In his fantastic letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes in chapter 12 about faith in action. He says things like:
- If your gift is giving, then give generously.
- If to show mercy, then show mercy cheerfully.
- Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
- Practice hospitality (the word here literally means love the stranger)
- Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with the lowly.
Immediately following this beautiful treatise on the Christian life, he writes:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Romans 13.1-2
WWPD? What would Paul do if he came across a few people at this intersection flying a sign (asking for money, or panhandling)?
- Would he avoid eye contact, hoping the light would change, the sooner the better?
- Would he kindly tell the needy person that he can’t give because he is faithfully subject to the governing authorities?
- Would he then lecture the “lawbreaker” about the blessedness of submitting to governing authorities?
- Would he give them money even though there is a city ordinance?
- Would he park his car and take them into the fast-food restaurant for a quick meal and conversation?
There’s no way of knowing what Paul would do if he came across this scenario, though we might be able to make arguments for any action. The more important question is,
What would you do?
Is it okay for compassion (showing mercy) to become civil disobedience? If not, why not? If so, what are the conditions?
On a side note, and something that needs a little more research on my part, Paul writes in Romans 12.16 to not be proud but associate with the lowly. The word we translate as associate is a compound word that means “with & lead away”. The “lead away” word is used especially for those being lead away to trial, prison, or punishment. Maybe when he says “associate with,” he is saying, “become a co-defendant with…”