While Christians are citizens of a heavenly kingdom, God also expects His people to behave themselves well in regard to the laws of the earthly nations in which they find themselves.
The apostle Peter, inspired by God, wrote the following concerning the duty of disciples of Christ in this regards: “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the raise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:13-17)
While Americans have no king (excepting, of course, those Americans who owe allegiance to the king of kings, Jesus Christ), the commands of the apostle are still very much relevant to us today. Indeed, it is sad that more do not take them to heart.
Peter makes a number of points. Let us comment on a just a few of them.
Christians, we see, should be a respectful people. They should respect the laws of the land and they should be respectful of those in authority. Even in nations without a king (a rather modern arrangement), there are still in every nation those who have been appointed to lead, and regardless of title, we should honor such individuals as befits their role. The apostle Paul makes a very similar point, saying, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)
Both Peter and Paul were living under despotic regimes which would ultimately execute them for their faith. Both men were aware of this, but nevertheless urged Christians to be respectful of those same authorities, respectful of the law of the land, and they taught that this was God’s will.
The reason for such respect is twofold, and neither reason has anything to do with the inherent goodness of the ones leading us.
Firstly, as Peter points out, Christians should be interested in being well thought of by those around them. Troublemakers and the rebellious, even when fighting for a good cause, are, as often as not, looked down upon. If a Christian were to take up arms against the tyrants oppressing them, there would always be a portion of the population who would simply assume that Christians then deserved whatever persecution or punishment fell their way. On the other hand, a Christian who is well known to be law-abiding, who has a reputation for being polite and well mannered, and who is respectful even to his persecutors is obviously not rebelling, and as such will garner greater respect and admiration from those who weigh the merits of the case against him. Such an individual will be far more effective in sharing the gospel with others for the saving of their souls.
Secondly, Christians should be respectful citizens because, ultimately, they are serving a higher power and are citizens of the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. They are bondservants of God and have been set free in Christ. Some think of liberty as license, the opportunity to do whatever one wants, but this is contrary to the nature of the liberty Christ teaches. Rather than being a license for licentiousness and self-will, Christian liberty is a freedom from the slavery of sin, guilt and judgment. It is not, as Peter notes, a cloak for vice, but rather an opportunity for righteousness in the sight of God. As such, Christians should be always seeking to please others before self, and should always be trying to live in such a way as to make God proud of us.
Willfully breaking laws and demonstrating blatant disrespect for others, especially those in authority, is not going to please God nor is it demonstrating the self-sacrificing spirit Christ calls us to. Those who are seeking to please God will instead remember Peter’s admonition to submit themselves to the ordinances of man and to honor all people, in the fear of God. Christians who are training to be good citizens of God’s kingdom will be the best of citizens on earth.
If you are interested in learning more of this subject, we invite you to come study and worship with us at the Church of Christ, 197 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis. At the Church of Christ, we seek to serve God now that we might be with Him then, and to so serve, all of our lives.