In the majority of life’s circumstances, the two statements at the end of 1Peter 2:17 present no conflict, particularly for those of us in the West. We have liberty to live a godly life. Obeying the government is part of our obedience to God. Many Christians experience otherwise, and live, as Peter did, under a government that persecutes Christians. Still, Peter says, “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1Peter 2:13, KJV). The Apostle Paul adds that to resist the government is to resist God (Rom 13:2, KJV). Our responsibility to government is clear.
God also has clear instruction for governments. Administering justice contributes to the stability of their realm (Prov 29:4). Mercy and righteousness strengthen their rule (Prov 20:28; 29:14). They are to maintain order in society and are to reward good and punish evil (cf. Rom 13:1-7). Therefore, for the government to promote evil is abominable (Prov 16:12). But while it may disappoint us, it should not shock us when the governments of our secular societies pass rulings which violate God’s standards. They are (mostly) ungodly men and women, who have been elected by (mostly) ungodly men and women. However, God’s Word remains perfectly relevant to present day testimony: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” (Rom 13:1, KJV).
Recently, the Government of Canada made a change to application forms organizations fill out when they apply for federal government funding for the Summer Jobs Program. For an application to be considered, the organization must attest that they respect reproductive rights. In other words, an organization must say it supports a woman’s right to an abortion should it wish to apply for government funding. Effectively, the government is promoting evil and failing to help protect society’s most needy – unborn children. Tying funding to support of an immoral agenda is obviously unjust and, as God’s servants (Rom 13:4), they will be held accountable by God for their decision. Their approach is also upsetting to many Christians as well as to charitable and so-called faith-based organizations.
But where in Scripture do you ever get the idea that the Church is entitled to financial support from the government? It is certainly not the pattern of New Testament Christianity. Christians are regularly exhorted to do good works, but never is the idea entertained that funding for Christian testimony should come from the state. In fact, there is explicit instruction that the gospel is to be spread without financial support from an unbelieving world (3John 7).
Nor does God say that the Church is entitled to a comfortable life under the state. Christians are told to expect persecution (2Tim 3:12). In terms of our freedom to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1Tim 2:2, KJV), we have had it very good. We should be under no illusion, though. In an age orchestrated by our chief enemy (Eph 2:2), it is unlikely to continue as smoothly.
Recognizing, however, that the curtailment of Christian liberties and the advancement of unrighteousness is not healthy for our society, what recourse do we have? Our first avenue of defense is prayer. This is the explicit, yet often overlooked command of Scripture to us in relation to government (1Tim 2:1-4). Beyond that, the believer needs to cautiously consider a Christian course of action. At times, the Apostle Paul did take advantage of his Roman citizenship (eg, Acts 16:37), and admittedly our democratic society affords us greater rights than Paul enjoyed. Submission does not necessarily mean an opposing viewpoint cannot be expressed, if done in a Christian manner: “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6, KJV). If so exercised, you may choose to communicate your concerns to government representatives. You may be thankful for – and pray for – those who have a public platform and use it wisely to influence public opinion in the fear of God. Although we know from Scripture that “perilous times shall come” and “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse” (2Tim 3:1, 13, KJV), this doesn’t mean we want to see the hastening of the culture’s descent into an abyss completely antagonistic to God’s truth.
While we may be grieved, like Lot in Sodom, in the midst of an unrighteous society (2Peter 2:7-8), two things should be in our minds. First, an ungodly age has not caught God off guard and His message to the Church is repeated and clear: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:1-2, KJV). This subjection does have a limit. “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, KJV), so if the state is attempting to prevent Christian practice, or is asking us to participate in evil, a line needs to be drawn. Remember, though, that withholding funding unless you support their ideology, while not righteous, is not forcing you to do evil. In light of the great freedoms we enjoy, blasting the government, whether in conversation with your neighbour or on social media, may bring shame on the Name of Christ. Our Lord did overturn tables, but He did it in His Father’s house, not in the Roman senate. Exposing sin and condemning unrighteousness is valid, but the tone and method need to be considered carefully.
Second, society’s most pressing need is the Savior. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom 1:16, KJV). The Lord will soon return to the air, and then set up His kingdom, demonstrating what righteous government looks like. In the meantime, the world is better served by our using our energies to tell people of the coming kingdom and their need to seek it first (Matt 6:33), as opposed to propagating our opinions on our present government. Even while unrighteous men are ruling, God’s word to His people remains: “Fear God. Honor the king” (1Peter 2:17, KJV).