When I received the opportunity to write and speak on the topic of government in the Speaking Truth Series, I smiled a little bit. The historical beginnings of our country are a regular topic of discussion in our family. Insert me into the late 1700s, and I am unsure if I would have been a loyalist or a patriot. After all, didn’t both sides have men and women who loved God and sought to respond biblically?
Our current situation in the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted this previously theoretical discussion into one with practical implications for our daily lives. People all over the world have changed habits that were once taken for granted, and we have been asked to comply with various directives such as staying home and avoiding contact with others. To be clear, in our cultural context, we are not experiencing persecution by the government because of our faith. This reality should cause us to praise God and pray for our fellow brothers and sisters in other countries where they may be experiencing persecution for their faith. However, the current pandemic has created circumstances in which governing authorities across the globe have directed populations to relinquish individual freedoms to protect health. As we process and respond to the instructions from our government, may we look to the Bible as the absolute and unwavering source of truth that is sufficient for every aspect of our lives (II Timothy 3:16-17).
Join us as Pastor Jeremy Zajicek teaches on a Biblical Response to Government.
I want to draw your focus to the book of 1 Peter. I would encourage you to take about twenty minutes and read the entire letter that the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians who were scattered across the region. Before I move to the points of application in the passage concerning proper relationships with governing authorities, I think it is important to establish the context surrounding this letter. Scholars suggest that Peter wrote this book approximately 60 years after the resurrection of Christ. As the church grew, Christians began to be persecuted by governments and religious leaders. That brings me to the purpose of why Peter wrote the letter to Christians scattered from persecution. Peter stated his purpose in I Peter 5:12: “I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.” Peter was writing to strongly encourage and affirm to Christians that the difficult circumstances they were experiencing are indeed the grace of God.
Be Eternally Focused.
By looking at the book of 1 Peter in the context of our current circumstances, several themes emerge. The first theme that emerges in chapter 1 is that as Christians we must continuously strive to be eternally focused. There is a significant temptation to let the current events and circumstances of our lives dominate how we think. I would even go as far as to say that our sinful nature entices us to view our present circumstances as all-consuming. Let me share an example that helps to illustrate this point. Whether at home or work, have you ever began a day with lofty aspirations of what you plan to accomplish? Shortly into the day, you find yourself putting out one fire after another. Before you know it, it is 5 p.m., and even though you are completely exhausted, you aren’t even quite sure what you accomplished! Some have called this all too regular experience the whirlwind of life. If we are not careful, the circumstances in our workday can derail us from what we wanted to accomplish. If this happens occasionally, no problem; we make adjustments to ensure we don’t completely ignore our goals. If this happens frequently, we become driven by the current circumstances, and we become ineffective in our jobs as we lose sight of big picture goals and objectives.
How about in our spiritual lives? There is a temptation to let the current circumstances of our lives drive what we do and how we think. Turn on the television, talk to a friend, look at your phone, or simply look at another human being wearing a mask – we are constantly reminded that we are living in a world that is dominated by COIVID-19. I have little doubt that the Christians in 1 Peter had the same distraction and temptation to let their current circumstances dominate their thinking and actions. These believers were dealing with far more than inconveniences. They were dealing with the genuine possibility that their faith could cost them their lives. I think it is for this reason that Peter began his letter reminding the persecuted Christians that because of the resurrection of Christ, they have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Peter reinforced the temporary nature of their current circumstance by telling the reader to “greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations” (I Peter 1:6).
Submit to Authority.
Since the beginning of human history, people have resisted authority. When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were given free rein, but they were also given a precise command from God not to eat the fruit from a specific tree (Genesis 2:17). Satan knew exactly how to tempt Adam and Eve, and he began by questioning God’s authority. Adam and Eve believed the lie, deceived themselves, and ultimately rejected God’s authority. Why didn’t Adam and Eve trust God and believe that the seemingly restrictive rule was for their good? Can we have the same perspective about government? Can we be fooled into thinking that God must not have understood things entirely when He placed the current authorities in our lives?
I Peter 2:13 states, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” Lest we are deceived into thinking Peter didn’t mean what he said about governing authority, let’s review Romans 13:1-2:
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”
God’s Word is clear. He is the ultimate authority, and He has placed governing authorities in our lives for our good and His glory. I believe it is also important to point out that Peter addressed a proper response to authority. Peter began by addressing submission to government authority and then transitioned to similar instructions for servants, husbands, and wives. Peter didn’t mince words, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving an example, that ye should follow His steps” (I Peter 2:21).
We are living in a period in which we must not be distracted by our current circumstances. Instead, we must remain eternally focused so that we can continue our mission. We also must not be deceived into thinking that our governing authorities are there by mistake. We must trust God’s sovereignty and follow Christ’s example of submission. In light of these truths from God’s Word, what are some specific actions that we can take this week?
- Be eternally focused – I Peter 1:13.
- Prepare your mind for action. I Peter 1:13 uses the phrase “gird up the loins of your mind.” This ancient phrase communicates that we must get ready for action and be unhindered by our surroundings. Each day we must prepare our minds for action so that we stay focused. The only way to keep our focus is by developing our relationship with God through prayer and reading His written directions.
- Be sober-minded. We see this phrase used in conjunction with preparing our minds for action. Through the strength of the Holy Spirit, we can think clearly and act with discernment. Peter refers to his audience multiple times as sojourners, exiles, and pilgrims. If you travel to a different county, do you blend in, or do you receive more attention? If you are like my family and me, we stick out like a sore thumb, and people are sneaking selfies with the blond-haired kids. As exiles in this fallen world, we have the same opportunity to stick out and thereby bring glory to God and point others to the Gospel (I Peter 2:11-12, 3:15).
- Set your hope entirely on the grace that is coming. It is hard not to focus on when the COVID-19 restrictions might end. Let’s pray for strength to keep our eyes set on “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4).
- Submit to Authority – I Peter 2:13.
- Submit to authority as an act of obedience to God. I Peter 2:13 starts by saying, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.” We need to recognize that God, in His sovereign wisdom, has ordained the authorities in our lives. God has chosen these authorities (presidents, governors, bosses, spouses) for our good and His glory.
- Your submission accomplishes a specific purpose. Let’s look at a few particular passages in I Peter:
- I Peter 2:11-12 – Christians are instructed to keep our conduct honorable so that others will see our good deeds and glorify God.
- I Peter 2:15 – Doing good silences the accusations of foolish people.
- I Peter 3:15-17 – Our speech and our actions matter. Proper conduct provides opportunities for us to share our hope in Christ.
We must never mistake governing law for absolute truth found in God’s Word. Read the book of Daniel for actual historical examples. As citizens of this country, we have the right and responsibility to advocate for laws and principles that are consistent with God’s Word. As Christians, we also must represent and follow the actions of Christ (I Peter 2:21-24).
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will.” - Proverbs 21:1
 Longman, T., & Garland, D. The Expositor's Bible Commentary (p. 166). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
 MacArthur, J. (1996). New Testament Commentary (p. 105). Chicago: Moody.
 Wiersbe, W., 1989. The Bible Exposition Commentary (p. 601). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.