5/7/2020 [Thematic Message 108] www.lifechurchmissions.com
How Should Believers Live under the Secular Government and System? <1 Pe 2:13-17>
Prelude: In a few days, our country will hold a general election which takes place about once in five years. In recent years, we see that regardless of which country, the approach of a general election will create a fever. Citizens all want their voices heard and consider voting as their right. People of the world will link their prospects to the vote in their hands. That’s right! The democratic system tells us that the one vote in our hands is power. In particular, with the role of the media now, people can receive and forward news at the first instance, such that all kinds of information can be spread with a multiplier effect. Therefore, the role and function given to the media in the Internet era, has given greater power to the people’s voice, and the politicians are at the mercy of the people’s voice. But is this trend healthy? Should Christians also have such beliefs? People generally think that their prospect lies in the hands of the government. It seems like it, but this is not the case in the realm of God’s work. We will see from the entire history of mankind that if God can make a great empire rise and decline, God can also allow any political power and party to be established and also to collapse. However, how should we, Christians who are also citizens, look at the system and the governing authority of the country? If we see our prospects as a result of the system, we will miss what God’s invisible hands are doing. Indeed, God’s work and the blessings He gives to the saints are not limited to systems and governing authorities. On the contrary, the system and government are merely tools in God’s hands, to mete out rewards and punishments, and to fulfil God’s purpose which He set. We believers must have a spiritual perspective in this general election, and not be embroiled within the election fever. We Christians need to pay attention to the affairs of the country and the public opinion of society, but we must acknowledge that God is above the governing authority. If God wants to raise up a government, He can do so by various means. If He wants to remove a government, He does not necessarily have to achieve His objective through the elections, but can also be through economic downturns, wars, viruses, ignorant leaders, and other issues. In fact, whenever the general election approaches, one of the ugliest things that will happen is that everyone will speak according to their own needs, and the political candidates will also succumb to the demands of the people and make promises to them. Many Christians seem to forget that voting is only a one day affair. After that, if God does not watch over that country, it can decline any time. Indeed, no government or political party can guarantee our future. If this is the case, why did God establish powers and systems on earth? Because the worst thing that can happen on earth is that everyone enjoys a lofty right, they would all seek their own interests and do what they want. Therefore, not having a government is worse than a bad government. If there is no political power on earth, everyone will do what he wants according to his heart’s desire. We cannot imagine what good this can bring to the world. At that time, the people will not even have access to basic needs and protection. In fact, when did the first system of the Bible start? That is, in the wilderness, God through Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, said to Moses, “But select capable men from all the people---men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain---and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” <Ex 18:21>. They must all exercise justice and mercy among the people according to the law God gave Moses. Therefore, we know that although God’s people came out of Egypt, He did not allow them to live according to their own will. At that time, the people had various needs in the wilderness. If they were not managed but were allowed to do whatever they wanted, the result would be the elimination of one another. God allows us to live under a secular government today; although there is neither God’s law nor a man of God like Moses, some principles remain the same. The government and system must have their set functions.
1. Submit to every human authority for the Lord’s sake
1）All human authority are established by God
<Ro 13:1> tells us that there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Therefore, <1 Pe 2:13> tells us to submit to every human authority for the Lord’s sake. Whether it is the authorities in school, society, work, or politically, the democratic system, socialist system, or communist system, believers are all to submit to and work under those authorities. Think about it, when Peter talked about this, it was during the rule of Roman emperor, Nero. That was a tyrannical government, and one which persecuted Christians, but Peter still instructed the believers to submit to every human authority for the Lord’s sake. Thus, today, we all the more have no excuse not to submit. In fact, we Christians submit not because that institution is perfect, neither is it because that institution can give us any benefit, but because it is the institution established by God. When we can do this, then our beliefs are above this institution. We will not grumble against God and man because this institution is deficient or it does not satisfy our personal needs. Instead, when we submit to that authority and abide by the country’s laws, our hearts are submitting to the Lord. However, since it is submitting to the Lord, from another angle, we will understand that our lives are not confined by the law. Believers will certainly not go against the law wilfully, but we are also not constrained by this institution. For example, perhaps believers may live in an atheistic country, but that does not mean that they cannot live out a theistic faith. We abide by the law out of obedience to God, but obeying God may not be defined by keeping the law. Those who understand this then can submit to every human authority for the Lord’s sake.
2）The government established by God is mainly to mete out punishment and rewards
In today’s democratic and capitalist institution, we often see the people making all kinds of requests to the government. They demand that the government bring the country economic prosperity, good jobs, high living standards, human rights, etc, then they can get the support of the people. However, the Bible tells us that the foremost and most basic duty of the government is to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right <1 Pe 2:14>. In a society, there will be those who commit crimes, go against the law, hurt others, spoil social harmony, or do evils, these are whom the government first need to punish, then the country can be peaceful and stable. Furthermore, a government should also know how to reward those who contribute to the society and bring benefits to the country. If a government only rewards those who can strengthen its power and position, then it has failed its duty. In fact, only when these two things are done well, then that government has fulfilled its basic responsibility. However, the fact is, no one government can be perfect in these areas. Despite this, a government will still relatively perform its functions of punishing and rewarding. Otherwise, the country will also quickly collapse. For those governments which are especially unrighteous, God will naturally punish them in His time and ways. Whether it is a corrupt, dishonest, incompetent, or self-seeking government, it will lose the people’s trust and votes very quickly. This is something controlled behind the scene by the God who watches over everything. But in all these, the Lord will certainly lead a country’s political situation for the sake of the church and the gospel.
3）As far as possible, believers should not get embroiled in political struggles
How we vote is by our personal opinion, and we ultimately see that the country is controlled by God, instead of ruled by certain party. Thus, as believers, we can have our views on political and social issues, but we try not to be too embroiled in political conflicts. When some believers talk about political viewpoints in the church, they start to be divided, while some are stumbled because of these disputes. Some believers particularly like to criticise the government online, or participate in protests, these are all not very fitting of a believer. Think about it, we do not even have the time and energy to spread the gospel, how can we have the vigour to do all these things? Did our Lord Jesus and the apostles greatly advocate any political views? Under the protection of the government, they only continued to preach the gospel of the kingdom of heaven, so that even if God’s people do not come under a perfect government, they can also be saved through hearing and believing the gospel.
2. Believers should be free people who obey God, rather than only being constrained by laws and institution
1）God’s will is for believers to do good, so as not to give foolish and ignorant people an opportunity to attack
Here, the Bible offers believers the wisdom to live under a secular government. Because we live under secular authorities, we must be careful not to let our faith come under unnecessary slander. Therefore, under the institution and laws established by God, we should carefully exercise our Christian freedom. Here, it says that God’s will is for believers to do good, and through our good deeds, not to give some foolish and ignorant people a chance to attack us <1 Pe 2:15>. Such people may think of all kinds of ways to attack believers, or attack anyone who is not pleasing to them. In today’s internet society, we often see many “online voluntary police officers”. On the roads or in public places, they particularly like to look out for those who break the law, or keep watch on those who slightly violate the law. They are best in using mobile phones to record some acts of law-breaking, then post them online or hand them over to the authorities to be dealt with. Such acts can easily let the whole society lose the balance, and bring about mutual scrutiny. Just like a few months ago, after personal mobility devices were banned from use on pedestrian paths, some citizens exercise their rights to use their phones to record those who did not abide by the law, resulting in the displeasure of those riders. Of course, the law must deal with those who break the law, but among those who break the law, there are also those who are serious offenders, light offenders, as well as those with extenuating circumstances. If we let the whole society come to such a state, then there will be a lack of love among people. Then people will over-exploit the rights of the law to condemn each other’s sin.
2）Yet, the Christian is not merely a person who keeps the law, but a free person who obeys God
The Bible says, “We are free.” Here, when he talked about free people, Peter first said that free people do not use freedom as a cover-up for evil <1 Pe 2:16>. Thus, truly free people will not first promote their own freedom, proclaiming what they can eat, drink, do, etc; instead, they will first be willing to restrain their freedom out of love for people, and not find excuses for their weaknesses and transgressions, because they clearly know their sinful nature. For some people, the moment they are accused by others, they will first want to defend themselves. Otherwise, they will find excuse for their transgressions by claiming that they have the right to freedom. That is not the freedom the Bible talks about. Furthermore, free people have another characteristic, which is, no matter what they do, they do not do it out of the demands of the law or duty, but they do out of obedience to God. Therefore, the Bible also says here, “live as God’s servants” (which is: a person who obeys the Lord). This is like we attend meetings and serve everyone, all with a heart of freedom and obedience to the Lord. Thus, we can exhibit the willingness and joy in our serving. Likewise, if we obey the laws of the country out of obedience to God, then we will display the virtues of a Christian, and not be someone who grumbles against heavens and people, or always opposes the government.
3. As a citizen of a nation, believers have four broad responsibilities <1 Pe 2:17>
1) Show proper respect to everyone
Broadly speaking, Christians must have a basic respect for everyone. When we say we love all people, it does not start from great charitable acts, but it begins with learning to respect them. We must never belittle a person’s lowly status or conditions. We must learn to treat men, women, old and young respectfully. Whether they are believers or not, we must respect them, because they are made in the image of God. Therefore, we cannot be proud and hurt others’ self-esteem. Sometimes, we may meet some rude and unreasonable people, but we try not to get into conflict with them. Some people may speak or act impulsively, but if we know how to respect them, we may be able to win them over.
2) Love the family of believers
Here, as God commanded us to love all people, we must especially love our brethren in Christ. This is because our relationship is redeemed by the Lord’s precious blood. That is an eternal and selfless relationship. Therefore, a Christian will surely want to treat believers graciously and show them additional compassion. Some Christians cannot stand other Christians’ weakness, but are willing to accept a non-believer’s shortcoming. In fact, such Christians are self-righteous persons, thinking that Christians must be perfect. However, they did not see that although they have accepted the Lord, they are still very weak. Think about this, if my child is kind to outsiders, but is not kind to his own brothers, how can he win my favour? Because the relationship between believers is so dignified, we must be careful not to let material things or socio-political topics that everyone is focused on now cause divisions.
3) Fear God
Fearing God is not being afraid of God, but it is to come before God with fear and trembling because of His holiness. Some believers present a good image in their behaviour in front of others, but behind people’s back, it is not the same. They may be able to get many people to like them, but their heart does not love the Lord that much, neither do they follow the Lord closely. The problem of such a person is the lack of a God-fearing heart. Actually, recently, there are several Christian politicians who professed their faith. This is good and appropriate. However, we must continue to pray more for Christian politicians. Because the biggest test faced by a public figure is the public opinion of him. Therefore, a politician without God has no way to overcome this. Because no matter how well he does, his ultimate purpose is to win the support of the people. Therefore, for a Christian politician, his lifetime struggle is to obey God rather than to obey men.
4) Honour the emperor
The emperor here refers to the Roman emperor. Sometimes, the emperors or leaders of nations may not be deserving of respect, but God still calls us to honour them. There are 2 possible reasons. Firstly, if a person in authority does not receive the respect from his people, his love for the people will diminish and ultimately, what he does will surely bring harm to the nation and its citizen. Secondly, if he does not get the respect, he will not have the authority to manage the country. Think about it, what can an emperor who is not honoured and obeyed do for his country? In the end, everyone will do as they please and the country will be in a mess. Therefore, we must honour the governing authorities God has established. Even if we suffer some loss in the system, if we obey the Lord’s commandments, we will surely benefit in the end.