27. Enemies Disarmed

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 27. Enemies Disarmed

Col 2:15   And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

More mystery. “Powers and Principalities”? Intriguingly the Bible says more about this than most realise. Isaiah prophesied about God at the end: “In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below.” (Isa 24:21) ‘Powers’ and ‘kings’ -both rulers. Similarly, Daniel: He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.” (Dan 4:35) Whatever they are they are part of God’s creation: “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him,” (Col 1:16) and they are all under Jesus’ rule: “Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.” (1 Pet 3:22)

Now the only other ‘beings; apart from the Godhead and mankind that are mentioned in the Bible are angels, some of whom are fallen and follow Satan (see Mt 25:41 & Rev 12:9), all of whom are spirits (Heb 1:7,14) and when they are fallen we refer to them as demons. The leader of them is Satan: “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray …. the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night….” (Rev 12:9,10) and it is there we see one of the primary things he does – accuse people.

It is legitimate to suppose that ‘powers’ are angelic beings and there is a hierarchy (see Dan 10:12-14). Paul confirms these are our enemies: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)

And yet to the Colossian Paul said Jesus has disarmed them. How? Well, we’ve seen one of Satan’s primary tactics is to accuse God’s people (e.g. Zech 3:1). How does he accuse us? He points out our guilt and demands that justice be seen and we be condemned and punished. But now Jesus has come and died for us, the apostle John was able to write, “if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) Thus when Satan comes to accuse us, it is like Jesus steps up and says, “Father, I died for this one. Their sins are dealt with,” and so Satan and his followers are disarmed. It is only the unknowing who go down under his accusations. Our answer should always be, “Yes, I fell, I sinned, and I am sorry, but Jesus died for that sin, so I rest in his forgiveness. Satan go away.”  See James 4:7 and rejoice.

12. Jesus, head over all authorities

Meditations in Colossians 2: 12:  Jesus, head over all authorities

Col 2:9,10   For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

We have considered some of these things in our studies in chapter 1 but Paul, as a good teacher, repeats or expands on some of the things he has said previously, or simply says them in a different way. Here Paul is simply reminding us that Jesus, the Son of God, is the head over all spiritual realities. Now we may think this is an academic point, or simply a theological doctrine for spiritual people, but how we view Jesus affects the whole of our lives. If we do not see Jesus like this, then we will have fears and doubts hanging over parts of our lives.

We thought on these things (and they bear thinking about again) when we saw in 1:13, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” and we considered Jesus’ position and saw Jesus seated at the Father’s right hand (see Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph. 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2  1 Pet 3:22).  We also saw that he has been given all authority (see Heb 2:8 / 1 Cor. 15:25 / Isa 9:7  / Psa 110)  and that he reigns with a purpose (see 1 Cor 15:24,25).  This is the Scriptural background for this, and note in passing that this is not just one or two verses giving testimony to this.

Most of the time we don’t think about ‘powers and authorities’ but we see reference to them at various times in the Bible, possibly the best known in Eph 6:  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)

A ‘ruler’ is one who exercises sovereign influence over another.  In John 14:30 Satan is called “the ruler of this world” and in his first letter John says, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19). ‘Authorities’ are those who have been given the right to act in certain ways over others. ‘Powers’ may cover the previous two but emphasises their ability to influence, to impose on, or subject people to them – remember we have just seen John speak about the whole world (not Christians) being under the ‘control’ of Satan and, by implication, his followers, demons, fallen angels. ‘Spiritual forces’ emphasise the fact that he is speaking about the spiritual realm and of gathered forces of evil. It is no wonder that Paul says we are in a struggle in that Eph 6:12 verse, which is the word he has used back in chapter 1 about his own ministry.

That may lead us to question Jesus’ position (the fact that we have to struggle against the prevailing enemy who rules over the world) so we need to reassure ourselves with another set of verses: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Eph 1:19-22) There Paul is speaking abut the same power of the Spirit who is now in us, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

Now let’s be very simple and obvious:  that power is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. God is the all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing one who is sovereign over all, i.e. He can do whatever He likes in respect of everything He has made and anything you can name apart from Him, He has made. Has He made evil then, I hear you wondering? No, evil is simply the absence of good. Evil is the expression of free beings who revolt against God. Well couldn’t God utterly destroy them, you then ask?  Well of course He could and He will at the end of time but in the meantime He has allowed them their freedom, as He has allowed us our freedom and will use them as He will for His own purposes. In an earlier study in chapter 1 I listed a whole range of ways that God uses Satan for His own purposes.

Always make sure you keep a right perspective about everything. Imagine all the oceans of the world as representing God. One little puddle would represent Satan. He is a fallen angel, a created being who exercised his free will to rebel but he is powerless before God. Read Job 1 & 2 and you see Satan appearing before God but he is allowed to only go as far as God allows him to go – and no further! Satan may have influence over the world and the rulers and authorities and powers in it, but he is still subject to God, still subject to Jesus who is seated at the Father’s right hand where God has placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything and then comes amazing words, “for the church” Wow!

Let’s do another ‘logic flow’. The church comprises all Christians. Every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the power of God. The church is ‘above’ all those powers and principalities; all we have to do is stand and hold our position. We don’t have to fight for it, but we may have to fight to retain it. And the Good News? The head of the body, the church, is Christ, and he is over all these other rulers authorities, powers etc. No contest!

20. Viewing the World

Meditations in Titus: 20:  Viewing the World

Titus 3:1   Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,

More than once in Titus we have observed Paul’s concern for God’s people to be a good witness to the surrounding world.  We wonder why those who set the Bible in chapter and verses put these next two verses in chapter 3 because in many ways they flow on from what he has been saying.

Certainly there has been no prior reference to the rulers and authorities but the tone and direction is a continuation. So let’s consider the first half of the verse first of all: “remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities.”  Being a believer isn’t just to be a good citizen of the kingdom of God, it is also to be a good citizen of the country in which you live. Paul doesn’t give Titus a reason for this injunction as he assumes as a leader he will understand the issues. To the church at general in Rom he said, Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (Rom 13:1) There he explains to the believers that it is an authority issue and authority goes right back to God.

This wasn’t just something that Paul thought, the apostle Peter taught the same thing: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2:13-15) However he spells out what Paul has been instructing Titus to pass on to the church, that the way we behave in public will reveal the sort of believers we are. The best citizens should be Christians. I wonder, however, how often that can be said?

Note also his words, “to be obedient.”  The obedience he refers to must be the laws of the country which mostly we should obey. However if there is a direct conflict with obeying God and a man-made law, then obeying the Lord must come first, e.g. “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard,” (Acts 4:18-20) and “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:28,29)

Yet, we would suggest, when there is such conflict, great wisdom is needed to not accentuate the conflict and no doubt believers have sometimes done that. The example of the wisdom and grace of Daniel and his friends in the court of Babylon (Dan 1) is worth studying.

Likewise, we would suggest, the believers should be working to be such outstanding members of their community that any conflict is likely to be overlooked by the authorities. It is said that quite often in the early centuries of the Gospel, when particular Caesars sent out a decree to persecute the Christians, the local governors sometimes gave the Christian community warning of what was coming and told them to leave town until the dust settled, because they knew that the Christians were the backbone of the local community.

We need to reiterate the point we made to start with, that Paul wants Titus to make the local believers realise what an impact on the local society they can have by the way that they work out their faith. Earlier on he had spoken about the poor quality of life on Crete. Yes, speak out against it, and yes declare the Gospel but ALSO live out your lives in such a way that the world will see and wonder. Remember Jesus’ teaching, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)

There have been times in the life of the Church when there were those who felt the only way to really know God was to escape living in the everyday world of people and so we can think of the ‘desert fathers’ of Egypt or monks or nuns of closed orders, yet the Lord taught us to be light to the world and you cannot be that hidden away. Yes, circumstances may sometimes be difficult and when outright persecution occurs it is very difficult, nevertheless our calling is still to seek to be light to those around us. Even the apostle Paul had cause to apologize for overstating the issue to one in authority.  We may speak out, we may protest but we may not use violence, I would suggest, which goes against all of Jesus’ teaching. As we said above, a study of Daniel and his friends may help in difficult situations.

It might also be worth commenting, that when the church is moving in power and signs, wonders and healings become part of the life of the church again on a regular basis, instead of just rarely, then that also may challenge the hearts of unbelievers. Although there were times of persecution recorded in Acts we also find that early on, the church were, “enjoying the favor of all the people,” (Acts 2:47). After the incident of Ananias and Sapphira we find, “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (Acts 5:13) The witness of the church in respect of the world can influence the way people think about the church and about the Lord. That is what is behind so much pf what Paul has been saying to Titus.

27. Authority

Meditations in 1 Peter : 27:  Subject to Authority

1 Pet 2:13,14 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

We have to remind ourselves again and again when focusing on one or two verses that they come in a context, they fit into what has gone before and what follows. There is a train of thinking in the mind of the writer and we need to try to follow it. Peter has just said, Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (v.12) and the whole of the previous meditation was about us being visible, about being seen. What we now have is an illustration of how we are to live godly lives that are seen, and it is in respect of how we react to those in authority in our world.

Now I confess that being a modern person I find this difficult because, especially as at the time I am writing this we are in the run up to an election, and I do not feel good about the way our present government has been leading the country and not very excited about the alternatives. We live in an age where the media encourage us to challenge and criticise what government does. It is also an age that is large ungodly, where the majority do not acknowledge the Lord; one party leader acknowledges no faith and the two others appear to have a scanty faith. But does Peter say we have to like them or like what they have been doing? No, but he does call us to something else. He calls us to have a submissive attitude. Now that is difficult in today’s age! We need to consider the extent or content of his teaching.

First of all his call is to submit to ALL authorities in our nation. We are to have a right attitude towards authority. Why? We are to have a right attitude, says Peter, because all authority, of whatever kind, comes from God. God is the one who institutes authority, and Peter goes on to tell us why He does: to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right,” i.e. the purpose of all authority, declares Peter, is to establish and maintain the Law and to ensure Law and Order is maintained so that we may live peaceful lives. Now there is inherent in this an assumption that Governments and authorities are to clarify what is right and what is wrong and to make sure that society adheres to that, doing what is right and not doing what is wrong.

Now of course we live in a very much more complicated society today where government intervenes in daily life in ways that in Peter’s day could not be imagined. Even in establishing and maintaining the welfare state imposes immense regulation, the application of which goes way beyond the bounds of simple moral right and wrong. The Ten Commandments, for instance, have nothing to say about corporate or governmental administrative law. In a relativist age where society has put aside God’s moral absolutes, it is arguable that the vast majority of government policy comes outside the moral area that Peter has in mind.

Yet the truth still remains that while we are part of a democracy, while we are still Christians, the call to submit to and accept the dictates of Government (as long as they do not stray outside the morality of God’s word) is still there. That is not to say that we cannot campaign and speak out against things we believe government are doing wrong, but until we can get them to change the law, the requirement upon us is to be those who keep the law. This means that we do what the law says and we don’t seek to dodge it. We may not always like it, but while it does not go against the moral law of God we are called to adhere to it. Paul said a similar thing to Titus: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good.” (Titus 3:1). As Peter has already hinted, how we submit to authorities, how we maintain a right attitude towards them, should be an expression of our goodness which might speak to others and point them to the Lord.

Indeed Paul opened up this whole subject to the church in Rome who were similarly struggling with the authority of Rome: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Rom 13:1-5) This is not something that is just a Peter issue; it is the witness of the leadership of the early church and it has not changed.