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Honour the King

Today, as we continue our journey through the book of 1 Peter, we come to a passage that probably wasn’t a favourite memory verse for any of Peter’s original readers and it probably isn’t a favourite verse of anyone today – because it’s a passage that talks about how we are to submit to our governments – how we are to honour and respect those in authority over us.

And I don’t think it matters what country you live in, where in history you find yourself, what parties you support or any of that – I think for most people, it is a real challenge to submit to our governments.

I read an article this week that talked about how the United States official seal came into being.

I’m sure you’ve seen this seal before – it was designed back when the original 13 colonies of the United States were declaring their independence from Britain. And on the front side of the seal there is an eagle holding an olive branch in one claw and 13 arrows in the other – signifying how they were seeking peace, but they were willing to go to war to defend their liberty.

Then on the flip side of that seal, they have the pyramid with 13 layers and the all-seeing Eye above that – signifying that God was watching over them as they built this new nation.

Well, when they were coming up with these designs, Benjamin Franklin had a different proposal for the reverse side. And I think it perhaps reflects some of our negative views of submitting to government. This is what he wanted to see – imagine this:

Pharaoh sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand, passing through the divided waters of the Red Sea in pursuit of the Israelites. Rays from a pillar of fire in the cloud, expressive of the Divine presence and command, beaming on Moses, who stands on the shore and, extending his hand over the sea, causes it to overflow Pharaoh. And the motto: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

That’s the seal and the motto that Benjamin Franklin would have liked to see. The article went on to say how Americans live in a country that was founded on a revolution and in which defiance of government authority is viewed as a basic constitutional right. 

And based on what I see in politics today, I think many Americans and many Canadians and many Albertans would quickly adopt that same proposed motto. “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God!”

But you know, as you read through 1 Peter, I’m not sure that Peter would agree with that statement. But I’ll let you be the judge of that yourself as we go through this passage together this morning.

And of course, my purpose today is certainly not to speak into politics, but rather, my purpose is to share with you an accurate understanding of God’s Word and how He wants us to live as strangers and foreigners in this world. And I think we’ll see that the application for this passage has a far greater reach than just politics – so I’ll leave the specific applications up to you and you can come to your own conclusions.

Our passage today begins in 1 Peter chapter 2, starting at verse 13. It goes like this:

13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.

15 It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. 16 For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. 17 Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king. 1 Peter 2:13-17

Now before we get into the nuts and bolts of this passage, I want to first give you a little historical background to better help you see where Peter is coming from.

There are a few different theories for when exactly Peter wrote this letter, but most Biblical scholars land somewhere around the year 64 AD. At that time the Roman Emperor was a man named Nero Claudius Caesar.

According to history.com – Emperor Nero was best known for his debaucheries, political murders, and his persecution of Christians. He was responsible for the murder of his own mother as well as his own wife. He was not a nice man.

In the year 64 AD – possible the same year that Peter wrote this letter – a great fire broke out in Rome – destroying about 70% of the entire city. The rumours quickly spread that Nero himself had started the fire to clear the land so that he could build a great palace.

Whether that was true or not remains to be seen even today, but to deflect this suspicion, Nero blamed the Christians for the fire.

Several Roman historians record this – including this account that I’m about to read from an historian named Tacitus. (Tas-it-us) He writes:

And so, to get rid of this rumor, Nero set up as the culprits, and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty, a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians…Besides being put to death, they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed.

~ Tacitus: Annals (AD 60-120)

Can you imagine!? People burned alive, torn to pieces by dogs – The horrific cruelty that Emperor Nero unleashed upon the Christians was almost unimaginable.

And it was this emperor who would eventually crucify Peter and it was likely this emperor who would also behead Paul.

But it was also this emperor who sat upon the throne when Peter wrote these words:

13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.

15 It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. 16 For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. 17 Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king. 1 Peter 2:13-17

Those are some pretty incredible words considering who the King was when Peter wrote this. So I think it’s important for us to dig into these words and find out how and why Peter would write such things. Why is it important for us to respect and submit to human authorities – even when those authorities are corrupt and evil?

Well, I think Peter gives us his reason right from the beginning. He begins verse 13 by saying:

13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority… 1 Peter 2:13a

For the Lord’s sake. Remember again that we are foreigners and strangers in this world. This world is not our home – we belong to an entirely different kingdom – the Kingdom of God. We bow before King Jesus and He is the One we serve and and He is the one we represent.

Paul talks about how when we accept Christ, we become a brand new person as we become citizens of the Kingdom of God. And as citizens of the Kingdom of God – living in a world that has rejected his kingship – we are ambassadors of Christ whose job is to represent our King.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20…

17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20

The point that I want us to notice here is that as strangers and foreigners in this world – we are ambassadors of Christ. God is making his appeal to the unbelieving world through us. We speak for Christ! In everything we do and in everything we say, we represent Christ. Our goal and purpose in this life is to make much of Jesus – pointing others to Him – so that they might also be made right with God.

We talked last week about how God has called us to be that light in a dark world. We are to be different for the sake of Jesus. Our lives should shine the light of God’s goodness to the people around us.

And so to come back to our passage today, I think part of shining the light of God’s goodness would include submitting to and respecting the authorities that God has placed over us. As Peter says, “For the Lord’s sake – submit to all human authorities…” We need to represent Christ in everything!

I don’t think we shine the light of God’s goodness very well when we bad-mouth or slander or are disrespectful of the people in authority over us. Certainly we can speak against bad policys and immoral laws – but we can do that while still giving honour and respect to those who are making and enforcing those laws. You can disagree with someone without being dis-respectful to them.

We need to remember that at the end of the day, that person in authority over us is just as loved by God as we are. Christ died for them just as much as he died for us. We need to give honour and respect to that person as a fellow human made in the image of God – and we need to give honour and respect to that person because God has put them in that place of authority over us.

And that’s a key thing to remember: that God has set these authorities in place. Paul writes in Romans 13:1…

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. Romans 13:1-2

Clearly, God is the one who set up kingdoms and tears them down. He puts people in positions of authority and he takes them out – and he does that for his own good purposes. And Paul actually outlines some of those purposes as he continues in Romans 13. He continues:

 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. Romans 13:3-7

It seems pretty clear and straight forward. God has setup human authorities as His servants to honour those who do right and punish those who do wrong. That’s the purpose of government. They are God’s servants to honor those who do right and punish those who do wrong.

Peter even says this in our passage today.

13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right. 1 Peter 2:13-14

Now of course, many governments and authorities today and throughout history have done a very poor job of that. Some, like Nero, might totally reverse God’s instructions and honour those who do wrong and punish those who do right. In our crazy mixed up world today, we see more and more of that. We see laws that prompt sin and laws that punish those who do what is right. And I do believe that God will hold those people who make those laws in those governments to account. One day they will have to answer to God for how they have governed. 

But their failure to do what God has asked them to do, does not excuse us from failing to do what God has asked us to do. Each of us are accountable to God for our own actions. And God has commanded us to submit to the authorities over us and to give them honour and respect.

And in the next verses, Peter goes on to explain a little more why God has commanded us to do that. He continues in verse 15….

15 It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. 16 For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. 1 Peter 2:15-16

I can’t help but think of those early Christians to whom Peter is writing this letter to. Even before Nero accused them of starting Rome on fire, they were already viewed with a great deal of suspicion. 

I don’t know if you noticed in that quote from Tacitus (Tas-it-us) earlier – but he mentioned how the Christian were already hated for their abominations. I read a little about why the Christian were so hated back then – and it seems it really did come down to a lot of foolish and ignorant accusations. 

There were accusations that Christians were cannibals because of a strange ritual where they ate the body of Christ and drank his blood! Of course, that was just communion… They were accused of incest – marrying and having kids with members of their own family – because they all referred to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. They were accused of being sorcerers because they prayed and God actually answered in miraculous ways. They faced all kinds of foolish and ignorant accusations because they were so different from the people around them.

So in the face of this, Peter writes:

15 It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. 16 For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. 1 Peter 2:15-16

Perhaps we face some of those similar but different types of foolish accusations today. Perhaps you get slandered at your work place because of your faith. Perhaps you’re looked down upon at school because you’re a Christian. I know Christians as a whole are often seen in a poor light because of our ‘hate’ and ‘intolerance’ – or our ‘suppression of women’s rights’ – or whatever the case may be. I think this verse very much applies to us.

It is God’s will that our honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against us. We need to live in such a way that our actions completely take away any arguments that they might have against us. To go back to the passage we read last week, Peter says…

12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. 1 Peter 2:12

The fact is, as strangers and foreigners in this world, we will not always be viewed in a positive light. We may face false accusations – we may even face persecution or punishment for doing what is right.  We may live under the authority of governments that are acting outside of their God-given responsibilities and are actively encouraging evil. And we may not have any control over that.

But we do have control over our own actions. We can choose to live as ambassadors of Jesus Christ – living in such a way, than even if we are accused of doing wrong, people will see our honourable behaviour – and they will give glory to God.

We have the freedom to do this – as Peter says…

16 For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. 17 Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king. 1 Peter 2:16-17

And this brings us to the final point I want to make today. We need to fear God first, and respect the king second. You see, there may be times when those in authority over us tell us to do things that are contrary to what God says. There may be times when human laws tells us to disobey God’s laws.

In those cases, our primary responsibly is to fear and obey God, rather than men. Now again, in most cases, we are to submit to and obey the authorities over us – but in the case where they instruct us to act in disobedience to God, we must obey God rather than man. 

Our highest allegiance belongs to our King Jesus. So when push comes to shove, we must obey our King – despite the consequences we may face from human authorities.

Even Peter Himself had to make that choice – probably more than once – but Acts chapter 4 gives us a clear example. Peter and John had been preaching in the Temple about the resurrection of Jesus, and so of course, the Jewish rulers and the elders (who had put Jesus to death in the first place) were very upset about this and so they arrested them and put them in jail for the night. The next day, it says in verse 18…

18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20 NIV

While God has commanded us to submit to our leaders and to honour and respect them – if it ever comes down to a choice of obeying God or obeying human authorities, we must respectful choose to disobey human authorities so that we can be obedient to God – regardless of the consequences.

  • That may mean losing our job when we refuse to fudge the numbers like our boss tells us to.
  • That may mean losing our charitable status as a church when we refuse to agree with the government’s support of certain sinful behaviours. 
  • That may mean paying huge fines or even going to jail for ‘hate speech’ when we speak the truth of God’s Word.

These are all very real possibilities – but at the end of the day, Jesus is our ultimate King and we must be obedient to Him.

But even in these cases, and hopefully they will be rare cases when human authorities demand we disobey God – but even in these cases – we must still respectfully submit to those in authority over us whenever we can and always give the them the honour and respect that is due them.

13 For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority… 17 Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king. 1 Peter 2:13 & 17

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