Robin J Johnson
In this edition I am addressing a number of topics relevant to the present situation — Submission, Lockdowns, Church Closures, Unlawful Gatherings, concluding with presenting Four Kingdom Responses.
Firstly, thank you for all the positive and encouraging comments received for part one!
The whole world has been going through one of the most, if not the most, challenging time since the end of second world war. One aspect which has arisen is the polarisation of ideas, opinions and strategies to deal with Covid. Families have divided, close friends are now separated from one another, churches conflicted and divided and not to mention the ongoing controversial political decisions. Views differ on Covid itself, on mask wearing, the various restrictions and then there is the robust debates over vaccines and their use.
The issues raised in this article may also possibly cause some polarisation. As stated in part one; “You may not agree with some or anything at all of what is written herein. My request is, please accept this in the spirit it is written; to build up, edify and encourage.”
Another aspect of these days is confusion. Because of the polarisation and conflicting opinions and information, many are confused. Health advice and regulations keep changing, in some instances almost daily and contradictions are evident among the so called experts, with mistakes in instructions being made frequently.
Talked about in part one and needing to be highlighted again is the issue of fear, which is still dominant in many lives. This fear, which is controlling so many lives is probably not something that has just happened. It has manifest now because the foundations were not in place. Fear is driving family members to pressure other family to be vaccinated or alternatively not to be vaccinated. Individual choices must be respected, it is fear that dismantles respect.
The inability to manage these unexpected conflicts in families and among friends is a disturbing factor that has also surfaced in some instances. The pressure of the present crisis has caused this to expose a weakness lurking beneath the surface in some lives. Relationships that begin to unravel when pressure comes on tells us that something serious is missing in the foundations. We are only as strong as our weakest point.
If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited. Proverbs 24:10
The church in the West has lived with a false sense of security for a long time. “Sermonettes for Christianettes” as the late Kevin Conner would often state. We have relied on messages of keep me happy, make me feel good, ensure a free ride into eternity, with little or no obstacles. I think we maybe waking up to a new reality?
But you need to be aware that in the final days the culture of society will become extremely fierce and difficult for the people of God. 2 People will be self-centered lovers of themselves and obsessed with money. They will boast of great things as they strut around in their arrogant pride and mock all that is right. They will ignore their own families. They will be ungrateful and ungodly. 2 Timothy 3:1-2 (TPT)
Crazy Days — Last Days
There is a proliferation of crazy ideas and pure fantasy being distributed throughout communities via the various social media platforms. There are conspiracy theories a plenty along with fanciful conjecture of genetic and meta biological changes occurring through vaccinations. Some of the deceptions run close to the truth (as stated in part one), while others are just outrageously impossible and dangerous theories.
You may wonder if I am being a little harsh with these comments, but this madness must be called out for what it is. When people’s lives are detrimentally effected, then I make no apology for speaking as such.
My beloved friends, if you see a believer who is overtaken with a fault, may the one who overflows with the Spirit seek to restore him. Win him over with gentle words, which will open his heart to you and will keep you from exalting yourself over him. Galatians 6:1 (TPT)
People’s lives, families and friendships are being torn apart as deception takes hold. This is not just about a different opinion on a certain matter, but I believe they are fanciful ideas that are demonic in origin and as a result are damaging to anyone including the weak, naive and innocent that are persuaded to believe these lies. Scripture is misused in some of the most outrageous ways, taken out of context and twisted to support wild imaginations and with some even claiming divine new revelation.
The Holy Spirit has explicitly revealed: At the end of this age, many will depart from the true faith one after another, devoting themselves to spirits of deception and following demon-inspired revelations and theories. 1 Timothy 4:1 (TPT)
Note: A number of the following comments are flavoured by our experience in the state of Victoria, but talking with others there are numerous similarities in other jurisdictions.
Now we have government actions that have also caused a polarisation. There are the regulations and controls, which at times have been questionable as to their usefulness. In the various jurisdictions that each of us have lived during this pandemic, there are things which we have had trouble equating with good government. The temptation is to talk about all the heavy handed, frustrating, irrational, questionable, inconsistent and even really strange decisions that have been made by various governments and authorities. However, there is little value, if any, in actually listing all of the grievances, as those affected by them are well aware of their impact. I do not want to add to the frustration and confusion by detailing things we cannot change or control. Instead I want to focus on what we can control; ourselves and our responses.
Does truth matter?
In part one we talked about truth being an antidote to fear. “Fear always partners with a lie. Lies come in various forms. There is the straight up blatant lie. Then there are others, more subtle, misinformation or misrepresentation or half truths.”
We live in a world today where truth is expendable. News media outlets, not just ‘the main stream’ as some would suggest, but every media outlet puts their own spin on the way they report the news and disseminate information. I would like to believe that the ‘Christian Media’ would be exempt, but that does not always appear to be the case. There is an old adage with reference to the world’s media and it’s reporting. “Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?” And how many times have we witnessed that? Some of it can be attributed to creative editing; they take comments and sound bites and replay them out of context to sensationalise the story or push their own bias. Once the news was perhaps reported with much less bias than it is today. The world has polarised. There are those on the left and those on the right and not much middle ground.
One clear example of that was the reporting during last years US elections. The pro Trump media reported their facts, as did the Biden camp, both claiming to have the true position in each instance. Where was the truth? From a distance (here down under), your guess is as good as mine.
In the US recent stories about Australia were blown out of proportion and exaggerated. One such case was reported in our ABC News:
“Some videos taken during the protests were misrepresented online. For example, a video of riot police walking towards a group of demonstrators was described on Twitter as ‘grocery shoppers under attack [in] suburban Melbourne’. And rumours ran rife on a conservative US Facebook group that a shadowy government authority had unplugged the internet in Victoria.”
A certain commentator in the US is reported as asking on their YouTube Channel “When do we invade Australia and free an oppressed people who are suffering under a totalitarian regime?” (Source deliberately withheld) Seriously, it would be funny if it wasn’t such a serious misrepresentation of the truth.
The people behind these falsehoods, who twist and manipulate the truth, do it to substantiate and support their own agendas. Whether it is the far left or the far right, they all are committed to their ideology, which is their god, and they adhere to it at any cost.
It is important that as believers we do not run off chasing someone else’s fantasy, or imaginative spin on a particular situation or circumstance. Whether it is a media report we hear or something negative about a particular person. We need to check the source, cross-check facts and be absolutely certain ensuring we do not spread untruth or misinformation.
But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 1 Thessalonians 5:21
From a biblical perspective truth is absolute. It does not need to be added too, does not need a ‘spin doctor’ to enhance it and neither should it be diminished in anyway to make it, so called ‘Politically Correct’.
Governments Regulations and Rules
Wherever we have been living, regardless of the jurisdiction, we all have had to deal with the decisions and regulations imposed on us by our governments in their attempt to manage this Covid crisis. For many, accepting advice from those who are not actually elected officials, but are appointees of the government, has been challenging. These ‘experts’ told us what we could or couldn’t do, while other ‘experts’ often held a different opinion, even an opposite view.
Nevertheless, many people believe their government (depending where they live) has done a good job overall in difficult times. Others cannot wait until the next election to cast their vote to possibly dismiss their present government. Some even wish it could be done sooner, though in our democracy that is not an option. For Australians we will have an opportunity to express our view through the ballot box in the next State and Federal elections in 2022.
However, we need to keep in mind that though the pandemic has unfortunately been politicised by some, it is not so much a political issue as it is a health crisis. It could well be (many say it is) that certain leaders, hungry for more power and control over their constituents are trying to take advantage of the situation. Observing those who hold Marxist ideology and belief we see they certainly rule much more aggressively and controlling than those who don’t.
Trying to counteract the plethora of social media comments around Covid (May 2020), the NZ Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, certainly gave the Kiwis a moment to ponder. She said, “We will continue to be your single source of truth”.
Then there are the leaders who display narcissistic behaviour that makes us all cringe and give us reasons to be rightly concerned, but worse is the damage done to people who have their hopes lifted one day only to be dashed a few days later.
Even as I write the Victorian Premier is introducing legislation seeking wide sweeping powers that are dangerous and draconian – and in fact evil.
Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy has described Premier Daniel Andrews as “not just drunk on power” but “abusing it” after the new proposed pandemic laws were tabled at state parliament. (Sky News October 27, 2021)
“A senior Melbourne barrister (Paul Hayes) has blasted the Andrews government for rushing through its new pandemic legislation without proper consultation, saying the bill will give the Premier and the Health Minister “unbridled powers to do as they wish”. (THE AUSTRALIAN October 28, 2021)
Our challenge is to maintain a Kingdom perspective in our responses and behaviour that is appropriate and consistent with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. We are not the first generation to face such challenges and should Jesus tarry, we will not be the last. As with all the challenges and conflicts in life we need a balanced and sound biblical foundation on which to present our arguments and actions. In part one we discussed foundations for lives built “On the Rock — Wisdom from Above.”
Submission to Authorities
Going forward let us consider what two writers in the New Testament had to say regarding obeying and submitting to ruling authorities.
The apostle Paul writing to the Romans exhorts them to be “in subjection to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). He then elaborates further saying the authorities are put in place by God for our good and how for conscience sake we should obey them (Romans 13:2-8). I have heard it said that if the government is not serving our good, then that disqualifies them from being God’s appointment and therefore we do not need to obey them? If that was so, then Paul was mistaken by saying what he did, as in his day the authorities were far from providing good governance.
The apostle Peter also writes and speaks regarding submission to the ruling powers. It is important to note the context where Peter speaks to this. He talks of being God’s uniquely chosen people (1 Peter 2:9), those who are called to live lives that are different, a contrast to the world, lives that are honourable and which glorify God. With that in mind we then consider carefully Peter’s particular advice.
In order to honor the Lord, you must respect and defer to the authority of every human institution, whether it be the highest ruler 14 or the governors he puts in place to punish lawbreakers and to praise those who do what’s right. 15 For it is God’s will for you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing what is right. 1 Peter 2:13-15 (TPT)
For the followers of Jesus, those that adhere to and live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, there is a place of freedom where we can live. It is a freedom that begins in our hearts, a place where the Kingdom of God is the most influential power and authority, a freedom that no one can take away.
As God’s loving servants, you should live in complete freedom, but never use your freedom as a cover-up for evil. 1 Peter 2:16 (TPT)
In the days when both Paul and Peter wrote, the ruling authorities under the domination of the Roman government were corrupt and unjust and the emperor Nero was known for his cruelty and tyranny. Peter and Paul, who told us to obey the authorities, were killed by the same. Generally speaking, for those of us living in the West, having to deal with such tyranny has not been something that most of us have had to deal with. That is not to say that we are exempt from seeing and experiencing injustices; incidences of racism, sexism, discrimination and other ugly social issues are real. We have not had to face anything akin to or equalling Nero’s infamy, nevertheless, there are nations where right now people suffer terribly under cruel and oppressive regimes and much more so the followers of Jesus Christ who face severe persecution, imprisonment and death.
When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked rise, men hide themselves. Proverbs 28:12
A reason to be angry
We may not like and may even strongly disagree with some or all of what various political leaders are doing with respect to the Covid pandemic and their Covid rules, that is our prerogative. We did not enjoyed the heavy handed approach, especially in the state of Victoria. Melbourne became the city that endured the longest lockdown of any city in the world, 262 days in total (and still irrational restrictions remain). The implementation of crippling and damaging lockdowns, the rules and restrictions enforced, which many would challenge went far beyond the government’s authority. Not to mention the present segregation of individuals and communities through compulsory vaccination. Yet, we must find a way to respond while maintaining a position of righteousness and keeping our integrity in place
He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Apart from some questionable decisions around Covid, in the state of Victoria as in other states we have numerous legitimate reasons to be upset and even angry. It is easy to become angry and to want to vent that anger. Yet we must live and respond as people of God, in wisdom and self-control.
Don’t be angrily offended over evildoers or be agitated by them. Proverbs 24:19 (TPT)
As our emotions rise within us they alone cannot be the trigger for our responses. By all means be angry, but not to the point where it is detrimental to either yourself or someone else.
But don’t let the passion of your emotions lead you to sin! Don’t let anger control you or be fuel for revenge, not for even a day. 27 Don’t give the slanderous accuser, the Devil, an opportunity to manipulate you! Ephesians 4:26-27 (TPT)
Congregations locked out
Church closures have certainly caused frustration and consternation among the Christian community and one that I was particularly unhappy with. We need to acknowledge though that the governments have not singled out churches, but have used a broad brush inclusive of ‘religious groups’ in the closures.
Complying with regulations to keep churches closed or operating with very restricted numbers has been a point of contention. A minority has tried to avoid the regulations and not get caught. Some have gotten away with it while others have been fined.
Often quoted to justify the continuance of running ‘church’ at this time, is to use the writer of Hebrews exhortation, not to forsake the gathering together of believers (Hebrews 10:25). As much as we try, this exhortation does not relate to our present circumstances. The writer of Hebrews was referring to a practice, which was developing where believers were isolating themselves and not participating in life of the church, neglecting those things that distinguish believers from the rest of the population, that which is distinctly Christian; ie unconditional love and good works.
At that time the resistance to gathering could well have been one of fear. Fearing the government of Rome and its persecution of Christians was a reality that believers had to face. Our situation is somewhat different, as our Covid restrictions, whether we agree or not, revolve around a health directive not persecution or an attempt to silence the church, yet.
In reality we have not been banned from speaking. Though it has been made somewhat more difficult. We are thankful for all the different means we have at our disposal to broadcast services and disseminate information to one another. The biggest problem of course with church closures is the lack of meaningful, in person, face to face fellowship. The term ‘Social Media’ is a misnomer as it is not very ‘social’. Zoom or Skype or Web X etc, are great for communicating information, but no substitute for the physical, in person, human interaction and touch that is so necessary in any relationship.
(With regard to church attendance or not, please see The EXHORTER June 2021)
It is important to learn and to know which battles we should fight. We cannot be so consumed with our own rights we forget to fight for those who cannot speak for themselves. Injustice has not gone away during Covid. Let us direct our energy into making a difference in someone else’s life.
Go and rescue the perishing! Be their savior! Why would you stand back and watch them stagger to their death? 12 And why would you say, “But it’s none of my business? The one who knows you completely and judges your every motive is also the keeper of souls—and not just yours! He sees through your excuses and holds you responsible for failing to help those whose lives are threatened. Proverbs 24:11-12 (TPT)
Our God is not in lockdown. The supernatural is not hindered. We just need to learn to work with the Holy Spirit through a media that we may not be familiar with. Holy Spirit is not restricted and we have still seen people healed and impacted by God during these times over media interactions. The church may be hindered, but the Kingdom of God is neither locked down or locked in or locked out.
Now is the day of Salvation. 2 Corinthians 6:2 (TPT)
God’s purpose has not changed. The mandate to make disciples, teach the whole counsel of God, see lives transformed through the power and name of Jesus, has not changed. And though a subject for another day it is worth mentioning that our God has not given up on us or this world. Covid is not the end of the world and neither it is going to stop the purpose of God going forth.
His destiny-plan for the earth stands sure. His forever-plan remains in place and will never fail. Psalms 33:11 (TPT)
Protests – Unlawful Gatherings
Living in a democracy people have the right to gather in lawful and peaceful protest or as a collective celebration. I have attended and marched peacefully with thousands of others to highlight and protest against the barbaric act of abortion. I have also participated in Christian Celebrations, again with thousands, joyously marching through major cities voicing and celebrating our faith in Jesus Christ.
Should believers participate in unruly and unlawful rallies? For me it is a sound ‘no’. I know that some may disagree, but I have difficulty equating any violence with a Kingdom position. “God’s righteousness will never attach itself to human anger.” (Brian Simmonds TPT)
For human anger is never a legitimate tool to promote God’s righteous purpose. James 1:20 (TPT)
With regard to civil-disobedience (illegal protest) some say that they are choosing to obey God rather than man. A noble stance! Surely this is something we all have a preference for? Attempting to justify unlawful behaviour they mention the cases of the three Hebrew boys and Daniel (Daniel 3 & 6). But we must understand the context. The challenge for them was around the command to worship the golden image and a ban on prayer. Also used is the case of the apostles (Acts 4), but again we must adhere to context. Consider Peter’s and John’s key statement, which revolves around their choice to keep speaking about Jesus.
So they had them brought back in before the council, and they commanded them to never teach the people or speak again using the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “You can judge for yourselves—is it better to listen to you or to God? 20 It’s impossible for us to stop speaking about all the things we’ve seen and heard!” Acts 4:18-20 (TPT)
In both situations referred to above, the people involved were not guilty of violence, but they were boldly adhering to their faith when threatened with punishment for not compromising or ceasing a legitimate religious act.
Protests that are aggressive, violent and destructive do little to change politicians minds or receive the support of the general population. Once again the word ‘polarising’ comes to mind.
An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression. Proverbs 29:22
An important consideration is if you want to pull something down, remove a government etc, you need to have a better alternative to replace it. At times we may be sympathetic towards the initial reasons for a protest, but when it escalates into anarchy the cause is lost. Anarchy breeds more anarchy and is usually met with strong and forceful opposition by the authorities.
Jesus said to him, “Put your dagger away. For all those who embrace violence will die by violence.” Matthew 26:52 (TPT)
Our weapons are not natural and worldly, but hallmarked by the fruit of righteousness and peace. Even if it is one’s intention to protest peacefully and you feel that one has a legitimate grievance against a government’s stance, violence is not the answer. We are called to lives that are in contrast to the world, consistent with and display the nature of Christ.
Avoid any appearance of evil. 1Thessalonians 5:22 TPT
We have to do something — Four Kingdom Responses
I am not suggesting that we do nothing. On the contrary we ought to stand against evil, but it is the way we stand, which is important. So how do we respond to injustice or ‘tyranny’ (as a friend recently called it), or oppressive and aggressive government rules? Is it fight or flight? Well, it’s not necessarily either.
First, our response must be devotion to God and prayer, as it is in all things. Prayer for a believer is never just an option, it is an absolute necessity. On examination of the context of the following verse it is clear that the apostle Paul was not making a suggestion to pray. It was a command.
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Prayer does not always change our circumstances, but it definitely impacts our life and certainly does change our heart. It can help influence how we respond and act. Prayer cannot be abandoned. It is not maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It is imperative that we pray.
At the very moment I called out to you, you answered me! You strengthened me deep within my soul and breathed fresh courage into me. Psalms 138:3 (TPT)
A life surrendered to God through prayer allows the Holy Spirit to access our thoughts and inner longings. The things around me may not change, but Holy Spirit actions change in me, which enables and empowers me to handle and live through, with dignity, the challenge before me.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Further reading on prayer https://beyondhere.org.au/praying-for-our-government/ and https://www.millionprayingmen.com/blog/
Second, we need to know what the Bible says. Ignorance is neither a gift or a fruit of the Spirit. Devotion to reading the Scriptures and studying the Word of God is basic discipleship 101.
Every Scripture has been written by the Holy Spirit, the breath of God. It will empower you by its instruction and correction, giving you the strength to take the right direction and lead you deeper into the path of godliness. 2 Timothy 3:16 (TPT)
At times we hear the infamous declaration by someone trying to justify a particular doubtful choice or stance with, “God said.” Hard to argue with that, but when it is undoubtedly a misinterpretation of the Scripture, then it deserves to be challenged. God will never contradict His Word. As the Psalmist wrote:
For You have magnified Your word above all Your name. Psalm 138:2 (NKJV)
Truth’s shining light guides me in my choices and decisions; the revelation of your word makes my pathway clear. Psalms 119:105 (TPT)
Third, we can learn from others who live under restrictive, intimidating and aggressive regimes. What are the responses to the hardships they face? Being privileged to work with and among persecuted believers for over two decades, I have seen first hand their godly response to living under the control of a totalitarian regime. Along with the two mentioned above, which are fundamental for them, in brief it is, remain stedfast and faithful in the call of God, put the Kingdom first, evidenced by bold preaching of the Gospel and taking care of the poor.
Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes. Romans 12:2 (TPT)
For believers it is about what motivates us. What spirit is dominating our responses? Is it Holy Spirit or self or the god of this world? We are all human, but our humanity is what we surrender to Christ and His Kingdom. Paul speaks of being “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20) and as it reads in the Passion Translation.
“And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me—we live in union as one!”
Fourth, we should be actively involved in our community. Evangelism is and must always be the first priority. In this time of upheaval and uncertainty there is a ripe and ready harvest. People need the Lord and we the church are the only messengers of hope that this world has. We cannot be so self-centred and forget there is a world that needs Christ.
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14
Covid is intimidating the world, robbing people of hope and shattering dreams. It is not about simply going back to church, but it is about the church rising up boldly proclaiming Christ and His Kingdom to set the captives free in Jesus name.
Now you must go into all the nations and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins so that they will turn to me (Jesus). Luke 24:47 (TPT)
Nevertheless, there is more we can do.
The Gospel is the precise reason why Christians should be proactive in standing against injustice. Christian activism is not marching and protesting in the streets, but putting in place a practical and alternative way of life that demonstrates the Kingdom of God and shows people there is a better way to live.
This is the kind of fast that I desire: Remove the heavy chains of oppression! Stop exploiting your workers! Set free the crushed and mistreated! Break off every yoke of bondage! Isaiah 58:6 (TPT)
Many of the freedoms we have today (which are fast disappearing), we have because of the boldness, sacrifices and actions of past reformers who were willing to make a stand, speak out and follow up with godly actions to bring about change. This was not for their own comfort, but to improve life for those less fortunate. In fact for those reformers their lives were often made considerably less comfortable, yet they pursued the call to bring about change and justice where it was needed.
Believer, in whatever sphere of life you find yourself, it is there that you serve your God; there you can be an agent of change and transformation. Being involved in politics and making a contribution is certainly a legitimate role for a Christian who feels called into this arena. Each of us need to stand and be active in the practice and outworking of our faith in the community. In so doing you may find opposition, you may even be persecuted, something that is mostly uncommon for Christians in the West, yet it is a reality for those who dare to stand for justice and also preach an uncompromising message of the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Matthew 5:11
Hardships, obstacles and difficult times have never been a reason to cease living for Christ and being His witness.
Let everyone be devoted to fulfill the work God has given them to do with excellence, and their joy will be in doing what’s right and being themselves, and not in being affirmed by others. 5 Every believer is ultimately responsible for his or her own conscience. Galatians 6:4-5 (TPT)
All scripture is taken from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise stated.