Have you noticed the dissension in our world? Opinions are bountiful, and animosity is intense.
Do you ever feel caught-in-the-middle? Do you have friends that share different views than yours, and you find yourself cautious in voicing your opinion? After all: Is it worth risking a friendship because you hold different ideals? Can’t we share different views, and agree to disagree: praying, trusting, and working together for appropriate and corrective answers to be discovered?
Why is it that we are so inclined to insist on our way? How do we find an amenable way to protest, while at the same time guarding mutual respect for others? I’m hearing these types of questions from a lot of people.
Here are just a few of my own:
How does the Church remain Christian in a pluralistic culture? How are we to hold to the tenets of our faith in a society influenced by secularism? How, as followers of Jesus, are we to engage as citizens and not be contaminated by the world? How is it possible to respect and submit to governing authorities when at times it seems its decisions are antithetical to one’s views?
Yes, these are challenging times for all of us. However, for the church, this is not our first rodeo.
As early as the first century, Paul writes instructions to followers of Christ who – like us – live in a cultural and political climate that is often in conflict with Christian principles. The seat of the empire’s civil government was Rome: radiant with splendor and shame. Corruption was as infamous as Coliseum grandeur.
Paul reminds us that we have a responsibility to government officials: “Let every person be subject to governing authorities.”
I know: that rubs most of us the wrong way! How can we subject ourselves to that which does not support or advance our aspirations? It becomes possible when we understand that subordination is pleasing to God.
Christian precepts remind us: God placed everything in submission to Christ (Eph. 1:22), and the church is required to be in compliance to the Lord (Eph. 5:24). As Christians, we are continually obligated to submit to God, his law and training (James 4.7). Moreover, we are to cooperate with one another in reverence for Christ (Eph. 5.21).
As an American citizen, I’m liable to the governing laws of my nation. As a citizen of God’s kingdom, I’m also answerable to the precepts of Christ’s dominion (Phil. 3:20; Col. 1:13). This dual citizenship frequently creates tension. Conflicting obligations often expose how strong my will is, and just how difficult it can be to subordinate my preference to God’s purpose.
However, Paul’s instruction to Christians living with unease, mistrust, and conflict with Roman authorities, asserts the necessity of submission. Why? Paul recognizes God established these powers (Daniel 4:17, 25). To rebel against authority is to take a stance against that which God has instituted.
So what do we do? Here are some practical steps.
First, pray (1 Tim. 2:1-4). It’s easy to voice our displeasure, complain, and throw word bombs at leaders we dislike. However, our first responsibility is to pray, intercede, and give thanks!
Praying for our leaders – with Thanksgiving – is not always easy. You don’t have to like them, but we can be thankful to God who cares and is active in the affairs of this world. Those who pray for our governing authorities lead a peaceful and quiet life, and they are a reflection of dignity.
Secondly, we can willingly choose to submit to our governing authorities for Christ’s sake (1 Pet. 2:13).
Submission is not a passive action. It is an intentional response of obedience. Subordinating my will to God’s purpose frequently invites me to sacrifice my preference to God’s, and helps me discover and align my true allegiance.
Third, we must honor everyone, love the brotherhood of believers, revere God, and honor the emperor: those God has placed in authority over us (1 Pet. 2:17).
We are to respect everyone. Whether we agree or disagree with people, there is to be no place for disrespect. We are admonished to love the brotherhood of believers. On any given day you will find those who follow Christ whose views are different than yours. However, love always wins!
We are to guard our reverence of God that leads to obedience. One cannot love and respect others without authentic respect of God.
I find it interesting that Peter uses the word “honor” two times in this verse (1 Pet. 2:17). Sometimes it is more palatable to accept everyone, as long as they are not governing authorities. However, everyone includes everyone: even those who govern over us.
I appreciate the liberty to voice my views freely, and the privilege to work with other citizens – including government officials – to constructively promote and uphold the values I cherish. Conversely, I’m accountable to submit to the governing laws of my nation.
Be conscientious as an American. Voice your concerns in and through the appropriate channels. Contact your governing authorities. Participate. Lift up your voice. That’s responsible action by citizens.
However, let your conduct reflect your citizenship in God’s kingdom. Pray for our governing officials. Lead the way by demonstrating respect for all people – including those who have authority over us. Allow your words to be full of grace and love rather than spite.
In the kingdom of God, the practice of praying, honoring, submitting, and loving is a life-long process. It requires the obliteration of self-entitlement. It demands unwavering trust that God somehow prevails (even in political dissension and secular persuasion). It protects us from allowing things to get out of perspective. It guards us against an unhealthy fear and nourishes hope.
And, hope is something that all of us need!
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ro 13:1.
● Do you regularly pray for your government officials? If not, why?
● What political issues concern you the most? Have you voiced them to your governing
authorities? If not, why?
● Can you identify areas where the laws of our land create conflict with your faith values?
How are you processing that tension?
● What does it mean to “honor” the emperor (those God has placed in authority over us)?
● What are some practical ways to demonstrate respect while voicing your concerns?
● What steps can you take to engage in constructive dialogue? Where can you find
common ground to start a conversation?