Obeying God and not man

1 Peter 2v13-17. 

Peter in verses 11&12 introduces a package of teaching on how we are to live, as citizens of heaven, in the context of society, in enterprise, and in family.   And this morning we are going to look at that first aspect – living Godly lives in the context of society, or government.

The goal of living godly lives, or pursuing holiness, of being a citizen of heaven, is the glory of God so that those who do not believe in Jesus will turn to Him because of the excellent behaviour we demonstrate as we live as unashamed aliens in this world. 

Now to kick this off, I looked on the internet for some stupid laws that have been made over the years in various nations of the world and I’ve picked out a few for you.

In Thailand it is illegal to step on money.

Here’s one they should adopt in this country:  In Singapore, selling non-medical chewing gum or chewing normal gum is a fine of $1000. A second offence costs $2000 and you are forced to clean a public area of the city for a day.

In the US state of Florida, it’s illegal to break wind in a public place after 6pm on a Thursday.

Australians are always up for a laugh and they did not disappoint, because in Australia, it is illegal to wear hot pink pants after midday on a Sunday.

But the best must be reserved for our great nation of Britain because as well as it being illegal to die in the House Of Parliament, and it also is illegal to handle a salmon in suspicious circumstances, whatever that means and what must be my absolute favourite and something the Scottish Government need to pay attention to because by law, any great Sturgeon caught in the UK is the property of the Queen.

 

There is lots happening in the political arena just now not only in our own nation, but across the globe. In our own nation, Brexit negotiations have been triggered; Scottish Independence is back in the agenda; local council elections are taking place, the campaigning by candidates to win your vote has started.  Let’s face it – there are some policies and bills within Parliament being progressed by the Scottish and British governments that we agree with and, that we do not agree with, and it’s changing all the time, as governments seek to implement policies they think best for a continually changing society and culture in which we find ourselves today.

Now we know that not all laws in this land line up with the laws of God.  There are times when the supreme authority of government will be in conflict with the absolute authority of God, and that will happen in 2 ways.

The first way will be times when the government says we have to do something, but God clearly tells us not to.  In those situations, if we go against God’s rule, we sin.  And then there will be times when the government tells us not to do something and we still do it because God tells us to.  In that situation, we are not sinning, because we are still obeying God, although we are in effect breaking the law.

So what does God have to say to us about this?  Well the most important thing this passage has to say is to put our our social and political life into relation to God.  The Bible is not a book about how to get along in the world.  It is a book inspired by God about how to live to God.  That’s what Peter has been talking about up to this point – our great salvation in Jesus; our hope to see us through trials and suffering; our pursuit of holiness; our love, our life, our light, our living as aliens and strangers in this world.

Paul said in Galatians 2:19, “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God”. The aim of life—including our social and political life—is to live to God.  To live with God in view. To live under his authority. To live on Him like we live on air, food and water. To live for his good reputation.  To live for His glory.

So how do we live as those who obey God and not man in the context of living as we do in a land governed by human institutions.   Well to do this, I’m going to

  • firstly outline the purpose or role of Government
  • secondly explain how we are to respond to that, before then
  • showing how we can obey God and not man

So what is the role of government.

We get this from verse 14.

Submit …to the king, 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. 

Paul says in Romans 13v1 says that there is no authority on earth except that which God has established and Peter in verse 14, tells us that the purpose of government is to punish evil and praise good.  He expresses what God designed government for: to stop the river of evil that flows from the heart of man so that it does not flood the world with anarchy. 

However we know that not all governments enact what God designed governments to be, but we do know that all governments are established by God for His own sovereign purpose and sometimes we find that hard to understand, but we always need to focus on what we know rather than what we don’t know.

And what we do know is that we are encouraged to pray for governments.  Paul urges Timothy that we are to pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  

You see Governments do not save souls; they are to maintain external order in a world full of evil so that we can be free to live our lives in, did you notice it…. in peace and in all godliness and holiness – in other words, we pray that governments will allow the flow of the gospel – so that those in that land can be free to live as citizens of heaven, pointing to the glory of God, so that others come to know this great salvation that we have in Jesus.  Because only Jesus is the answer to the evil in this world because only Jesus saves!

So very briefly, that is the role of government, but

How are we to respond to that.

The passage starts in verse 13 by telling us to submit for the Lord’s sake to those governments and the end of verse 17 tells us we are to honour the king, or in our case the Queen and her government.

Submission and honour.  But the submission is for the Lord’s sake and the honour is in the context of a fear of God.

Let’s start at the end of the passage because verse 17 summarises the attitude we are to have in society.

Show proper respect to everyone:  Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king. 

This covers all the bases of society.  And there is a progression here I think. First, give to all human beings a basic respect.

Then beyond that common respect for all humanity, there is a special love that is to be given to the brotherhood of believers, that is, fellow Christians.

Then beyond that common respect for all and that special love for Christians, there is a special fear appropriate to God, and no one else.

Then, honour to the king, or to the government.  For us that means the Queen, the Prime Minister, or the First Minister.   Notice they are not to be feared like God, and they need not be loved as we love our fellow believers. But they must be honoured.

So, according to verse 17, we are to give respect to all mankind, then up a level, as well as respect, we honour those in government, then again as well as respect and honour, a level up of love for our fellow believers, and then right at the top, we need to live in reverent fear of God.  Those are our general priorities living in this society.  God is our priority.

Verse 13 agrees with that when it says:

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors

The key phrase in verse 13 is “for the Lord’s sake.”  If you miss that, you miss everything about this whole passage.  

And what makes this issue of submission for the Lord’s sake so urgent for Peter that he brings it up straight away, is because of what he has said in the previous four verses. In verse 9 he said that Christians are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.  In verse 10 he said that we are now “the people of God.” In verse 11 he said that we are therefore aliens and strangers here among the social and political institutions of this world.

All of that raises the question on whether we should have any allegiance to the institutions of this world at all. If we are a separate “holy nation” and if we are “God’s people” and if we are “aliens and strangers,” perhaps then we should withdraw into our own Christian communities and have nothing to do with the powers and institutions of the world. Peter’s answer to that is NO.

While we are in this world, we are (in different senses) citizens of two orders, two systems. This world with its necessary institutions, and the kingdom of God with its necessary values. This is not because the two orders have equal authority, but because God is the ruler and owner of both, and when you belong first to him and his kingdom, you can be sent by him, for his sake, for his purposes, for his glory into the kingdom of this world.

So if you take verse 17 to honour the government, and verse 13 to submit to the government for the Lord’s sake, that means you can in effect look into the eye of the queen, or Prime Minster, or the First Minister, and say, “I submit to you, I honour you—but not for your sake. I honour you for God’s sake. I honour you because God rules over you and has raised you up for a limited season and given you the leadership that you have. So for His sake and for His glory and because of his rightful authority over you, I honour you.”  

Now I know that some of us will find that very difficult to swallow, because of who the Prime Minister and First Ministers are and the political parties they represent.  But that is the instruction of scripture and that is living in reverent fear of God.  That is pursuing holiness.

So we need to be careful when it comes to politics and talking about the government and those holding office. Because, as we said last week, it is so easy to fall into the culture and society around us that express hate at those holding office simply because you don’t agree with the policies they are implementing.

When Baroness Thatcher died, the song ding dong the witch is dead climbed up the charts.  People joined in – ha ha ha, what a laugh.  I found that very disturbing.  While I know she was not popular here in Scotland, and she was still someone to be respected and honoured.  We need to be careful when talking about government.  It has to be with respect and honour, for the Lords sake. 

So our response to government, according to verses 13-17 is we are to show submission to them for the Lord’s sake and honour to them, because our priority is God.

So how do we obey God and not man

Now in the vast majority of cases, it’s pretty easy to comply with the laws government has established, but again we do not submit to them because it’s the law, we submit to them for the sake of the Lord – we look first to Him as our absolute authority.

So taking a very simple government law like the speed limit, we submit to that law, we keep the speed limit, not because we want to avoid a speeding ticket, but we submit to it for the Lord’s sake, as an act of worship.  We submit because we have the freedom to do so.

Verse 16 says that we are to 

Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil; live as servants of God.

When we think of living as free people, we tend to think of people that do what they want to do!  There are no rules, we can just be free;  Freedom says that we can drive at 90 mph in a 40 limit – but that is not what Peter is saying – we cannot use our freedom as an excuse to cover up evil, as an excuse to do wrong, but use our freedom to show that we are God’s servants – in other words live as those who point to the glory of God. 

And to use the example of driving at 90 in a 40 does not point to the glory of God, because it’s behaviour that is not excellent, it’s actually foolish and causes accidents.

But what about when the law of the land conflicts with the law of God.  History tells us that Christian influence, like William Wilberforce, helped changed laws to be aligned more with scripture, but we also know there are laws now that do not agree with scripture.  And there are lots of examples in the bible, like in Daniel and Acts, that show believers going to jail because they obeyed God and not man, so we can’t ignore this issue.  Because when you break the law of the land but not break the law of God, you will face a fine or go to jail, because the government has to maintain order in society and the law of the land is the means of doing that.  

So when Peter says in verse 12 that we are to live such good lives that, though they accuse you of doing wrong.…  In other words if our lives as citizens of heaven are lived in such a way that means we have no choice but to break the law of the land because it’s against the law of God, then we have to be willing to submit to the authority of the land, for the Lord’s sake.

And those days are already here, but it is how we disobey if we have to disobey that is important. Because we still need to give glory to God and give honour to those we are submitting to for the Lord’s sake.  If we are serious about living for God as aliens and strangers in this world, what we cannot do is simply comply with laws that exist that are clearly against the law of God.  If we do that, we are not submitting to them for the Lords’s sake, we are submitting to them for our own sake. So much thought and prayer is needed in this area because if we are faced with a situation that means we will be obeying God over man, we need to know its for His glory. 

Conclusion

This passage has so much to say to us today in respect of the role of government, our attitude to it and how we respond to the laws those governments set.

You see, we need to take our direction in all this from the will of God.  Verse 15.  As aliens and strangers in this world, we need to consult our Lord and Saviour on how to live in this world.

His aim for us is that we live such good lives, show such excellent behaviour, so that other see that we are unashamedly living for Jesus.   And we get that guidance from the will of God, which we understand through the Word and through the Spirit.

Looking ahead Jesus chose to obey God and not man. He lived for God.  He chose God’s will, not His own.  He submitted himself to the human institutions of this world.  For you and for me, that we may know this great salvation we have in Jesus.

I wonder this morning are we prepared to live for God, because it comes with a cost.  Salvation is free but living for Him has a cost.  Will we be people that obey God and not man.  Will we be people that live for His glory in the context of society and human government?

And it maybe for a time the human institutions feel like they are winning;  In Jesus’ case, to coin a phrase…. that was Friday….  Sunday’s coming!

And when we live for God, Sunday’s a coming!

So live for God.  Live such good lives, by showing excellent behaviour, by living as an alien and stranger in this world, by pursuing holiness, by being unashamed to be identified as a citizen of heaven, by obeying God and not man  – so that – look at the end of verse 15 – so that you silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

In other words, let people see through living to the Word and to the Spirit, that Jesus is real, that God’s not dead, that their opinion of Christians may be changed, that their ignorant and foolish talk may be silenced and turn to recognition that there is integrity to what we profess to believe. 

And that involves choosing to willing submit to government laws for the Lords sake; and it may involve willingly submitting to government punishment if we find we have no choice but to obey God and not man.  And we do these things in order that the reputation of the Lord’s name will be honoured, that the name of the Lord may be renowned once more, because people see Jesus living in us, because people see us obeying God as our absolute authority.

Amen.