Summary: This message looks at what the Bible has to say about government, law and order, and the Christian’s behavior in a civil society.
I’ve entitled our message this morning, “Fear God and Honor the King,” and we’re going to be looking at what the Bible has to say about government, law and order, and the Christian’s behavior in a civil society. I’m going to let you know up front that I’m going to be quoting from numerous commentaries, as this is a subject matter in which it’s good to rely on the wisdom of other godly men; and all of the sources that I’m going to be quoting are completely removed from what we’re seeing today, many of which were written during the 1970’s and 1980’s, yet whose words fit today’s circumstances.
Also, before we begin, I want to direct your attention to 1 Peter 2:11; and here’s what we read: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). The passage we’re going to view today must be seen in the context of Christians being strangers in a foreign land, or perhaps as having dual citizenship. We are citizens of the land in which we were born, such as America; but we are also citizens of the kingdom of God. As we consider our behavior in a civil society, we must keep in mind that the laws of the kingdom must always take precedence over the laws of the land; but as we’re going to find out, being good citizens of the kingdom of God will lead to being good citizens of the country in which we live.
The Christian and Civic Law (vv. 13-17)
13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men – 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
In The Broadman Bible Commentary, Ray Summers, writing from the 1970’s says, “There is no question about the meaning of verses 13-17. They refer to the Christian in their relation to civic law . . . [and] reflect a situation in which the state government was regarded as beneficial to the Christian and not hostile to them. They were, therefore, urged to obedience to civic law and prayerful support of the government.” (1) “In this passage in 1 Peter, civil authority stands for the same thing for which Christianity stands, i.e., the highest good for all men. Civil law, properly constituted and exercised, guarantees for all alike that which is good and protects all alike from that which is bad.” (2) So, the New Testament views law and order as being a good thing.
Let’s look at verse 13a. “The words ‘submit yourselves’ are the translation of a Greek military term meaning ‘to arrange in military fashion under the command of a leader.’ One could translate, ‘put yourselves in the attitude of submission to.’ The exhortation is . . . to create and maintain that attitude of heart which will always lead one to obey [the ordinances].” (3) Now, the word translated “ordinance” simply means “institution.” It does not refer to each individual law, but to the institutions that make and enforce the laws. (4) It’s important that we make this distinction, because some individual laws might trample on our religious freedoms.
Commentator Warren Wiersbe, writing from the 1970’s, says that even though we should, for the most part, submit to the institutions, or the governing authorities, that there might be times in which we will have to disobey certain individual laws that run contrary to our faith. (5) Consider the example of Peter and the other apostles shortly after Pentecost in Acts chapters 4-5. Wiersbe points out that “the Jewish council commanded them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, but Peter and his associates refused to obey (Acts 19:19, 5:29). They did not cause a rebellion, or in any way question or deny the authority of the council. They submitted to the institution, but they refused to stop preaching. They showed respect to their leaders even though these men were opposed to the gospel.” (6)
Peter and the other apostles did not even assemble and protest. Now, we have that right today here in America, according to the First Amendment, but they were living in a different time and place. According to Wiersbe, they were not trying to incite a rebellion; they just simply continued to do what they were called to do by God on an individual level, not in group protest, and not trying to publicly defy or humiliate the authorities. He adds that “it is important that we respect the office even though we cannot respect the man or woman in the office. As much as possible, we should seek to cooperate with the government and obey the law; but we must never allow the law to make us violate our conscience or disobey God’s Word.” (7)