January 26, 2020
You’ve likely paid attention to the news this week – the past several weeks – as our Congress recently impeached President Trump in the House of Representatives and sent the case to the Senate to be tried. The two charges against the President include:
- Abuse of Power in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.
- Obstruction of Justice in not providing documents requested by the House in their investigation.
Of course, those are the indictments leveled by the House – it’s up to the Senate to determine if the President is guilty of the charges, and if not, to acquit him. As I’m sure you know, the vote in the House was almost purely on Party lines, and if it follows suit in the Senate, the President will be acquitted.
Now, depending on who you listen to – CNN, Fox News, or FaceBook, you likely have strong opinions about the proceedings, as do most Americans. In fact, I’ve read some of your opinions on FaceBook. The question for us is how do we respond in the public arena to such proceedings? Perhaps a better question, how do we respond and preserve our Christian witness? Does that even matter? Is it true religion and politics don’t mix – and so we can act righteously regarding religion, and throw spiritual propriety to the wind regarding politics? You say, I have a right to my opinions, to express those opinions, as an American citizen. Of course you do, but how does the manner of such expression affect your Christian witness, and does that matter? Does the Bible have anything to say to the 21st Century American church regarding such issues?
I believe it does. And I would suggest further, I know of no other country in history in which Christians can act like Christians, in the public, political square. I could ask it this way, to spark your thinking: What kind of government is best? You say, duh, Scott, we do live in the good ole U.S. of A. – of course that would be a democracy, or republic – a government of the people, by the people and for the people – where we elect others to represent us. So, a republic – like the one we have, in which those duly elected officials are currently quarreling at the highest levels like school children. Or the one where name-calling and mocking at the highest levels on Twitter is acceptable. Ok, is it Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Independent? And I would suggest we have all represented in this room.
You say, oh well, I’m more of a socialist anyway – maybe not communism which is really just a guise for totalitarianism – socialism, where we look out for the laborer, where we all share equally. I won’t get into all the philosophical and historical reasons why a forced redistribution of wealth and a mandated equality has yet proven to work – many of you are much better suited to the task – but it does seem to have its challenges.
Ok, how about no government – anarchy? Maybe ANTIFA is right. You know, where no one is really in charge – where all just agree to get along, eliminate laws and allow the natural goodness of people to come to the fore? Will that work? Probably not.
Ok, how about a monarchy, you know, divine right of kings? Or better yet, how about a theocracy – that’s where we’re headed anyway. Where the King of kings and Lord of lords rules? But until then, how about a rule of law based on religion. Which one, Islam – Sharia law? We’ll have a burka sale in the Atrium after the service. No, what about law based on the Ten Commandments – yeah, maybe we should post them in courthouses and public buildings – after all, our country is founded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, right? The only problem with the Law is people can’t keep it, which is why we need the grace and forgiveness of the New Covenant.
Maybe deciding which form of government is best would be a bit challenging, although to be clear, I’m deeply thankful to be an American. But again, back to the question: What is our response, as Christians, toward government – regardless of form? Whether we live in the United States or Iran or Russia or China or Cuba? Again, that’s a better question, because the Bible actually tells us.
We’ve been in a study of I Peter. We know it’s a letter written by Peter to Christians in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey. They were facing opposition, so he writes to encourage them, reminding of their salvation, and their fellowship as believers. We got to the body of the letter last week, and he’s turned his attention to how to live, not within the church, but without. That is, how do we live among unbelievers, especially those who oppose us. We looked at the introduction to the topic last week – the umbrella verses which cover the topic from chapter 2 verse 11, to chapter 4 verse 11. We read:
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Keep your behavior excellent, beautiful among the Gentiles – unbelievers – so that even though they mistreat you – slander, ridicule, oppose you – they may see your good works and glorify God when He returns. I suggested that means, they will be attracted to the Christian faith by your beautiful life, and believe the gospel, glorifying God by their faith when He comes back. Our good lives can actually be used by God to draw people to Himself. Conversely, if we say we’re Christians and don’t live like it, we do damage to the gospel. We’ve all known people who say, I would have been a Christian if it wasn’t for Christians.
Now to be clear, people are not the enemy – they are held captive by the enemy, and by their own sin – as we once were. Our desire should be to live such beautiful lives before them that they want what we have.
So now, Peter tells us what beautiful lives look like. He talks about relationships with three groups of people: believing citizens and unbelieving governments, believing slaves and unbelieving masters, and believing wives and unbelieving husbands. And in the middle of all that, he gives us the wonderful and challenging example of Jesus Himself. And we’re going to see words/concepts repeated – honor or respect, and submission. I know, that’s not a popular word today, especially in a culture which highly values independence, liberty, freedom, and rights. But if this is God’s eternal Word, and it is, then it speaks to us now as much as it did then. It’s not outdated nor archaic. And so, verse 13 starts with, submit yourselves to every human institution. Verse 18 says, servants, be submissive to your masters. And chapter 3, verse 1 says, in the same way, you wives be submissive to your own husbands.
But he starts with the relationship between people and governing authority. You see, Peter’s readers were under the rule of Rome – the Roman Emperor and Senate – complete with local ruling officials. And so Peter writes, I Peter 2:13-17.
Our outline looks like this:
- Submit to Governing Authorities (13-15)
- Serve as God’s Slaves (16)
- Honor Everyone (17) Not agree with everyone, but honor everyone.
Notice, Peter says, submit yourselves – in other words, you take the initiative. Yes, governing authorities can demand your submission – they can make you bow to their authority by force. But Peter says, if you want to live beautiful lives before unbelievers, submit yourselves. You make a willful decision to live a life of respectful submission. I’ll come back to that.
So, submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake, interesting phrase. It probably means two things. First, we submit for His sake – that is, for Him. It is ultimately Christ we are serving, and we want to make Him known by our beautiful lives – so our submission is ultimately for His sake, His glory. But it also likely includes the idea of submitting under His will. In other words, our submission to governing authorities should be consistent with our submission to the Lordship of Christ.
Meaning, we submit as long as those commands or that obedience does not violate God’s commands. If they directly violate God’s commands or His character, we do not submit. There is a place for civil disobedience. And so, for example, on one hand, if the government demands paying taxes, we pay our taxes. Jesus even said that – render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God, the things that are God’s. If the government commands us to obey traffic laws, we should as faithful, law-abiding citizens. Further, if in a democracy/republic, we have the right to vote, we should exercise that right – giving us, incredibly, a say in our government. Do you know how many people across the world throughout time would love that right?
But there are times when the government demands things which are inconsistent with our Christian faith. Lots of biblical examples. One is found in Acts 4. We talked about that a couple weeks ago. Peter and John went to the Temple to pray – and along the way, the healed a man lame from birth. It caused quite the uproar. So Peter and John were arrested, put in jail overnight. The next day, they were made to appear before the Sanhedrin – the high priests the chief priests and the elders. After testifying they had indeed healed this man in the name of Jesus, whom they crucified, they found themselves in further hot water. We read in Acts 4:
15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another,
16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. [I mean, the guy is walking around.]
17 “But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” [Now you have to know Rome granted local governments, i.e., the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body, limited authority. They had the full might of Rome behind them in such matters. They had the legal power to make such a command. What would happen? After all, the last thing Jesus told His disciples before returning to heaven was to take the gospel to all nations – make disciples of Jesus. So, what would they do now? Clearly, the command of governing authorities contradicted the command of Jesus.]
18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge;
20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened;
Did you see? You have commanded us to do something we cannot do. We cannot stop speaking about Jesus. And by the way, you should know they didn’t, and most of the disciples gave their lives for disobeying the command.
We could talk about the book of Daniel, where two significant events happened you probably heard as children in Sunday School. First, in chapter 3, the people of Babylon were commanded to bow in worship before a 90-foot image of Nebuchadnezzar. When the music played, which was the signal to bow, there were three Hebrew boys who refused to bow. You see, the first commandments of the Ten Commandments clearly say you shall not worship any other gods. You know this part of the story – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were cast into a fiery furnace. But God walked with them, and they came out unscathed. What’s interesting is this: when they were dragged before the king, and given a chance to recant and bow, or face the furnace, they responded with these incredible words:
13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king.
14 Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?
15 “Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.
17 “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. [one way or the other.]
18 “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Did you see? Our God is able to deliver us from the fire, but even if He chooses not to, know this, we will not bow down and worship the image. Come what may, we will obey God rather than men. The same thing happens in Daniel 6 – everyone in the Medo-Persian empire is commanded to pray only to the king for 30 days – anyone who prays to a God other than King Darius would face the lions’ den. Daniel prays – you know the rest of the story. He spent the night with the lions, and came out unscathed. He could have been eaten alive, as many other Christians were later when they refused to recant their faith in Jesus and bow to the Roman Emperor. They were thrown to wild beasts, and devoured. They were dipped in pitch, a flammable material, and burned alive – serving as torches for Nero’s garden parties. God does not, to the present day, always deliver. But it is always right to obey God.
How might that look today? What if you’re living in China, and they mandate abortions because you can only have one child? What if your governing authority demands you recant your faith in Jesus or face stoning or beheading? What if they command you to not teach everything in the Bible, because it’s considered hate-speech? What if they command you to not meet in Christian gatherings – worship services or the underground church? What if they tell you evangelism is punishable by imprisonment or death? What if they outlaw the Bible? What would you do? These are clear examples of things requiring civil disobedience.
We must keep moving, I’m still on verse 13. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. That’s an interesting translation – the word is actually creation or creature. So the idea is, submit yourself to those humans having authority, like governments. Emphasis on human – but there is a higher authority. Then he goes on to list a few examples of those in authority. Whether to the king. Now, these were people in Asia Minor, under the harsh rule of Rome. So everyone knew the king then was referring to the Roman Emperor.
If our dating of the letter of Peter is right, then he wrote when either Claudius or Nero were king – emperor. Both of them, by Christian standards, were awful emperors. Nero is the one who started the fires in Rome and blamed it on the Christians. He’s the one who started the first official persecution against Christians. He’s the one who had them arrested, sewn in wild animal skins and thrown to the beasts in the arena; who lit them alive on fire. He’s the one under whose persecutions Peter and Paul were executed. And under this authority, Peter writes, submit to those in authority. Paul wrote the same thing in Romans 13.
Sometimes we excuse submitting to those in power because we consider them unworthy of submission or honor. But there is a sense in which we honor the position, without necessarily being impressed by the one filling the position. Respect the position if you cannot respect the person. As I suggested earlier – there has perhaps been no other country in history where submission and honor to those in authority should be easier.
So, this submission is due to the highest authorities, down through their designees. The entire structure and hierarchy of government deserves our faithful, honorable submission. After all, Peter tells us they are sent by the king to govern – to maintain some semblance of order. Governments generally punish evildoers – that is, those who break the laws; and praise those who do right. That was more common back then – governments more readily recognized good behavior. You see that every once in awhile with medals given to soldiers, and medals or certificates of honor given to citizens. The point is – be like those who deserve praise from governing authorities by your submission. Don’t be like those considered evildoers.
Now immediately, I know your objections. What if we don’t like those who govern, and we don’t like the laws? It doesn’t matter. Almost any government is better than pure anarchy. And ours is to submit, inasmuch as those laws do not contradict God’s commands – whether we like those in power or not – Nero or Constantine, Republicans or Democrats.
Why? Verse 15 tells us – this is the will of God that by submitting – that is obeying – by doing right you silence the ignorance of foolish men. That’s not meant to be a slam. Remember, unbelievers will malign us – accuse us of evil. But by our good deed, to include our obedience, we silence them. You see, they are simply ignorant and foolish in their willful disobedience. Again, that’s not meant to be disrespectful – it’s simply a biblical principle – those who don’t know God – who refuse to know God though He has made Himself known – remain in willful, sinful, foolish ignorance.
Bringing us to verse 16, quickly, our second point. Because about now, Peter’s readers, and you, are saying wait just a minute. I’ve got my rights. What do you mean I have to submit? I mean, am I not free because I’m a child of the King of kings? Yes, that’s true. And it’s true you have been freed from the tyranny of sin. And so Peter says, act as free men, because you are, but don’t use your freedom as a covering for evil. In the context – don’t use your freedom as an excuse to not submit to those in authority. And by the way, Paul makes it clear those in authority are ordained by God. He raises them up, and He takes them down. He used nations like Babylon and Assyria. Ours is to allow God to know the big picture, and to trust Him in the midst of governmental challenge.
In fact, Peter goes one step further – you may be free men, but you are still bondslaves – and the word is slaves – to God. To Him we are ultimately responsible. To Him we give an account.
Bringing us to our last point – verse 17 – Honor Everyone. In the midst of submitting – in the midst of obeying – and by the way, you cannot separate obedience from submission – in the midst of submission, do it with a proper attitude. This is especially true for us, given our freedoms in America. Look at the four, very clear commands:
First, honor all people. From the king, to the lowest of the low. How can Peter say that, especially when such people may be oppressing us? Ridiculing and persecuting us? How? Remember, they too, are made in the image of God. We can at least honor that. Remember the overriding principle through these chapters – it is our desire to live beautiful lives, honoring people – respecting people – because we want them to come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Secondly, he throws in, love the brotherhood. Not only are we to honor all people, but we pay special care to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Peter is the only person to use this word. But he loves these corporate words. We are a brotherhood. Now, some of those in authority to whom we submit – are brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t just honor them, love them. By the way, that doesn’t mean because they are brothers and sisters, they will do everything right. They won’t. But we honor and specially love them.
Third, while we may honor all people, and love the brotherhood, God alone deserves our reverential fear. I think Peter is adding a word of encouragement here. Yes, I know you are oppressed and opposed. Yes, I know I’m telling you to honor all people. But you need not fear them – fear God alone.
Fourth – and I close with this – honor the king. Notice he starts with honoring all people, and ends with a special admonition to honor the king. He may not be worthy of honor, but we grant it anyway. Remember, it’s our desire to live beautiful lives so that we may win some.
Let me talk about this for just a moment. Not only do we submit to the king and his representatives – we show honor or respect to those in governing authority. This is important for us. Somehow, we have the idea while we may submit, because we have to, we don’t have to honor. Nowhere is this lack of honor more readily seen than on social media. I don’t know if it’s because we feel some kind of freedom, anonymity, lack of accountability, but some of the things Christians post on FaceBook or Instragram or Twitter is unacceptable. I want you to think of the following people or issues:
- Immigration and Border Control
- Impeachment and Trump or Clinton
- Republican or Democrat
- Adam Schiff
- Nancy Pelosi
- Donald Trump
- Joe Biden
- Hunter Biden
- Elizabeth Warren
- Bernie Sanders
- Abortion and Women’s Rights
- LGBTQ Rights and Gay Marriage
- Gun Control and the Second Amendment
I think you get the point. I could go on. Most of these issues or people divide the country. Some are even moral issues. But there is no place for Christians to show dishonor and a lack of respect. We are commanded to honor all people. We don’t have to accept or affirm positions. But can we focus on positions, without the disrespectful attitudes and sarcastic humor that plagues our society. We are supposed to rise above all that. We are Christ-followers, and His grace has changed our lives. Can we act like it?
In fact, right now I’m going to ask you to stand as we pray. I’m going to pray for our repentance, our biblical positions, our leaders, and our witness. Can we participate in the public arena in way that honors our Christ?