Christian Citizenship

1 Peter 2:13-17

November 8, 2014 | Brian Bill

Our topic today is “Christian Citizenship” and our main point is this: Good Christians are good citizens.  Turn in your Bible to 1 Peter 2:13-17.  

Notice the very first word in verse 13: “Therefore…”  Peter is linking what he is going to say with what he has just said in the previous passage.  That passage teaches us that we have the privilege as living stones of being in a family with a foundation and being part of a people with a purpose. 

In verses 11-12, we were challenged to…

  • Remember we’re from a different world.
  • Realize we’re at war with sin
  • Reflect Christ in our works
Their conduct was so different.

Peter is anticipating his readers responding with a statement something like this: If I’m a citizen of heaven, then why does it matter how I live as a citizen of earth?  Christians in the Roman Empire in the first century were looked on with suspicion because their conduct was so different.  Peter reminds them to respect their rulers, even when others were rising up against Roman authority.  Christians should be the best citizens.  Jesus said it this way in Luke 20:25: “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  As citizens of earth, give what is expected to the government; and as citizens of heaven, give your ultimate allegiance to the Almighty.  

We are to live the kind of lives that make the message of God’s grace beautiful and believable.  How is a saved saint supposed to behave in a Sodom-like society?  I’m glad you asked.  Let’s read 1 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 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.”

I see three ways that Christians are to act that are summed up with three words – submit, serve, and show.

1. Submit in public ways. 

I should warn you that there’s something about the whole idea of submission that most of us find unpleasant.  It’s almost un-American to be submissive, isn’t it?  This raises at least four questions – what, who, why and when.

  • What are we to do?  Simply put, we’re to submit in verse 13: “Therefore submit yourselves…”  This is a command, which means, “be subject to” and was used to instruct soldiers to “line up or arrange under a commander.”  While most of us don’t care for this word, Peter used it six more times in this letter.

2:18: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear.”

3:1: “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands.”

3:5: “Being submissive to their own husbands.”

3:22: “Angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.”

5:5: “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.  Yes, all of you be submissive to one another.”

  • Who should we submit to?  We’re to submit to “every ordinance of man…to the king as supreme, or to governors…”  The word “every” helps us see that our submission is not just to government authorities but also to other institutions that provide for the orderly function of human life.  For instance, children submit to parents, employees submit to employers, teachers submit to principals, and principals submit to school boards.
  • We could apply submission to the “king” as obeying federal laws and “governors” cover state and local laws.  This applies to ministers also.  One pastor was pressed for time one day and couldn’t find a parking space so he parked in a no parking zone and put a note on his windshield: “I have circled the block 10 times.  I have an appointment to keep.  Forgive us our trespasses.”  When he returned he found a ticket under his wiper with this note: “I’ve circled this block for 10 years.  If I don’t give you a ticket, I lose my job.  Lead us not into temptation.”

Listen. We’re to submit to those God has put over us, whether that’s to the parking police or to someone as nasty and neurotic as Nero.  Let me remind you of what he was like.  When he was 18, he plotted to kill his mother and failed three times but succeeded when he had someone else assassinate her.  He reportedly covered Christ followers in tar and then set them on fire while they were still alive, using them as torches to provide light for his garden parties.  He wrapped Christians in the skins of wild animals and then sent his hunting dogs out to tear them to pieces.  He also nailed some to crosses, lacerated others with hot knives, and even fed Christ-followers to lions for sport.

  • Why should we submit?  Listen.  When we submit we’re doing it “for the Lord’s sake.”  Drop down to verse 15: “For this is the will of God…”  This gives a theological basis for our submission and helps us see that our obedience serves God’s purposes.  When we submit to government we are submitting to God because God set government up.  People in power are there by God’s permission.  That’s what Romans 13:1 teaches: “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.” 

Authority is an instrument in the hand of God.  One pastor offers a helpful perspective if we’re struggling with submission to authorities when he says that the issue is not what but who.  God has placed authorities over us and we are to submit to them even when we might disagree with what they are doing.  

The main purpose of government is found in verse 14: “For the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”  This is quite similar to Romans 13:4: “But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”  That’s why we have a justice system – to punish evildoers and to praise those who do what’s right.  I’m not sure how the government praises people when they do the right thing.  Can you imagine the IRS sending a thank you note when you file your taxes?

That reminds me of an actual letter that was received by the IRS a few years ago: “Enclosed you will find a check for $150.  I cheated on my income tax return last year and have not been able to sleep ever since.  If I still have trouble sleeping I will send you the rest.”

  • When should we submit?  Here’s the principle – obey except when commanded to sin. Here’s another way to say it: Submit up to the point at which it becomes sin to do so.

Let’s look at an Old Testament example and another one from the New Testament.  Both have to do with governing authorities forbidding something that goes against God’s Word.

When Daniel found out that King Darius had issued a decree that made prayer illegal, we read this in Daniel 6:10: “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.”

In Acts 4:19-20, we read that Peter and John were commanded to not preach or teach in the name of Jesus: “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’”  When they were confronted again, Peter declared in Acts 5:29: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

In both cases, there were consequences for going against governmental authorities.  Daniel was thrown in the lions’ den and Peter and John were imprisoned and then beaten.  I’ve thought about that for myself.  If I’m told to stop praying or preaching what the Bible says I won’t obey the government, knowing that there will be consequences.

If the government oversteps in an area that is clearly against what God says, the first thing to do is to appeal, if possible.  Sometimes what the government decrees stands in contrast to what Christians want to do in the name of Jesus.  This happened many years ago in Fort Lauderdale, Florida when a 90-year old man and two pastors were arrested and charged with feeding the homeless in public after a new ordinance banning public food sharing was passed.  However, they decided to keep feeding the hungry, no matter what happens to them.

And so, we’re called to submit.  Secondly, we’re commanded to serve.

2. Serve in pleasing ways. 

We see this in verse 15: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men…”  Paul challenges the Christians living on the immoral island of Crete in a very similar way in Titus 3:1: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.”  It’s imperative that we walk with integrity as Daniel did.  Check out Daniel 6:4: “So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him.”

Incidentally, I often hear people say that they want to know what God’s will is for their life.  Usually this has to do with vocation or location or who to marry or where to go to school.  These are all important and God will lead you as you lean on Him.  But I’ve found that it’s helpful to start with what we absolutely know with certainty to be the will of God.  Here in verse 15 it’s very clear: “This is the will of God, that by doing good…”  1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.”  1 Thessalonians 5:18 puts it like this: “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

When God’s people were sent into exile into Babylon, they were aliens and strangers in a foreign land, much like Christians are today in our culture.  God told them to build houses, start families and plant gardens.  But they were to also seek peace and pray for the city in which they lived.  Check out Jeremiah 29:7: “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”  In other words, they were called to be good citizens.  Likewise, we’re to be involved in positive ways in our communities, submitting to government as we serve in pleasing ways because good Christians are good citizens.

Peter says that when Christians serve others by doing good things it will “silence the ignorance of evil men.”  The word silence literally means, “to muzzle” or “to gag.”  Jesus used this word when he shouted to the raging sea in Mark 4:39: “Peace, be still!  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”  When we serve our community, it will silence our critics.  We will avoid condemnation and win commendation. 

We’re free and yet we’re to serve others as seen in verse 16: “As free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.”  We have been set free from sin and guilt but we do not have the freedom to do wrong things.  We have liberty but not license to do whatever we want.  Martin Luther put it like this: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

We’re to use our liberty to demonstrate virtue, not to justify our vices.  Paul put it like this in Romans 6:18: “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”  We are free from sin and yet we are not free to do whatever we want because we are “bondservants of God.”  We have been freed from sin so that we can serve the Savior.  True freedom is living on mission for Christ. 

A “bondservant” is one who was bound to another in servitude, completely committed to do the will of his master and not his own.  Peter is drawing on the Old Testament concept of a servant who was free to leave but who willingly submitted himself to serve a master he loves and respects.  A bondservant was surrendered wholly to the Master’s will and devoted to him to the disregard of his own interest.  We are not simply “volunteers” signing up for an hour or two of our time; we are servants who are bound to our Master and to what matters to Him.

We’re to submit in public ways and serve in pleasing ways.  Finally, we’re to show in preferential ways.

3. Show in preferential ways.

Four final commands come in short staccato bursts.  Look at verse 17: “Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king.”  These four commands show us what submission looks like in practical terms.

  • Honor all people.  To “honor” someone is to fix a high value by esteeming or prizing them.  The word “honor” in the Old Testament literally means a “heavy weight.”  It implies that we assign the greatest possible weight to a person in terms of respect by holding them in “high regard.”  To honor someone is to consider them to be weighty or heavy.  On the other hand, to “dishonor” means to treat someone as if they were “light or insignificant.”  To honor is to treat with distinction; to dishonor is to treat someone like dirt.  

We’re called to be courteous and kind to all people, by considering everyone to be weighty because they are made in the image of God.  We do this by honoring the preborn all the way up to the elderly with Alzheimer’s and other debilitating diseases.  Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.” Because life is sacred, suicide is not an option, even if you’re struggling with sickness or sadness.  Everyone matters to God and therefore should matter to us.  

  • Love the brotherhood.  We have an even higher obligation to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.  This word for love is agapao, which means we don’t love only if we feel like it but as an act of obedience as we commit to another’s highest good. Since it’s unconditional we’re to do it whether love is received or returned.  The word “brotherhood” means those born from the same womb.   

Galatians 6:10: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  That means you’re to love brothers and sisters in Christ who vote differently than you do, who like a different style of music than you do, have a different color of skin than you do, live on the other side of the river from you, are from a different generation than you, or root for a different team than you do.  Let’s come back to what Jesus said in John 13:35: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

  • Fear God. You can sense the increasing intensity as we move from honoring all people to loving fellow family members in the faith to fearing God.  To fear is to revere.  Psalm 128:1 says, “Blessed is every one who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways.”  Some of us have become so familiar with God that we no longer have a healthy fear of Him.  We’re called to develop a sense of awe and reverence for Him.  Hebrews 12:28-29: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire.”
  • Honor the king.  Again, this is incredible when you think about the kind of man Nero was.  It’s as if Peter had to hit this twice because he knew there would be some pushback.  In a similar way, we are called to esteem the office of the president, even if we don’t like the particular person in the office.  
Good Christians are good citizens.

Good Christians are good citizens.  We demonstrate that by submitting in public ways, by serving in pleasing ways, and by showing in preferential ways.  Ultimately it all comes down to whether we have submitted and surrendered to God as our highest authority.  God’s name is used four times in five verses because it’s not about you or your boss or your teacher or your mayor or your governor or the Supreme Court or the President…it’s all about God.  At its core, submission is a spiritual issue.  Have you submitted and surrendered to the Savior?  It’s time to fall in line with Him as your Lord.

Roger Staubach, who led the Dallas Cowboys to the World Championship in 1971, admitted that his position as a quarterback who didn’t call his own signals was a source of trial for him.  Coach Tom Landry sent in every play and told Roger when to pass, when to run, and only in emergency situations could he change the play (and he had better be right!).  Even though Staubach considered coach Landry to have a “genius mind” when it came to football strategy, pride said that he should be able to run his own team.  Roger later said, “I faced up to the issue of obedience.  Once I learned to obey there was harmony, fulfillment, and victory.” 

Have you faced up to the issue of obedience?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?