Perspective - A Delicate Balance

  • Mervyn Eloff
  • Sep 1, 2017
  • Series: Perspective

"Fear God, honour the King." 1 Peter 2:17

The words quoted above form part of the Apostle Peter's exhortation to his readers that, by their good deeds, they should be witnesses for Christ before a watching and sometimes even hostile world. In such a world, Christians were (and are) misunderstood and misrepresented. Peter's deep concern was that, as far as it depended on believers, the grounds for such misunderstanding and misrepresentation be removed. As he puts it in 1 Peter 2:15: "It is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people."

One of the areas in which Peter instructed believers to 'do good' was in their relationship to the authority structures which the Lord had placed within His world, not least the authority structures governing the State. The paragraph which ends with the words quoted above in fact begins with the command: "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king as the supreme authority, or to governors who are by him to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right" (1 Peter 2:13-14). This is a striking command since it not only calls for submission but also defines what the secular authorities are meant to do, at least as far as right and wrong are concerned. From this command, we learn that all State officials from the greatest to the least derive their authority from the Lord and will therefore have to give an account to the Lord for the way in which they govern. This is a comforting thought especially at times when those in authority do not fulfil their God given mandate of governing according to God's standards of right and wrong.

But the fact remains that notwithstanding the quality of those who govern, Christian citizens are to be in submission to the authorities and thus to prove themselves to be good and loyal citizens. The challenge comes when the authority of the State comes into direct conflict with the authority of God. What are Christians to do in a case like that? And that is precisely where the words quoted above come in to play. As Christians, we are to fear God and honour the King - two commands, but in that order! In other words, as Christians our prior loyalty and obligation is to God our Creator and Saviour. God's Word in the Bible is and must be the final authority by which we live our lives. We can and should honour the king, and submit to the laws of the State, but only insofar as they don't contravene what God has said. Where that happens, we have to obey the Lord God, fearing (i.e. revering) Him as the supreme Lord to whom everyone including the King must give an account. But the flip side is also true and needs to be stated just as clearly. Wherever the authority of the State is not in conflict with the Word of God, we are to submit to the laws and requirements of the State, whether we like them or not. As Christians, we are to be good citizens - indeed the best citizens - in all that is good and right.

Needless to say, this requires a good deal of careful thought and discernment on the part of every believer. We need to understand what is required of us as citizens, weigh these things according to the Word of God and make an informed decision. This of course means that we need to know what God's Word says, not just about forgiveness and eternal destiny, but also about the complex realities of daily life in a fallen world. Although no Christian is bound by party politics, no believer can avoid the realities of politics itself. We live in a political world and we would do well to think politics through prayerfully and carefully in the light of God's Word and with the help of God's Spirit. In this way in fact we will avoid the emotive sweep of political rabble rousing and be in a position to make mature and wise decisions for ourselves.

One corollary of this is also that we will not judge or despise our fellow believers on the basis of their particular party-political affiliation. The truth is that while some political parties may be better than others, no political party has a monopoly on truth or righteousness and all of them will fail in one way or another. The best we can hope and indeed pray for are politicians who however else they may disagree, have a clear sense of Right and Wrong and a proper sense of accountability to God. For experience shows, contrary to the claims of those who see God as a hindrance to good governance, that those who fear God, know how to honour the King as well as serve the people they are called to serve.