The question: 'Power over Law' or 'Law over Power'?

  • Example: Watching a traffic jam at intersection
  • According to what principle does the traffic operate? Which vehicle is strongest?
  • Traffic rules versus what happens daily, law versus actual reality
  • Should it be    Power over Law    (those powerful enough are above the law)?
  • Or                     Law over Power    (even the powerful have to keep the law)?
  • Anyone in the world knows the right answer to this question.
  • Story: Almost accident with an expensive car.
  • What does the Bible say?

Old Testament King ... under the law - 1 Samuel 10:24-25

‘And all the people shouted: “Long live the king!” Samuel told the people the rights and the duties of the kingship; and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord.’
  • Situation: Israel demands a king. God tells them monarchy is not a good political system. The people demand it anyway, ignoring the predicted consequences.
  • God meets their demand because He had given them authority to appoint their own government (Deu 1:13). God obeys his own law or arrangement.
  • Israel agrees on Saul to be king. The principle of consensus (Deu 1:14) is upheld.
  • What does Samuel do right after crowning the king? > writing the down ‘the rights and duties of the kingship’.
  • The king’s duties? the tasks given to the king, like defense, warfare (1 Sam 8:20)
  • The king’s rights? doing a job requires authority, money, people, resources
  • if you want the government to do something, you cannot but give it power
  • The rights & duties were written and ‘laid up before the Lord‘ (presumably in the tabernacle). That is: before the eyes of God … and before the eyes of the people
  • Conclusion > an OT king is accountable to Law

Old Testament King ... under the law - Deu 17:14-20

’14 When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you … and you say, “I will set a king over me, like the nations that are around me,’

  • God foresees (1405 BC) and gives instructions for a future king (around 1050 BC)

’15 you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose.’

  • God gave them authority to appoint their government so they may choose monarchy over a republic, even against God’s will. Since with monarchy one family will reign – for good or worse – it is wise to ask God: who should be king? Which family? In a republic, this wouldn’t be an issue, because the choice is continual.
‘One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community.’
  • Principle of representative government (Deu 1:13): a foreigner is not representative
  • Modern example: Sonia Gandhi after election victory letting M. Singh be the leader

’16 Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses … 17 And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.’

  • The king shouldn’t acquire: too many horses (16), too many wives (17), too much wealth (17) or too much honor (20).
  • Why are horses a problem? > they are the high-tech military equipment of that time. Military is very expensive. Military superpowers are resented & held responsible by all. Modern example: USA
  • Why are many wives a problem? > personal indulgence, willful use of people, unstable kingly family > effect on king’s children
  • Why is too much wealth a problem? > temptation to abuse power, take bribes, live a lifestyle totally different from the normal people, no contact with the normal people, the king’s family becoming less and less representative
  • What if too much honor?
    • fame and ego as temptation
    • loosing contact with people, not hearing what needs to be heard
    • not allowing to be said what needs to be said, collecting yeah-sayers
    • you will embarrass yourself!
  • Not too much honor because
    • you are one of them, representing them, chosen for a task (not for self-
    • Example: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (national hero to most hated man)

‘he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.’

  • The king must read & meditate on the law every day of his life
    • so that he will learn the fear of God
    • so that he will obey the law and so reign long
  • Conclusion: the OT king is accountable to the law … how about the NT?

New Testament Church Leadership ... under the law - Tit 1:5-9

‘someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For an elder, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm rasp of the word…’

  • For lower level of leadership:                  list of 5 character requirements
  • For higher level of leadership (elders):  list of 12 character requirements
  • For normal church people:                      no requirements
  • Principle: the higher leadership, the more demands God makes on your character
  • Why? > more influence means also more power to hurt or mislead people

New Testament Teachers ... under the law - Jam 3:1

‘Not many of your should become teachers, my brothers & sister, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.’

  • Teachers will be judged more strictly.
  • Why? Again > more influence > more power to hurt or mislead people
  • Leadership = influence = accountability = stricter judgment
  • You want to be a leader? … good, but this is what leadership means
  • Conclusion:  NT church leaders accountable to a higher standard of character

Jesus, the most powerful human ... under the law

  • How about Jesus with his unlimited power, does he keep the Law?
  • How does he use his tremendous power?
  • Jesus is fully obedient to parents (as a child, Luk 2:51), to the law of land (Mth 26:52), to government (Jhn 6:15), to religious practice (Mth 17:27)… and most importantly and ultimately to God, the Father (Jhn 8:29).
  • Jesus never used his power for his own advantage, comfort, indulgence
  • Jesus submits to the Law of Moses and keeps the Law fully (Mth 5:17, though Jesus does not obey all laws and traditions added by humans).
  • Jesus lays down power to serve us selflessly and save us sacrificially (Php 2:6-8).
  • Conclusion: Jesus, though having power like no other man, is lawful & obedient

God, the Father ... under the law?

  • Up the power hierarchy:
  • Does God the Father obey the Law? Is God above the Law? Or under the Law?
  • Can the Almighty be under something? It sounds like bad theology 🙂
  • Yet God identifies himself as
    • the God who fulfills his own predictions     (Isa 44:6-8, …)
    • the God who keeps his own promises         (Isa 44:26, Gal 4:4, Jam 1:18, …)
    • the God is faithful to his own word              (Mth 5:18, …)
    • God is faithful to his revealed character     (Exo 34:6-7, Heb 13:8, Jam 1:17)
    • God keeps covenant                                      (Gen 15:18, Exo 19:4-6, …)
  • God encourages us to rely on this, call on this, hold him accountable to this!
  • Example: Job is commended for calling on God’s character ‘But you are good!’
  • God gives the Law. God’s character is the Law
  • God is true, God is true to himself, God keeps his own Law
  • God never commanded anything he himself does not keep

What does it mean to say 'God is Almighty'?

Some say:
  • God is Almighty means that he can do whatever he wants. There is no limit to his power. Nobody can question him or object to him. God is above accountability. Whatever he wills, happens. Whatever happens must have been his will. God is the law, he gives the law for humans to keep, but he himself is not bound by the law. He is above the law. If I have power, I am not subject to the law. Those with power do not obey the law.
  • In this view a person like Job is rebellious, not an example of faith. Power legitimizes itself. Might is right. This is non-negotiable. With this thinking we will have steep hierarchy in government. We will look for strong leaders. We will trust in and use outside pressure to coerce people to obey the law.
Others say:
  • God is Almighty means that God indeed has the power to implement his will. God is the law. His character is the basis of the law. He gives the law, but also keeps the law himself. Almightiness is not arbitrary, it is not ‘whatever I might want’, it is not unaccountable. God has told us what his character is and that won’t change. He has given us his word, his promises. He will never act outside of his own declared character. God in a sense ‘limits’ his own Almightiness: He will not be unfaithful to himself and his word. He is the law-abiding, promise-fulfilling and covenant-keeping God. He doesn’t change.
  • In this view Job is a hero of faith, who calls on God’s faithfulness and justice, who challenges God to do what He says he does. Government will be thought as under the law, as necessarily accountable and as tasked to ensure lawfulness.
  • Is God’s primary attribute that he is Almighty? Or that he is true and faithful to his character? Is God’s Almightiness sovereign, arbitrary and unaccountable? Or is his Almightiness law-abiding, accountable and covenant-keeping?

Animism's concept of Law and Power?

  • There is no objective law. At any time any god can interfere with physical reality.
  • Whichever god’s sphere of influence I enter, that god’s demands I must meet: bow, plead, sacrifice, bribe, dance … whatever.
  • Concept of government is similar: whose signature I need, his demands I meet.
  • Even a street sweeper will sweep all dirt in front of your gate unless you pay him.
  • The issue is not lawfulness, the issue is power (at whatever level, small of great)
  • What kind of leader do you want? What kind of leader are you?