At the spring 2000 opening of the Florida Senate, Donald L. Roberts, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries, offered a prayer. I think you’ll appreciate the candor of it. In part, this is what he prayed:
Holy and Eternal God, it must be great to be God, to get what you want—when you want it—how you want it. We mere mortals are not that lucky. We are always having to compromise to get what we want. We call the process "politics”...
In the midst of all this “politicking” during Session, we know we are supposed to “Be still and know” your will for our lives and all the people of the State of Florida—with every lobbyist in the world bugging us to death. So, God... we... call upon you to come and be in these Senate Chambers today.
Thank you, Lord, the Session is almost over, the budget deal is cut, education got some more money, we cut a few taxes, and in the end, most everyone in this chamber didn't get everything they wanted. And that's the good news.
That's politics, Lord, and unless you want to move over and give us the job of being God, which some of us think is our birthright, we will have to muddle along being satisfied with being the best politicians you can create. It's the fun part of being human. In the name of the God of all things, even politics and politicians... Amen. ("Weblog: The Way We Believe Now, According to The New York Times,” ChristianityToday.com; www.PreachingToday.com)
At best, politics is messy. At worst, it is one massive power-grab over another. So that raises a question that Christian believers have been debating for centuries from the 1st Century believers under Nero to the Reformers in the 16th Century who established state churches to the preachers in the 18th Century who laid a moral foundation for the American Revolution to sincere believers in the 21st Century today, living under increasingly godless governments.
And that question is this: What should be the Christian’s involvement in politics? What should followers of Christ do when it comes to trying to create a better society overall? What should citizens of heaven do when it comes to their responsibilities as citizens here on earth? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to 1 Peter 2, 1 Peter 2, where Peter writes to a group of Christians suffering under government persecution in the 1st Century and instructs them how they should relate to such a government.
1 Peter 2:13-14 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. (ESV)
Now, that’s a surprise! Peter doesn’t tell them to RESIST a government that’s persecuting them. He tells them to SUBMIT to such a government. That’s right. As followers of Christ, God calls us to...
SUBMIT TO ALL HUMAN AUTHORITY.
Obey every government official from top to bottom, from the supreme human authority to the officers he sends out to administer justice.
Now, that term submit is a military term, which literally means “to rank under” or “to put yourself under the authority” of a superior officer. And that’s the way God calls His people to relate to all governing officials.
You don’t have to like it or even agree with a governing official, but like an enlisted man in the military, you respect the position or the office. You respect it enough to obey every order that doesn’t go against God’s law itself (Acts 4:19).
Ideally, government officials punish those who do evil and praise those who do good. Ideally, they administer justice fairly and impartially, but that’s not always the case, is it? It certainly was not the case when Peter wrote these words under the emperor Nero.
According to historians, Nero, a man with light blue eyes, thick neck, protruding stomach, and spindly legs, was a crazed and cruel emperor, a pleasure-driven man who ruled the world by whim and fear.
His mother, the plotting Agrippina, managed to convince her husband, Claudius, to adopt her son Nero and put him, ahead of Claudius' own son, first in line for the throne. Maternal concern not satisfied, she then murdered Claudius, and Nero ruled the world at age 17.
Later, Nero had his mother stabbed to death for treason and his wife Octavia beheaded for adultery. He then had Octavia's head displayed for his mistress, Poppaea, whom years later he kicked to death when she was pregnant.
Unfortunately, this was only the tip of Nero’s bloody and treacherous reign. In AD 64, he set fire to Rome and tried to blame that fire on the city’s small Christian community to defer the rising amount of criticism he was receiving day by day. He burned many Christians alive and sentenced Peter and Paul to death in an attempt to purge Rome of all Christians.
Eventually, political turmoil forced the troubled emperor to commit suicide. His last words were, “What a showman the world is losing in me!” (“Persecution in the Early Church,” Christian History, no. 27; www.PreachingToday.com)
You think some of our political leaders are bad. Think about having to live under that kind of politician. Yet Peter says, respect the office even if you cannot respect the officer. Do your best to obey government laws as long as they do not conflict with God’s laws. That means obey the speed limit, pay your taxes, and cooperate as much as you can with local authorities. That means wear a mask if they tell you to, even though a recent Stanford University study (on the nih.gov website) questions the efficacy of such masks against Covid-19 (Facemasks in the COVID-19 era: A health hypothesis (nih.gov).
I like the way one wag put it: “A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works” (Bill Vaughan, CONTEXT; www.PreachingToday.com)
That may be going a little too far; but at the very least, pay the parking ticket without giving the clerk at the county courthouse any grief.
OBEY ALL HUMAN AUTHORITY BECAUSE OF CHRIST.
Submit, as verse 13 says, “for the Lord’s sake” or “because of the Lord.”
God is the one who puts human governments in place. Romans 13 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2).
To obey government is to obey God, except when a government official asks you to disobey a clear command of Scripture. Then choose to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19; 5:29). That’s what Peter told the Jewish Supreme Court when they ordered him to stop preaching Christ. He told them, “We must obey God rather than man!” (Acts 5:29). When God and government conflict, you as a follower of Christ must choose to obey God. But when there is no conflict, obey your government official as if you’re obeying God Himself.
Honor the Lord in everything you do. That includes your political involvement and your interactions with human government officials.
In 1814, when Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner,” he was on a ship 10 miles out to sea viewing a 42 by 30 foot flag that hung on a pole 189 feet in the air over Fort McHenry. The flag was immense, but that’s what allowed Key to see it from 10 miles away following a night of gunfire.
For years, people wondered how such a large flag could fly in stormy weather without snapping the pole. Then, in 1958, National Park Service personnel discovered something buried nine feet below ground near the entrance to Fort McHenry. It was two oak timbers, 8 foot by 8 foot, joined as a cross. That discovery located the exact place from which the star-spangled banner flew, but it also solved the mystery. The cross-shaped support provided a firm foundation for the symbol of our national freedom (Greg Asimakoupoulos; www.PreachingToday.com)
Don’t look to any politician to save our country. Look to Christ and His cross, who alone can save it. Look to Christ and His cross, who alone can save us from moral and spiritual ruin. Then be the best citizen there is, if only to have the credibility to point people to Christ, their only Savior. Submit to all human authority, first of all, because of Christ. Second...
SUBMIT BECAUSE OF YOUR CRITICS.
Obey government officials to silence those who would try to discredit your testimony as a believer in Christ.
1 Peter 2 says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution...”
1 Peter 2:15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (ESV)
Literally, that you might MUZZLE the ignorance of foolish people. God wants you to muzzle your critics with good deeds. I.e., Live your life in such a way that when an accuser tries to slander you, nobody believes him or her.
Think about what the Christians in Pakistan have to endure. They make up only 2.5 percent of the total population with most of the rest, 97%, Muslim. As you can imagine, the political climate is not good for Christians. Pastor Munawar K. Rumalshah, a Christian leader in the northern city of Peshawar, describes a government-endorsed, “social and economic suffocation of the Christian community" in Pakistan. Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws pose a constant threat for Christians. On top of that, Rumalshah reports that local mobs in his province alone have publicly urinated on Bibles and closed four churches.
Even so, Rumalshah isn't bitter, despite their overt hatred towards Christians, Instead, he works for better relationships with his Muslim neighbors. He views the persecution as an opportunity to display Christ's love to others, even militant Muslims like al-Qaeda members.
Rumalshah summarized how his church responds to persecution: “We clean the wounds of those who hate us and those who would kill us” (Douglas LeBlanc, “We Clean the Wounds of Those Who Hate Us,” The Living Church News Service, 3-8-11; www.PreachingToday.com)
How could you argue against such love? Muslims don’t have a god that loves them unconditionally, but Christians do! The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ died for those who were hostile towards Him; and when His followers demonstrate that same kind of love for their enemies, those enemies are muzzled; they have nothing to say.
Let me share another example of how that works, this time in Africa.
Matthew Parris is a newspaper columnist for The Times of London and a self-described “gay atheist.” He grew up in Africa; and several years ago (December 2008), he returned to the country of his childhood, today known as Malawi. Here is part of what he wrote about that experience in an article for The Times:
“Traveling in Malawi refreshed [a] belief—one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
“Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects, and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa, Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good…”
Then Parris talks about his days growing up in Africa. He says, “We had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world—a directness in their dealings with others—that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall. (Matthew Parris, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God,” The Times of London Online, 12-27-08; www.PreachingToday.com)
By “doing good,” those Christians “put to silence the ignorance” of an atheist (1 Peter 2:15). He had no argument against such a change in their lives. You do the same! Submit to all human authority, first of all, because of Christ, second, because of your critics, and third...
SUBMIT BECAUSE YOU ARE FREE!
Obey not as slaves, but as people that Christ released from bondage.
1 Peter 2:16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (ESV)
The word “live” is not in the original text. Rather, this verse in the original text is a continuation of one long sentence that starts in verse 13. There, you have the main verb of the sentence: SUBMIT. So the verse should read, “SUBMIT as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as servants of God.”
You see, only those who are truly free can honestly and willingly submit. Those who are slaves cannot willingly submit. They do what they do because they are coerced. On the other hand, those who are free can willingly submit, if that’s what they want to do. And followers of Christ WANT to do it, because it pleases God.
Let me put it another way. Submission is NOT something done to you. As a free person, submission is something you choose to do, because you are free to do it.
You see, freedom is NOT the ability to do whatever I feel like doing. Such so-called “freedom” just enslaves you to your passions. It makes you an addict to alcohol, drugs, sex, work, or power. That’s not freedom; that’s bondage, no! Freedom is NOT the ability to do whatever I feel like doing. Freedom is the ability to do what I know GOD wants me to do, to do HIS will, which is good, acceptable, and perfect, much better than MY will.
That’s why our Pilgrim forefathers came to this country. In the old world, they were prevented from worshipping God the way He was leading them to worship. So they came to a new world in order to do what they believed God wanted them to do. That’s true freedom.
But only those who put their trust in Christ are truly free. Even if they live in oppressive countries, Christ has set them free from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). Death simply means an entrance into heaven for the believer, so an oppressive government cannot even use the threat of death to coerce them. Believers in Christ are the only ones in any country that are truly free.
So use your freedom, as a believer, not to indulge yourself, but to serve others. Galatians 5:13 says, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
A powerful 60-second TV commercial depicts Mexico's long march out of poverty and oppression. Take a look! (show Johnny Walker Keep Walking Mexico ad)
At the beginning of the ad, thousands of Mexicans, men and women, young and old, are bound by chains to a huge boulder. With their faces contorted and their eyes downcast, they trudge up a mountainside with chains wrapped around the boulder and their bodies. The boulder holds them back. Hungry buzzards fly overhead. They push forward again, straining and wincing, but the boulder slides back downhill. Everything looks hopeless…
But, suddenly, hope dawns! One of the men defiantly removes his chains. One by one, they all stand up straight and take off their chains. Finally unburdened, they smile and start walking up the mountainside, leaving the boulder and chains behind. At last, they are free! As triumphant music plays, thousands of smiling men and women stride confidently up the mountain.
Then in the last five seconds of the ad, a phrase appears on the screen—"Keep Walking Mexico"—with a company logo. The logo is the stylized "Striding Man" for Johnnie Walker, the world's number one selling Scotch whiskey. (Afshin Molavi, “Straight Up: How Johnnie Walker conquered the world,” Foreign Policy, Sept/Oct 2013; www.PreachingToday.com)
Why trade one type of bondage for another? Why trade slavery to oppression for slavery to alcohol? That’s what these people are doing in the ad.
Don’t you do the same! Christ has set you free, so remain free. Don’t put yourself in bondage to the flesh. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another and your country well.
That’s how a believer should relate to his or her government. In fact, God says submit to all human authority: Submit because of Christ; submit because of your critics; and submit because you are free!
Verse 17 sums it up pretty well. Take a look:
1 Peter 2:17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
That, my friends, is the way to create a better society. Live your life in such a way as to point men and women to their only Savior, Jesus Christ.
In a recent book, John Ortberg gives us a picture of what that might look like for the average American citizen. He writes:
“It was 9:00 on a Monday morning and I was one of 150 unhappy campers sitting on plastic chairs crammed into a sterile basement room in the San Mateo County Courthouse, reporting for jury duty. We all had one thing in common: We wanted to be somewhere else.
“Until Larry happened.
“Larry works for the government, and however much we pay him, it's not enough. In a few short minutes, he won over the crowd of prospective jurors and infused [them] with a sense of honor and purpose. ‘I know you're all busy people,’ he said. ‘But I want to say thank you. I want to tell you, on behalf of the judges and our legal system and the county of San Mateo and, really, our nation, we're grateful for your service.’
“Although almost no one is happy about getting a summons to jury duty, Larry said, it's actually incredibly meaningful, and it's the foundation of a justice system in which people have a right to trial by a jury of their peers. He told us a story about a ninety-five-year-old woman who was no longer able to drive, but who took three buses to get to the courthouse so she could serve. When she arrived, Larry asked her, ‘Did you call ahead like you're supposed to, to find out if you're even needed for jury duty?’ She said, ‘I couldn't. I don't have one of those push-button phones.’ Turns out, she still had a rotary dial phone.
“Larry reminded [the prospective jurors] of the nobility of justice, and the long centuries of struggle for it, and how, even now, people around the world were fighting, and in some cases dying, for the right to exercise this privilege. As he spoke, people stopped texting; they sat up straight; they nudged each other and seemed inspired.”
John Ortberg says, “By the time my number was called, I was so excited to serve that when the judge asked me whether I could pronounce someone guilty, I told him I was a pastor and that, according to the Bible, everybody was guilty. I said, ‘I could even pronounce you guilty!’”
Ortberg wasn't selected to serve on a jury that time (I wonder why), but what he witnessed was “a room full of sullen, silent, phone-checking, self-important draftees [who] had been transformed into a community of joyful patriots in a matter of minutes. When people left the courthouse that day, they were talking and laughing like old friends.” (John Ortberg, I'd Like You More If You Were More Like Me, Tyndale Momentum, 2017, pages 93-94; www.PreachingToday.com)
That s the way to make your community better. Don’t grumble and complain. Instead, serve in such a way that inspires others to serve.