Sojourn: Toward an Enduring City
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright (c)2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.esv.org
Have you ever tried spitting into the wind? If you have, it was probably unproductive, humiliating, or both. Sometimes engaging in the world feels that way. “What good does it do? Things are so messed up,” we think. On Sunday, Chad Scruggs reminded us that “our engagement with the civil world is part of what faithfulness to Jesus Christ requires of us.” Deep down, most of us know that disengaging is not the answer. But how do we engage in a way that honors the Lord? Peter’s life and letter give us guidance.
Peter learned in the Garden of Gethsemane that there is a way to engage with the civil authorities that is not helpful. He brandishes his sword to defend Jesus from His captors, only to have his efforts rebuked and his ear-chopping exploits undone (Luke 22:47-51). Moments later, a servant girl accuses Peter of being one of Jesus’ followers, and now Peter disengages and denies his connection to Jesus (Luke 22:54-57). As Chad said on Sunday, Peter is “quick the sword but slow with his faith.” In your relationship to the civil authorities, how are you tempted at times to lash out...or to blend in?
The Book of Acts gives us a very different picture of Peter’s relationship with the civil authorities. The civil authorities attempt to stop Peter and his friends from preaching the gospel, and their response reveals a fascinating balance between submitting and resisting: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Peter acknowledges that the authorities can judge him, throw him in prison, even kill him. Though he submits to the authorities his sovereign God has ordained, he continues to resist by preaching the gospel. Peter and the early Christian community were faithfully present in society as they preached the good news and did good.
Does our engagement with the civil world reveal a deep trust that our sovereign Lord is working out His purposes, even when we don’t understand how? Does our strategy include doing the kind of good that would “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15)? Surely following the laws and being a good citizen is not remarkable enough to change the minds of unbelievers about Christianity. So how can we take whatever freedom and power we have and use them to love and serve others? If it feels like spitting into the wind, remember the cross. The death of Jesus Christ—what seemed unproductive and humiliating—dealt the decisive blow to sin and death and became the ground of our salvation. Church, the resurrection means that our good deeds are never spitting in the wind: “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).