"What's good for the goose is good for the gander." I remember my mom saying that regularly (though I did not know what a gander was, I sort of put together the point she was making). The Scriptures cut both ways (the proverbial two edged sword) and while we are always tempted to use the Word of God to our own benefit, by "benefit" we often mean our own advantage. So we go to the Bible to shore up our arguments for this position or that. Mind you, much of it is sincere and often times we are trying to be obedient. Unfortunately, I think the scriptures which challenge us personally are often veiled from our eyes. By this I mean we just flat out "don't see them" or if we do we just quickly move on to other things. The psychological term for this is "denial" and it is operative in all of us. The harsh assessment of this is calling someone a hypocrite.
This Sunday I will preach on Matthew 5, the sermon on the mount. One of the sections will be about divorce. Jesus was very hard core on divorce. He is very hard core in condemning it and very hard core in condemning remarriage. Jesus' teaching on sexual morality is very demanding. However, the churches which practice what Jesus teaches are often times called judging, or unforgiving, or not like Jesus. It is pretty weird that Jesus is used as an authority to undermine Jesus' teaching, but He is. The institutional church has come to grips with this in various ways. The Roman Catholic annulment process removes the status of the first marriage as a full sacramental marriage. The Episcopal Church appeals to the authority of the local bishop to grant permission, called a godly judgment. In some churches the minister just blesses the second marriage. I counsel so I am well aware of the pain involved in marriage and divorce. I also know that the debates on marriage (so called gay marriage) are fueled by the disregard of Jesus' words on marriage. "If you can do this, I can do that.." people say ( a variation of the goose and gander saying). Church practice sets precedence for other options, always has and always will.
Today we read in Romans 13:1-14 that the government rules by God's authorization. [for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment] Paul's view of government expressed here is pretty strong. I rarely hear conservatives quote this verse when talking about Obama, in fact I never hear it. Never. And the reason is because they do not believe the Obama agenda is godly. So there is a tension there. Called to obedience by God and also feeling a pull to stand against the policies by the same obedience to God. The problem is the government is not simply an extension of God, and if Paul seems to say so here (and he does seem to equate the two) that must be read in the context of other demands of God. Paul's exhortation to pay taxes is not found on the bumpers of any "Born Again" in large part because conservative Christians tend to advocate low taxes and less government. Telling them "the Bible says..." and quoting Paul will fall on deaf ears, I assure you that they will pull out alternative verses to justify their position. Not to be disobedient, but to obey. At least obey as they deem fit. That, in the end, is where it comes from. Our choices shape our reading of Scripture and our politics is one of the lenses through which we read the Word. Clearly, the Word also shapes us. We do change on things when we are confronted by God in the Word, it is just that the change does not happen all the time.
Our dexterity in working with the Bible means that sometimes we are unfaithful in our interpretation; sadly we may be sincerely unfaithful. I am sure there are many areas of my life where my sin is unknown to me for just that reason. Well off middle class are as deaf to verses on poverty and holiness concerning possessions as Liberals are on sexual morality (and often times for all their talk they still embrace the same materialistic life style). We geese tend to view the ganders as different from us, we like to say they ignore the Bible and we construct all manner of arguments to prove our point. I engage in that sort of thing. We all do (though some more poorly than others). My point is that the Word addresses us, but also me. I have input into how we are to obey (and the marriage debate is monumental and worthy of passionate and thoughtful discourse), but I have far more control over myself. I need to hear what God is challenging me to repent of and what He is calling me to become. I think that is where our time and energy is best spent. When we are about the business of becoming holy, wise, patient, kind, merciful, loving, etc then the "strong, brave, prophetic and bold" are going to be more godly (and less about me).
One way we ignore the commands of God is by being on the lookout for others who fail to obey, rather than looking in the mirror. This is not an advocacy for failing to call others to task, it is just an exhortation to "take the beam out of our own eye so we can see clearly to judge others." It is also a reminder that as we look deeply into our own sinfulness, admit it and repent, crying for mercy and experiencing God's love, we are more adept at addressing others with covenant kindness, mercy and love. We are more adept at loving the sinner (while hating the sin). And we are more effective as ministers of the Word.