Summary: The sermons is a study of the role of Christians in the modern state. The biblical emphasis is on a submissive spirit as honouring the Master.
“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. Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.”
One aspect of Christian teaching that contemporary believers seemingly find odious is the command to cultivate a submissive spirit. Submission is neither natural, nor is it a popular characteristic to be cultivated in the lives of contemporary Christians. We resist even the thought of nurturing a submissive spirit; we are constantly urged to exalt our personal “rights.” Consequently, we admire assertive individuals, counting those who reveal a submissive attitude as wimps and wusses. Any message that calls for a submissive attitude is inimical to a generation imbued with the concept of self-esteem and that is so thoroughly inculcated in modern life.
During pre-marital counselling for a wedding I performed some years ago, the bride-to-be informed me that she would not publicly commit herself to submit to her groom. In light of her views, I suggested that perhaps she should refrain from marriage since submission is a biblical mandate for wives. In the Ephesian encyclical, Paul writes, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” [EPHESIANS 5:22]. She decided against calling the marriage off, and she did commit to submitting to her own husband.
Without question, a Christian wife is expected to submit to her husband; but that same attitude of submission is expected to be exhibited of all Christians. In the verses preceding his instruction to wives, the Apostle wrote: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” [EPHESIANS 5:15-21]. Wise saints will be submissive to one another—church members are to be submissive to church leaders, and Christians are to submit to governing authorities.
SUBMISSION TO GOVERNMENT REFLECTS UNDERSTANDING OF GOD’S WILL — “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.” Christians must respect the governing authorities. This is not to say that every law produced by Parliament or that every piece of legislation passed by a provincial legislature is good and worthy of respect; it does mean that we are to make every effort to be obedient so long as that obedience does not bring us into conflict with the will of God.
This is not a plea for Christians to submit blindly to every state-sponsored idea; there are official positions that a Christian must conscientiously reject and refuse to obey. However, the Christian must willingly accept the consequences of his or her actions.
During the past several decades, I have listened to or read many speeches that were delivered by Martin Luther King. I am humbled to have arrived late at appreciation of the thoroughly biblically saturated position Doctor King promoted in resisting a moral cancer in his nation. I am not saying he was a paragon of virtue, but he did draw his understanding of the place of the citizen in society from a sound understanding of divine purpose for mankind. King reluctantly assumed leadership of the civil rights issue.
Many people don’t realise that Doctor King’s views were strongly opposed by other black leaders. Thurgood Marshall believed that King was “an opportunist and a first rate rabble-rouser.” Ann Coulter, citing Juan Williams as her source for information, writes, “When asked about King’s suggestion that street protests could help advance desegregation, Marshall replied that school desegregation was men’s work and should not be entrusted to children. King, he said, was ‘a boy on a man’s errand.’” Nevertheless, Martin Luther King was a powerful voice for civil disobedience against unjust laws.
What made Doctor King so powerful against his foes was the moral correctness of his position, a position strengthened by resolute willingness to suffer the consequences that attended civil disobedience. I am not saying that Doctor King was a good man, his propensity toward immorality is too well documented to argue the point, but I do say that he was a great man because he fought the right fight, and he fought it in the right way.