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Climbing The Mountain

Matt Brownell, Tim Adams, and Van Owens

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Climbing the Mountain is a weekly podcast devoted to the Word of God and its application in the lives of believers today. Grounded in the Sermon of the Mount, we dive into connecting scriptures to explore themes and implications.

Episode 24 - Enemy Love - Part 5

March 17, 2023

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We continue our dive into Matthew 5:43-48 43 to look at what it means to really love others.

Hey, I'm Matt Brownell.
And I'm Van Owens.
And I'm Tim Adams.
Welcome to Climbing the Mountain, where we dive into the scriptures and discuss themes,
connections, and real life application.
We're kicking off a series here where we're going to examine the Sermon on the Mount and
discuss implications for this teaching for Christians today.
Hey, all.
Excited to come together again for our very last episode on Enemy Love and Retaliation.
This is part five, not part six, as I mentioned in last episode.
But we've obviously been having an extended discussion about this.
If you haven't listened to the previous four parts before you're listening to this one,
yep, probably should.
And so we're just going to dive in to where we were last time.
So one thing we didn't address before in our discussion was the relationship between the
government and the Christian.
This is kind of the last big theme that I want to make sure that we discuss.
And Van, you brought up Romans 13:1-4 before, which I think is really critical
to this discussion.
And it discusses how Christians are supposed to submit to the governing authorities, and
that the one in authority is God's servant for your good.
And Matt, you discussed that.
That's even if the authority is not a great one, because this was written when Nero was
in charge.
So in the previous conversations, I feel like we acknowledged the government's God-given
role in maintaining peace and order, and that the call is for Christians to submit to the
government's authority, even if that government is harsh.
What I also understood from the conversation, more pertinent to us as Christians, is that
there can also be great opportunities for Christians to serve in government offices
or jobs.
For example, a judge, police officer, or military personnel, in order for us as Christians to
be a redeeming force and a light in these places of great influence.
So I think I'll first just ask, does that summary align with what you guys think?
I would say yes.
I think that is a good summary.
I'll say a bit more.
Generally yes.
I think you're right, Romans 13 was written during Nero.
I think it's an interesting time.
There's some similarities, but a lot of things that are different about that time.
You had Nero, you had the temple was still around, so you had a whole religious system
that was very influential and powerful, and that Jesus had condemned when he was around.
And walking through it, turning over tables.
So you had, it's not exactly the same, but I think Paul's writing here, we're supposed
to love everyone, including those in authority, even unjust authorities, because we trust
our ultimate judge.
And in this way, we respect God's love of justice, and we live in peace as much as it
depends on us.
I think a lot of this, whether a Christian is called to serve in government offices
or jobs, is, I think it's going to come down to their own conscience, to a degree.
And to complicate matters more, that conscience might change over the course of your life.
You may not feel the same way about something, your conscience may be pricked at the longer
you're in a situation, or the longer you are walking through this process of sanctification
that we're on here.
With respect to motive, though, I'm not sure I would say we should serve in order to be
redeeming forces of light in certain places.
I think wherever we go, that should be what we do.
We should reflect Christ's light into the world.
So I don't want our hearer to think that we're advocating for more Christian judges or something
like that.
I don't think that's not…
But if you were called to a particular vocation, don't be surprised if God wants you to somehow
be a light there, because he wants you to be a light wherever you are.
I guess I see us having a lot of freedom in that respect, freedom and an overarching mission
to be an image bearer that supersedes any subsequent choice because it's who we are,
who we're made to be.
So I guess maybe the way I'd look at it is if you find yourself in a position of authority,
you suddenly are in the spotlight with more eyes on you.
So you have a greater obligation to be a light because they will see your darkness.
And I think there's maybe an equivalence in how Paul instructs Timothy and Titus with
respect to elder qualifications.
Leaders are needed everywhere, both inside and outside the church, and you don't want
untested bad leaders because leaders have influence.
So I guess I'd end with a word of caution too.
If anyone's hearing this and thinking, oh, good, I want this position of power, be careful
what you wish for too because leaders in, you see it in the Bible, like there, you will
be tested and it will involve a lot of suffering.
And we can't do any kind of spiritual leadership without God working through us.
And so it's really incumbent upon us to rely on his spirit, not our own.
I don't know.
I think that's really helpful clarification and is a really good baseline for the rest
of our conversation.
With that said then, focus leaning into the question of Christians in one of these positions,
the Christians in a government officer job.
One of the passages that we'll talk about maybe in many months is Matthew 6:24, which
says, no one can serve two masters.
Either you hate the one and love the other or you'll be devoted to the one despised the
You cannot serve both God and money.
That's talking about money, but the no one can serve two masters is just a blanket statement
that Jesus is making to prove his point about money.
And so ultimately you've got, you know, there's this question of authority.
And this is really what I want to ask is how do we wrestle for the person who's in that
government position?
How do you wrestle with the concept of Jesus's ultimate authority over our life?
You know, federal employees need to swear an oath before they begin an employment that
says that they'll bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.
It just says one example.
And that's something that I learned that was all federal employees, which was news to
I thought it was just people going into like military service, but it's just everyone.
So how can we pledge allegiance both to the Constitution of the United States in this
instance and to Jesus?
You know, what do we do when those allegiances conflict?
Well, I, and, you know, when I saw your question, I had to research that too.
I thought all federal employees select a mailman has to pledge this, but they do.
It's the same.
It's the same pledge, whether you're a senator or a, you know, a postal worker.
And so I think that, you know, the passage in Romans 13 is, and maybe it might be a good
idea to read it.
Let's do it.
Let's read Romans 13 starting in verse 1.
It says, let everyone be subject 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, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God is 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 you will be commended for the one in authority is God's servant
for your good.
But if you do wrong, be afraid for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.
They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
It is necessary to submit to the authorities not only because of possible punishment, but
also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes for the authorities are God's servants who give their full time
to governing give to everyone what you owe them.
If you owe taxes pay taxes if revenue then revenue if respect then respect if honor then
And I think what what's happening in here.
There's a couple of things.
One is that we're talking about God as the ultimate authority.
God establishes governments as his agents.
And then there's a lot of talk about doing right or doing wrong that if you do right,
you will be commended.
If you do wrong, you will be punished.
And I think that the doing right and doing wrong is doing right or doing wrong in the
eyes of God and that God will either commend you.
And if you do wrong, God will punish you.
And there's a part of me that wonders is the government is the agent in there somewhere.
But you if your allegiance is to God, then your allegiance to the government is somehow
secondary to that or somehow does it matter?
There is a sense that I get from the scriptures.
I get it more strongly in another passage in 1 Peter 2:13.
It says submit yourself for the Lord's sake to every human authority, whether to the emperor
as the supreme authority.
And I just find that interesting that it says it says whether to the emperor as the supreme
We know that Peter writing this letter doesn't think that the emperor is a more supreme authority
than God.
But he calls him the supreme authority there.
Verse 14 or to governors who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend
those who do right.
There's a punishment commendation thing again for it is God's will that by doing good, you
should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil.
Live as God's slaves.
Show proper respect to everyone.
Love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
And this passage quite honestly is, it has a little bit of cognitive dissonance to me.
It's like, so he says right there in the end, show proper respect, love the family believers,
got that fear God.
Honor the emperor.
You know, the pagan who has set himself up to say that he is a God and that we should
worship him.
How can I honor him and also honor God?
There must be a way.
But how do we do it?
And so that's the question that I ask as I was preparing for this.
I'm not sure I landed on even an answer for myself, but it has to do with understanding
who my ultimate authority is and that if I do good, how would submitting to the authority
of God oppose submitting to the authority of the government that is over me?
And I think we're veering into a bit of a hypothetical again because this question assumes for us
living in the United States that we'd be serving in that situation, which could look very different,
different calculus entirely if we were in a different country.
We live in an amazing experiment here of democracy, which some could say is under threat even
now, but it's very different than other countries that could be more theocratic or something
else that would be very difficult for one of us to serve in and take an oath to uphold
because I think it would feel a lot worse than taking an oath to serve in some capacity
in this government.
Now, I say that with the full knowledge like what you were just bringing out there, Van,
about how no government is the kingdom of God and we serve an ultimate king and judge
and that is who our primary allegiance is to and supersedes every other kind of allegiance
or pledge that we could make.
Now, we talked last time also about making oaths and vows and I think we wrestled a little
bit with that, but ultimately I think we were, at least I was landing a little bit on the,
this is a loophole that Jesus is exposing and in our everyday speech, we should never
have to make an oath or a vow.
And I brought out how it may be in certain circumstances, momentous occasions like Galatians 1
Hebrews 6 that maybe they're not intrinsically wrong to make such an oath.
So anyway, with that backdrop, I'd say I wouldn't have a problem of making some kind of pledge
allegiance to the Constitution of the United States as it stands now with its amendments.
I think the first draft was problematic when you read it, there's some messed up language
in there about indigenous people, slaves, women, the three-fifths of a non-free person
language that's striking.
So the amendments are pretty welcome additions, I think, but as a whole, I wouldn't have a
huge problem with it, but the way I think of this is sort of like having dual citizenship.
So our primary citizenship is in heaven with God, where Jesus is preparing a place for
us, we're all aliens and foreigners here, and we have this kind of dual citizenship
where we can live or maybe permanent resident might be a better way of looking at it, where
you're allowed to live in this place and have a job and carry on a life, but your primary
citizenship is elsewhere.
And so I think that's maybe a good way of looking at it, at least that's the way I think
of it, that we're all longing for this better home to return to.
And that's how I think Peter looks at it, because he talks about us living as foreigners
and strangers and aliens that were a whole royal priesthood, a holy nation.
So that's right before the passage that you just quoted, Van.
So yeah, I mean, I really like that.
And I will say a couple of things just for the listeners.
You don't need to swear the oath, you can swear or affirm the oath, so if you remember
our oaths discussion, there's that little nuance again, do that, what you will.
And then what was the other thing?
The other thing is, you know, full disclosure, I'm a contractor for many state governments
or federal governments, or many branches of the United States and have considered becoming
a federal employee at times.
So you know, I have wrestled with this particular oath because I didn't know I would have to
make that oath if I was just a regular civilian federal employee.
But there's a lot to wade through.
I think mainly, most of the time when I think about this question of allegiance, I really
do think about military service.
I feel like that's like the extreme example, because although my knowledge of military
is basically from friends who have explained it to me or from movies, which, you know,
how to know how much you can trust that.
But what's very clear is that you obey your commanding officer and that you're going to,
you're loyal to the United States, you're loyal to your fellow civilians/citizens and you're
going to protect, right?
No matter what that looks like.
So that's, I think, to me, like the crux of where, you know, that's the extreme example.
And there's examples even through time of, I think, in Roman times, right, where Christians,
people became Christians who had already pledged to be a soldier and decided their conscience
said, I can't kill someone.
And so they were executed.
And so I think that is the extreme example where then, hey, if your conscience says,
that would be the most extreme example I could think of.
And I think that's kind of where I go to, because that's a very clear example in the
first few centuries is, you know, people could become Christians if they were in these positions
of authority, but that was what they were held to.
And the question is, is it just a matter of conscience or is this something that we're
actually held to?
And so with that, I'm like, the way I've been thinking about this as I'm prepping for
this is like, you know, what role do I have as a Christian versus what role does the government
And do they overlap?
Or are they?
And I think in some ways they certainly do, right?
Like the government is meant to provide peace and order in this world to commend those who
do right, right?
I think those are things that as a Christian that I'm very much aligned with.
But I wanted to draw out something in Romans 12 and 13.
Yeah, I just keep thinking, like just it's striking me how different our present situation
is from so many past centuries.
Like I was just thinking about mulling over that example from the Roman citizen soldier
who would rather be killed to fast forward to the Reformation and the Anabaptists who
were killed under theocratic states by other purported Christians.
And you know, like we live in such an anomaly almost, it feels like throughout time where
we could have a separation of church and state and freedom of religion.
And you know, like the wars that had raged in Europe for like centuries, we were like,
no, we're not going to do that.
And we have incredible freedom here that, I don't know, I just, I hope it lasts.
Well, you know, and I think that we also can see in a purely secular view of things, there
are kind of levels of allegiance.
And there are levels of, you know, somebody who is a regular citizen is not necessarily
expected to go off to war.
If the United States declares war on somebody, they don't expect us all to go to our house.
And get our muskets and line up.
Unless they do, unless there's a draft.
And you know, so there are those different levels of allegiance.
And there are, and I think even in the Bible, there are other examples, I think of Daniel.
And now Daniel was a high official in his government, did not start that way, became
a high official in his government, but his allegiance was clearly to God and not the
king or it was to God and the king, to God first and then the king and how his enemies
tried to leverage that against him.
And, you know, a fascinating read for anybody who's interested in that type of thing.
But that, and in the same token with us as believers, as Christians, there may be levels
of allegiance as long as the very top level of that is to God.
And that, that is a good point.
And when I think that's the crux of what no one can serve two masters means, is that
ultimately one of the masters wins.
And so you've got to, you can't be, you can't be unclear about which one's going to win
when push comes to shove.
And that seems to be very clear is that, and there's no disagreement in this room that
the ultimate authority in a Christian's life is to God.
So we don't need to pretend that that's an area of disagreement because we all agree
on that one.
So the part that I'm wrestling with is, so we saw very clearly in Romans 13 and in 1
Peter 2 that the government are an avenger that they are meant to punish those who do
That's from 1 Peter 2.
And then from Romans 12, it says, he is a servant of God and an Avenger who carries
out God's wrath on the wrong doer, right?
So those are like very clear statements about one of the roles that the government has.
And if you go back like five verses in Romans 12, you get an address to Christians and it
says, repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight
of all.
So if it's possible so far as it depends on you, leave peaceably with everyone, beloved,
never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.
For it is written, vengeance has mine, I will pay, says the Lord.
So I was wrestling with that because it's very clear that government is an avenger
of God and then it's very clear that Christians are never to avenge, at least never avenge
themselves if we just stick exactly to what's written and not extrapolate.
And so where I'm coming from is that, and this is a great example of it, is that a
Christian and the government are given very different mandates.
They're going to have very different calls.
And specifically when it comes to the use of force to, you know, in this case to avenge
or to punish wrong, you know, if you think about military service, that's typically the
justification given for wars is that we're trying to kill the evil person who's harming
Now we know from when the documents come out 50 years later, that's very rarely the case
of why the wars were stopped.
Never that black and white.
Never that black and white.
Both sides say those things.
But the purported reasons given for wars and definitely the reasons why laws exist and
why the justice system exists is to promote an air of order.
And one of the ways it does that is to punish those who do wrong.
But I struggle to see how a Christian could be involved in any of that if the ultimate
authority of the Christian is God, and then Christians are called to love their enemies
and to never avenge themselves.
So curious like what you guys think about that.
And so for me, the key is in the statement that you don't avenge yourself.
And what was the other statement that you said you leave room for God's wrath or you
don't that that.
So someone who let's take the example of a police officer since Darryl was here with
us last time or two times ago.
That what a police officer is supposed to do is to protect and to serve.
And it doesn't say that a police officer, they're the oath that they take.
And I'm speaking of a very idealized here.
We know that there's corruption in all levels of everything that human beings do.
But that the ultimate the height of what a police officer is supposed to do is to protect
and to serve.
And their mandate to protect and to serve does not stop when someone becomes a lawbreaker
or is a violent threat to a police officer.
So in theory, a police officer, if someone is running at him with a knife, his commission
is to protect and to serve even that person that is running at him with a knife.
And so he needs to try to protect and to serve that person.
And if it's just him and that person, then he should be willing to sacrifice himself.
And so there's an ideal thing in there.
And I think that just as we couldn't find an instance in the Bible where a Christian
used violence against somebody that was coming at them with violence, that there we also.
So we we we extend that example to people who are in the military or in the police force.
They're not to use their power to avenge themselves, to protect themselves.
They're there to serve an ultimate authority.
Now for a policeman or a soldier, that ultimate authority might be the state or the federal
government or the president or the United States of America, whatever country they're
a part of.
But they are not to do that just for themselves.
We get into problems because of the fact that many of them do do it just for themselves
or some of them do.
Yeah, I think I hear a couple things in there, Tim.
And I don't know exactly how to answer because it is such a tough question.
And part of me thinks it falls into the matters of belief and not binding my my own opinion
on someone else and letting their conscience decide if they are called to service in in
government, in particular as a police officer, as someone who joins the military to serve
a country.
You're right.
There is no we're in that in between place where there is nothing perfect here.
It is nothing has been redeemed fully and actualized.
Like it's not culminated yet in heaven.
And so we're in this in between where we understand what it should be like, but we're still in
facing sin and corruption and evil desires and all kinds of mess.
And so there is no perfect, pure thing.
And at the same time, I'm also reminded of, I think C.S. Lewis gave a lecture once to
pacifists about why he is not one, which it's kind of funny.
It is funny.
But you know, he was basically saying that it was a practical necessity that you can't
have a pacifist nation because then the domineering one will just wipe it out.
And so that's not what turning the other cheek means in that kind of situation.
You shouldn't just stand aside and let a homicidal maniac get their way.
Another way of looking at that problem might be to consider the good Samaritan.
And we probably wouldn't consider that good Samaritan very good if he happened, happened
upon the person being robbed and did nothing to stop the robbery and assault.
We probably think, why didn't you do anything to help him then?
So I can't judge someone else's motivations, why they would want to serve or protect or
those kinds of things might be in the DNA of who God has made as a person.
No one person is the same as the other.
My strengths are very different than my wife's strengths.
And I'm so glad that we're together because I have a lot of weaknesses that she covers
And I depend on her in ways and vice versa.
And I think that everyone can serve some help.
So in a society, it might look different.
And I wouldn't want to say just because you're serving in the government, you can't be a
Christian too.
And I also think one more thing that I'll say is there is for me a very real nuance
So there are, because of people become Christians in the stage that they're in.
So if someone converts and becomes a Christian and they're already a police officer or a
soldier, that's a slightly, there's a slightly different nuance to that than somebody who
is already a Christian who is considering becoming a police officer or a soldier.
If I were advising those two people and they were both in the exact same scenario, what
should I do?
I might advise the person who's not.
Well, maybe you shouldn't be.
Maybe you shouldn't join the police force.
Maybe you shouldn't join the military.
And because maybe it's going to spare you a decision that somebody, a Christian who
is already in that situation might have to make that when the allegiances are challenged.
Both of them are going to have to choose God.
But if you're not there, if you're not in a compromising situation, it might be wiser
not to put yourself in that compromising situation because of who your primary allegiance is
And I think there's so much here and I think we'll wind down this particular topic because
we won't be able to unpack everything.
But what I am grateful for is that we're wrestling with this concept of authority and we're wrestling
with, okay, we all know that Jesus is our ultimate authority in my life as a Christian.
How does that bear on these decisions about, in this case, what profession I might be in
or the way I might exercise my authority in that profession?
And I think I'm with you, Matt.
I'm not in a place right now where I'm going to, I would make a categorical statement about
someone being involved in any sort of military or government service.
I'm very confident that I would advise no one to be in the military.
And that's the conviction that I live by.
But what I am rock solid on for myself is that if someone does go into those situations,
there are going to be times when that other authority in their life is going to demand
something that they cannot give as a Christian.
And there's going to need to be a stand they're going to have to make.
And it can be a great opportunity to share your faith.
And it could be a great opportunity to share your faith.
So I think with that, I wanted to end this many episode series on retaliation and enemy
love with a quote that I find very helpful.
Mother Teresa said once that if you spend one hour a day in adoration of your Lord and
never do anything that you know is wrong, you'll be fine.
And I can sometimes get so wrapped up in disagreement or about the edge cases where I'm not sure
of things that I forget that the God's word is extraordinarily clear, the vast majority
of the time in my life.
And if I just walked in what I knew to be true, then you know, probably going to be fine.
You know, and that's, I think that's where really God does call us the most is, you know,
walk with me, be faithful to me and how can we be faithful unless we do those things that
we know are confident and what we know is right or wrong.
So with that in mind, I guess just let's keep it short for right now.
But you know, what have what what have felt like some rock solid truths for you guys that
have come out from these conversations, specifically about retaliation and enemy love that you just
would like to to make sure are voiced here before we close.
I think for me, what this causes me to see is, well, this is really hard and that I need
I really, really need Jesus.
He's the one that I need because all of this retaliation, self-preservation, whatever you
want to looking out for number one or wherever you want to call it, getting even, it feels
so baked into my DNA, like in my sinful nature, wages war against me for my soul.
And I think that looking to Jesus and his suffering for me, a complete center is the
first thing.
And the second thing, I guess is related to the first is that we humans want to get even
and take matters into our own hands and put ourselves in a place of judge.
And we see later in chapter seven how messed up that is.
That's not what we should be doing and that we should be instead in trusting ourselves
again to him who judges justly.
And the question isn't who is my neighbor?
The question is how am I treating my neighbor?
Everyone's my neighbor.
I should love everyone.
So I think those are some of the things I'm getting out of this.
I think, is it Romans 8 that says, if God is for us, who can be against us?
And you know, I've looked at that passage and said, well, nobody, nobody can oppose
But I also think it probably means no one really does oppose me if God is with me.
And that a lot of what we're dealing with here when we talk about enemy love is anger
and retribution.
And that there really is no place for that in somebody who's going to be a Christian.
There's no place for it.
And that my relationship with God is based upon the state of my heart.
And that like, like this whole series of the antithesis has to show us is that's what's
most important is my heart.
And that as far as my heart goes, I'm to love my enemy.
And the challenge of that statement is as large, looms as large for me now at the end
of this conversation as it did at the beginning of the conversation.
And just like when Jesus said, love your neighbor and the person replied and said, well, who
is my neighbor?
And love your enemy as well, who is my enemy?
And so I need to love that person.
And that that's where it all it all lands for me.
And that's where that's where it evens out for my soul.
I really appreciate what he said with that mother Teresa quote to is because we can't
we should not.
We should not major in minors.
And, you know, we should major in the majors, love God and love people.
Yeah, I love that.
And I think for me, you talked about anger and how that's not supposed to rule our hearts
and the other primal emotion that can so often rule my heart is fear and fear of, you know,
that I'm going to be okay.
And I think what came out so clearly in these episodes for me is that Jesus promises me that
he's going to take care of me and that I don't need to be afraid in all the situations where
it'd be very natural for me to be afraid if I'm considering only this life.
You know, I have a home in heaven.
I have a hope of the resurrection.
I have a leader who did it all here and is showing me the way there.
And so I don't need to be controlled by fear or like it says in Hebrews, like, you know,
Jesus released those who all their lives have been held in slavery by the fear of death.
So that's what's come out for me.
I've really appreciated these talks and felt like me too.
This is just even for us as a group has been some of the most life giving conversations
that we've had to be able to lean into what we've been talking about, about wrestling
and the word in community together.
So thanks guys.
We'll catch you next time.
Thanks guys.
I'll see you next time.

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