Read: 1 Peter 2:11-17
The church and politics. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult and divisive topic for Christians today. Christians are accused by non-Christians of being way too political. Christians are leaving branches of the church over what they see as unholy alliances and political agendas. By all accounts, there doesn’t seem to be much hope when it comes to the church and politics. This wasn’t easy in the 1st century either. In this passage, Peter writes to new Christians to show them how they can live with hope no matter who is in charge or how bad things get. His words provide Christians with a framework for living in any political environment… even for 2020 in America.
1) Our Political Authority
The starting point for proper political engagement as a Christian is to be absolutely clear on who our real political authority is. This is the point Peter is making when he says, “Submit to every human authority…”. In the original language, the emphasis is on the humanness and creatureliness of these authorities. This is crucial because a Christian approach to politics begins with the firm conviction that God has always been, is now, will always be in charge and in control over all nations; He is the real king; the One who has power and authority over all things, all nations and all leaders. Even when we don’t understand how this can be or what God could be doing – He remains in authority. God’s authority is the ultimate reason we submit (“because of the Lord”) Though this frees Christians from every human authority, we are God’s slaves, so we use the freedom He gives us how He tells us.
This leads to a crucial point of application for Christians and politics. We are to “Fear God”. We do not have to fear any political authority, action, decision or result. None of our political ideas, actions or words as Christians should come from a place of fear nor should we be manipulated by fear. When everyone around is swirling in storms of fear, Christians should stand firm knowing there is only one real authority to fear.
2) Our Political Allegiance
Peter reminds Christians where their political allegiance should lie by calling them “strangers and exiles” (2:11; he already used this language to describe them in 1:1 and 1:17). He’s saying, “The place you live, wherever it happens to be, is not your true country or nation. You are a chosen race, royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession.” The political implications of this are vast: Christians are citizens of God’s holy nation first and only then secondarily citizens of the nations where God has placed them. A Christian’s political allegiance is always to their king and nation first – to Jesus and his kingdom. As resident aliens, we live our lives in the world as ambassadors of the gospel and our Authority/Lord.
We need to remember this in our day because God will not become a means to a political end - even a good political end. When Christians allow themselves to become a means to a political end, allegiance to Jesus is compromised. This has happened in our country on both sides of the political spectrum. We cannot let it happen if we hope to maintain a pure allegiance to Jesus and call others to consider bowing the knee in allegiance to Him as Lord.
3) Our Political Responsibilities
Having laid down the foundation of authority and allegiance, we are ready to see what Peter says about our political responsibilities. There are two main responsibilities we have as Christians in whatever nation or political situation we find ourselves:
1) Submit – Twice Peter says we are to submit (v13, 16). For people in the modern world, submission is probably our least favorite world – especially when it comes to politics. We think, “How weak, dangerous and ineffective!” That’s not how Peter sees it. To choose to place yourself under another is the height of freedom, strength and (as we’ll see below) power. It takes great strength to choose to submit oneself (notice Peter is not talking about being subjugated).
The bible’s definition of submission is the choice to yield or defer my own will to uphold the will of another. When it comes to politics, we could define submission like this - the choice to yield my own will to uphold the common good.
One of the ways we submit according to Peter is by showing honor to those in power and to “everyone”. Politics brings out differences of opinion and values. This often leads to derogatory comments, hateful speech and slander. Peter says Christians must not get caught up in all of this. Instead, we show honor to everyone as God’s image bearers. We acknowledge the difficult burden of leadership. We acknowledge the complexity of the issues at hand. We (of all people!) recognize there are forces at work for evil beyond the human realm. In light of all this, for God’s glory, we commit to always be honorable and show honor – even to those we disagree with.
2) Do good – Peter says the other main political responsibility Christians have in any nation is to do good. We do the good that we see needs to be done (especially the good that isn’t being done by anyone else). We do good to show others what the gospel is and how good Jesus is (see 2:3). It’s doing good for God’s glory (not for status or reward) that silences people who object to Christianity. Notice – it’s not words that silence people! It’s works. If anything can be done to tone down the volume and noise surrounding politics – it is a community committed to actually doing the good that needs to be done. What can you say to that!? Peter says this is where Christians should focus their “political” energy.
4) Our Political Power
We think political power is the great force for change in the world. The ultimate power. Peter would say - this is wrong. There is a greater power at work in the world that not even the greatest political power can even compare. It’s a power not found in any political position or in influencing those in political positions. Real political power is found in the gospel of King Jesus and his Kingdom. This power is found in an authority who yielded His will and his life for a greater good that couldn’t be done by anyone else. This Lord chose to be crushed by submitting to the full the weight of sin. He chose insults, threats, suffering and death. He submitted to all of this. Why? To uphold all who believe in Him from death and from judgment by bearing their sins on the cross. This is true power.
This is paradoxical power – salvation through submission. To this power every knee will bow down and submit to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8-10, 3:20-21). It is the power to heal all wounds, the power to bring life out of death, the power to turn people back who have gone far astray to come back to the Shepherd and Overseer of their lives (2:21-25). Peter tells us this power is unleashed into the nations now by those who chose to submit, honor and do good in the name of this King Jesus.
1. What about the sermon impacted you most? What left you with questions? What concerns do you have when it comes to Christianity/the church and politics?
2. Do you see fear playing a major role in our politics? How so? How does remembering God’s ultimate authority free us from fear in politics?
3. (Handle with care: potentially sensitive question!) How might Christians compromise our primary allegiance to Jesus by political allegiance to leaders, parities or causes? Why is this so harmful for our witness to Jesus?
4. What would it look like for Christians to faithfully carry out the two main political responsibilities Peter gives us? What do you think would be hardest about this?
5. What would it look like to focus our “political energy” on doing the good that we see needs to be done? Come up with specific examples, if possible.
6. Why is it important we never lose sight that real political power is found in the gospel of our king and his kingdom? How would this change your thinking and approach to politics?
7. Close by praying for our leaders and our nation. Pray for the church to faithfully follow as we approach a potentially heated election year.