In our prior lesson, we began considering how Christians should view earthly authorities. Paul was clear in stating that we should both submit and give appropriate honor to them. Peter echoes Paul’s commands in I Peter 2:13-17:
“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to the governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men–as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
It is easy to submit to and honor a civil leader who is righteous, but the New Testament doesn’t command our submission and honor in only that case. We are to obey and respect wicked leaders, too! If the government uses tax dollars to murder the unborn, for example, we must still pay our taxes. If the government supports immorality like homosexuality, we must still show proper respect with our words toward the one in authority. We can disagree respectfully without being slanderous! We do not have to like or approve of a civil leader’s agenda in order to honor the office he holds. Remember, the authorities that exist are appointed by God! Christians must not personally engage in wicked behavior, and we do have the duty to disobey civil authorities if they try to force us to commit sin (e.g., Acts 5:29).
In America today, we are blessed to have much freedom, even though many of our civil leaders do not uphold godly values. I am unaware of Christians in our country being forced by the government into committing sin. Thus, our duty is simple: obey and show proper respect. Based on personal experience, I would speculate that more Christians struggle with the latter than they do the former. Disciples of Christ generally are outstanding citizens (that’s the way it should be!). They pay their taxes and faithfully comply with government regulations. However, while these individuals rightly submit to the government, their attitudes and speech sometimes convey bitterness and slander toward their earthly authorities. This is not good since God has commanded us to “Honor the king,” or, in our case, the president, members of Congress, governors, etc. We must honor in both word and deed, but are we doing that?
Some might be inclined to think that it was easier to obey and honor worldly authorities back in the first century when Peter wrote I Peter 2:13-17. That is simply untrue. Christians in that day faced extreme persecutions from unbelievers and civil authorities. Yet even in the face of this persecution by the government, Peter still tells us to submit and give honor. Historical lore tells us that Peter died at the command of Nero who murdered countless Christians by lighting them on fire to be the torches in his garden and feeding them to lions for sport. Peter knew of the challenge involved in both submitting to and honoring civil authorities, yet he still wrote what he did under the inspiration of God!
It’s easy to give in to the urge to despise our authorities when they don’t do what we desire and slander them with our tongues, but this is sinful. To reject or despise authority is ungodly (cf. II Pet. 2:10; Jude 8). Jesus did not despise authority when He was brutally beaten and unjustly crucified by the Romans (e.g., Acts 8:32). He is truly a perfect example for us to pattern our behavior and speech after – “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (I Pet. 2:21-23).
We will continue this study in our next lesson.