Lisa Sheffler, author
Modern storytelling is full of anti-heroes. These are people who thwart the system, break the rules, and work outside the established guidelines. They’re loveable rogues like Han Solo, or vigilante super heroes like Batman. They’re doctors like Gregory House who defy the medical establishment to heal the patient or detectives like Sherlock Holmes who circumvent police procedure to get the bad guy. These characters are fun to watch because they dance on the edge of chaos and you never know what they’re going to do next. They flaunt the rules, but they get results, and that makes them fun to root for, at least in a fictional story meant to entertain. Yet, what would our society be like if these people were the norm?
In real life, in a real crisis, we want people who know the established wisdom, follow protocols, and selflessly work for what’s good. While we’ll applaud an innovator who creates something new, or someone who questions established practices if they might be in error, we don’t want a doctor who uses us as a test subject or a detective who makes up their own laws and procedures. For the most part, we accept that the rules are there for a reason, even if we’d like to see them wisely challenged when needed.
Doing the right, good, or expected thing may not make a compelling hero on screen, because it’s not big, flashy, or outlandish. But those who are good, dependable, and consistent are the heroes we count on in daily life. It’s also the behavior that Christians are called to.
3 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
List the commands in this verse.
A follower of Jesus should never be a rebel without a cause or without consequences. As we saw last week when we studied Romans 13:1–7, as far as it depends on us, Christians are to live at peace with all people, and that includes their governments. If obeying the government would mean disobeying God, we obey God and accept the consequences. In everything else, we should obey the governing rules and authorities.
If we think a law is unjust, unwise, or is being applied unfairly, the blessing of living in a democracy is that we can exercise our right to speak out and affect change. In fact, we should do that as part of our commitment to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Advocating for a more just government could be part of what it means for us to “be ready to do good” (verse 1). But when we thumb our noses at authority simply because we don’t like a law, or because it inconveniences us, we are not acting in accordance with what Paul commands here.
In the New Testament, doing good is often associated with the observable manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  It’s a tangible way to see his activity at work. Being peaceable, kind, and gentle toward others also demonstrates the presence of Christ and brings honor to his name.
As those who follow the risen Lord and invite others to join us in his Kingdom, we want to represent him well. As Peter says, “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15). Throughout history, people have been drawn to Jesus because Christians do good in their communities. They are trustworthy and people of integrity, they care for the poor, sick, and marginalized, and they do what’s right, even when there is no expectation of getting anything in return. That kind of behavior silences those who want to dismiss and defame Christ and those who serve him. We would never want the opposite to be true — for Christ’s reputation to suffer because we were blatantly and regularly contradicting his character.
Which brings us to one more command in this list, “to slander no one.” To slander is to spread false information. It’s what as the ten commandments call “bearing false witness.” These are divisive times in America. The social fabric has been severely damaged by abusive speech, lies, and contentious rhetoric. I wonder if, as Christians, we might help set a different tone by going beyond the minimum, basic requirement of not lying when it comes to our speech.
Consider how the Westminster Larger Catechism, written way back in 1647 could apply to us in 2020. Look at how it explains what it means to follow the ninth commandment, “do not bear false witness”:
“The duties required in the ninth commandment are,
the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own;
appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever;
a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them;
discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth;
keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.”
What would it look like we took this teaching to heart? If in our speech, both in person and online, we not only avoided slander and lies, but we demonstrated “a charitable esteem of our neighbors,” even those with whom we disagree? What if we were quick to acknowledge their “gifts and graces”? Or defend the innocence of our political or social opponents when they are mistreated? What if, when they did something right, we were happy to receive a good report about them? What if we refused to play “gotcha” by gloating over and sharing a bad report?
Could it make a difference in our country’s public discourse if Christians not only kept themselves from slander, but tried to speak peace and act with gentleness and kindness even toward those we oppose? How might that reflect the beauty and goodness of Christ to those who desperately need to know him?