function together as a people and can, in turn, relate to God. However, because those groups, like the individuals that form them have been given free will and thus power, they rapidly want all of the power and thus turn against any power that is the “other” (other family, other nation, other ethnic group) and also against God himself.
The end result is a rapid death spiral as all the competing powers try to destroy each other. The powers, rather than giving order to human life, become rebellious against God and are thus agents of death rather than life. The powers unleashed by human sin are not only forces of government, but of economics, of culture, of health (such as diseases), and indeed sin and death themselves are at the top of the list. The apostle Paul says that God is about the business of bringing order out of this chaos, opposing the rebelliousness of these powers by making sure they hold each other in check while God himself reveals the ultimate power of love through his Son, Jesus Christ.
In these days, the whole world is under the power unleashed by a tiny novel coronavirus. To deal with that power, human beings tend to look to the other powers of the world to save them. But which powers do we listen to? Does the World Health Organization (WHO) or the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) have the right answers? Do we take seriously a national leader who constantly gives his opinion but then says to leave the decision to the states? Or do we follow that state leader who then makes those decisions that the national leader and his followers don’t like?
The Bible is clear. The people of God are to obey God and the commandments of God. In the New Testament, people are called to follow Jesus and recognize only Jesus as Lord. God’s people are never called to obey or follow earthly powers or to declare any “Caesar” (government official) as Lord.
Some people will quote the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:1 to argue otherwise. Yet, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is typical in having difficulty translating three key words:
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.Romans 13:1 (NRSV)
- “Institute” in English makes it sound like God created the power and therefore we must obey it. However, in the original Greek, the word is tassō which means “to arrange in an orderly manner” or “assign a certain position.” This is what a librarian does to the books in a library. Whether or not he or she agrees with or approves a particular book, the librarian puts the book in a particular order.
- “From” is from the Greek word hypo which almost always carries the meaning of “under.” Paul is saying that every authority is supposed to be under God, not that every authority is from God and therefore reflects the will of God.
- “Subject” or “to be subject to” is also misleading. It is actually a combination of hypo and tassō, the word, hypotassō which means to order under. Paul calls his readers to take their place under the powers of the world just as those powers take their place under God. He is not calling for blind obedience.
Here is a better translation:
1 Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God.Romans 13:1 (CEB)
All would be well if all human beings and all the earthly powers submitted to God’s will, but they don’t. Sin has entered in and all humans and the spiritual powers distorted by human sin are actually in rebellion. That’s why when it comes to obedience and following and calling someone “Lord” or “Supreme” we must look past the earthly powers to God alone as shown in Jesus Christ.
Sadly, that will sometimes, even often, lead to standing for God and thus against the rebellious powers as Paul says in Ephesians 6. To call Jesus “Lord” is to always be ready to take that stand.