Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:17 (NIV)
The ancient world knew nothing of presidential elections, electronic voting machines, or mail-in ballots. Emperors and rulers rose to power, many times through treachery, betrayal, or deceit (“Et tu, Brute?”[i]). The apostle Peter wrote these words during the reign of Nero, who excelled in brutality, especially toward Christians. In view of this, it would be reasonable to assume that had social media been around at that time, some people would be posting with the hashtag #NotMyEmperor.
Nero was not a nice person, to put it mildly, so how in the world could Peter have issued the directive to “honor the emperor?” We know that Jesus told us to “love our enemies,” but really? Didn’t Peter know how brutal and vile Nero was? Would not it have been more appropriate to find an appeal in the Old Testament like Psalm 109:6-20 where David pleaded with God to destroy his enemies? But no, Peter tells Christians that they must honor that wretched man.
In view of this, we must reevaluate our attitudes and responses toward political leadership at all levels. It does not mean that we approve or endorse the actions of leaders with whom we disagree, but we answer to a higher authority and the standard that Jesus set for us is the “law of love.” When we are reborn, our perspective changes and our primary citizenship is of heaven rather than of earth.
Some people have stopped reading at this point since they believe that our contemporary situation is different because here in the United States we live in a democracy (actually, a republic, but that is beside the point) and we have the right to protest and disagree. True, but as followers of Christ we set aside our rights because we are ambassadors for him. Let us look at 3 things that we should be doing:
Saving People: …I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. 1 Corinthians 9:22 (CSB)
Wherever Paul went, he adapted his approach and his interactions so that he could have the greatest impact for the cause of the gospel. Paul was a Jew, raised with all the customs and traditions, but he did not let that become an obstacle in reaching people who were of different cultures and traditions (or even politics).
The apostle Paul has been criticized at times because some people perceive that he did not adequately address, more fully, the social and political issues of his day, by contemporary standards. Certainly, he was aware of the injustice of the societal structures of the time, but he was intent on completing the purpose for which God called him. That meant focusing on bringing the gospel to people, not directly challenging the power structures of the day.
In today’s polarized environment, if we too closely identify with partisan political parties or causes, we run the risk of alienating those whom God wants us to reach. It is not that the issues are not valid or important, they are not as important as “reconciling people to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Remember That It Is a Spiritual Battle: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 2 Corinthians 10:3 (NIV)
In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to get caught up in the world’s way of doing things. How many times has someone said, “if we can just get the right person elected, then things will change for the better?” That approach may seem reasonable, but somehow it seldom works out the way that we think it will.
The early church had a great impact upon the world, not because of political power, but because of spiritual power. Paul went on to say: The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:4 (NIV). When the people of God engage the world the way God intended, mighty things will happen. Queen Mary of the Scots reportedly said, “I fear John Knox’s prayers more than all the assembled armies of Europe.”
It is a mistake to believe that we can achieve God’s purposes with the weapons and methods of the world.
Keep on Praying: I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1–4 (NLT)
It was once said: “The pen is mightier than the sword”.[ii] It might be debatable, but we can be assured that there is more power in prayer available to the Christian than there is in anything else. We do not always see it with our physical eyes, but when God opens our spiritual eyes, we can see the assembled heavenly forces. “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” 2 Kings 6:16 (NLT)
Finally, let us not get caught up in things like #NotMyEmperor or #NotMyPresident and instead focus on who God has called us to be and let us do the things that please him. Remember: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 (NIV). And he has given us that mission as well and we remember that it is not a battle fought with worldly weapons and that prayer really will change things.