etching of Paul in prison studying with the slave Onesimus

What Philemon Taught Me About Romans 13

Romans 13:1–7

Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.

Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.

Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.

It’s hard for me to avoid cynicism whenever Romans 13 comes up. Christians vary widely on how we use the passage depending on our own political preferences. The same preacher can teach contradictory things from the passage informed by nothing more than whether or not they side with the current administration.

What we often ignore is the Romans 13 exists in a context. It exists in the context of Romans 12 which tells us to never repay evil for evil, to care for those we consider our enemies, and to overcome evil with good. It is a message that Christians should live in peace. It also exists in the context of Romans 14, which says we answer solely to the divine law of liberty and that we should be careful of violating fellow Christians’ consciences over secular matters.

Beyond these, Romans 13 exists in the context of the author’s life.

Paul and Romans 13

Paul was a Roman citizen, but he would have been subject to Roman rule regardless of his citizenship. The entire region where he lived was under Roman control — and not because anyone had invited them. Rome had forced themselves upon the region, as they had many before, in conquest. They overwhelmed local military and offered the benefits of Roman rule in return for taxes and obedience. Many Jews did not see the emperor or his people as legitimate rulers.

Yet Paul said to submit. And we see this time and again in Paul’s life. When he appeals to Caesar in Acts 25:1–12, he goes on to submit to everything that entails — standing trial, being shipped to Rome, living under house arrest and eventual imprisonment. Paul never complains of injustices visited upon him. Paul never retaliates. Paul never calls on Christians to take up arms and free him. He submits to the government, even though it will mean his death.

Paul and Disobedience to the Government

The letter to Philemon may contain the only time we see Paul overtly break what we would call a federal law. Yes, he disobeyed Jewish leaders and local officials who would tell him to quit preaching Christ, even stoning or imprisoning him in some cases, but he had never broken a Roman law. In the case of Onesimus, he does.

Remember that in the eyes of the Roman government and most Roman citizens, slaves were property — not people. A Roman slave owner had complete power over a slave’s body, and the slave had few to no rights of their own. An escaped slave was a fugitive — an “illegal,” if you will. And it was also illegal to aid or shelter an escaped slave in any way. If you encountered an illegally emancipated slave in Roman culture, your responsibility would have been to report the slave immediately.

Yet Paul spared Onesimus. Paul decided his obligation to Onesimus’s soul was greater than his obligation to Rome. Look what he writes in Philemon 8–12:

For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my son, Onesimus. I fathered him while I was in chains. Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful both to you and to me. I am sending him back to you as a part of myself.

Paul’s writing indicates that he loves Onesimus’s as a son, a bond that supersedes any legal standings. Yes, Paul writes in Romans 13 that we should be submissive to the government under which we live, but his example shows us that we should not submit to the government at the expense of souls.

Our Application

So what does all of this mean to us? Again, we can be very inconsistent with how we apply Romans 13, based on how much you or I like a particular administration. But Paul shows us the way. Paul submitted to Rome, even when it disadvantaged himself to do so. This does not mean he gave allegiance to Rome; submission and allegiance are two different things. We, like Paul, can live peaceably as citizens of a worldly government without being attached to that government. For our real citizenship is in Heaven.

Above all, our allegiance to God is more important than our obligations to any worldly power. Souls are more important than worldly laws. For me, that’s the line in the proverbial sand between obedience and disobedience — not whether I feel offended, not how I feel about my civil liberties, not how fair I feel the law is, not how much I like the person or party behind it. But this: does my adherence to a law put souls in jeopardy? If not, I’m not likely to resist. But I have no tolerance for laws and policies that endanger or devalue souls made in God’s image.

In all of this, you will seldom find me publicly advocating for any law, policy, or campaign promise. My hope is in Christ alone, not in the promises of any politician or official. My hope is not in border walls, military might, court rulings, or my civil liberties. My mission is to preserve none of these things. My calling is to save and preserve souls. And the things we all choose to submit to should reflect our hope in Christ and our love for souls. That is the lesson the book of Philemon teaches us about Romans 13.

Further reading:

For a few additional and excellent commentaries on Romans 13, see these posts by Wes McAdams and Brian Zahnd:

an image of the first page of the letter to James in the Bible

An Overview of James Chapter 1: Maturity in Faith

James is a book written to help Christians take their faith to a higher level. Based on the text, it’s written to people who already have a faith in Christ, possibly of Jewish heritage, and who understand the fundamentals of Christianity; but they’re having problems putting it into practice. James spends little time on things like Christ’s deity, baptism, or the nature of the church. Rather, this is a letter about putting faith into action. It speaks to what Christian living looks like in practice. It’s about owning our faith and making it a part of who we are — not just a name we wear.

In this and following articles, I’m going to go chapter by chapter, but it’s always best to read each epistle in one sitting. James and the other New Testament writers didn’t include the chapter breaks or verse numbers we use today. Useful as they are for study purposes, they can also make it easy to take things out of context — adding meaning or removing it from larger thoughts.

As a note, I’m working from the Christian Standard Bible.

Verses 1–18: Trials and Maturity

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

James 1:2–4

James opens with an unexpected theme — maturity through trials. Right after his greeting, James says to his readers that they will endure challenges as Christians. He goes so far as to say these challenges are a good thing because they will result in greater maturity. He then address two seemingly unrelated topics: wisdom and humility. Verses 5–8 say we should ask God for wisdom with confidence, and verses 9–11  tell us we should value humility over riches. In the context, it makes sense that we’d seek wisdom from God in our trials; it’s the eternal question of, “Why is this happening?” Wisdom helps us see past the events of the moment to God’s greater purpose.

Additionally, our trials can challenge us financially. For early Christians, persecution could include the loss of business relationships and even personal property. James reminds us these things don’t matter in the big picture, that we are exulted in humility. Instead of letting trials beat us down, our relationship with God and the love of our fellow Christians can help us emerge with a stronger faith. When we face challenges, persecution, and temptations in this life, we have an opportunity to grow in Christ.

Don’t be deceived, my dearly loved brothers. Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the first-fruits of His creatures.

James 1:16–18

James concludes this thought by reminding us that all goodness comes from God. That should be our focus in trials.

  • When persecuted we should look beyond the pain of the moment to remember God’s love for us, and those who persecute us should see that love and hope in our conduct under pressure.
  • When facing temptation, we should remember the promises of God are better than the passing pleasures of sin.
  • When facing personal tragedy or challenges, we should lean on the goodness of our God and our fellow Christians to help carry us past the pain and back to our hope in Christ.

Verses 19–27: Hearing and Doing

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works — this person will be blessed in what he does.

James 1:22–25

James introduces a couple of ideas in the second half of chapter 1 that he will come back to later in his letter. The first is that we should watch our speech, and the second is that a complete faith takes action. Verses 19–21 tell us we should be quick to hear but slow to speak in anger. In this direct context, James says we should rid ourselves of “moral filth.” Sometimes, we think nothing of the words we use online and in other public spaces, but this passage equates those angry words with trash. Verse 26 goes on to say that anyone who claims to be a Christian but does not control their tongue has a useless faith. Hateful, cruel, or impulsive speech has no place in a mature Christian’s walk.

In the midst of talking about our speech, James says we need to do more than listen to God’s word. We have to put it in action. It’s a stern warning about our speech that he puts this exhortation right here. He’s essentially saying, “Watch your words. Don’t just listen to God’s word; put it into action, or your words will invalidate your faith.” There are many ways we put faith into action and let God’s word change us, but the direct context here is in our language. If we study God’s word and then we cannot control our own words, then we’re like this person who forgets their own face in the mirror.

Miscellaneous Thoughts & Conclusion

  • Verse 13 should caution us against attributing tragedy to God. I’m talking specifically about statements like, “I guess God needed another angel in Heaven,” or “Well, God has His reasons.” These statements may mean well, but they do not correctly reflect the nature of God as presented by James.
  • In verse 14, James is making the case that God cannot be tempted. In doing so, he presents the path to sin as an equation — desire + temptation = sin. Remove one, and Satan loses his power. He can’t tempt you with something you have defeated desire for, nor can your desires overwhelm you if you don’t invite the temptation in.
  • Verse 25 says Christians are under the law of freedom (or liberty, depending on translation). Consistently, the New Testament writers only speak of spiritual freedoms in Christ. They put no stake in the freedoms of this world, and we too should be careful how much emphasis we place on the civil freedoms we enjoy.
  • The number of times Jesus, James, and other New Testament writers make a point about what we say and how we say it should give us pause when listening to, praising, or repeating public personalities who “tell it like it is” in harsh, vulgar, or otherwise mean-spirited ways.

In James 2, we’ll look at applying the perfect law of liberty to how we treat prejudice, and we’ll study some more about how faith and action compliment each other.

Link: It’s Submission, Not Subjection

Challies: It’s Submission, Not Subjection

We may also rebel against submission because we fail to carefully distinguish it from another term: subjection. Submission is not the same as subjection. What’s the difference between the two? Subjection describes actions taken by the one with authority where submission describes actions taken by the one under authority. When it comes to marriage, church, and our shared life with other believers, we are instructed to submit, not to subject.

Subjection is the act of a ruler to force obedience. He uses fear or force or intimidation to break the will of the people so they eventually surrender to him. They give up and wave the white flag. They’ve been conquered. They are now in subjection to this leader.

Submission is the act of someone who acknowledges legitimate authority and willingly arranges himself or herself accordingly. Submission is voluntary, never forced. It is responding to the divine order of things first in the heart and then in the life.

The church is not in subjection to Jesus Christ; we haven’t been ruthlessly conquered by him. No, the church has been won by Jesus Christ, so we willingly submit to his rule, guidance, and instruction. We acknowledge his right to govern, we acknowledge his overwhelming love, we respond to his Spirit, and we arrange ourselves accordingly.

This is a thoughtful article on a touchy subject. I recommend you follow the link to read the rest.

Contradictions and Dispensations

One of the more challenging aspects regarding God’s law is helping others understand the divisions between the laws found in our Bibles. While everything we have collected of God’s message is in a single bound volume, it’s not all one law. In order to understand which passages we should view as binding to ourselves as Christians, we need to understand those different sets of laws, who they apply to, and the time frame surrounding that system.

The Basic Dispensations

Where I am right now in my studies, it seems most logical to divide the Bible up into three distinct eras that contain their own laws and expectations. In theology-speak, we call those time periods dispensations. They are as follows:

  1. The Patriarchal Dispensation. This is contained roughly between Genesis 1 and Exodus 12. There’s room for debate about when this period actually started, but this range is a simple ballpark. During this period, there was no recorded law. God spoke directly to holy men that then made His will known to their families and tribes. This period ended with the delivery of the Mosaic law and the binding of the covenant at Sinai.
  2. The Mosaic Dispensation. This begins in Exodus 12, and it ends with the crucifixion. There is almost certainly a grace period after the crucifixion as the church does not come into existence until Acts 2. This time period is perhaps the most well-known set of laws as it contains the Ten Commandments. This is also the part of the Bible that contains the numerous feasts and sacrifices as well as things like stoning.
  3. The Christian Dispensation. This is where we are right now. This era really gets under way in Acts 2, but Jesus’ teachings prior to Acts 2 certainly inform the expectations of this new covenant. Unlike the Mosaic Dispensation, we don’t have a strictly codified law, but Jesus and His apostles set out a definite code of conduct those bearing the name Christian should follow. If they do not follow that code, Jesus makes it clear that they are not really Christians.

Within the first two, you can divide things up a bit more. During the Mosaic Dispensation for example, some laws adjusted depending on whether God’s people were yet to inherit the Promised Land, were already living in the Promised Land, or were in exile.

Keeping Things in Context

Romans 7: 1 – 6:

Or do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Using marriage as an illustration, Paul is making the point that you cannot be both under the law of Moses and the law of Christ at the same time. The latter fulfilled and replaced the former. This is one of the main points of the entire book of Hebrews. We Christians live under a new and better covenant than God delivered through Moses. With the institution of the new covenant came a new law.

Hebrews 7:11 – 14:

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

A new covenant brings a new priesthood, and a new priesthood brings a new law. Nothing written in the law of Moses binds us today for we are under a whole new system. Our authority and our code of conduct comes from Jesus Christ and the word revealed by inspiration to His chosen apostles.

Dispensations and Doctrine

One of the things that can be confusing is that there are similarities between the dispensations. The promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the age of the patriarchs carry through the Mosaic Dispensation (in which they are partially fulfilled) and find themselves completely fulfilled in the Christian Dispensation. Furthermore, there are certainly similarities between the expectations and laws in each of these time periods.

However, because some laws and themes carry over from one to the next, it does not mean all do — especially where we see apparent contradictions between the covenants. In those cases, the words of Christ and His apostles carry greater authority than the words given through Moses. Take the food restrictions of Leviticus as an example.

Leviticus 11:1 – 8:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat. Nevertheless, among those that chew the cud or part the hoof, you shall not eat these: The camel, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the rock badger, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews the cud but does not part the hoof, is unclean to you. And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you.

Now contrast this to Acts 10:9 – 15 when God assures Peter that he should take the gospel to the Gentiles:

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.

Here, the subject is really the fact that the gospel is to be delivered to Jew and non-Jew alike, but it also signals the end of the dietary restrictions God placed on His people during the Mosaic Dispensation. This principle is also reiterated in Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is not a contradiction in God’s law; it is merely a new law replacing the old.

Here’s one more example — this time regarding adultery — from Deuteronomy 22:22 – 23:

If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

In the New Testament, Jesus also clearly condemns adultery in Matthew 5:27 – 30:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Here the difference is more nuanced. Moses instructed a direct physical consequence for those caught in the act of adultery. Jesus requires no such action, instead turning our minds to the eternal spiritual consequences of such actions. In fact, nowhere in the gospels and epistles of the New Testament is there any indication that the church should harm or kill anyone for punishment of sin. Therefore, while we Christians should hold ourselves to Christ’s standard regarding morality, we are out of line if we preach as necessary physical Mosaic punishments on those who fall short of the standard. Whenever we find discrepancies between the laws of Christ and those set forth in previous covenants, Christ’s law is always what we defer to.

The Takeaways

  1. Most sources of apparent Biblical contradictions come from misunderstanding the divisions between dispensations.
  2. Each new dispensation brought new things for God’s people. This includes new laws.
  3. Where apparent contradictions exist, we defer to what we find in the teachings of Christ and His apostles.

When approaching passages that contain contradictory instructions, this should hopefully keep things clear in our heads.

For experienced Christians, keeping these in mind helps us to rightly divide the truth. Throughout the letters to the Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, the writers of the New Testament make the distinction between the new and old laws clear. Paul and others had to deal with topics of circumcision, of feasts and observances, and of food restrictions. They even condemned those who would try to bind the tenets of the Mosaic Law upon Christians as lasting requirements to be pleasing to God.

We who preach and teach God’s word should be careful about doing the same. It sows confusion among those who are not as Bible literate, and it undermines the better covenant Christ died for. It is right to stand for Christ and hold fast to His teachings. But let’s be careful about keeping the law of Moses where it belongs: in the past. Through it, we can learn many qualities of God, and it reveals a shadow of the better things to come. The law and the prophets point to Christ. Now that Christ has been revealed to us, and He has provided us the perfect and spiritual covenant leading to salvation, let’s keep our faith in that and that alone.

“Eat of My Flesh.”

In John 6, we see a turning point in Jesus’ ministry where He begins focusing on eternal life. The chapter begins with Jesus feeding a great multitude from meager provisions of fish and bread, and, in verse 14, many see Him as the prophet coming in the footsteps of Moses. This conclusion comes out in verses 30-31 where they remind Jesus that Moses brought bread from Heaven to feed God’s people, but Jesus corrects them and reminds them that the bread they reference came from God.

In verse 33, Jesus turns their attention away from physical bread and onto Himself. In this, He begins to call Himself the living bread or the bread of life, and he, numerous times, calls on them to believe on Him and receive eternal life. He invites them to eat and drink of Him, but what is He talking about here? Is this talking about transubstantiation? Is this a reference to the Lord’s Supper? The Jews of the time were likewise confused by His words in this passage, and many turned away.

The language involved in these verses lend themselves to our ideas of the Lord’s Supper, but these words have no more to do with that memorial than does the song “Break Thou the Bread of Life.”

Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,
As Thou didst break the loaves beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord;
My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word!

In verse 63, Jesus focuses on spiritual sustenance, and He states that His words are spirit and life. To be a part of Him, to come to Him, to truly believe in Him, we must obey Him. Then, when many turn away from Jesus in verse 66, Jesus asks His apostles if they too will abandon Him, but Peter shows that he understands when he replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” If Jesus is to be a part of us, His words must be a part of us.

Jesus’ words are that of which we should be partaking. It is not enough to simply observe a physical memorial. We have to be hungry and thirsty enough for eternal life that we will ingest His words. These are what can give us eternal life. While we seek bread from Heaven, while we desire to partake of Jesus, we must take part of His teachings and let them fill our lives.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Defined By Our Faith

The Old Covenant is more than a codified list of commands. It is more than a list of “dos and don’ts.” What it comes down to, in the midst of those detailed commands and expectations, is a system of faith and a covenant of relying on God more than others or self. It is predicated entirely upon faith, and – though our covenant, its terms, and its sacrifice are different – our relationship with God is no different today. Our lives in God are predicated entirely on our faith. On that faith rests the foundation of our spiritual lives.

II Corinthians 5:7 tells us we walk by faith rather than sight, similar to Hebrews 11:1, defining faith as the evidence of things we cannot see. Romans 3:28 then simply states we are saved by faith, and our salvation in faith is no different than the children of Israel’s justification through faith. For our faith then informs our conduct and our personal surrender to God’s will, truly understanding it by putting that faith into practice.

Faith Beyond Rationale

Faith is not always purely logical. Remember Abraham. In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham (then Abram) to leave his life behind him to inhabit a land he had never seen. Hebrews 11:8 tells us that Abraham obeys by faith, not knowing where he was going. Later, Abraham is asked to offer up Isaac, his only son, and Paul makes reference to this event in Romans 4:1-3, citing Abraham’s great faith. The Hebrew writer speaks of Abraham’s faith in the resurrection of his son.

Think of crossing the Red Sea. Think of the bronze serpent. Think of Joshua and Caleb encouraging the people to take the Promised Land. Consider Job, in Job 31, expressing his lack of understanding; then, in 40:3, after God provides an answer to Job, he relents and lays his fate in God’s hands. Even going as far as I Corinthians 1, Paul describes the gospel itself as something that goes against our reason and wisdom, yet it is God’s power to save.

We can read through Hebrews 11 and see person after person who do seemingly impossible things, who face insurmountable odds, who accomplish great deeds, because of their faith. Does this look like a faith that is inactive? In James 2:17-26, we see that faith without action is empty and lifeless. It is more than an acknowledgement of God. It is living for and by God.

Faith in Action

Again, look to Abraham in Genesis 22. It is in verse 12 that the angel proclaims, “for now I know that you fear God.” Did Abraham not already have a faithful heart? We know he did, but there is a difference between thought and action. Feelings are not actions. We can know about God intellectually; we can feel a relationship with God; we can understand God’s word. Without putting that knowledge and those feelings into action, though, our faith is empty. This may involve some significant sacrifices in our lives, but none of those can match what Abraham was willing to sacrifice in faith.

This is not, however, salvation dependent upon our own abilities or our checklist. Trusting in God and obediently yielding to Him in all things will abase self rather than elevate self. Our hope, trust, and confidence is placed entirely in what God has done and will do for us – no more and no less. We cannot lessen our faith by falling into inactivity, nor can we constrain it by relying on traditions and rituals, placing confidence in the flesh.

Faith – a complete, living faith – does require action. It requires obedience. It compels us to change our lives, but it is not a reliance on self. In Galatians 2:20-21, Paul plainly states that his faith drives self out of the equation of his life, living by and relying completely upon the teachings and promises of Christ, not nullifying God’s grace but by putting faith in that grace into action. Just as God wanted the children of Israel to wholly rely on Him in all things, He wants the same commitment from us today. We must crucify self, let Christ live in us, and take up a life defined by our faith.

lesson by Tim Smelser