Just a quick note: when mentioning “Government,” I do so with a capital to indicate the unity of any government, not any particular government. This would refer to any government that seeks to persecute or target believers for their faith.
Jesus said, since the servant is not above his master or the disciple above his teacher, then we should be expecting this type of suffering. But we should not only expect it, but see it for what it is; the joining and filling up of Christ’s sufferings. In other words, we suffer as Christ suffered so that we can be more and more molded into the likeness of Jesus.
So what is God doing when He allows and even brings upon us the persecution and the slander of our good name? He is bringing fire upon our precious faith so that it may be refined to make us more like His Son. This is true even when persecuted or targeted by the government. But we must remember that the government that takes away our liberties, causing us to lose our livelihood, our finances, or even sends us to jail or reeducation camps is not who we are at war with. We must first be at war with the self.
In order to be like Jesus we must suffer as He suffered, and in that suffering our true selves come out. Our sin natures begin to surface. Feelings that we thought were dead and gone are back and chomping at the bit to overtake us. So now that Government has come to take away liberties or to slander us or to throw us in jail or reeducation camps, our sin nature rises to unleash our wrath and anger and retaliation. But that is not how Jesus responded to those government authorities and so if we are persecuted as Jesus was then we are to respond as Jesus responded and also go to war against our sin nature that has come out of nowhere. And in so doing we purify our faith and our conduct.
So in an effort to respond like Jesus we look to Peter for help. How ought we then to respond? “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,” (1 Pet 2.13, ESV).
Once again, Peter goes from broad to narrow. Be subject to every human institution. That’s broad. There are more institutions than government. There is the institution of family. There is the institution of work. There are others as well. But he draws it down at this point to the government institution. It doesn’t matter if it is the emperor or to those whom he appoints to watch over.
We are to be subject to them. That raises the question of what it means to be in subjection or to be in submission. We could go into the whole idea of being a military word, but in reality it just simply means to know your place. We are not in charge. God did not appoint us to be emperor. He didn’t appoint us to be president or senator or congressman. He didn’t appoint us to be mayor or on the council. It is God who appoints our government, and in the case of the US He does it through the electoral process, but elsewhere He does it through coups or even assassinations or wars. As Daniel wrote, “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will,” (Dan 4.25, ESV). It is as Paul wrote to the Romans, “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” (13.1, ESV). Or as Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above,” (John 19.11a, ESV).
God has appointed every governmental position, and ours is to accept what God has done, know our position as a dual-citizen, and so submit to those whom God has set over us.
So what does that look like? How is that lived out? Peter, once again, tells us. “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God,” (1 Pet 2.16, ESV). Did you catch the paradox? Live as a people who are free…live as servants of God. You who are servants of God are living in true freedom! You who are in Christ, must remember that those whom the Son as set free are free indeed! We are the only ones who can live life freely. We are to live free from fear, free from anger and jealousy, free from retaliation. How can we live so freely? Because we have been saved by the mercy and power of God and we have a great inheritance that is just waiting for us in heaven. If the government wants to martyr us as it did Peter and Paul then they send us to our reward that much sooner. If they want to put us in prison or beat us, they simply make the reward that much greater for us.
So there is no need to say I am free in Christ so I can go to war against the government. That’s not what anyone teaches in Scripture. We don’t have the right to do evil and then say that Jesus allows for that. Servants of God live free from fear of death and are free to live life knowing that God has their back. This is why Peter tells us in verse 13 that we are to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake,” (ESV). We do not submit to government authorities because they can throw us in jail or reward us with medals, but because we are doing it for the Lord’s sake, the Lord’s glory!
That means we can be like David who wept when Saul was killed, and refused to lay a hand on God’s anointed, and who wept when his own son, Absalom, died—who was seeking to take his throne by force.
Thus we are to do as Peter instructs, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor,” (1 Pet 2.17, ESV). Did you notice that Peter said to honor everyone, and then he used the same word honor in respect to the emperor? Was it that Peter didn’t think the emperor was a part of everyone or was he simply making the point that honor belongs to the emperor no matter what we think of him? It doesn’t matter what you think about President Obama and it doesn’t matter what you thought of President Bush or any president before or after. Each one has been set up by God’s own authority and being the servants of God who live freely in this world, we subject ourselves to these civil servants of God.
We must not dishonor the government whether it is on Facebook or in person. Many would say that we have a right to do so, but those rights are given up under Christ. We are not servants of our rights but of God.
The question arises when it is okay to have civil disobedience, or: is it ever right to disobey government? The answer is that it is right only when the government is seeking to have you go against God. Notice in 1 Peter 2.17 that he says that we are to honor the emperor, but just before that he tell us to fear God. Fearing God in greater than honoring emperor. That does not mean that if the government seeks to bring us into sin that all bets are off and we can now dishonor them. We must still act honorably, but not participate in the sin.
When Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin and were ordered to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, they answered back to the leaders, but did so with courage and respect. “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard,” (Acts 4.19, ESV). And then after another arrest, “We must obey God rather than man,” (Acts 5.29, ESV). What they did not do was try to insight a riot or defame them among the people. They did not scream and holler and curse at them. They had to disobey the sinful order, but they did so with calm and reverence, with honor.
So let me know your thoughts. Leave a comment below; if you disagree with me, that’s fine; all I ask for is respect.