ROMANS 13 FROM THE GREEK TEXT

It all comes back to love and how you treat your neighbor.  At least, that is what Paul is teaching us in Romans 13.  What Paul does that is different than Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40 (but not contrary to Jesus, just an extrapolation of it) is he pushes it out to the logical assumptions about political and social behavior.

Translation Notes

The most fitful translation choice for me was in verse 7.  There is a remarkable brevity in the way Paul frames these words–literally something like “taxes the taxes, toll the toll, fear the fear, honor the honor.”  I’ve added the verbs “due” and “pay” at the beginning and end of the verse for clarity, but those are not present in this part of the sentence.  They are borrowed from earlier.

In verse 6 Paul uses the word “leitourgoi” which is connected to the root for our word ‘liturgy’, and it is sometimes used to describe Christian worship or service.  Here, however, it is used to denote the secular, civil servant whom Paul also calls a servant of God.  It is fascinating that in 12:1, when he talks about worship, he uses another word, “latreo.”  Even though there are two different words, I wonder how connected in Paul’s mind is the work of Christian service and civil service?

One more translation issue.  Most English renderings add the word “first” in verse 11, when we “first believed.”  That is a giant liberty, for the word just is not there.  I don’t like it, because it implies a second (or third, or fourth etc…) moment of belief.  Paul is chronological here, recalling that time when we believed in Jesus, but the modifier “first” is unnecessary and confusing.

Theological Notes

I feel like these verses need a fresh reading in our current cultural context here in the United States.  Paul lived in a time when the Roman Empire governed everything, and Rome was anything but moral.  Rome was an empire built of power, lust, and greed.  Whatever evil someone thinks might be going on in our government today, it pales in comparison to the evil in Rome–all throughout the empire.  Yet, Paul can say that the imperium (lictor, likely) is chosen by God for the task.  It can only mean that in the larger society (not within the church, mind you, c/f 1 Cor. 5) order, peace, submission, and the public good trumps personal morality.  That is a hard pill for many, me included, to swallow but that seems to be the teaching.

Chapter Thirteen
1. Every soul must be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and they have been assigned to it by God.
2. So, those opposing authority resist the command of God, and those who resist authority will receive judgement.
3. For those governing are not to be feared by those doing good work, but those doing evil. If you do not want to fear the authorities, do good and you will have praise for it.
4. For he is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, you will fear, for it is not for nothing that he carries a sword as a servant of God—an executor of wrath—to those practicing evil.
5. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject, not only because of wrath, but also because of the conscience.
6. This is why you pay taxes, for those are servants of God, constantly attending to the order of things.
7. Pay everyone what is due. If taxes are due, then taxes, if a toll, then a toll, if fear, then fear, if honor is due, then pay honor.
8. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for the one who loves others has fulfilled the law.
9. For, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not lust,” and whatever other commandments, are summarized in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
10. Love for the neighbors does no evil, therefore it is a fulfillment of the law of love.
11. Especially knowing the time, because the hour is now already here to wake from sleep, for our salvation is nearer than when we believed.
12. The night advances, but daytime is at hand, therefore take off the works of darkness. Put on the weapons of light.
13. Let us walk properly as in the daylight—not in orgies, drunkenness, in bed, in debauchery, rivalries or jealousy.
14. Put on the Lord Jesus, Messiah. Do not satisfy your desires.

MODERATION

Today I have another treat for you! My friend from church, Barbara Agnew, recently retired as the elections administrator in our county. She gave this speech at her retirement party at work. I thought it was great, So I asked her if I could share it with you on my blog, and she agreed. Barbara is one of the sweetest and gentlest souls in the whole wide world.

Moderation – What I Have Done and Who I Am
A Kind Soul
A Kind Soul

While I served as the Burnet County elections administrator I was required by law to be fair and politically unbiased – a “moderate”. I couldn’t contribute to a political party or campaign. I had a policy of “no political discussions” in our office. I required election workers and voters in the polling place to have the same policy – no political discussions. This was sometimes hard because we have interests and opinions on government, economics, social issues and the law.

We conducted elections with these goals during my tenure: fairness, accuracy, security and accessibility.

What I have become in these 8 years is a “moderate” – a person who listens to and values different sides of political issues. I value Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents and those who don’t want to be classified.

People of all persuasions are generous and kind and expect government officials to be careful with the resources under their purview – things like taxes, property, and policies. We want transparency in government. We want to be treated justly and we want others to be held accountable for their actions and receive the same justice.
I vote in Republican primary elections though many election administrators won’t vote in primaries because they don’t want others to know their party affiliation. For me, “the cat was already out of the bag” because I was a Republican precinct worker before coming to work in the elections office. My Republicanism stems mostly from an economic viewpoint that open markets benefit society and government involvement in business affairs can stifle economic growth.

Do I resent government? Not at all; government is necessary and desirable to provide safety, services and structure for society. Government shouldn’t be wasteful. Government shouldn’t be required to provide for all needs of citizens.  As Americans we have many privileges – a wonderful place to live with many resources, the right to vote, the right to worship how and if we choose, the right to bear arms, and many others. We have great public and private education options. I appreciate all of these.

I respect the sanctity of life and appreciate the choice that four birth mothers made which allows me to have two adopted nieces and two adopted nephews. From another perspective, I once accompanied a college friend to have an abortion and don’t know what choice I would have made if I faced the same decision.

I remember standing at the lunch table in public elementary school, singing “Oh the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord…” before sitting down to eat. I wish my grandchildren would be able to do the same. I am not so moderate in this area.

I have grown to know and care deeply for gay people. In the county election’s world we treat the transgender voter with the same respect as other voters. My job is to love and serve, not judge.

I understand we need integrity in our election process but I have seen that a strict photo ID law makes it difficult for some elderly voters and college students to vote at the polls.

I wish all people (of different races, political persuasions, ages, genders) were valued as God’s creations. I appreciate that my mother taught me not to show favoritism when working with children – my first job. Mom says no one of us is better than anyone else. I agree. I don’t know what it’s like to not be Caucasian, but I hope to get to the Texas border to help immigrants soon. Maybe I will gain some empathy.

Moderation may seem, at the least, unpopular. In the public policy arena it can be downright “wrong” not to have strong left or right opinions. But moderation is not just what I have done; it is what I am. Thank you for a well-rounded education Burnet County.

I welcome your feedback and comments.

Barbara Agnew – wife of Darrell Agnew for 32 years; mom to Trent (29), Brad (27), Todd (27), Kelsey (24); mother-in-law to Cori and to-be Elizabeth; and Mimi to Graham (2) and Bennett (5 months). Daughter of Glenn and Evelyn McVey. Sister to Laura and Chuck. Graduate of Georgetown, TX High School and University of Texas (Bachelor of Arts in Economics; class of 1982). Member of Fellowship Baptist Church in Marble Falls. Practice yoga and love to read, travel, garden and play.

PALMS TURNED UPWARD

REFLECTING ON OLD VOLUMES

As a dedicated bibliophile one of my great joys is flipping through volumes in my library.  A couple of weeks ago I picked up a collection of T.S. Eliot and thumbed through.  I stopped and read through, over and over again, these amazing lines from The Rock.

But it seems that something has happened that has never

happened before:  though we know not just when, or why,

or how, or where.

Men have left G O D not for other gods, they say, but for no god;

and this has never happened before.

That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first

Reason,

And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race,

or Dialectic.

The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned,

what have we to do

But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards

In an age which advances progressively backwards?

I remember reading Eliot long ago attempting to define the subtle nuances in his pre-Christian writing from his Christian reflections and being very confused.  Eliot is so smart that many of his literary references are beyond me.  But here, in these lines, I feel the frustration of man who views himself a relic in a changing world.  The things which he values were shifting quickly.

These lines were written before World War II but they so adequately describe the world which was shaped from that great tragedy.  Whatever world Eliot lived in, I can’t imagine a society walking more backward than the one in which we live in now.  Civility is gone and the barbarian horde grunts its way through the world shouting slogans and repeating clichés destroying institution after institution.  Governments are nothing more than mob rule, higher education no longer emphasizes reflection or wisdom.  Much of the church is mere marketing.  Dignity has been transmuted into vulgarity.  And what of the family?  Well, there is that.

I was talking to a good friend of mine last week and we spoke about that feeling we each have of being a dinosaur.  Values, ideals, and beliefs about the world which are so important to me seem to not be important to many people right now.  What have I to do; what have we to do, but stand with palms turned toward heaven in worship of the One True God as the rest of the world devolves.