(NOTE: The following article was written by my husband, Ken Watson, and I think it is awesome, so I wanted to share it!)
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, 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. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. I Peter 2:13-17
Some time ago, a brother who is well-known to most of us in our fellowship posted an article urging and encouraging us to treat our political leaders with respect in public forums. This was in response to some members of our church who were using social media to openly criticize political leaders they don’t like and engage in arguments with those whom they disagree.
I want you to carefully consider: Is there any possible good for the cause of Christ that can be accomplished by giving vent to your displeasure with those that serve in government on public internet forums? I am also talking about public commentary on various trials and matters of justice in the news – which most people know absolutely nothing about except for the hearsay reported in news media articles.
I used to read those articles on Huffington Post, on Fox, CNN and MSNBC. And then I would read the comments of all the people responding to these articles and responding to each other. They aren’t even listening to each other and having a real dialogue. They are trading insults and cursing each other in the vilest ways. If there is a reasonable voice in those discussions it is usually drowned out. And I realized that (in addition being a corrupting influence on my own heart) it was a monumental waste of time.
As Christians are we not to be different than all that? I was reminded of this passage in Titus 3:3-5 — “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
Participation in these political controversies just makes us more ungodly. Even as observers. 2 Timothy 2 Paul says,“Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.”
I love my country. I grew up here and it’s all I know. I know its good parts and its bad parts. I value the sacrifice of those to try and have a form of government that is representative of the people…but – like Peter said in his letter – what good am I doing to silence the ignorant talk of foolish people? Or am I just becoming one of them? Also in 2 Timothy 2:22-24, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”
Now, the context of this is dealing with opponents of Christ, not opponents of whatever political sphere you identify with. But are these not character traits that apply across the board in our dealings with all people?
If your highest allegiance is to a political system or a leader set up by people then you are on the losing side. Do you realize that? Are you a student of history? All societies and nations come and they go. And this one will be no different. There is only one eternal King.
One of the greatest kingdoms of the world was ancient Babylon. The prophet Daniel saw its greatest glory and its downfall. The city of Babylon itself had massive walls, considered impregnable. Do you remember – in the book of Daniel – when Belshazzar is partying with all his officials in the King’s Palace (using objects taken from the temple in Jerusalem as their dinnerware, incidentally)? They are thinking: “We’re safe, there’s no one getting in here! No one has ever been able to.”
But God said it’s time for a change. Then the writing on the wall, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” There was a river that ran through Babylon. The Persians under Cyrus diverted the river and then walked on the riverbed right under the walls and into that city and took over.
And through all the regime changes Daniel just lived as a faithful follower of God, faithfully preaching God’s Word. Sometimes he was hated for it, sometimes he was loved for it, sometimes he was in trouble for it. He was always respected for it. And he was a government employee!
The purpose of a disciple of Jesus is to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus very clearly said is not of this world. That is the Kingdom that lasts forever. That is the Kingdom of which we are supposed to be calling people to become a part, by giving up their allegiance to this world with its desires that are passing away, and instead submitting to the true and eternal King.
We are free to have our opinions. But when you argue politics and talk very publicly about who you dislike and all the bad things they do, you alienate all the people who have an opposing opinion, people to whom you are supposed to be offering some hope.
Let everyone be subject 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, whoever 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. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:1-7
You realize of course who the kings were in the times that Paul and Peter were writing these commands? Roman Emperors like Nero, Domitian. What we know about these men is that many of them were venal, murderous, cruel, vicious megalomaniacs who constantly killed people they suspected of being a threat to their regime. Until some plot finally succeeded in doing them in. And they were right to be suspicious because usually somebody was trying to do them in. The Roman transfer of power was often dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed kind of government succession. They certainly had no qualms about killing Christians or anybody else that they considered to be in their way.
Ultimately we need to leave to God to be concerned with who runs these earthly Kingdoms according to His will and His purpose. Part of our duty as citizens of the eternal kingdom is to be the best citizens we can possibly be of whatever earthly kingdom we’re a part of – paying our taxes, obeying the laws – and yes – showing respect – unless or until we are told to disobey our God – which we cannot do.
But rarely (if ever) have we been called by the US government to oppose God, though we acknowledge and respect our brothers and sisters who do not live under such privilege in some places. Peter says: “If you are eager to do good who is going to harm you?” Hopefully everyone will see that as true disciples of Jesus what harm would we bring to anyone?
This is also a big matter of unity within the church. Paul says this is a matter of conscience. Don’t defile yours by simply ignoring the scriptures. By your words, are you promoting unity or are you destroying it? I’ve heard some people say: “Well if everybody just sits back and lets everything happen – like you are seeming to propose – we will all be living under tyranny in no time.” Listen: everything is going to happen the way God directs it whether you trust Him or not. You can’t really control it.
We have the right to vote in this country…so vote. But if you signed up to be a disciple of Jesus, your job and my job is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That is the only answer to making the world a better place. There is none other. There is no political leader that will ever offer a better answer than Jesus Christ.
But short of that, let me encourage you to use God’s Word to shape your opinions and your attitudes about those whom God has chosen to govern us. Let me encourage you to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. To Him be glory and honor and power for ever and ever, Amen.
For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14