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Question Box

Paul states that he obtained mercy because he sinned ignorantly in unbelief (1 Tim 1.13). Was this unique to Paul, or if not in what way does God deal differently with those who sin ignorantly and in unbelief?

Paul’s condition in his life prior to conversion and God having mercy upon him is a wonderful example of the grace of God. There is a real sense in which his experience was not entirely unique to him, because we have examples of clemency for sins of ignorance in the Lord‘s prayer on the cross for those who were putting Him to death: "Father, forgive them; for they know what they do" (Lk 23.34), and again Peter in Acts 3.17, "Brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers". Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2.8, "The princes of this world…had they known it…would not have crucified the Lord of glory". We must remember that all mankind is alike guilty before God; men’s deeds are weighed and degrees of guilt measured in scales of unerring impartiality. Ignorance and unbelief certainly do not provide merit for Paul, causing God to have mercy on him, but it shows the justice of God in discriminating between what may be done in ignorance and sinning against divine light.

These words of Paul tell us of one who could never forget the hand that was laid upon his religious frenzy and blind zeal. He singles out his blindness as a ground of the forbearance he had experienced from God. God does deal differently with sins of ignorance as opposed to willful sin against revealed truth. Those who commit sins of ignorance will receive less punishment in the eternal judgment (see Mt 12.31-32; Lk 12.48) than those committed by one who knows he is doing wrong, yet is still determined to have his way whatever the cost.

John J Stubbs

"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man" (1 Pet 2.13). Does this still leave the right to disobey any law which is contrary to Scripture?

It is clear that questions do arise from time to time regarding the issue of the believer’s relationship to those in authority. Perhaps the key passage dealing with this subject in the New Testament is Romans 13.1-7. Peter touches upon these matters in ch.2 of his First Epistle (from which the questioner quotes), whilst Paul again gives brief instructions to Titus in Crete along similar lines when he writes, "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities (or rulers) and powers (or authorities), to obey magistrates" (Titus 3.1); the idea in this last phrase is "to be obedient to rule".

Paul says, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" (Rom 13.1); it should be noted that believers are viewed as subjects and not as citizens, for "our conversation (or citizenship) is in heaven" (Phil 3.20). He goes on to add, "Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake" (Rom 13.5). The former reason is external; the possibility of the execution of wrath on the part of the ruler. The latter is internal; it becomes a matter of conscience toward God and the recognition of the ruler’s right. We are ever directed to view earthly relationships and circumstances in the light of our relationship with God.

So Peter writes, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake" (1 Pet 2.13). The exhortation is to submit to every human institution, to every office or authority which men have established, bearing in mind that "the powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom 13.1). The motive should be noted in 1 Peter 2.13 - "for the Lord’s sake", i.e. in order not to bring discredit upon Him or upon His teaching.

We are to be subject to every human ordinance, save where such would cut across the revealed mind and will of God; in such circumstances we should take into account the principle, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5.29). It should be observed that, in the context of Peter and the other apostles making this statement, the angel of the Lord had conveyed to them the mind of God in these circumstances: "Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life" (Acts 5.20).

Examples where the principle of Acts 5.29 should be applied would be if the authorities:

a) forbade us to preach the gospel;

b) told us to corrupt our worship;

c) required us to adulterate the faith;

d) required us to do what is morally wrong.

David E West


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