In his first letter to the persecuted believers, Peter writes these words, “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 good.” Think about the absurdity of this command… Peter is calling his audience to submit to the evil emperor Nero - who was content using Christians as torches for his highways!
My thoughts then wander to the twenty-first century. The command for the church is no different, however the context has drastically changed. Submission to governing authoritiesapplies at all levels. This includes the emperor or king, governing authorities, and those who are in a high position (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Subjection to President Obama and local law makers involves more than just obedience to their commands (side note- if laws enacted by governing officials prohibit us from obeying God or lead us to do what He forbids, then we must not submit! God’s Word is the highest authority!). When writing on governing authorities in Romans 13:7, Paul teaches us to pay respect and honor to those whom it is owed. The man practiced what he preached, for in Acts 22 he pays respect to governor Felix by referring to him as “his Excellency.” In 1 Timothy 2, Paul takes this issue further by exhorting believers to pray, intercede, and make thanksgiving for kings and those in high positions.
So submission to governing authorities is more than obedience to federal law that keeps us in the standing of “law abiding citizens”…. it’s an attitude that springs from the heart. An attitude that produces honor, respect, thanksgiving, and prayer. Let’s ask the why question. Why should we submit to governing authorities?
We submit to authorities because it…..
Honors Christ as Sovereign. Jesus says in Mark 12 “to give to Caesar’s that which is Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Some matters belong to the realm of civil government and other’s belong to the realm of God’s Kingdom. Paul steps into this argument further by saying all those in authority exist because they have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1). God has placed ALL leaders in ALL positions from ALL times in their place. Therefore we cannot say that government is of the devil, because civil authority is instituted by God. Yes, evil and wickedness fills all forms of government because they are led by depraved individuals. But our response to those in high positions should not be different based upon the person in charge. Every time we do not submit to governing authorities - we cast our vote with lawlessness, just like Satan and just like our first parents in the garden. However when we live in godly submission to those in high positions, we honor Christ - the One who reigns over all Creation. The truly preeminent One. The One who is sovereign over all human institutions. This type of submission is for the Lord’s sake; this type of submission honors Christ as sovereign.
Reflects a Heart Transformed by the Gospel. In Romans 1 Paul declares that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” At the moment of salvation, our standing before God changes. Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh. A heart transformed by the power of the gospel acts and thinks differently. A heart transformed by the gospel submits to a political leader because that leader has been placed there by God. A heart transformed by the gospel prays for wisdom, proper decision making, and health for our President. A heart transformed by the gospel does not slam political leaders on social media, rather it shows thanksgiving, honor, and respect for those in high positions. A heart transformed by the gospel may disagree with decisions made by our President, but that disagreement is met with kindness and respect. A heart transformed by the gospel teaches its kids to honor and pray for those who work in politics. A heart transformed by the gospel willingly submits to governing authorities.
Models the example Christ gave us. Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that Christ submitted to the will of the Father by “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” Ultimately Jesus submitted to the will of His Heavenly Father, but He also submitted to His crucifixion sentence issued by Pontus Pilate. Matthew 27 tells us that Pilate found no grounds for giving Jesus the death penalty but handed Him over to the people to be crucified anyways. Innocent Jesus was handed over to be crucified as a guilty man. At that moment Jesus could have stopped the rioting, reversed the rule, called fire down from heaven, but he didn’t. Like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth (Isaiah 53:7), Jesus continued to submit to the Father and Pilate even though it resulted in death. What an example of meekness, grace, and submission! I am not saying that obedience to civil authority will result in death, but too often Christians get up in arms when a political decision is made that opposes our belief system. Yes, I do not agree with many of the President’s decisions; and no, Christians should not back down from issues such as abortion or religious liberty. We should avoid passivity, stand up for the unborn, and stake claim on truth. Instead of reacting in anger and maliciousness, let our responses be marked with honor. Russell Moore, President of the ERLC says, “whether in disagreement or agreement, we can honor. Honor does not mean blanket endorsement.” In all parts of life, Christ is the perfect model of submission, let us follow His example well.
As exiles looking forward to a better Kingdom, these first century believers understood they were called to a higher standard. Fast forward to the twenty first century, as believers, we are still exiles looking forward to a better Kingdom ruled by the King of kings and Lord of lords.
-- Landon Anderson --