Connections 07.14.2024: Who’s in Charge Here?

Amos 7:7-15; Mark 6:14-20

In Christian circles, when we talk about governmental leaders, we often lean on Romans 13:1, where Paul says (in no uncertain terms, as is Paul’s inclination), “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” This cherry-picked verse gives us a convenient get-out-of-responsibility-free card; no matter how ungodly or unChristlike our leaders are, we can shrug and say, “Welp, God put ‘em there and we’re supposed to honor ‘em.” And then we can effectively wash our hands of the whole thing and go sing a patriotic chorus.

Our Connections texts this week, though, show the challenge of living faithfully when we have leaders who reject God’s way. As we explore people’s varied responses to God this month, these texts from Amos and Mark show contrasting examples. In each Scripture, a prophet of the Lord comes up against a king who has decided he’s the one in charge around here. But neither Amos nor John the Baptist said, “Welp, God put ‘em here so I guess I better go along with it.” If they had, Amos wouldn’t have been kicked out of Bethel, and John would’ve kept his head.

Even the Bible’s most “no uncertain terms” texts often come up against real-life examples from the Bible itself. Moses followed God’s instruction to declare the plagues against Pharoah and to lead the people out of slavery. If Jesus had submitted to earthly authorities, honoring them as God-placed, there would be no Good Friday. Paul himself did not bow down to the empire; remember how much time he spent in prison!

These examples do not negate Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:1, but they should prompt us to look closer and to reconsider what Paul is really saying, because kissing up to earthly leaders no matter what they might do is simply not the biblical example. Through all the Scriptures, God’s prophets and Christ’s disciples pursue only God’s ultimate goodness and honor only God’s ultimate authority. They challenge earthly leaders, and they refuse to hitch their wagons to the world’s power-players even when it means putting their lives on the line. They never just wash their hands of it all and go off singing the empire’s songs.

Discussion

  • What other Scriptures can you think of where one of God’s faithful people go up against an earthly leader? Do those stories have any common threads?
  • Are there examples you can think of in history that also address this issue? Can you think of scenarios where the understanding of an authority put in place by God went “too far”?
  • Are there situations in history or in the present day when you think people should have rebelled against an earthly authority? Are there situations when you think people should respect an authority as God-placed? How do you discern which is which?
  • Both Amos 7 and Mark 6 show a prophet in conflict with a king (posthumously, in the case of John the Baptist). How did the prophet practice faithfulness when confronting an earthly authority? What can we learn from that example?
  • What was the outcome of the prophet’s courage to challenge a king? Do you find this encouraging or scary? How do you feel about the idea of challenging one of our earthly authorities today? What are you willing to risk to pursue what is good and right?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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