Summary: You are citizens of two orders, two systems. This world with its necessary institutions, and the order of the kingdom of God with its necessary values. This is not because the two orders have equal authority, but because God is the ruler and owner of both.
We’re traveling through the book of 1 Peter. Peter’s two letters are a mere 166 verses. Nonetheless, they are packed with keen wisdom from a seasoned pastor about how to live amidst life’s trials. In this short little letter, Peter encourages the churches in now modern day Turkey to stand fast during difficult days of suffering. Surely, the churches and Christians who received Peter’s letter would have been tremendously honored and encouraged at the willingness of such a noteworthy Christian leader to take the time to speak to their life with practical pastoral affection.
Peter tells us where the churches are located in the beginning of his letter as they were scattered over 129,000 square miles. As a comparison, California is around 159,000 square miles. What kind of people was Peter writing to? Bible commentator Karen Jobes writes: “The residents practiced many religions, spoke several languages, and were never really assimilated into the Greco-Roman culture. . . . And yet this untamed region became the cradle of Christianity. . . . We may surmise that, in no small part because of this letter [1 Peter] and the faithfulness of those who received it, well-established churches flourished in all five of these regions by AD 180. Their bishops attended the great councils of the second through the fourth centuries, where the doctrines were forged that Christians hold dear yet today.”
Today, we focus on the relationship between the Christian’s and the government. Here are some questions Christians grapple with in America today: Should Christians support the Iraqi invasion? Should American Christians who protest the Vietnam war go to Canada to avoid the draft? How are Christians to respond to a nearly $900 billion stimulus package? Can Christians support Obama while remaining pro-life? Just this past week Hilary Clinton, the US secretary of state, visited China and said that human rights issues cannot interfere with the US’ economic relationship to China. Clinton has been an outspoken opponent of China’s human rights violations, yet China is currently the world’s largest holder of US debt. What is an American Christian’s role in urging China to grant its people human rights? How should Christians view techniques such as water boarding by the CIA?
“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” (1 Peter 2:13-17)
1. A Christian Citizen’s Responsibility
“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme…” (1 Peter 2:13). Think with me about the Christian citizen and his responsibilities. We have a generation today that’s talking about its rights. Rights and responsibilities go hand and hand. When you teach a man his rights without teaching him his responsibilities you have a revolution.
In AD 37 Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus to his mother Agrippina the Younger. She would marry her uncle, Roman Emperor Claudis, who adopted Lucius and change his name to Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus. Agrippina was an ambitious woman who poisoned her two previous husbands, including Nero’s biological father. Claudius already had a biological son named Brittanicus who was in line to the throne. But through the crafty scheming of Agrippina, she convinced Claudius to name Nero as the next in line to the throne and he finally agreed. Soon after, Agrippina arranged for Claudius to be poisoned to death. So at the tender age of 17 Nero became the fifth Roman emperor. His reign would last fourteen years until he committed suicide at age 31. Nero earned a reputation as one of the most wicked, depraved rulers in history. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, Nero and his mother then plotted the death of Brittanicus so he couldn’t pose a threat to the throne. What goes around comes around, because by the time Nero was 21, he hated his mother. He made four attempts to kill her, three times with poison and once with a boat specially designed to break apart and sink. Agrippina avoided the poisons (she was the expert) and when the boat sank, she swam ashore. In AD 59, Nero sent an assassin who clubbed and stabbed her to death. And in 62 his first wife was executed. And Seneca his former counselor was forced to commit suicide. Nero fancied himself a great singer. He had little talent, but he loved to dress up in costumes and perform on stage in front of an audience who were forbidden to leave while he performed. In the summer of AD 64, a terrible fire broke out in Rome. For nine days, it raged out of control and two thirds of the city was destroyed. Although it was rumored Nero set the fire, most historians agree he wasn’t in the city when it started, but upon hearing about the fire he returned. The notion that Nero fiddled while Rome burned is a fable of history: fiddles and violins weren’t created until the 17th century. But Tacitus reported, “At the very time that Rome burned, he mounted his private stage and sang about the destruction of Troy.” Because of the rumor that he set the fire, Nero quickly looked for a group to blame. He found the perfect scapegoat in an obscure sect of people called Christians. At his direction, Believers were arrested and executed. Tacitus wrote: “Besides being put to death, they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs Others were set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed...covered by inflammable matter, they were set on fire to serve as torches during the night. Or they were tied to stakes in Nero’s gardens while he drove around in his chariot, naked, indulging himself in his midnight revels, gloating over the dying agonies of his victims.” Eusebius tells us that Peter was crucified “because he had demanded to suffer” After a few more years of perverse behavior, there were plots to remove Nero. In AD 68, the Senate voted to have him flogged to death. As they were coming to take him, Nero committed suicide. His last words were “What an artist the world loses in me.” Nero was 31 years old.