Logophile of Kings and Monarchs

It’s been a while since I discussed words with you and so I thought I’d bring up another regal topic. This time I want to discuss the idea of being Imperial in an Empire.

Imperial & Empire

While these words appear quite different in English they actually come from the same Latin root. They both come from the Latin concept of ‘command’, in the word ‘imperare’. By Middle Latin the word had morphed into ‘imperium’. In Middle English the word had become ‘emperial’. Both of our English words imperial and empire spring from that original Latin root.

Hence it is true that imperial things belong to the empire. What is done by the monarch’s command is that which is deemed imperial and impacts his empire.

Of Kings and Monarchs

Consider these various meanings for the term ‘imperial’.

1. Pertaining to an empire

2. Pertaining to an emperor or empress

3. Characterizing the rule or authority of a sovereign state over its dependencies

4. Of the nature or rank of an emperor or supreme ruler

Both our words Imperial and Empire are intrinsically linked to Kings and Monarchs. Since much of the world has been under some form of monarchical rule – including all former British colonies, much of Europe, Russia, many Asian nations, African countries and South American cultures – the idea of Imperial things and Empires is relevant to most people on the planet.

Things Imperial

We have an interesting collection of things designated as ‘imperial’ due to their monarchical origins.

There is a coin called an ‘imperial’. It is a Russian Coin used from 1897 – 1917. It is so called because of the same Latin root as our word imperial, which became ‘imperialis’, meaning a coin, as something authorised by the monarch. A Roman coin bearing the monarch’s image, then, was in imperialis. The coin which was shown to Jesus Christ, with Caesar’s image on it, was an imperialis – an imperial coin.

Imperial Measures are those measures that were used in Britain and British colonies. In most nations the imperial measures have been replaced by metric measures. Imperial measures were ‘imperial’ because they were the ones approved by the monarch. Standardisation enabled the authorities to regulate against false measurements and fraudulent dealings. As the monarchs determined the set weights and measures their officers could then enforce accuracy and punish those who used unjust methods.

Imperial Law is that body of law which comes down to us as law enacted through the centuries by various monarchs. In their imperial capacity monarchs are able to impose law and regulations which all in their empire must follow. What is particularly significant about Imperial Law is that much of the freedom which western societies take for granted have come to us by rulings of various monarchs down through the past 1,000 years.

Imperial Law

Not all laws enacted by monarchs were so enacted with the enthusiastic support of the monarch. The Magna Carta, for example, is a law that was forced on King John. Yet, by his action of ratifying that law it comes to us as ‘imperial law’.

In Australia the original national constitution is built upon the pre-existing Imperial Law. Subsequently the various states of the Commonwealth have enacted legislation ratifying that pre-existing Imperial Law as continuing its validity for the benefit of Australian citizens.

So Imperial Law is not as out of date or irrelevant as the idea might suggest to our modern minds. We are indebted to imperial laws for many of the freedoms we have taken for granted all our lives.

Of Lords and Monarchs

Who is ruling you impacts who you can become. So take a moment or two to audit your own allegiances and discover your limitations.

Christians are familiar with the confession, “Jesus Christ is Lord”. That is a key element of personal salvation. Those who wish to be saved by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ must confess Him as Lord of their life. That brings them salvation.

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

Making that statement as a true confession can only be done with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

“….. no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.” 1Corinthians 12:3b

The problem for people is that they are entangled with many different lords and monarchs, without realising it. The process of coming under Christ’s Lordship, then, is not as straight forward as one simple confession. It must be real and it usually involves a progressive revoking of other sovereignties along the way.

Many Lords

God’s people are frequently entangled with mixed allegiances and other lords who exercise some level of rule in or over their lives. The prophet Isaiah identified this in his prophecies.

“O LORD our God, other lords beside you have had dominion over us: but by you only will we make mention of your name.” Isaiah 26:13

Note Isaiah’s candid admission that God’s people have had other lords ruling over them. He also recognises that only God will be able to deliver them into a pure allegiance only to Him.

This is the predicament of most Christians. They are in practice polytheistic. My son, Stephen, goes so far as to speak of a Pantheon of idols which each culture gives allegiance to. Christians in western culture still hold most the west’s deities dear in their hearts. These other deities are lords which rule over the Christian, despite the confession of Christ as Lord.

Western Idolatry

The west idolises success, money, education, sex, materialism, fame, self-will and independence as just some of its cultural values. These are idols that are worshiped. Some people give their whole life to the pursuit of these things.

When people become Christians they will likely still continue to worship these cultural values. They will worship them as idols. And that brings them under dominion and lordship of those things.

How We Get Lords

When we worship something or give in to something outside of God’s moral order we become enslaved by it. It may be sin or an idol that we worship.

“Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin.” John 8:34

“Don’t you know that whoever you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?” Romans 6:16

God is Our Only King

Christians only have one king, The Lord God. Jesus and Almighty God are one God and so I could also rightly say that Jesus Christ is our only King.

Christians in the early church refused to bow to the Roman Caesar, saying that they had only one King and that was God. This put them at odds with the ruling power, since it proclaimed Caesar to be a god.

In the early days of the nation of Israel God ruled over the people through His agents the prophets and judges. God was their king. When the people demanded a human king God specifically noted that the people were rejecting Him from the place of their king.

“And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” 1Samuel 8:7

Replacing God as King

When we seek anything or anyone else to rule over us other than God, Himself, we are rejecting Him from the rightful place as King of our life. If we worship money or success, or chase relationships, fame or popularity, we are rejecting God. We are replacing Him as King, with another.

By that means we end up with many lords who have sovereignty over us. But we have not only offended and rejected God we have denied ourselves our own personal sovereignty.

Voiding Our Sovereignty

We have incredible personal sovereignty as subjects of the Living God. If the God who created all things is your King, and you have a direct line of succession from Him, then you are about as sovereign an entity as anything could be. You have pretty impressive personal privilege when you answer directly to God and Christ. That is exactly what we do as Christians.

We are not under the lordship of priests, pastors or church leaders. We are not under the lordship of temporal kings and government masters. Kings and governments serve our social existence, but we do not answer to them. Since the Roman days and back 1,500 years before then, to the days when Moses withstood the King of Egypt, we answer, as God’s servants, directly to God, Himself.

So when we choose to worship any intermediary sovereign, or come under the lordship of any other person or thing we are voiding our sovereignty. When you worship money you decimate your personal rights before God. You subordinate yourself to something lower than yourself. The same is true when you worship success, fame, political ambitions, career, relationships or people who you revere.

Worship anything but God at your peril!

The Potency of Kings

Kings have authority and potency. That is why they are called ‘potentates‘. They wield authority over their domain and go to war with other kings to gain or preserve territory and authority.

Kings possess inherent qualities of authority. That authority has been expressed to the degree of the ‘divine right of kings’, which suggests that their superiority is divinely endowed.

King Solomon attested to the potency of kings when he declared…

“Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say to him, What are you doing?” Ecclesiastes 8:4

Where am I going with this? I am not here to tell you that kings have authority. What I want you to see is that people who are doing the will of God have authority that is equal to that of kings. So I’m pointing out that kings have quite some authority. Kings can virtually do as they please, and no-one can challenge them. Yet the same is true of the truly godly who are fulfilling the will of God in their lives.

Now, before you head off to defy authority, let me say again that what makes men equal to kings is that they are about their heavenly father’s business. You will not get to a place where you can defy authority just for the sake of doing your own thing. But if you are God’s man (so to speak), doing what God has called you to do, His way, then you can do business with kings, as an equal.

Let me show you several evidences of this in the Bible.

Abraham rescued the whole city of Sodom when it was captured by invading armies. Following the rescue the King of Sodom came to Abraham to offer him a handsome reward. Abraham flatly refused to take it, saying he did not want it said that Sodom had contributed to his wealth (see Genesis 14:1-24).

Abraham dealt with the King of Sodom, not as a lesser man who relied on the King’s graces, but as a man at least equal to the King, who would act as he so chose. Later Abraham proved to be of a higher authority than the King of Sodom when God allowed Abraham to negotiate for the city, but God did not even consider giving such a privilege to the King of Sodom.

Later we see Abraham doing business with a king of the Philistines. We know of this king as Abimelech, which is a dynastic title, like the title Pharaoh in Egypt. God told Abimelech that Abraham was God’s man and he was not to do him any harm. Abraham had no qualms in rebuking this king when his men stole wells from Abraham.

Rather than being in awe of kings, Abraham knew his own place as God’s servant and that he could go about his own business independently of the rulers of the land.

We later see Moses challenging Egypt’s Pharaoh with the same disregard for that king’s earthly authority. Moses had been sent by God and so he acted as an equal, or even a better than Pharaoh, going boldly into his presence to do business with him.

Yet again, even in the trial of Jesus Christ by Pilate, the delegated Roman ruler of Palestine at that time, Jesus declared that the only authority Pilate had over him was what God allowed.

“Jesus answered, You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above: therefore he that delivered me to you has the greater sin.” John 19:11

As you grow in your godly authority be aware that the time may come when you will stand before kings, not as a menial whom they wish to deal with as they will, but as an equal, or indeed even as one who has power over them. This is as it has always been.

Do not despise the authority of kings, for it represents the authority you may one day have as you pursue God’s purposes in your generation.

The Divine Right of Kings

English history plays out for us a lesson on our own condition. I’ll tease it out for you, through reflection on the Kings of England. Two competing notions of royalty played upon the English monarchy over the past millennia. One notion is that of the special rights conferred upon a king, as God’s appointee. This concept comes under the heading of ‘the divine right of kings’.

The other notion is that of the limitation of a monarch’s authority, in that he or she is not above the law.

In the middle ages the King was considered a divine appointee who ruled with God’s authority. Kings throughout history relied on the notion of their own superiority in order to maintain their position of power. In ancient Egypt, for example, Pharaoh’s were regarded as divine.

Since power corrupts, such notions of personal power tempt monarchs to overstep their bounds. In a land of powerless people a despotic monarch can do as he or she pleases. In England in the 1200’s the nation was in the hands of barons, who had large land holdings and who operated as mini kingdoms within the larger kingdom. Kings funded and staffed their activities, such as wars, through taxing the barons.

During the reign of King John many barons and church leaders resisted his heavy taxes and demands, demanding of him instead. This led to the creation and signing of the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. King John acceded to the baron’s demands, thus making himself subject to the law. The Magna Carta effectively limits the divine right of kings to be expressed within the bounds of God’s law.

English poet, Rudyard Kipling (whose poem “If” I have used elsewhere in these posts) refers to the divine right of kings in his poem about the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, 800 years ago.

“And there they launched in solid line
The first attack on Right Divine,
The curt uncompromising ‘Sign!’
They settled John at Runnymede.”
Rudyard Kipling, What Say The Reeds At Runnymede?

That was not the end of the matter. Kings continued to push the limits of their power. Thus, over 600 years after the Magna Carta, kings and queens of England continued to play their part in this running battle between privilege and obligation.

Due to a series of abuses by kings and a running religious struggle between Catholic and Protestant monarchs, King James II was overthrown in what is called the Glorious Revolution of November 1688. The English Parliament invited James’ daughter Mary and her husband William to the throne, on condition they are subject to the rule of Parliament.

This further limiting of the divine right of kings celebrated again that monarchs, even if appointed by divine mandate, are not above the law.

These historic landmarks illustrate the tension between rights and responsibilities. Privilege and obligation coexist in tension. In most aspects of our existence we must be subject to obligation in order to fully enjoy our privileges.

Marriage is an example. It affords a couple the rights and privileges of conjugal intimacy, while it also requiring both to accept the part God assigns them, in their unique role as husband or wife.

However, I digress. Where I want to go with all of this is to the point that kings do have privilege. A ruling monarch does have something akin to a divine right to their position. Yet they are not only subject to the law, as explained above, but they are unable to exercise authority over others who also share a ‘divine right’. Now, that’s where I’m going with this, but you’ll have to wait for a later post to let me take you there.