Over the last couple of weeks we have spent our Sunday services studying through the book of First Peter. The book is written to Christians in the regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia that are already undergoing some levels of societal and governmental persecutions, but those levels are going to increase before they decrease. Therefore, much of the book is geared toward reminding these Christians who they are, what is expected of them, and how they are to respond to these persecutions and sufferings they will endure.
It has increasingly disturbed me to hear the somewhat rebellious overtones of statements made by brethren pertaining to the fights for our rights in this country that have broken out over the last couple of years. On more than one occasion I have heard brethren proclaim such statements as: “They can have my guns when they take them from my cold, dead hands,” among numerous others. I have come to believe that there are times where we have confused our perceived liberties as Americans with the liberty granted by Christ, they are not necessarily the same, or equal.
Consider Peter’s statement to those who were about to undergo more intense persecutions by governmental authorities: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:12-17)
In the face of persecution, and even death, Peter commands Christians not to rebel against their government, but to subject themselves to the commands of men. They were already being called evildoers and wicked men, they did not need to add fuel to that fire by becoming that for which they were being accused. Instead, they were to seek to do good on such a level that it silenced the naysayers because of the utter ridiculousness of the accusations. They were not to use their “freedom in Christ” as an excuse to do that which is not righteous.
But what does that mean for me in this day in time? It means that I have the right, under our laws (at least for now), to speak out in protest against those things which infringe the rights granted by the founders of this country. However, if/when the government makes laws that say I cannot do such things as I have done in the past (own guns, speak against government openly, etc.), I have the obligation to obey the law. I do not have to like it, but I must acquiesce to it. As long as the laws passed do not require me to break the law of God, I am under obligation to uphold that law to the best of my ability. It is for this reason that it is so important to stop these things before they become law, because once they are I am duty bound to obey them.
I find it interesting that Peter states in First Peter 4:15-16: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Have you ever wondered why Peter listed those four things as those things for which they were not to suffer? Consider what most people do when persecuted and suffering: fight back, steal (for food or livelihood), intentionally break the law, or try to blackmail others to alleviate their own situation. Peter says do not place the focus of your suffering upon your guilt in any of these things; instead, make it be because you are a Christian and do not be ashamed because of it, but use it to glorify God.
Do I own guns? Yes. Do I disagree with things the government is doing and the directions it is taking? In many instances, yes. But that in no way alleviates my obligation to be a law-abiding citizen and to obey the ordinances and edicts of the governmental authorities if at all possible as a Christian. For I belong to him first, and if that requires that all of my liberties and freedoms, as this country has held them for more than two centuries, disappear for me to serve him acceptably: so be it.
We need to be very careful how we present ourselves as Christians. Standing up for what is right is fine, holding on to beliefs about the direction this country needs to take is great, but let us never put ourselves in a position where we allow others to lump Christianity with wrongdoing because we have refused to recognize the authority of the governing body. Read Peter’s letter and take it to heart, for it may just be what saves us in the days and years to come.