“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)
Honor the emperor. This is a concept I find many people struggle with, particularly immediately following the inauguration of a new President of the United States. With any new President comes a portion of the population that did not vote for him, doesn’t like him, and does not believe that his platform consists of the best strategies for the advancement and prosperity of our nation. To top it off, a President’s first week or so in office is often full of proposed legislation and executive orders specifically aimed at undoing the undesirable policies of his predecessor, adding fuel to the emotional fire. This is nothing new, and we watch the pattern play out in contentious and amicable elections alike. Yet, we continue to see people fall into hopelessness and despair when “their guy” doesn’t win, and showing honor to the current emperor seems a detestable course of action.
What the relationship between a Christian and the government ought to be is straightforward. Scripture is clear about how we are to view governing authorities. “There is no authority on Earth that hasn’t been instituted by God,” Rev. Ross Engel reminds us on this week’s episode of Ringside, before going on to explain why “the other guy” is still to be honored. “God accomplishes different things using different authorities. God uses different leaders to accomplish different things as well. Seeing and understanding that, you honor them for the authority they have, but also recognize that God may be accomplishing something that we don’t necessarily see or think we want to happen.” Government is a tool through which God brings order and peace to our daily lives, and even the bad leaders and the tumultuous times have their purpose. Rev. Paul Koch puts it this way, “They have temporal authority over you, and this is not outside of God’s sovereignty. Now, does that mean you are going to obey everything they say, or see every decree from them as good and right and faithful? Absolutely not. But it doesn’t mean you are outside of their authority…there is a time to resist, but if there is punishment that goes along with that, you have to take that as well. That’s part of being subject to an authority.” I personally remind myself of this quite frequently as my speedometer approaches 85mph on a 65mph California freeway…and I avoid giving the officer who pulls me over lip as he writes up my well-deserved speeding ticket.
The beautiful thing about being a Christian as well as a citizen of whatever country you are from, is that our ultimate hope is not in this temporal authority, but in the God who bestows and commands it. We live in both this earthly kingdom, subject to its authorities, and in God’s kingdom, as His free servants. But Christians are still sinners, and we lose sight of our dual citizenship sometimes. “We are so wrapped up in this world and the things that we have in this world, that we forget that God’s kingdom is not of this world, and we have a promise that goes so far beyond life in this world, death in this world, or being “cancelled in this world.” But when we lose that proclamation, suddenly we succumb to those [hopeless] thoughts, ‘[what am I supposed to do] if I lose my voice? Or if I get locked up?’ and it’s all connected to the worldly stuff that we’ve built our existence on,” Ross points out. We must constantly remind ourselves and each other that freedom and hope come from Christ, not policy.
Our dual citizenship grants us the freedom in Christ to engage in and be passionate about politics, policies, and party platforms without resting all of our hope upon them, or falling into despair when things don’t go our way or our guy doesn’t win. Ultimately, like so many other things in our lives, this comes down to where you turn to find righteousness. The government serves an important purpose in our lives, but it is not and was never meant to be the source of our righteousness. That comes from Christ alone, who was crucified, died, and rose for the salvation of each and every one of us. So long as that remains the source of our identity and hope, we can freely and confidently live out our dual citizenship.
This article is a brief examination of the “metaphorical and theological rugby match” that was this week’s episode of Ringside Preachers. Listen to Rev. Joel Hess, Rev. Paul Koch, Rev. Ross Engel, and Tyler the Intern, as they duke it out over subjecting to earthly authority, the Church’s role in political policy making, finding joy in your 2am shift at Taco Bell, and more on the full Ringside Preachers episode, “Honoring Emperors.”
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