A War is Raging
Christians and Governments
For this message we are going to consider the relationship of Christians to governing authorities. I believe this is an example of the Lord’s kind timing as the Supreme Court of this land has handed down some major decisions this week – an occasion that may have some of us thinking about how we are to navigate as Christians in this context. I believe the Lord has appointed this text for our good this morning. Let’s give our attention to it.
Scripture: 1 Peter 2:13-17
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.
Allow me to place our discussion is context. We read in Daniel chapter 2, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:20-21). Oh, how quickly we loose sight of the wisdom and might of our God! He upholds kings and kingdoms and He disposes of them in His time and His way.
Daniel goes on to describe God’s wise and mighty intention to establish His King and His Kingdom.
As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image [the image representing the kingdoms of the earth, see Daniel 2:36-43] on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
There is coming a day when all the powers of men, all their kings and kingdoms, will be seen for what they are: impotent; impotent to last; impotent to save. But on that day the powers of God, His King and His Kingdom, will be seen for what they are: potent. potent to save; potent to last.
At the very center of our faith is the reality that there is no true and lasting hope to be found from this world. There is nothing this world can produce with all its scientific and technological and medical advancement, with all its military might, which even begins to address the real issue, the enduring problem, the great enemy facing every human soul.
Let us be vigilant to remember that the cancer of every human soul is sin. Our great problem is not a horizontal one; it is a vertical one. We have rejected, dishonored, and rebelled against our Creator who is most holy, most powerful, most wise, most good, most glorious – and out of that rejection flows all manner of corruption, disorder, and misery. The great problem in the world is that the God of infinite glory has been cast aside and His wrath and curse abides on mankind; the wages of sin is death.
And there is no power on earth that can address this spiritual infection. The spirit is dead no matter how much make-up you apply. God must raise the dead. God must build the house. God must cut the Stone and lay the foundation upon which His Kingdom will be established.
And he has. King Jesus has come. And His kingdom, as He told us, is not of this world (John 18:36). It is not a kingdom like the kingdoms of this world, which depends on swords and clubs and the strength and will of men – which can produce no lasting hope and no true security and no peace with God. Christ’s kingdom is the very rule and reign of God and it is Christ alone who has the power to deal with our true and deepest problem, to bring us back to God.
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lamp stands, and in the midst of the lamp stands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
The Kingdoms of Men
So any discussion of the kingdoms and authorities of men must be understood in light of the King and the Kingdom.
Recall that Pilate said to Jesus,
“You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above…”
Pilate understood very little of the One who stood before him and nothing of His Kingdom. Pilate saw only in earthly and human terms. He understood life in terms of swords and clubs and crucifixion. He understood life only in terms of food and drink and earthly comfort. He knew nothing of true life or of the Kingdom that cannot be shaken.
But Jesus let’s Pilate in on an important fact: the authority exercised by earthly rulers is an authority which has been granted from above. God raises up rulers and God takes them down. There is no power but that which God has granted. Our hearts beat at His pleasure. Our way in this world is prospered or frustrated at His pleasure. Rulers are able to reward and punish only as God allows.
In all our thinking about our relationship to governing authorities let us remember that…
1. They have no power at all to deal with the great issue in our lives and
2. Any power they do have in this world is given by God.
Built Upon the Cornerstone
Now Peter, has in fact, been drawing our attention to the fact that God has laid the great foundation Stone upon which He is, even now, building His Kingdom. Jesus Christ has been established and those who see Him and believe upon Him receive the honor of becoming the children of God. They are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession. They are rescued from sin and death and caused to be born again as heirs of God with Christ! And when Christ who is their life appears they will appear with Him in glory forever and ever.
The everlasting Kingdom is being built upon the everlasting King and we are that Kingdom.
Oh, that we might know who we are in Christ and the privileges we have, and knowing who we are that we might see that we are no longer of this world. We are people of the kingdom that cannot be shaken and Jesus Christ the Righteous One is all our hope and joy and peace. (see Daniel 7:18, 22 and 27).
We are strangers and aliens in this world.
To Make Christ Known
But what Peter has made so plain is that we are here as strangers for a glorious purpose. And that purpose is to proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. We are here to point others to the God of all grace. We are here as salt and light so that others would see our lives and come to glorify God.
Every thought, word, and deed is to direct others to the glorious God who has saved us through the blood of His Son and made us a kingdom of priests. Our lives are to be so radically godly that others take notice and ask, “what is the reason for the hope that they have?”
Allow me to highlight and emphasize the point Peter is making. Even as we are no longer of the world we are not to remove ourselves from the world. We are to live “among” the unbelieving world so that they can see our good deeds (v 12). There is a great temptation, and I feel it, to run from unbelievers and to remove ourselves from their mess. To retreat from society and unplug from the system.
I think there is a real danger that we might think, “We have the King. We are members of the Kingdom that will never end. We are the Holy Nation, His Precious People. Therefore we are free! We are freed from the great enemy of sin and death and we are freed from this broken world’s system – we are heirs of glory – What have we to do with this sin-saturated, corrupt, coming to nothing, impotent world? We are the heirs of God.”
And there is a sense in which that is absolutely right. You are free (1 Peter 2:16). You need not fear. You are that privileged and you should not think otherwise. You have passed from death to life. You have come out of darkness and into light.
But, God your God who called you by His grace, has given you a mission in this world. He has sent us back to the world of darkness from which we came … not to be one of them, but to live among them as heralds of the glory of our God, the glory of Jesus Christ.
We are here to draw attention to Christ – so others might live.
The Tenor of our Lives: Godward
What Peter is now doing in our section is applying what this looks like in a specific context. How are Christians to relate to governing authorities in this world?
In verse 16 Peter guards us from misusing our privilege. He says, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
You are free. Free from the power of sin and death. Free from fear of man because God Almighty is for you in Christ. Free from futility and ultimate failure. Live as people who are free in Christ.
But Peter says you freedom is to be put to use. It is for something. Christ has indeed set us free from the eternal consequences of our sin – he has cut the cords that held us fast to sin and death and darkness and we are free.
But why? Why has Christ set you free? Is it so that you can now live for evil? Is it so that you can keep doing what you’ve always done – living in futility and foolishness? Suppressing the truth about God as you run after unrighteousness? Is that why God delivered you?
No! Do not use your privilege as a child of the King as a license for evil. Rather use your privilege as a child of the King for God, for His honor and glory. Use your freedom to serve God, Peter says. The whole tenor of our lives should be Godward. I do what I do for God. I do all I do honorably, honestly, purely, faithfully, because I do it so that God would be honored and praised and prized.
For the Lord’s Sake
In verse 13 and 15 Peter gets specific about what this means as we relate to governing authorities. He says, “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.”
Peter says that God’s privileged people, who are heirs of the eternal Kingdom are to subject themselves to human authorities. That is, we are to willingly place ourselves under them and obey them.
Why? I thought we were free!?
The reason is for the Lord’s sake (v13) and to shut the mouths of foolish people who speak against God and His people (v15). It is for the sake of the Lord – the King – that we willingly place ourselves under the laws of this land and the authorities of this land.
I’m not sure if this attitude is present in all cultures, but I know it is deeply rooted in our own, that we tend to think we deserve to be heard, we deserve a say, we deserve to be who we want, and live like we want and say what we want – and believe me it a great blessings to have these liberties secured. But those of us who are of the culture need to be careful that our guiding principle is not “my rights” but rather “God’s glory.” The tenor of our lives should be “for the Lord’s sake” not “for the protection of my liberties.”
When I was attending University I came across students (who by the way were not being forced to be educated there) who were so bent out of shape about the rules of the campus. They were so angry that the school would require individuals to abstain from the consumption of alcohol while enrolled as a student. “I’m 21! How dare they trample upon my rights! I’m an american!”
This is not the spirit of a mature Christian. A mature Christian says, “even if I think something is silly and even if I might know a better way and even if I may be inconvenienced I will willing come under the authorities God has placed over me in this world right now – for His sake!” Our passion is to draw attention to Christ, not secure our rights and privileges in this world.
All our privileges are secure. All our treasure is safe. We need not wrangle for it here. Instead, we are to see our relationship to the governing authorities as an opportunity to draw attention to the excellencies of our God.
Examples of Disobedience
I believe if we rightly understand Peter in verse 13 we will have the foundational principle in place to begin to navigate our dealings with governing authorities. It is a God issue. The question is how do I display that all my hope is in Christ and my strong tower is God? I obey the authorities that God has raised up because it demonstrates that I trust God.
But, as we all know, there are times when governments and rulers command things that we simply cannot obey. Nebuchadnessar demanded that everyone worship the golden image that he has set up. Well, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego would not bow down and worship (Daniel 3:16-18).
Peter and John in Acts 4 said, to those who charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus, “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 4:19-20).
Peter summarizes it well, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
So there are times to disobey. When those in authority over you command what God has forbidden or forbid what God has commanded.
But, as Peter says in verse 17, we are to give honor to the emperor and remember that Peter was speaking into a context where persecution of christians was on the rise. It is likely that this letter came only a few short years before the Great Fire destroyed most of Rome in 64 AD and to deflect blame for the fire, Nero accused Christians which set of major persecution. Peter is not ignorant of the abuses of power. He watched his Lord crucified at the hands of lawless men.
And yet he says, honor them … for Christ’s sake.
Honor to All
We, as Christ’s people, are to known for how we honor all people (v 17). We are to be those who seek, as much as it depends on us to live at peace with all (Romans 12:18). We are in fact to bless those who persecute us, to bless and not curse them (Romans 12:14). We are to be a strange people.
Peter says we should be marked by how we show honor to everyone and how we love one another and how we fear God and honor the emperor (1Peter 2:17).
Now, allow me to add another dimension to this as we are attempting now to apply these things to our own context. There is a sense in which each citizen of the U.S. finds themselves in the role of “ruler” in this country.
We are citizens of a nation in which those who crafted the foundational documents worked hard to created a system which would promote, by virtue of its structures, accountability and integrity, checks and balances on power, and protections against both anarchy and despotism.
And for this we should thank God.
I am aware that our current governmental structure has changed since the founding, for a variety of reasons, which I will not attempt to delineate here, but what has not changed in our system is that we the citizens of this country elect many of our key officials – at the local, state, and federal levels. We still have great power to speak and to reason and to advocate for the good, the true, and the just and equitable. It has been well said that the citizens of this nation have the laws and the officials we deserve.
There is a real sense in which we, as citizens are the one’s that the Constitution gives the power to rule. This does not mean any of us has the right to break laws, but to does mean that our governmental system is set up so that we are given the power to advocate for good and equitable laws which promote the good and punish the evil. It is set up so that we might convince our fellow citizens of what is good and right by reasonable discourse. Each of us finds ourselves, in some real measure, in the role of “ruler” in that sense – even as it is limited by our fellow citizens.
Because this is our contact, each of us has an obligation as Christians (an obligation because rulers are appointed by God according to Paul in Romans 13:1-2, so we are appointed by God and have an obligation) to advocate and promote good laws and to seek to elect good officials with integrity who will reward the good and punish evil. Our elected officials, by design, can only do what, we, the people approve of. In this way we are God’s ministers, attending to the work of advocating for the praising of the good and punishing of the evil (1 Peter 2:14)
And for this privilege we should thank God and not slough our responsibility to rule well.
The Strangers Perspective
As with every earthly kingdom, the one in which we live will come to an end. Let us neither think to much of it nor think too little of it. This country is the context in which God has placed us to proclaim His excellencies. These people, among whom we live and work, are the people to whom God has sent us shine as light. As we both interact and advocate for good in this place and as we subject ourselves to those over us let us do it for Christ’s sake – to make Him known.
And even if we come to the place where we must disobey the governing authorities we must do it showing honor to all, keeping our conduct before the watching world so honorable that they they will be compelled to ask for a reason for the hope that we have.
We are not revolutionaries. Neither are we spineless or mindless drones. We are Christians and citizens of the Kingdom that cannot be shaken and we are here in this kingdom of men to draw attention to the excellencies of the King, Jesus.