Christian Living, In Authority and Under Authority, Colossians 3:17-4:1

“Christian Living, in Authority and Under Authority”

Colossians 3:17-4:1

August 7, 2022

Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service

Pastor Nicoletti

The Reading of the Word

It is good to be back with you again this morning, as we return to our summer series on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians, turning now to Colossians 3:17 through 4:1.

Please do listen carefully, for this is God’s word for us this morning.

The Apostle Paul writes:

3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.

4:1Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

This is the word of the Lord.  (Thanks be to God.)

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]

Let’s pray …

Prayer of Illumination

Righteous are you, O Lord,

and righteous are your rules.

You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness

and in all faithfulness.

Your promises are well tried,

and we, your servants, love them.

Though we be small and despised,

yet we do not forget your precepts.

Your righteousness is righteous forever,

and your word is true.

Even when we face trials,

your commandments are our delight.

Give us now understanding as we come to your word,

that we might here find life.

Grant this, we ask, for Jesus’s sake. Amen.

[Based on Psalm 119:137-138, 140-144]

Setting Aside Two Initial Objections

There is a lot here in Paul’s words for us to consider. During the week I debated whether I had one sermon here or four. I decided I had one. But after preaching at the 8:15, I think it maybe should have been four. And so I’ll have to ask you to bear with me, with what is probably a bit too much content here in this morning’s sermon. You can chalk it up to it being my first week back from vacation, or, if you want to be more positive, you can think of it as being very efficient: getting what should be four sermons in the space of one.

That said, one of the reasons why there is so much to say is that before we can even get to the substance of what he calls us to do here, we need to address two knee-jerk reactions that most modern people will have to a text like this – a text that is all about authority structures.

The Temptation to Dismiss Paul as a Tool of Oppression

The first knee-jerk reaction is to simply dismiss Paul as a tool of oppression.

History is full of oppression – of the powerful using and abusing the weak: whether across gender lines, across social lines, across economic lines, across political lines, racial lines, or something else. And Paul, in this text, may seem to be defending that, urging those in weaker positions, it would appear, to accept such oppression: to submit, to obey, to serve.

And if that’s how you read Paul, then you will certainly be tempted to dismiss Paul’s words – and maybe Paul himself – as a mere tool of oppression, enabling the oppressive sins of those in authority.

But to read Paul that way is to read him with a significant amount of historical ignorance, and to misunderstood how his original readers would have heard him.

To better understand Paul’s words, we need notice a few things.

First, we need to note what Paul does not say.

When Paul speaks of those in authority and those under authority, he does not root those differences in roles in differences in inherent worth or ability. Paul does not promote or defend these differences in authority by claiming that they are based in differences in worth or ability. And other ancient writers often did. And the absence of such claims is noteworthy in Paul.

The first-century Jewish writer Josephus, for example, argues that the differences in authority between husbands and wives is rooted in the fact, he says, that “A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.” [Josephus, 2.25.201]

In the pagan world, someone like Aristotle, goes even further.

In his work Politics, Aristotleexplains differences in social order as being rooted in differences between people in their abilities and their inherent worth, down to the level of their souls.

After discussing the superiority of humans over animals, which results in humans ruling over animals, Aristotle goes on to write, when it comes to humans that: “the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle of necessity,” he explains, “extends to all mankind.”

But for Aristotle this is not limited to gender differences. He goes on to explain that the practice of slavery in the ancient world was rooted in the difference in the inherent quality of those who were enslaved versus those who were free. “The lower sort,” he explains, “are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master.” “And indeed,” he goes on to explain, “the use made of slaves and tame animals is not very different” as it is rooted, he claims, not only in bodily differences, but differences in their souls. “It is clear,”: he concludes, “that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.” [Aristotle, Politics, I.5]

In Josephus and in Aristotle we hear influential men who are rooting social structures and authority in the belief that those in authority are inherently superior to those under their authority. But when we turn to Paul again, what should strike us right off the bat is the absence of such arguments. Paul makes no such claims here.

So first, we need to recognize what Paul does not say here.

But second, we also have to have ears to hear what Paul does say.

In a world where women, children, and bondservants were so often ignored, it’s noteworthy that Paul addresses them directly here. He doesn’t just speak to other people about them. But he talks to them. And in doing so, he acknowledges that they too are equally worthy of his attention as an Apostle of Christ.

Paul also places somewhat striking restraints on those in authority. We’ll say more about this, but for now, we need to note that Paul’s words to husbands, and to fathers, and to masters would have been strikingly counter-cultural to many of his hearers.

In addition, in what he says – particularly regarding bondservants – Paul actually plants seeds for social change. We’ll say more about that later, but it’s helpful to realize that up front.

And so, if we want to hear Paul rightly, we need to notice those things that he does say.

Third, need to acknowledge some important distinctions in Paul’s approach.

Paul’s words here make it clear that he can accept (and even embrace) authority differences in society, without necessarily affirming the details of their socially accepted forms in his day.

Let me say that again: Paul here makes it clear that he can accept (and even embrace) authority differences in society, without necessarily affirming the details of their socially accepted forms in his day.

This becomes clear in two respects.

The first is in the family.

Traditionally, in Roman law, the father of the household had the power of life and death over the members of his family. Now, by the first century (when Paul was writing) this power was not exercised so broadly, but it still showed up in some significant ways that were socially and legally accepted in Roman society in Paul’s day.

One was that it was a legal and social expectation that the father of the household had the power to decide whether newborns in his house were to be accepted into the family, or to be rejected and exposed, being left to die. In fact, there was actually a special ceremony of celebration for those newborns that were accepted into a Roman family, because exposure was common, and acceptance was not at all guaranteed. That power was part of what it meant to have the authority of a father in the Roman world of the first-century. [Strange, 20-22; Bakke, 29-33]

Along similar lines, in the Roman world, the father of the household had a lot of latitude with how he treated the women and children of his household, with the understanding that the state would not intervene. [Strange, 20] Which, in the brutality of the ancient world, could mean quite harsh physical treatment.

And yet we know that at the very same time that Paul accepted and even embraced authority differences in the household, he also utterly rejected these socially and legally accepted forms of it in his day.

We know that God’s people rejected the practice of exposing infants, regardless of social expectations. And with the commands Paul gives here for husbands to love their wives, to not be harsh with them, and to not even provoke or discourage their children, let alone be brutal with them, Paul is already challenging and subverting his culture’s expectations.

Paul here accepts and even embraces differences in authority in the family, without affirming the details of the socially accepted forms of those relationships in his day.

And we can see a similar thing for the relationship between bondservants and their masters.

The category of a first-century bondservant is difficult for us. One the one hand, it was not exactly the same as the race-based chattel slavery that was practiced here in America. On the other hand, while I will argue that Paul’s words to bondservants in the first century do have applications for us as employees in the twenty-first century, the place of a bondservant in the first century was not the same as an employee today.

Yet while Paul affirms that there is an authority difference in those relationships that must be honored, he also clearly does not affirm many of the accepted ideas of those relationships in his culture. As one commentator notes, for Paul to speak of “justice” and “fairness” in relation to bondservants would have sounded “extraordinary” to most masters in his day. [Wright, 154] Paul accepts a difference in authority, but his commands themselves begin to upend the form they took in the ancient world.

Taken together, when we consider what Paul does not say here, what he does say, and the distinctions implied in his words, we cannot simply dismiss Paul here as a tool of oppression.

The Temptation to Focus on Our Roles of Authority & Dismiss Our Roles Under the Authority of Others

But that the brings us to another knee-jerk reaction that many of us have to Paul’s words.

And that is our tendency, when it comes to the importance of honoring authority, to be enthusiastic about it when we are in a position of authority, and to be dismissive of it when we are in a position under authority.

And this is so common.

You see it in the man who insists that his authority be honored in family by those under him, but who, when it comes to civil life, dismisses the idea that he needs to similarly honor the authorities over him in the government.

Or you see it in the person who insists that their authority be submitted to in the workplace by those under them, but who dismisses the idea that they need to similarly submit to the church officers in authority over them in their spiritual life.

Whatever the details may be, our tendency is to emphatically endorse the importance of authority when we have authority over others, and then to dismiss the idea altogether when others have authority over us.

And that reveals that we have a fundamentally pagan concept of authority and leadership.

And it’s Jesus who tells us that. In Mark, chapter ten, he says this to his disciples – he says: “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles [the pagans] lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Mark 10:35-45]

If you see positions of authority and leadership primarily as a blessing or a reward for those in authority … and you see a lack of such authority as a curse … then Jesus is saying that you have a fundamentally pagan view of authority.

And most of us can look to some area of life where we feel that way.

Now, of course, many people use their authority in unjust, self-serving, and ultimately pagan ways. That is true. But the proper response to that is not to desire that all authority be abolished, or that it be given to us so that we could use it for ourselves. Rather, the proper response is to desire and to work to see authority used, by us and by others, more Christianly.

Jesus says that when authority is rightly exercised, the one in authority will act, in their authority, as the servant of all … and even as the slave of all … just as Jesus behaved in his earthly ministry.

And that should force us to seriously rethink how we exercise authority, and how we submit to authority.

With all of that said then, what does Paul actually call us to here? What are Paul’s instructions for us here?

Four Ways We Are Called to Be Like Jesus (And Not Like the Pagans)

Well, what we see is that Paul, in these verses, is pointing out four ways that we are called to be like Jesus and not like pagans in how we relate to authority.

In verse seventeen, Paul says: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

And one thing that that phrase “in the name of” means, is to do something as someone else’s representative. [Wright, 149]

Paul tells us in that verse, that we are to represent – we are to resemble – Jesus, in everything we do. And then he goes on to speak about how we relate to authority. And what we see is that in at least four specific ways, we are called to resemble Jesus in how we relate to authority.

We Must Accept God-Ordained Authority Structures Like Jesus (Not Reject Them Like the Pagans)

The first thing we see is that we must accept God-ordained authority structures like Jesus does, rather than reject them like pagans do.

As we saw in Aristotle, the pagan tendency is to assume that differences in authority must be rooted in differences in the inherent worth or worthiness of one person over another, or such authority differences should not exist at all. Frankly, in our modern culture, which claims to be meritocratic, our views are often not that different. But that is not what we see from Jesus.

Jesus, who the Bible tells us was the sinless Messiah and the Son of God, was superior to all other human beings morally, spiritually, and even in terms of his being, since he was both man and God.

And yet, we are told in Luke 2:51 that as he grew up, he was submissive to his parents. There was no question that Jesus was superior to his parents in every way. But he accepted that God had placed them in authority over him anyway, and he accepted that that authority difference was both real and valid.

In a similar way, in the very same chapter where Jesus denounced the scribes and Pharisees for their sin, making it clear that his followers were ethically and spiritually superior to the unbelieving scribes and Pharisees, he also said to his followers “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” [Matthew 23:2-3] Jesus acknowledges that authority differences are not based on worth or worthiness, but he also regards those authority differences as real, and as calling for submission.

And the apostles of Jesus continued to preach that perspective.

The Apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” [Romans 13:1-2]

The Apostle Peter wrote to his fellow Christians saying: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or governors as sent by him […] Fear God. Honor the emperor.” [1 Peter 2:13a, 17b]

And Paul does the same thing in our passage this morning. He will, as we’ll see, critique and challenge how such authority might be exercised in this sinful and fallen world. But at the outset, Paul, like Jesus, accepts the authority structures God has ordained, and he does so irrespective of the merits or lack thereof of those who hold positions of power.

That’s the first way Paul urges us to relate to authority like Jesus does.

We Must Submit to Earthly Authorities Like Jesus (Not in Bitterness or Rebellion Like the Pagans)

Second, Paul here tells us that we must submit to earthly authorities like Jesus, and not respond to authority over us in bitterness or rebellion like the pagans do.

We are all, in some way, under earthly authorities – every one of us.

Even Elon Musk, the riches man in the world, has been reminded recently that he lives under the authority of the S.E.C.

Even Joe Biden, the leader of the most powerful military in the world, is reminded from time to time that as a professing Roman Catholic, his life in the church is supposed to be one that is under the authority of the officers of his church.

And we are not above such things. In our workplaces, in the realm of government, in our homes, in our church, we are all under the earthly authority of others.

Where do you most feel that reality in this life … and how do you respond to it?

Paul, in our text this morning, urges us to respond in a way that represents Jesus – in a way that reflects his character. And that has implications for our words, our actions, and our responses to mistreatment.

First, it has implications for our words. Wives are supposed to respond to their husbands in a way that is “fitting in the lord.” Children are supposed to respond to their parents in a way that “pleases the Lord.” Bondservants are to respond to their masters in a way that sincerely serves and honors God himself.

What does it look like to do that? Well Paul tells us in his letter to Titus, where he says of the congregation: “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” [Titus 3:1-2]

Brothers and sisters, this is what it looks like to act in a Christian way – in a Christ-like way – towards those in authority over us.

So you need to ask yourself then: How do you speak about those in authority over you? Whether, for you children it is a difficult parent, or for your wives it is a frustrating husband, or for you workers it is a boss you can’t stand, or for you who are politically active it’s a politician you strongly dislike.

How do you speak about them – whether to their face, or to others? Can you honestly say when you consider all those who have authority of you, that you “speak evil of no one”? Can you say that you “avoid quarreling” with them or about them? Can you say that you are gentle in how you speak about them – in how you discuss their competency, or their failures? When you think of your relationship to them, can you honestly say that you have shown “perfect courtesy toward all people”?

Brothers and sisters, I do not think most of us can. We are casual in how easily we speak evil of those in authority over us. We often take pride in our lack of courtesy. We often see the spiritual fruit of gentleness as a weakness.

But these are pagan ways of relating to those in authority over us. Rather, Paul calls us to submit to authority over us as Jesus did: with love and perfect courtesy in all we say and do.

That includes even when we must disobey. We know that, as we see in Jesus and the Apostles, when an authority commands us to sin, we must refuse. But even then, these commands for our words remain. Even when we are called by God’s word to disobey an earthly authority, we are called to disobey with perfect courtesy in our words and attitude. That is counter cultural.

Second, Paul draws attention to our actions themselves. We see that especially in verses 22 through 25. There Paul reminds us that when we serve those who are in authority over us, we should really do so as a service to the Lord. That means that we serve earthly authorities with our primary focus on pleasing the Lord by our service.

Those in authority over us may require us to do things that we think are stupid. They may be unappreciative when we do what work faithfully at the task given to us. They may unjustly overlook us, and reward someone else who is less deserving. And when that happens, whether in our homes, or in our schools, or in our workplaces, our temptation is to respond with either bitterness or rebellion.

But Paul urges us to continue to do what is right – not necessarily because those in authority over us are worthy of that, or because we know they will reward us, but because the Lord is worthy of it, and he will reward us. That’s Paul’s point in verses 22 through 25. And that truth: that Jesus cares about our response to earthly authorities and will reward it as service to him, should shape our actions in how we respond to those in authority over us, at work, at home, and in the public square.

Third, another implication of Paul’s words here is that we are called to accept that the Lord has provided multiple authorities in our lives, to help us when we are mistreated.

We can miss this implication, I think, but it’s very important. By giving these instructions publicly, rather than privately, and by sending this letter to the church, rather than to an individual, Paul was giving those under authority, in the home and in the workplace, the ability to appeal to the authorities of the church when they were mistreated.

This letter was given to the church at Colossae and entrusted to the church’s leadership. Which means that if a Christian bondservant was being mistreated by his Christian master, he didn’t need to simply suffer in silence, but he could come to the officers of the church and ask that they use their authority to confront the master, and if necessary discipline the master, over his failure to obey Paul’s command to him in verse one.

It meant that if a wife was being mistreated by her husband, she could come to the officers of the church and ask them to use their authority to demand that her husband obey Paul’s command in verse nineteen.

And even children could come to the church authorities and ask that they insist that their parents obey Paul’s command in verse twenty-one.

God has put each of us not just under one authority, but under several. And he’s done that to call us to submit to each earthly authority, but to provide a means of deliverance by one authority when another authority mistreats us.

And such appeals are not limited to the church. When Paul feared that Festus would act negligently and expose him to mistreatment from the Jewish authorities, Paul himself appealed to Caesar. Paul saw that God had provided the governing authorities – even a pagan authority like Caesar – to deliver him from the mistreatment of other authorities.

And so if you are experiencing mistreatment – if you are experiencing abuse or oppression in one of those relationships where someone has either formal or informal power over you – I would urge you, like the Christians in Colossae could, or like Paul in Acts 25 did, to seek out help from another authority who can work to deliver you from that mistreatment. Whether it’s a parent, or the church, or the police who you might turn to for help, recognize that as the Apostle Paul says, God has provided such authorities to work for good: to punish evil and reward good. And so if you are being mistreated by one authority, seek the help that may be provided by those other God-appointed authorities in your life.

In our words of courtesy, in our acts of obedience, and in our appeals for deliverance when we are mistreated, in all these ways we see the second way that Paul calls us to represent Jesus in how we relate to earthly authorities over us, rather than responding in the bitterness or the rebellion of the pagans.

We Must Exercise Authority Like Jesus (Not in Self-Serving Ways Like the Pagans)

Third, Paul tells us that we must ourselves exercise earthly authority like Jesus, and not in self-serving ways like the pagans do.

Paul here urges those in authority, to exercise that authority with gentleness, without being harsh or provoking or discouraging those under their authority … with justice and fairness. All of that is important.

But at the heart of it, in verse seventeen, Paul urged us to exercise authority in a way that represents Jesus.

And as we’ve already heard from Mark 10, Jesus says that when authority is rightly exercised, the one in authority will act, in that authority, as the servant of all … and even as the slave of all … just as Jesus behaved in his earthly ministry.

That means that whether you consider yourself a complementarian or an egalitarian, if you think that additional authority for the husband in marriage should mean additional advantages for him, then you are operating with a pagan, and not a Christian, concept of what it means to exercise authority.

It means that if you think being a parent gives you extra advantages rather than extra obligations over your children, then you are operating with a pagan, not a Christian, concept of what it means to exercise authority.

It means that if you think that increasing your authority in the workplace should lead to you being able to worry less about other people and instead to focus more on your own success, then you are operating with a pagan, not a Christian, concept of what it means to exercise authority.

It also means that if you think that a good political candidate is one who will exercise political authority for the enrichment of your cultural tribe, at the expense of another political tribe, then you are operating with a pagan, not a Christian, concept of what it means to exercise authority.

And it certainly means that if you are, right now, using your greater strength or power or authority over someone else to abuse them, or misuse them, then the Apostle Paul here sternly warns you and calls you to repent. He reminds you that Jesus is watching, and he warns you twenty-five that “the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done.” If you have been misusing your power in that way, then you must own it, and confess your sins. You must seek accountability from others who have authority over you. You must earnestly seek repentance. And you must be warned of the Lord’s judgment if you don’t.

Jesus says: “whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Mark 10:43b-45]

Where do you need to take that to heart?

The third way Paul urges us to relate to authority like Jesus does, is to exercise earthly authority like Jesus, and not in self-serving ways like the pagans.

We Must Seek Social Reform Like Jesus (Not Respond to Injustice Like the Pagans)

Fourth and finally, Paul here shows us that we must seek social reform like Jesus, and not respond to injustice like the pagans do.

I need to be brief on this point this morning, but I’ve said more about it in a sermon titled “Biblical Justice, Part 5: When?”, which can be found on our website. [https://www.faithtacoma.org/micah-nicoletti/biblical-justice-part-5-when-micah-31-45]

In the unbelieving world, when faced with social injustice, people tend towards two responses.

One is a conviction that where others have failed, they themselves can set things right – and they can do it now. This approach demands and expects immediate transformation of the world into what it is was meant to be, and then it is surprised, and confused, and ultimately disillusioned when its efforts fall short.

The other common response to social injustice in the unbelieving world is what Herman Bavinck, drawing from John Calvin, calls “false conservativism.” False conservatism, Bavinck writes, “takes pleasure in leaving the existing situation untouched simply because it exists and – in accordance with Calvin’s familiar saying – not to attempt to change a well-positioned evil.” In this view, if an unjust system is old … if it is well positioned … then we’re probably better to just leave it there. [Bavinck, 1.81]

Instead, what we see in the Bible, and what I think is implied here in our text from Paul, is an approach that refuses to accept or make peace with injustice (as false conservativism does), but that, rather than expecting immediate transformation now, works patiently, and persistently, for long-term change, with an ultimate hope in God to bring it about.

As we said earlier, the kind of slavery experience by the bondservants Paul addresses was not identical to the race-based chattel slaver practiced in America … but it also was not the freedom that God envisioned for his people at the time of creation. [For an excellent argument from the Scriptures against slavery, rooted in creational intent, see chapter 7 of Esau McCaulley’s Reading While Black (p.137-163)]

Paul knew that neither he, nor the Church, would be abolishing slavery in the first-century. [Wright, 154]

But Paul also did not allow those he wrote to just accept Roman slavery as it was. As one commentator notes, Paul’s approach was subtler, but also, in the long-run, more powerful. He writes: “To talk of ‘justice’ and fairness’ (properly the [Greek] word means ‘equality’) in relation to slaves [as Paul does in verse one,] would sound extraordinary to most slave-owners of the ancient world.” Such language asserted humanity, and dignity, and even rights that the ancient Roman world denied. [Wright, 154] And such assertions set a course for social change in the centuries that would follow, taking on even more force when considered in light of Paul’s words in First Timothy 1 about God’s judgment on those who would enslave others [1 Tim 1:10].

As social historian Rodney Stark has written: “Although it has been fashionable to deny it, anti-slavery doctrines began to appear in Christian theology soon after the decline of Rome and were accompanied by the eventual disappearance of slavery in all but the fringes of Christian Europe. When Europeans subsequently instituted slavery in the New World, they did so over strenuous papal opposition, a fact that was conveniently ‘lost’ from history until recently. Finally, the abolition of New World slavery was initiated and achieved by Christian activists.” [Quoted in Keller, 62]

It is true that in the ancient world, and in our own country, Christians have participated in slavery – and even promoted it. But the stronger force within the Christian Church, the force that won out in Christian theology and Christian practice was towards the abolition of slavery – a practice so common in the ancient world that we can easily miss how revolutionary it was when the Christian church brought about its end in Europe, and then beyond.

The change did not happen overnight. But it did happen in God’s timing, as he worked through those Christians who refused make peace with a “well-positioned evil.”

One Source of Hope for Our Growth

We’ve covered a lot of ground this morning. 

And in all this – in how we accept earthy authority, in how we submit to earthly authority, in how we exercise earthly authority, in how we work to reform earthly authority – in all this, God has given us a lot of work to do. But he has not left us to ourselves. He has also given us a way to accomplish that work – both in our hearts and in this world.

For as we have noted, when Paul tells us in verse seventeen to do everything we do “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” he is telling us not just to do it as his representatives, but to do it with his power, rather than with our own. [Wright, 149] For we cannot live as we ought to by our own power. But Christ, who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” has promised to be with us, and has promised to provide all we need to follow him.

And so as we strive to represent Jesus in how we exercise authority, and how we submit to authority, and how we reform authority in this world, let us look to Jesus for the strength to do it.

For even now, in heaven, Christ uses his authority to serve us, and enable us to be the people he has called us to be.

Amen.

 This sermon draws on material from:

Aristotle. Politics. In The Complete Works of Aristotle. Volume 2. The Revised Oxford Translation. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Bakke, O.M. When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity. Translated by Brian McNeil. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005.

Bavinck, Herman. Reformed Dogmatics. Volume One: Prolegomena. Edited by John Bolt. Translated by John Vriend. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.

Josephus. Flavius Josephus Against Apion or Antiquity of the Jews. In The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, New Updated Edition. Translated by William Whiston. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987.

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, NY: Dutton, 2008.

McCaulley, Esau. Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Nicoletti, Steven. “Biblical Justice, Part 5: When?, Micah 3:1-4:5.” Preached at Faith Presbyterian Church in the evening service on September 19, 2021. https://www.faithtacoma.org/micah-nicoletti/biblical-justice-part-5-when-micah-31-45

Horne, Cornelia B., and John W. Martens. Let the Little Children Come to Be: Childhood and Children in Early Christianity. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2009.

Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. The Pillar New Testament Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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