Christians Make Good Citizens
Jubilate Sunday Sermon| Rev. Rolf Preus| May 4, 2009| 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.”
There is a rule that says preachers should not preach about politics. Is that a good rule? Not necessarily. If the Bible teaches us something about politics we should teach what the Bible teaches. What we should not do is to promote our own political philosophy and say that God said it. God doesn’t belong to a political party. He’s not a Republican or a Democrat. He doesn’t vote in elections. But where the Bible speaks God speaks and so should we. The Bible addresses the relationship between Christians and the government.
The Bible teaches that the government works for God. It serves God, whatever form it may take. In Romans 13, St. Paul tells us that the government is God’s servant. Here in our text St. Peter tells us to submit to the government. It punishes those who do wrong and praises those who do what is good. Whether we have kings or presidents, whether our leaders are chosen by their bloodline, by a small group of electors, or by a large group of voters are questions the Bible does not address. Whatever kind of government we have has authority over us by God’s will.
This means that we submit to the laws established by the government. Submitting to the government is submitting to God. The First Commandment teaches us to obey God. We obey God by obeying his representatives. The Fourth Commandment teaches us to honor our parents. The government receives its authority to govern from the God-given authority of parents. Just as children are to do what their parents tell them to do the citizens of a country are to obey the laws established by their government. Anarchy is not an option for a Christian.
It is a great blessing when those who rule are virtuous but we are duty bound to honor the government whether or not those who hold office in it are virtuous. They may be venal fools. They may be incompetent and corrupt. They may not have the slightest notion of what makes for peace in the world or prosperity at home. Still, we are to honor them. We honor them, not because of who they are, but because of who they represent. They represent God whether they know it or not.
The purpose of the government is to punish those who do what is wrong and to defend those who do right. There are certain policies that Christians should support, regardless of their political philosophy. We should favor laws protecting the unborn. The killing of the living but unborn is not only a sin against God; it is a crime against humanity. Christians act as good citizens when they oppose abortion on demand and make their views known publicly and respectfully.
Christians should also support laws that defend the family, human life, marriage, private property, and so forth. For this is clearly taught in the Ten Commandments. Even those who do not accept the Ten Commandments know from their own conscience that the family, human life, marriage, and private property need to be protected. As citizens we do not appeal to the authority of the Bible. We appeal to that law which is written in everyone’s heart.
When we submit to the government we make a public confession to the world. We take good citizenship seriously. We obey the laws of men. We do so, not because we like the laws or even agree with them, but because this is how we want Christ’s people to be seen. We are law-abiding. This promotes peace and harmony in this world.
Jesus was falsely accused of opposing the government of Rome. He taught submission to that government, even though it was both godless and corrupt. A corrupt government is better than no government at all. When the only law is the law of the jungle, might makes right and the weak are perpetually at the mercy of the strong.
When Christians present themselves as good citizens, those who would slander Christianity are silenced. The freedom we Christians enjoy is not a freedom to do whatever we please. It is rather a spiritual freedom too precious to be confused with mere license.
Christ has set us free. No human government can take this freedom away. Free means forgiven of all our sins. St. Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3, 23-24) We are redeemed, that is, we are set free from sin on account of Christ offering his life for us. This is genuine freedom because it makes us free before God himself.
We cannot be condemned. We have no guilt to face, no death to fear, and no need to escape from God’s judgment. Instead of wanting to run away from God we want to run to him and to find in him this freedom we enjoy.
We are free from rules imposed on us as a means of obtaining God’s grace. Some teach that you can get God to be gracious to you. You can get him to forgive you your sins and promise you eternal life. You can do this or that to get God to do what he doesn’t want to do until you get him to do it. They give you the rules to follow to get God to be gracious to you.
But we are already free. We are free for Christ’s sake. God willingly forgives us for Jesus’ sake and he freely justifies us. We don’t need to get God to do anything. He set us free. We didn’t free ourselves.
This spiritual freedom does not mean that we make our own rules. The same God who has freed us from the judgment of the law calls us to live the life he has prepared for us to live. When we put ourselves in charge we simply enslave ourselves to our own passions. We make bad gods.
St. Peter urges us to honor all people and especially the king; to fear God; and to love the brotherhood.
We honor all people. We don’t have a king. I suppose the Constitution would serve as our king here in America. It is the supreme law of the land. And while we may have to disagree, even condemn the views of members of the government when they go against God’s word we honor them for the sake of their office. They serve God whether or not they acknowledge it. We show respect to everyone.
We fear God and only God. No human power or authority can require that we go against God. If, for example, government said we could not preach against certain sins we would be bound to disobey the government because God requires that we preach his word without additions or subtractions.
Government gets its power from God, not from the people. People choose the government, yes. When the Declaration of Independence says that a government derives its just power from the consent of the governed it means it gains its right to govern from those it governs. It does not say that those it governs are the judge of what is right and wrong, good and evil, as if justice and goodness and morality and decency and virtue are matters to be decided by majority vote! No, it speaks of nature’s God as the authority. God is the authority and all governments are servants of God regardless of how they obtained their authority.
Love the brotherhood. The apostle is not talking about an imaginary brotherhood of man. He is talking about the true brotherhood of the holy Christian Church. This is how we live as good citizens of the state. It is by living as good Christians and honoring Christ’s Church. There is no conflict here. Christians make the best citizens because they are duty bound to respect their neighbors, even those of different religions. No, we don’t respect false religions. But we respect and honor our neighbor who just may be caught up in a false religion. And we love one another as Christians and in this way show to the world our allegiance to something greater than the temporary powers of this world.
We are citizens of an eternal kingdom. The time here on earth is but a little while. The first disciples of Jesus faced much sorrow when they saw that Jesus would be leaving them, at least visibly. We share this sorrow. We don’t get to see Jesus or even to feel his presence without all of the interfering pains and disappointments and sins of this world butting in. Christians are often sad and frustrated. We are free citizens of an eternal kingdom. But we can’t yet claim it with sight and feeling and experience. We live by faith.
But Jesus himself promises that he will see us again and turn our sorrow into joy. He did not bear all of our sorrows on the cross, suffering a sorrow unto death, only to leave us sorrowing over our sins and death. He gives us joy. In heaven this will be without any attachment of sin and anxiety. But even right now he makes us free. We are free children of God, free from guilt, from accusation, from all spiritual tyranny. This is true freedom that will remain ours long after all the nations of this world have fallen into dust. Amen