There are a number of moments in my life that were turning points. One of them was when I got my eyes checked for the first time. After being encouraged to get my eyes checked by a high school teacher, I finally went to an optometrist. I had my eyes checked and sure enough I was near sighted. The optometrist came up with a prescription and I tried on my very first pair of glasses. To be honest, they were pretty ugly glasses and not a style I would wear today. But it did not matter as for the first time in a very long time I could see clearly. I was absolutely blown away at how crisp and clear everything was. And I was still in the optometrist’s office! When I got outside and could see the trees and grass and clouds and people it was amazing. I knew my eye sight was not perfect, but I had no idea how much I was missing. I was still self-conscious about wearing glasses but I was so glad that I had them and that at last I could see. This is one of the things that Christianity is supposed to do. Many people think that Christianity is supposed to make us act differently. That is true but only indirectly. What Christianity is supposed to do is make us see things differently and then because we see things differently, we should act differently. Let us look at the examples that Paul gives.
There are many things that differ among people and across cultures but there is something that binds us all together. That thing is that we complain about our governments. As Winston Churchill once said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” I remember growing up and hearing my dad talk about the government. It was amazing that after each election, the wrong government was always elected. It did not matter if all the major parties got an opportunity to govern, they were still the wrong government. I cannot tell you the words that my dad used to describe politicians, but I will tell you that when one politician was on our street going door to door campaigning, my dad threatened to call the police. Not everyone takes things this far, but most people do spend a significant amount of time complaining about the government. At best they are inefficient and at worst they are corrupt. It is unlikely that any of us pay our taxes with much joy. I remind people from time to time that Canadian income tax was introduced as a temporary measure to fund World War One. It is pretty natural for us to fall into complaints as the government is a pretty easy target. However, as Christians we are asked to look at the government with a new set of eye glasses. Instead of seeing the government as something that seeks to waste our taxes and limit our freedoms, he sees them in a positive light. Governments are established by God’s authority. What?! Let us be clear here, Paul is not talking about church based governments or Christian led governments. Paul is not talking about the Roman Empire being led by the Emperor Constantine who was the first Christian emperor. Paul is talking about governments in general. Think about the worst Canadian government that you have witnessed, federal or provincial. There was some divine authority that was behind that government. That does not mean that God gave his stamp of approval on everything that they did. What it means is that it is God’s plan to have us ruled by governments and that the work of governments provide some God ordained order to society. That does not mean that we should avoid voting against a party in power but it does mean that we should not seek a state of anarchy despite the savings in taxes. Paul has some interesting things to say about how we respond to governments. Many people have found themselves on the wrong end of the government’s wrath. Paul gives us some general wisdom here as to how we are to act. Paul shares the principle that governments are designed to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Wait a minute, we can think of dozens of if not hundreds of examples of the government punishing the innocent. Paul was not stupid, he knew very well that happened. In fact, ten years after writing this letter to the church at Rome, Paul found himself in Rome on death row and eventually being beheaded by the Roman authorities. These things happened all the time. What Paul was trying to say is that we should never give the government an excuse to punish us and as far as it is possible for us we are to remain on the government’s good side by being model citizens. Perhaps in extreme circumstances we might be in trouble but those are the exceptions that prove the rule. We should see the government as something to submit to and not something to fight against. What about taxes? We are sensitive about what we pay our taxes for. Should Christians pay taxes if that tax money is used to fund abortions? Paul tells us to pay taxes. Jesus told us to render unto to Caesar what is Caesar’s, that is to pay taxes. It is fair to ask what the Roman taxes went for. It is safe to assume that the tax money went to many evil, violent and perverted causes. In our modern context, it is good for us to vote for parties that will spend our taxes closer to what our Christian values are, but that does not get us off from paying taxes.
There are two groups of people we like to complain about: politicians and everyone else. There is some truth to this. As much as the government may be an easy target, there are problems with just about everyone. There is so much that we could complain about. There is plenty of gossip to be passed around. There are many people who could be insulted. We see what people do and we logically think of how they deserve to be treated. Paul asks us to put on those glasses again. Those around us are not people to be despised but people to be loved. Paul reminds us that all of the Law is summed up in the commandment: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” This is something found in the Old Testament, Paul, James and something taught by Jesus himself. You see, what we find in the Bible are not random rules put out to have a proper looking religion. What the Bible teaches is designed to lead us into a life of love. Love one another. Think about the most annoying people, those who have hurt us, those who have betrayed us. It is not easy for us to love them. But if I take my glasses off, it is not easy for me to see you either. With my glasses, you are clear. With the unlovable, we need to put on our glasses. What are our glasses? We put on Christ. What does that mean? It is not a mystical experience where you go to bed hating someone and wake up filled with love for them. It is a gradual process that includes cooperation on our part. God does not expect us to wait until we feel love before we start acting with love. But as we act in faith, God works in that to change who we are on the inside. Make the effort to see people, not as you would naturally see them, but to see them as Christ sees them. Christ will not ignore your attempts but will energize them.
Can you imagine if no one ever thought to invent eye glasses? If those of us who were far sighted or near sighted were doomed to see things blurry? So much of this world would pass us by without us ever noticing. Thankfully, someone did invent glasses and most of us can now see clearly as a result. Can you imagine if we were doomed to see the world with spiritual blurriness? If we were limited to our natural abilities and never saw things as they really were? Thankfully, we are not left with bad eyesight, at least not spiritually. Christ opens our eyes to see things as they really are, even if that clear sight makes us uncomfortable. Everything from government to our relationships have a whole different perspective from what we normally see. When we put on Christ we can see clearly. This is something that is important for us to do. As important as changing our actions is, we need to begin by seeing clearly.