Angry protests. Tens of arrests. Molotov cocktails. Smoke bombs. Tear gas. Riot Gear.
Nope, we’re not talking about gang violence. We’re talking about people desiring political change. And I’m not just talking about ISIS, Ukraine, or parts of Gaza. But even the heartland of America – Ferguson, MO has turned to violence to get answers.
Is this the way to deal with political problems? Is this the way to get answers from the government?
If it is, don’t you think we Christians should get to marching? Certainly you could make the case that government is turning against Christian values. There is a fear out there that this is not as Christian a nation as it used to be and it’s just plain harder to be a Christian than it used to be.
So should we join the trend? Do we need to make up degrading signs and march around the city? Shall we mix up some Molotov cocktails to throw at the limousines of government workers who vote against Christian values? Maybe we should break church early and go load up on assault rifles, take a Humvee to D.C. and attack the White House in the name of God?
Before we start a rebellion, let’s check to see what our leader wants us to do. When it comes to the government, you’ll find some of his marching orders in 1 Peter 2:13. Read it with me what the LORD inspired the apostle Peter to write, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.”
1. What To Do.
Look at verse 13 again. It says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” We see that word “submit” and immediately think that there must be some kind of mistake. It should probably read “Sub…merge yourself in armor so that you can quickly attack the government,” or, “Sub…stitute your own ideas when you don’t like the ideas that the government has.” The Holy Spirit must have made a mistake.
Not so much. The Holy Spirit is God. He’s perfect. There is no mistake here.
Besides, this is not the only time submission to the government is listed in the Bible. It is repeated in Romans 13 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” It is a theme showcased by Daniel as he respectfully refused to pray to the King Darius. It is a theme lived out by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they respectfully refused to bow down to a statue of the King of Babylon It is a theme modeled by Jesus himself as he dealt with Pilate. It is a theme of peace and respectful disagreement.
Peter repeats this theme and makes it more specific.
He says, first, to submit to the emperor or to those who rule. At the time Peter wrote this he was referring to the Roman emperor. An emperor who was non Christian. An emperor, who soon, would hate Christians and violently put them into jail.
What about us? We don’t have a king or an emperor. We have a president, a governor, and congress. You know…the people that our society and media encourage us not to submit to.
Those are the ones God encourages us to submit to.
Second, it says submit to those who punish. For first century Christians, this meant the governor. Think Pontius Pilate the guy in charge of crucifying Jesus. For us, it refers to police officers, the military, even judges. From the comical Judge Judy to the royal Supreme Court Justices.
Finally, it says submit to those who commend or praise those who do right. Think of the DMV who rewards you by not imposing fines on you if you keep the speed limit or the IRS who rewards you with tax breaks for installing eco friendly lighting throughout your home.
Submit to any and every authority on earth!
Notice that it doesn’t say, “Submit to every republican authority,” nor does it say, “submit to every democratic authority,” nor does it say, “submit to every authority that you agree with.” There is no difference to God. Authority is there because God placed it there.
But what if they do really, awful, anti-Christian things? What if they bad mouth God? What if they are unbelievers? …What if I don’t like them!
Think about this: If you have a boss that you like who is going on vacation and while he’s gone he puts someone else in charge. If you don’t like them, you might not listen to them. When your boss returns and asks why, you might say, “I didn’t like him being in charge. He was a bad choice.”
Who are you really complaining about? The guy in charge or the guy who put the guy in charge?
When we complain against the government, who are you really complaining about? The guy in charge or the guy who put the guy in charge?
Listen again to what Peter wrote: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” Not “Because I agree with them,” Not “Because they speak well.” Not “Because they hold my political perspective.” Submit to them because of God!
But shouldn’t the government have to submit to God?
Yes. Of course. They are to govern justly, fairly, and right in God’s eyes. If they don’t, they’ll have to answer to God.
But this section isn’t talking to the government. It’s talking to you. Don’t try to make it about the government. God’s Word today says, “Submit to the government out of reverence for God because God placed them in charge and he wants you to submit to them.”
When you think about it that way, it changes things. Because while a particular government official might not care much about you personally and your issues, God does. In fact, he cared so much about the biggest and deepest issue that you have – the issue of sin – that He came down to earth in order to save you from that sin. He personally –as the Almighty King above—walked into the fire of the problem. He took on sin and he defeated it for us with his death on the cross.
Talk about love!
By the way, He didn’t die for you to abandon you and stop loving you. Instead, He still cares for you – even through His choice of government. All He asks is that you trust Him.
2. But Why Do It this Way?
You might be asking, “OK, fine that’s what God wants. He wants me to submit to the government. But why? Why would God want us to do that? How can we have a Christian society if we don’t hostilely take over the things that aren’t Christian and make them Christian! Crusades style!”
Listen to God’s reasoning. In verse 14 it says, “It is God’s will that…you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” Because the truth is that there are a lot of unChristian views of the world. Both the Republican and the Democratic party have been fused with sinful ideas and attitudes.
God’s goal is to silence those. It is to turn off mouths, turn on minds, and open hearts to hear the message of Jesus. 1 Timothy tells us, “God our Savior wants all humans to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That includes political parties, government officials, even that guy at work who thinks differently than you on political issues!
But listen to how God accomplishes silencing these mouths. He says, “by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”
Unfortunately, that’s not how Christians usually read this verse. I fear that instead of trying to silence others with our actions, we usually to silence them with louder foolish talk.
That doesn’t work.
Sometimes the preschoolers get to talking at lunch. They get to talking and making funny noises that are so loud they totally forget to eat lunch. So – what I tried once was to make louder and sillier noises! I thought it would shock them into being quiet and eating their food.
That was probably one of my worst ideas of all time.
Why? It wasn’t quieter – it was louder. My voice added to the noise and they simply raised their voices in order to be heard!
Here then is the truth: Louder foolish talk doesn’t silence foolish talk. It just makes more noise. Think about how that works in America today. We think:
But here’s the scariest part. The devil loves angry words – especially when they come from Christians. He uses them to cloud an unbeliever's judgment. He uses angry words to say, “That Christian is a jerk and so is their Christ. What would I want to do with their Jesus?” He uses these words to harden an unbeliever's heart.
He uses you to harden an unbeliever’s heart.
Instead, deal differently with people. Respond to hateful political talk with loving actions. “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.”
Think of Jesus. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law bring Jesus to Pilate. They accuse him of being a rebel and inciter of hatred. They tell Pilate that Jesus is a danger to the Roman empire. They tell Pilate Jesus is a danger to his job. They tell Pilate that Jesus needs to die.
But Jesus didn’t throw the Pharisees under the bus. He didn’t call them names. He didn’t attack Pilate for being a pansy who didn’t stand up to the angry crowd of his citizens.
He remained silent. He remained gentle. He spoke patiently and lovingly to Pilate. He walked to his own death.
Why? Because Jesus always had his goal right. His goal was dealing with sin. His goal was saving you from your sin. His goal was winning for you eternal salvation at all costs – even if it cost Him a chance at political power! (Something that was never really on his mind in the first place.)
The point? Make your minds like Jesus’ mind. Make the salvation of others the most important part of your conversations – not Christian political power – but Christ’s power. Not a kingdom on earth – but the kingdom of heaven. Not Jesus’ reign in America – but Jesus’ reign in your neighbor’s heart.
Then, imitate Jesus. And perhaps your neighbor will begin to think, “You know, I used to think Christians are a bunch of judgmental, bigoted jerks. But…maybe Christians aren’t so bad. I like how kindly and nicely they have spoken to me about their differing opinions on politics. I’d like to hear more.”
Live lives of love. Silence foolish talk. Share Jesus.
3. How Do we Do it This Way
This is all easier said than done. The normal human reaction to vengeful words is to speak vengeful words back. How can sinful human people like us ever be expected to overcome our sinful attitudes and respond with graciousness?
Listen to God’s reminder: “Live as free people.” (v16)
Focus on that word ‘free.’ Remember this was written to Christians living under the Roman Empire. They weren’t free. So that word “free” isn’t referring to being in political freedom of democracy like we Americans are today.
What does it refer to?
Jesus said this at the start of his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim…freedom for the prisoners.” (Luke 4:18) But Jesus spoke to more than just prisoners. He spoke to merchants, market workers, farmers, fishermen, even church workers.
That’s because Jesus wasn’t proclaiming political freedom. He was proclaiming spiritual freedom. This is why he went from human to human proclaiming, “Your sins are forgiven. You are free from your sins.”
This is the same freedom Jesus speaks to you hear today. “Believe in me. Trust in what I’ve done. I have freed you from your sins. I died as a ransom that you would be released from your sins, from their eternal consequences, and from guilt…forever! Sin no longer rules you, I do!"
Think about it. Without Jesus, sin would rule over us. When people disagreed with us politically, sin would tell us to call them names. When the government upset us, sin would tell us to complain. When the president did something we didn’t like, sin would tell us to curse Him!
But Jesus freed you from that! Sin no longer rules over you. You are free! And how you use that freedom is of the utmost importance to God. Verse 12 says, “Do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; but live as God’s servants.”
If you were a slave under a tyrannical empire, waiting in solitude, gloom, and pestilence to be set free for years, then you are set free as an opposing army breaks the power of the empire. Would it make any sense…any sense at all to say, “I’m free! So I’m going to find that tyrannical leader and ask him, if he can mistreat me and I can be his slave again!”
Of course not! Why then would you return to sin and evil after having been set free from it!?
Instead, remember who rules you. It isn’t sin. It’s Jesus, your Lord of love.
This means you don’t have to listen to your sinful desires. They aren’t in control of you.
Peter concludes with a final imperative for the People of God. In verse 13 he writes, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
Think about what Peter is saying as he lists ways of honoring God. Honoring Government = Honoring God.
But it isn’t as if the Spirit isn’t calling us to battle. He is. Just with different weapons: the Sword of the Spirit. The helmet of salvation. The love of Jesus.
Stage a rebellion then. In America – in Raleigh – start a rebellion with God’s Word. Use it. Live it. Share it.