It doesn’t take long, these days, to find someone mixing their faith and their political views. It makes sense. Both are personal, both evoke passion, and both are things that people spend a lot of energy defending. We see the mixing of God and government happening in two ways: those using their own beliefs to drive their opinions and those using their own beliefs to tell others what they believe.
Hopefully at this point we’ve all signed up to the idea that, at least hypothetically, God should be number 1 in our lives. Even if you’re still not sure about God’s place in your life, let’s assume that God wants to be number 1 in our lives and that his instruction to us through the Bible is good.
God and Submission
Submission isn’t very popular this day-in-age. Everyone wants to pick up a sign, throw a rock, and stand up against the establishment. Fine. The problem is that this is in direct contrast from even the strongest believers of the Bible. Look at 1 Peter 2…
Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and temporary residents not to give in to the desires of your old nature, which keep warring against you; but to live such good lives among the pagans that even though they now speak against you as evil-doers, they will, as a result of seeing your good actions, give glory to God on the Day of his coming. For the sake of the Lord, submit yourselves to every human authority — whether to the emperor as being supreme, or to governors as being sent by him to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that your doing good should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Submit as people who are free, but not letting your freedom serve as an excuse for evil; rather, submit as God’s slaves. Be respectful to all — keep loving the brotherhood, fearing God and honoring the emperor. (1 Peter 2:11-17)
There are three important parts in this block of scripture.
First, Peter tells us that we are aliens and temporary residents in this world. Think of the implications of this statement. When I first moved to Virginia, I desperately tried to assimilate by becoming a Redskins fan. I watched the games, kept up with the latest news, and learned the roster. There was one problem: this wasn’t my team. I simply didn’t have the passion to dedicate time to following a team that represented a locality that I didn’t come from. What Peter is describing is a very similar situation. We are not “from” this earth. We belong to something much bigger and much more glorious than this earth. With that in mind, why do we get so upset and wound-up in the politics of this world? Instead of treating the latest political issue like it’s the most important thing on earth, maybe we should stop for a moment and recognize that the issues of this earth are issues of a place that is not our home.
Second, Peter tells us that we are to submit to the governing authorities. What is interesting is the motivation Peter attributes to this sense of submission; we are to submit because we are free in Christ. That’s a fascinating concept. It reminds me of the differences in personalities between big dogs and little dogs. Small dogs act like they’re 10ft tall monsters. They bark and snarl at everything that looks at them funny. They’re insecure. Big dogs, on the other hand, are much more calm and secure. Because they are larger, they don’t have the same fear and insecurity of smaller dogs. This image of being submissive because we are free reads similar to the big-dog, little-dog situation. We are able to submit happily because we know that the things of this world don’t really impact us in the scope of eternity. Does that mean we agree with everything we see the government do? Of course not. What it does mean is that we recognize that this government is not the main focus of our affections so any energy spent rebelling against the government is largely a wasted effort, even if you achieve everything you ever dreamed of achieving.
Third, Peter instructs us to remain respectful. Wow. If there is one thing we can all say about the current political discourse, it’s that its not “respectful”. We have to remember that we reflect the face of Christ in all we do. When we conduct ourselves in a way that doesn’t reflect Christ in the name of a political cause, we are telling the world that our political agenda is more important than our God. What kind of witness is that?
God and Rebellion
There is one caveat built into every command to submit to governments, parents, and other earthly authorities: we are to always remember that we serve a mighty God who reigns supreme. This means that when we are forced to choose between God and earthly governments, we choose God 100% of the time. Let’s look at the story of three rebels in Daniel…
But some of the astrologers went to the king and informed on the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “Long live the king! 10 You issued a decree requiring all the people to bow down and worship the gold statue when they hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and other musical instruments. That decree also states that those who refuse to obey must be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up? I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:8-18)
In this story, three Jews in a foreign land were asked to bow down to the king and worship him as a god. Shadrech, Meshach, and Abednego couldn’t let’s that go. They stood up against the authorities to stand with God.
Here is the catch and the thing that seems missing from many of today’s biggest political struggles: these three knew there was a very, very real chance that their lives wouldn’t be spared. It was a willingness to stand without the mob and sacrifice everything, even life, for their beliefs.
In verse 18, we see the three openly acknowledge that their obedience to God reigned supreme. In the last section, we mentioned that sacrificing our sense of respect to fight a political fight showed that we respected God’s will less than our own political agendas. When we stand against government in the name of God’s cause, we have the opposite effect; God’s glory is magnified a hundred times more than winning a political argument.
This drives us to an important conclusion. When we see a policy or action taken by our government and we gauge our own reactions, we have to ask ourselves (honestly) if this is a matter of God or of men. As much as it may pain us, God calls for us to submit to the governing authorities. In our democratic society, there are productive ways to submit yet voice your opinion. Unfortunately, that’s not a lot of what we see today. Today, we see people getting into arguments and losing friends because of who they vote for. We see riots in the streets and protests against causes that no one truly understands. In these cases, it’s hard to see anyone standing up for God. When we find ourselves tempted to take part in that demonstration or hit “post” on that opinionated Facebook post, we have to ask ourselves if we’re doing it for God or for ourselves.