Christians and the Rights of Citizenship
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Many Christians have taken the attitude that it is not "Christian" to become too involved with civil matters - especially when they relate to government. Perhaps part of the reason for this has been due to a misunderstanding of what Christian "love" really is. After all, if the government's job is to "bear the sword", "love", as many Christians perceive it, has little to do with government. Just as effective in keeping Christians out of Government is the world's insistence that Christian values don't belong in the civil realm.
These ideas have even led many Christians to suggest that Paul was wrong when he appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11-12). We want to look at the Apostle Paul's actions as both a Christian leader, an Apostle of the Lord, and a Roman citizen for the purpose of gaining a truly biblical perspective on these matters.
1. First turn to Paul's trial before Governor Festus in Acts 25:7-12. Would you describe Paul in this scene as "meek" or "firm"? Do Christians tend to think that these are opposites? Yet, did Paul at any time refuse to submit himself to the proper authorities? Was he unloving?
2. In verses 11 and 12 we see Paul appealing to Caesar. This was his right as a Roman citizen. Was he wrong to use that right of citizenship?
Many Christians have thought that Paul was wrong here. But take a look at Acts 23:1-11. This is the original incident which resulted in Paul's trial before Festus - and his appeal to Caesar. Who speaks to Paul in Acts 23:1-11? Is it significant that he came, in person, at this time, to deliver this message? Could we say that the Lord Himself was here directly giving Paul an assignment at the beginning of the chain of events which would make it possible for him to carry that assignment out?
3. Obviously the Lord's words to Paul were in the back of his mind when appeal to Caesar became logical, given the circumstances which were developing in Festus' court. In what ways are Paul's actions in Acts 25: 11-12 a submission to the ruling authorities? Read Paul's words in Romans 13:3. Based on these words, why would Paul not be afraid to appeal to Caesar? How did God use these circumstances, including Paul's citizenship rights, to extend His kingdom?
4. Note that appeal to Caesar in the Roman Empire was like an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court today. If Paul won his case, the result could have been an official Roman recognition of Christianity as distinct from Judaism. How might this have helped the infant Church and its mission? But Paul could not know what the Lord had in mind for him, other than to bear witness to Him in Rome.
5. Take a look at events earlier, when a mob developed at the Temple (Acts 22). After the Roman commander had allowed Paul to address the mob, and they again became unruly, the commander ordered Paul scourged, hoping that Paul would confess some reason for the crowd's anger against him. We concentrate on Paul's actions as recorded in Acts 22:22-30. What specific actions by Paul indicate his submission to governmental authorities? How does his approach to the centurion in verse 25 indicate respect for authority?
Yet was Paul timid about invoking his rights as a citizen? What practical applications does this lesson have for us? What in verse 29 indicates that Paul could have made lots of trouble for the Roman commander? Did he? How was Paul's handling of this situation both loving and firm?
How did Paul refuse to be intimidated by the power claims of those who were not Christians? What citizenship lessons do we learn from Paul's conduct? Are we faithful when we let non-Christians intimidate us into not using our rights as citizens because, after all, we're Christians?
6. Our rights as citizens can be effective tools if we use them in a loving but firm way. How did the Lord Himself use Paul's rights as a citizen as tools to spread the Gospel? Can we say, then, that Paul was a faithful steward of his rights in the service to the Lord?
Considering the work that God has given to the government, and the ultimate purpose of a quiet and peaceable life (see Bible Study: Our Duties to Government), in what specific ways can we use our rights as citizens ultimately to spread the Gospel?
7. And the big question: Can it be properly said that Christians should separate themselves from civil matters? Or can we say that Christians have a responsibility as Christians to be involved as citizens?
Copyright Â© 1988 Bible Science Newsletter, Pastor Paul A. Bartz. Creation Moments, Inc. PO Box 839, Foley, MN 56329 800-422-4253 www.creationmoments.com