First Peter 2:13-15
During his visit to the United States the Pope met with the President of the United States. Instead of just an hour as scheduled, the meeting went on for two days. Finally, a weary President emerged to face the waiting news media.
The President was smiling and announced the summit was a resounding success. He said he and the Pope agreed on eighty percent of the matters they discussed. The President declared he was going home to the White House to be with his family. A few minutes later the Pope came out to make his statement. He looked tired, discouraged and was practically in tears. Sadly he announced his meeting with the President was a failure. Incredulous, one reporter asked, “But your Holiness, the President just announced the summit was a great success and the two of you agreed on eighty percent of the items discussed.” Exasperated, the Pope answered, “Yes, but we were talking about the Ten Commandments.”
In in Springfield, Missouri, a number of years ago, a politician was speaking to a large gathering: “So, in conclusion,” he proclaimed, “My opponent has been lying to you and stealing you blind for eight long years. Now, it’s time to give me a chance.”
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men:
…whether to the king, as the supreme authority, …or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. It just doesn’t seem possible that we hear those words coming from the Bible. We are shocked that it is Peter, loud mouthed Peter, rebellious Peter, head of the Church, Peter, who writes those words. Peter’s own words to the Sanhedrin answer this: Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. (Acts 4:19) A Christian is law-abiding, meticulous, and self-disciplined, but with limits.
The Christians in the early Church were accused by a lot of different groups of not being supportive of the government. As later historians write most of that untruth came as a result of fear from small groups that felt they would lose their power or influence to a rapidly growing group. No doubt Peter knew that the Church’s best defense was to answer with a good life.
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” (1 Sam 8:6)
It was a wonderful master plan that God had in mind for His people. They would honor the Ten Commandments and there would be no need for any other Laws. They wouldn’t have to have a government to build roads and protect the people. In a community that is giving, and gives their brothers and sisters the very best, has all of these things and more. And God would protect the innocent.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (Rom 13:1)
What Paul is saying is that we honor God by being submissive to the government. However, God holds the government accountable for its actions.
In other words the government leader will be held to a higher standard then the citizen. Our Western legal tradition takes the form of a hierarchy of laws.
Local laws must defer to higher and wider laws. The highest law of all, is God’s law.
Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12:14)
Part of our western thought betrays us. The United States is one of the few places in the world where the Church (mostly Protestant Churches) allow the state flag to be in God’s House. The reason for that is to make a clear distinction between Church and State. Americans are the ones filled with the most pride about our separation of Church and State and yet we are the ones that blur the two more than any place else.
I was visiting an elderly gentleman one day. I asked him, “Do you love God?” “I love my country,” was his response. “But do you love God?” “I fought in the war to keep our nation free.”
Part of the difficulty with the Jewish people was that their politics and their faith were one in the same. Jesus offered deliverance from sin, they wanted political freedom. As much as we love our nation and are grateful for the advantages and privileges that we have, our love of God is to be supreme. When we allow our government and our patriotism to define our God we lose sight of who God really is. Benjamin Franklin once said, The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: “that God governs in the affairs of men.” And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?
In any legal system, it is possible to point to laws ranging from mildly unjust to callously inhuman. Such laws should produce a feeling of outrage. Such laws should be challenged and change sought. It is the Christians responsibility as part of that government to seek the change.