Table of Contents / Overview
- Obedience to All Human Authority and Power
- Respect for Employers
- Obedience to God Rather than Man
- Military Service
- Police Service
- The Taking of Oaths
- Trade Union Membership
- Family Relationships
- Marriage "Only in the Lord"
- Marriage and Family Life
- Divorce and Remarriage
PERSONAL STANDARDS (II)
It will be apparent from the last study that the life of a true follower of Jesus is controlled by Divine commandment in every aspect. The standard set before us is perfect but only Jesus himself completely conformed to it. God does not expect perfection from us: He knows our weakness. This is why in His love he provided Jesus, His only begotten Son, as a sacrifice for sin.
"God commended His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us". (Romans 5 v 8)
After baptism, we can obtain forgiveness through Him by seeking it in prayer. Nevertheless we are expected to make every effort to obey. In this way we gradually learn to take on a disposition pleasing to God termed "the mind of Christ" (See I Corinthians 2 v 16).
Regular reading of the Word helps us to learn what the commands are and how they are to be applied.
There are a number of special problems which face us all as we try to live a godly life, and some of these will now be considered in detail.
Reference has already been made to two duties which have very wide implications, firstly, separation from the world, and, secondly, non-resistance to evil. A sincere endeavour to apply these principles in daily life will inevitably raise practical questions as to the attitude to be adopted to certain organized movements in the world, especially when under the control of governments or others in authority.
The Bible teaches clearly that we have obligations in his respect. For example, from what has already been explained, it might be concluded that because we are not "of the world" taxes ought not be be paid because the proceeds may be used for purposes not in harmony with what we believe, such as the upkeep of the armed forces. But this conclusion would be wrong. The Apostle Paul wrote:
"LET EVERY SOUL BE SUBJECT TO THE HIGHER POWERS. FOR THERE IS NO POWER BUT OF GOD: THE POWERS THAT BE ARE ORDAINED OF GOD. WHOSOEVER THEREFORE RESISTETH THE POWER RESISTETH THE ORDINANCE OF GOD. FOR THIS CAUSE PAY YE TRIBUTE ALSO: FOR THEY ARE GOD'S MINISTERS ATTENDING CONTINUALLY ON THIS VERY THING. RENDER THEREFORE TO ALL THEIR DUES: TRIBUTE TO WHOM TRIBUTE IS DUE: CUSTOM TO WHOM CUSTOM: FEAR TO WHOM FEAR: HONOUR TO WHOM HONOUR."
- Romans 13 v 1-6
It is not for us therefore to distinguish between good and bad "powers that be". Whether we agree with their policy or not does not alter our duty. Jesus himself commanded it and also showed the example by paying tribute to the Roman authorities who later were to be parties to his crucifixion.
- Matthew 17 v 24-27
- Matthew 22 v 15-22
The commandment was repeated in other New Testament letters. We also have a duty to pray for the authorities. Brethren and sisters of Christ, therefore, will not take part in demonstrations or organised protests against governments or other authorities however much they may dislike their decisions.
- Titus 3 v 1
- I Peter 2 v 13-17
- I Timothy 2 v 1-4
The law of Christ also requires that our employers be respected and given conscientious service. The command is clear:
"SERVANTS, BE OBEDIENT TO THEM THAT ARE YOUR MASTERS ACCORDING TO THE FLESH, WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING, IN SINGLENESS OF YOUR HEART, AS UNTO CHRIST: NOT WITH EYE SERVICE AS MEN PLEASERS: BUT AS THE SERVANTS OF CHRIST, DOING THE WILL OF GOD FROM THE HEART: WITH GOODWILL DOING SERVICE AS TO THE LORD, AND NOT TO MEN: KNOWING THAT WHATSOEVER GOOD THING ANY MAN DOETH, THE SAME SHALL HE RECEIVE OF THE LORD, WHETHER HE BE BOND OR FREE."
- Ephesians 6 v 5-8
- Colossians 3 v 22-25
- I Timothy 6 v 1-2
- I Peter 2 v 18-20
These commands make it clear that our service to our earthly masters is part of our service to God. This viewpoint is very different from that of most people in employment and is one of the ways in which our separation is emphasized. It requires of us a humility and submission which runs contrary to our natural feelings.
On the other hand this difference in outlook may at times bring us into collision with the various authorities. They may require us to take an active part either in deciding who should govern or the forcible administration of their decisions. The two commands of separation and non-resistance to evil have to be applied in a practical way. Here is a test of our faith.
- Matthew 5 v 30-42
- Luke 6 v 29-30
- Romans 12 v 19-21
We have already learned that in obeying the Truth we change our master. We know that world affairs are under Divine control and that the ultimate issues of government do not depend entirely on the decisions of rulers or the reactions of individuals.
It is the Divine purpose that is important. Because of this the follower of Christ does not get involved in politics or assist in the propaganda of the political parties, still less stand as their representative. In most countries today the citizen is entitled to vote. This privilege is not exercised by Christ's followers. As the destiny of the world and therefore of the individual countries which at present comprise the world are in God's hands, it is not for us to become involved in choosing or directing men who would wish to rule. If we do, we may select contrary to God's will. As the faithful of old we are "strangers and pilgrims" in the earth seeking a kingdom to come.
- Hebrews 11 v 13
In some countries unwillingness to vote brings penalties, usually in the form of a fine. If necessary this must be accepted for Christ's sake although a courteous explanation to the authorities of our reasons will often bring a sympathetic ear. This is a situation where prayer often brings deliverance in unexpected ways, even today.
In times of war or unrest the two principles of separation and non-resistance to evil may require an even firmer attitude towards "the powers that be". Our duty is to obey and respect them except when they require us to act contrary to the commands of Jesus. If they do it is clear that we must "obey God rather than men". The servant of Christ will not, of course, join the army, navy, air force or any ancillary services. To meet the country's needs in time of danger conscription may be introduced. Here is one of the few cases where the authority's demands on us may have to be resisted. When Jesus returns he comes as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He will go forth and fight against the nations who oppose him and, if we are found faithful, we will go with him. Meanwhile as a matter of faith our duty is to stand aside, trusting in God's assurance "Vengeance is mine, I will repay".
- Romans 13 v 1
- Acts 5 v 29
- Acts 4 v 19-20
- Romans 12 v 19
The position is very clearly put by Jesus himself when before Pilate on trial for his life.
"MY KINGDOM IS NOT OF THIS WORLD: ('ORDER OF THINGS'). IF MY KINGDOM WERE OF THIS WORLD, THEN WOULD MY SERVANTS FIGHT, THAT I SHOULD NOT BE DELIVERED TO THE JEWS: BUT NOW IS MY KINGDOM NOT FROM HENCE."
- John 18 v 36
Notice how, in this statement, he combines the two aspects of separation and nonresistance to evil. It may be asked whether we should be prepared to suffer imprisonment or ill-treatment for our refusal and perhaps leave our families and homes without protection or provision. The answer is that in such circumstances God will not try us more than we are able to bear. So far as our duty is concerned, we cannot do better than quote the following words of a stalwart Christadelphian who lived in the last century.
"The question is: Does the law of Christ allow them to employ violence under any circumstances? If not, the loss of life itself would not be a consequence to be considered by them. Thoughts of expediency or philanthropy are out of place when urged in defense of doing that which the law of Christ forbids. If riots must rage unless we disobey Christ, let riots rage. If life and property must be exposed to the ravages of wicked men, unless we do that which Christ tells us we are not to do, let all houses and all lives be unprotected. If we must incur and pay heavy penalties unless we choose to break the law of God, let the penalties be paid. If we must be killed, and all our families with us unless we forfeit the approbation of the Lord and Master, and lose eternal life at his coming, let us die at once. It is a mistake to hamper the question of duty with any secondary consideration whatever. The simple and only question for us is that which Paul put near Damascus: 'Lord, what wouldest thou have me do?'"
In some countries the law provides for conscientious objection to military and allied services. In the United Kingdom in particular genuine Christadelphians have experienced very sympathetic treatment and rarely have the brethren and sisters of Christ had to suffer imprisonment or other penalties for their unwillingness to serve. Alternative service has been required compatible with their conscience such as work in hospitals or on farms. This has been the way of escape provided by God as an answer to prayer and one for which many have had cause to be thankful.
- I Corinthians 10 v 13
Sometimes the question of service in the Police Force is raised. The principle here is almost identical with the army or other allied forces. It is their duty to maintain law and order, using force if necessary. This is not the day for us to use these methods, although it will be our work and privilege when the Kingdom of God is set up on the earth. Here again we need to remember we are not part of the present order of things. While we wait for the return of Jesus we are to be kind, gentle and humble, doing violence to no man as he has set us the example.
In the matters so far considered there is another principle which calls for consideration. Before actively engaging in the duties of a soldier or policemen, it is usual for the authorities to demand an oath of allegiance to the ruling power. Our allegiance, however, must always be first to God. Jesus told us also, "Swear not at all, neither by heaven for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool". James also gives us the same command. We cannot therefore take an oath of allegiance. Additionally we cannot voluntarily place ourselves in any position where our liberty of conscience or freedom of action is qualified by an overriding duty to any other than God.
- Matthew 5 v 34-37
- James 5 v 12
Circumstances may arise where we are required to appear before a Court to give evidence, perhaps of an accident. An oath of truthfulness is usually required before we speak. This request must be refused. In most Courts an affirmation will be accepted in its place. This should be requested before the proceedings commence to avoid difficulty or embarrassment to the Court during the hearing. Even where there is no such provision it will usually be found that a courteous request to be relieved of the need to take an oath will be respected. If not, the consequences of refusal must be faced. We can only commit our way to God in prayer having faith in His guidance and protection.
Trade Unions may be another cause of concern for the followers of Christ. There is no doubt that over the years they have relieved employees of much exploitation. The methods employed, however, have not always been those in which a brother or sister could co-operate. It is unwise to argue that the end justifies the means. The attitude of Unions today is often militant to the extent of challenging employers' authority and forcing concessions by violent means or non-co-operation. It is one thing to plead for better working conditions, more pay or shorter hours, but quite another to force employers to concede these by restrictive practices or withdrawal of labour. The servant of Christ has to keep in mind the commands already quoted, also the words of Paul:
"THE SERVANT OF THE LORD MUST NOT STRIVE BUT BE GENTLE UNTO ALL MEN."
- II Timothy 2 v 24
Employers are to be respected even if they are not kind or considerate. Because of this and our position of separation, membership of Trade Unions should be avoided and active participation shunned. It is recommended that those who are already members of a Union or who are under pressure to join, explain their position and either resign or seek the exemption normally granted. A change in employment may be necessary in some circumstances to maintain obedience to Christ's commands.
We now turn to consider our obligations in family relationships. There are many commands which are designed to help us to control our lives, our emotions and feelings in order that we may live pure and holy lives.
Husbands and wives - Parents - Children
- Ephesians 5 v 22-33
- Colossians 3 v 18-19
- Ephesians 6 v 4
- Colossians 3 v 21
- I Timothy 3 v 4-5
- Ephesians 6 v 1-3
- Colossians 3 v 20
Whilst obedience calls for self-control, the effect is to produce happiness in our human relationships which the permissive outlook of the world today can never achieve.
Let it first be stated that marriage is a Divine institution. Family life is one of the greatest blessings a godly man or woman can enjoy. So far as the institution of marriage is concerned, please read again from Lesson 3.
From the time of our baptism our responsibility is to adhere as closely as possible to Divine teaching on this as on all other practical matters, whether or not it is convenient or appeals to us. Up to this time we have pleased ourselves fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind. But at baptism service to sin ends: Christ is our master. We are members of his household and accept, not only the privileges but also the responsibilities of that calling.
- Ephesians 2 v 3
The laws of many countries today allow an interpretation of the duties of marriage and its binding character which are not in harmony with the teaching of Christ. It is important, therefore, that we do not allow emotion or convenience to move us to ignore the seriousness of Divine teaching on this most intimate of human relationships. From the beginning the Divine intention was one man and one wife forming one flesh, a union which bound them for life. This is the principle expressed in Genesis 2 v 24 subsequently endorsed by Jesus as follows:
"WHEREFORE THEY ARE NO MORE TWAIN BUT ONE FLESH. WHAT THEREFORE GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER LETNOT MAN PUT ASUNDER."
- Matthew 19 v 5-6
- I Corinthians 7 v 10-11
It is a partnership which once entered into by those responsible to Christ's laws must not be severed except by death. The validity of the marriage does not depend on its consummation. The primary object of the marriage state in the beginning was companionship, the wife being a "help meet" for the man. This was emphasised by Paul when he likened the union between Christ and the Ecclesia to a marriage.
- Ephesians 5 v 30-33
Consistent with the object of marriage, the Apostle Paul commands that when contemplating marriage, believers are to choose only from those who have the same hope, i.e. "only in the Lord". This may seem very restrictive but a little reflection will enable you to see Divine wisdom in the command. Service to Jesus must come first in every aspect of daily life. To take as a life companion one who is not in sympathy with this outlook must lead to difficulties. If there are children there could be disagreement on the way they are to be brought up. Solomon's wives turned away his heart from serving God despite all his wisdom.
- I Corinthians 7 v 39
- I Kings 11 v 1-4
Many, however, learn the truth when they are already married and the other partner may not be convinced. Paul gives us guidance on this matter:
"IF ANY BROTHER HATH A WIFE THAT BELIEVETH NOT, AND SHE BE PLEASED TO DWELL WITH HIM, LET HIM NOT PUT HER AWAY, AND IF THE WOMAN WHICH HATH AN HUSBAND THAT BELIEVETH NOT, AND IF HE BE PLEASED TO DWELL WITH HER, LET HER NOT LEAVE HIM."
- I Corinthians 7 v 13-14
Obedience to this command may bring difficulties. It is for the believing partner to show by EXAMPLE the advantages of following Christ's commands. Every effort must be made, so far as is consistent with Christ's teaching, to preserve the union and make it as happy as possible. A quiet, patient example will sometimes convince where words are ineffective. This is a test of faith which must be patiently endured.
A word on morality is necessary at this stage. Before knowing God's purpose and the way of life required, it may be that there were habits or practices in which you engaged which you did not regard as particularly harmful or impure but which can now be seen as quite inconsistent with your calling in Christ. If so, this was part of your life of 'service to sin' which the waters of baptism wash away. That way of life must now be left behind; it is part of the repentance which must precede baptism. Our bodies are to be devoted to God. Therefore all unclean, immoral or abusive habits and ways of speech must be forsaken.
- PLEASE READ CAREFULLY
- I Corinthians 6 v 9-20
By marriage a new home or family is created. Father and Mother are left behind. Husband and wife become one flesh. Every effort should be made to see that the new home is influenced by the Truth. It should be made a place of Godliness and happiness, a place where God's word is regularly read, revered and discussed, a place where the world can be shut out and the family, also the lonely, or those in trouble may go and find help and encouragement. Think on that little home at Bethany which Jesus loved to visit and you will see what is meant.
- Luke 10 v 38-42
A prayer of thanks offered for each meal and private prayers night and morning are part of the daily habits of the true brother and sister of Christ.
The relationship between husband and wife is clearly set out in the Bible. It is a delightful combination of mutual understanding, trust, respect and devotion. The Bible does not allow for the modern attitude of equality of the sexes. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the ecclesia. It is not for the husband, however, to be overbearing. He has a duty to give honour to the wife as unto the weaker vessel.
- I Peter 3 v 7
Woman's position is subservient to the man due firstly to the original purpose in her creation as a help-meet for the man; and secondly, because Eve was first in the transgression. Woman's position was defined by God soon after the Fall, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee". True happiness in marriage is experienced where each recognize their special position as divinely revealed.
- Genesis 3 v 16
- Genesis 3 v 1
The parents must recognize that children are a blessing from the Lord and their duty is to bring them up to acknowledge God, to understand His purpose and to be submissive to discipline. Parents have a great responsibility to set the example. Where the Bible is regularly read, thanks offered for meals and the Truth lived and freely discussed, the children are encouraged to grow up in the fear of the Lord. They should learn to find their happiness within the family and, where possible, with other families in the Truth. Note God's words concerning Abraham:
"I KNOW HIM THAT HE WILL COMMAND HIS CHILDREN AND HIS HOUSEHOLD AFTER HIM, AND THEY SHALL KEEP THE WAY OF THE LORD TO DO JUSTICE AND JUDGMENT: THAT THE LORD MAY BRING UPON ABRAHAM THAT WHICH HE HATH SPOKEN OF HIM."
- Genesis 18 v 19
The duty regarding children is briefly summarised by Paul as follows:
"YE FATHERS, PROVOKE NOT YOUR CHILDREN TO WRATH: BUT BRING THEM UP IN THE NURTURE AND ADMONITION OF THE LORD."
- Ephesians 6 v 4
- I Timothy 3 v 4
Children, too, have their duty especially when old enough to be baptised. They are required to respect their parents and obey them except when they are asked to disobey a command of Christ.
"CHILDREN OBEY YOUR PARENTS IN THE LORD: FOR THIS IS RIGHT."
- Ephesians 6 v 1-2
- Colossians 3 v 20
Divorce is not permitted and should never be contemplated. The command is clear and no state laws can ever alter the binding nature of marriage for God's children.
- Mark 10 v 6-12
- I Corinthians 7 v 10-11
"WHAT GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER."
It may be, however, that before the Truth was known divorce had already taken place. If so, this is a matter for which God does not hold us responsible: it is part of our former life of 'service to sin', therefore, if when a man or woman comes to know the Gospel, they are already divorced but not remarried, they are single under the only law to which they were responsible at the time of the divorce i.e. the law of the country. So they come to the Truth as single people. Once baptised they are responsible to Christ's laws. They are free to marry in the Truth but from that time no divorce is permissible. If a man or woman has been divorced and taken another partner before coming to a knowledge of the Truth, then God recognises the union at the time of baptism.
In some countries polygamy is still practised. It is true that in Old Testament times polygamy was permitted but Jesus, in his teaching, reverted to the original intention in Eden
- Genesis 2 v 24
- Mark 10 v 6-8
Where a man has more than one wife prior to coming to a knowledge of the Truth, he must continue to accept his responsibilities after baptism. But he must not take any further wives. In the first century those who had more than one wife (prior to baptism) were not permitted to be bishops or deacons.
- I Timothy 3 v 2 & 12
The standards required from brethren and sisters of Christ are contrary to many of the accepted rules of behaviour in the world. There is the danger of our being influenced by those with whom we have to mix in our daily life. Christ's commands are designed to develop faith in God, humility, courage, patience, kindness and all that is meant by the word "godliness".
They are designed to make us followers of him. He is the "Good Shepherd" (John 10 v 14, 27 & 28): we must be his sheep and obey his voice.
A little booklet called "The Commandments of Christ" is enclosed with this lesson. It summarizes the most important ones. We suggest you study it, carry it with you and take one or two commands for careful thought each day. In this way you will gradually understand more clearly what is required. You will not find it easy. You will often fail to keep them through weakness and temptation. Do not be discouraged, God knows we are weak, Jesus has been provided as our sympathetic High Priest through whom we can obtain forgiveness. He knows the difficulties. He has been tempted in all points like us and "In that he himself hath suffered being tempted he is able also to succour those who are tempted". But we must try our best to overcome our weaknesses. Life in the Truth is likened to a battle. The promised reward is to those "who overcome" (Revelation ch. 3 v 20-21).
"BLESSED ARE THEY THAT DO HIS COMMANDMENTS." Revelation 22 v 14
Using references where possible to support your reply, answer the following:
- How should a follower of Jesus Christ behave towards rulers and those in authority?
- "Servants obey in all things your masters in singleness of heart, fearing
God" (Colossians 3 v 22).
Explain what you understand by this statement.
- "Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you" (Luke 6 v 27).
Explain what you understand by this statement.
- What did Peter mean when he said, "We ought to obey God rather than men?" (Acts 5 v 29).
- Is it right for a follower of Jesus to serve in the armed or police forces? If not, why not?
- What did Jesus mean when he said "Swear not at all"? (Matthew 5 v 34).
- Outline the Bible teaching regarding the relationship between husband and wife.
- Why would it be wrong for a follower of Jesus to marry one who was not a baptized believer?
- Should a servant of Jesus obtain a divorce? Give reasons for your answer.
- What are the responsibilities of parents who understand the teaching
of the Bible?