In the previous article we began a short study of 1 Peter 2:13-17 and what it tells us about our response to human government. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article we began a short study of 1 Peter 2:13-17 and what it tells us about our response to human government. Here is the passage again.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13-17).
Why this command here, at this point, in Peter’s argument? For at least two reasons.
(1) His description of Christians as “exiles” and “aliens” and “sojourners” on the earth might have led some to think that they were exempt from earthly rules and laws and obligations to human authorities. After all, if I am a citizen of a heavenly kingdom, why should I bother obeying the dictates of an earthly system? If this world is not my ultimate home, being as I am an alien and exile in this world, I shouldn’t have to care about following the standards and rules that govern those who know nothing of God or his heavenly kingdom. Add to this the fact that Peter has described the church as a “chosen race” and a “holy nation” and the problem gets worse.
In other words, Peter was anticipating the possibility that some might call for our complete withdrawal from the world and from society. On numerous occasions in history Christian communities have created their own spiritual ghettos and enclaves and communes in which they swear allegiance only to themselves and refuse to acknowledge the authority of the state in any respect. I think Peter is saying, No, you can’t do that.
(2) The second reason Peter is energized to enforce this truth on his readers is because he is passionately concerned with mission and evangelism and the overall impact of the Christian community on our non-Christian neighbors (on this, see 2:12). He tells us in v. 15 that just as our conduct in general can be used of God to bring people to saving faith in Christ, so also our law-abiding obedience to the governing authorities can silence the unwarranted accusations of those who oppose us.
There is much in this paragraph that we can’t address, such as whether or not it is ever biblically justified to engage in a rebellion or revolution against the government to throw off the tyranny and injustice of its leaders. Some would argue that if a government ceases to function in the way God has ordained that revolution is justified. In other words, God has established government “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (v. 14). What happens when a government reverses that calling and begins to praise and promote those who do evil and to punish those who do good? We see this all across our globe today. Must Christians passively buckle under and submit and do nothing? That’s a great question. But today I will forego giving you a great answer!
Let’s approach Peter’s counsel here by making four observations.
(1) All of life, even our political lives, in relation to the governing authorities, must be grounded in God and for God and reflect our relationship to God. Why do I say that? I say it because it’s everywhere in the text.
First, look at v. 13 – “for the Lord’s sake.” Our obedience to the governing authorities is at best only secondary. Our primary allegiance is to God. We obey them because we obey him. Peter also intends to say by this that our ultimate aim in obedience to the law of the land is the glory of God. It is for his “sake,” i.e., to bring honor to him and to make known his greatness and his majesty that we give our lives in obedience to the emperor or king or president or whoever is in power.
We do not simply obey in order to preserve our reputation but to enhance and promote his!
This God-centered approach to our civic duties is again made clear in v. 15. We live in obedience to the law because it is “the will of God” that in doing so we silence those who persist in accusing us and slandering us (recall 1 Peter 2:12).
Again, according to v. 16 we are to live in this world not primarily as the subjects of an earthly president but as “servants of God.”
This is why submission to the governing authorities and obedience to the laws of our land is an act of worship! Ask yourself this question: Why do I comply with the laws of this country? Is it because it feels good? Is it because it will promote my personal agenda? Is it because it is financially prudent to do so? Is it because I want to avoid going to jail? Is it because this time around my own political party happens to be in power in Washington?
I pray that your decision to obey the law and to be subject to the governing authorities is first and foremost the fruit of your submission to God and your desire to manifest his sovereign authority over your life and your passion to see him praised in public.
Peter tells us in v. 17 to “honor the emperor.” If you ever have the opportunity to speak directly to the President, you should look them in the eye and say, “President Obama, I submit to your leadership and I honor you as President, but not for your sake. I honor you for God’s sake. I yield to your authority because God has raised you up and put you in power. I will live as an obedient citizen under your presidency for God’s sake and for the praise of God’s name.”
So, in telling us it is all for God’s sake, Peter in v. 13 places all submission on earth beneath a higher submission to God in heaven. As much as I may disagree with the speed limit and wish it were higher than it is, nor matter how annoying it may be, I try to obey it not because I don’t want to pay a fine but “for God’s sake.” Driving within the speed limit is an act of worship! Paying our taxes is an act of worship! Choosing not to litter is an act of worship! Wearing a seat belt is an act of worship. Watering my yard only on designated days during a drought is an act of worship.
It is all “for God’s sake”!
To be continued . . .