Regular readers of my blog know that I am careful to avoid political postings. As a foreword to this blog posting, I want to assure you that, though it appears to be a violation of that principle at the outset, this blog posting is not a political posting, but one that uses current political activities to illustrate a concept.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been making hay recently with chatter about impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, and she solidified that chatter with the initiation of formal impeachment proceedings on September 24, just eight days ago, resulting in cheers from some and venomous rhetoric from others.
The word “impeach” is tossed about in contemporary society with both ease and regularity, and I suspect a fair amount of ignorance. In conversations with friends and acquaintances, I have found that most do not have a proper understanding of impeachment, believing it to mean that the impeached individual is bounced out of office. Such is not the case.
To impeach an official means to bring a formal accusation of misconduct. In the case of a president, it means charging him or her with high crimes and misdemeanors, and then calling the impeached individual to account. In the history of the United States of America, only two sitting presidents have been impeached before the U.S. House of Representatives; Andrew Johnson, and William Jefferson Clinton.
In a politically-charged climate, it is easy to allow personal ideology to fuel emotion, and emotion can then drive us to words and actions that may later prove grievous. When it comes to dealing with public officials, as Christ-followers, we may disagree with them, but we do not have license to disrespect them.
The apostle Peter wrote of this in his first letter.
Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. – 1 Peter 2:17, NKJV
Just prior to saying this, Peter noted that by doing what is right, we can silence the ignorance of foolish men – quite literally, we “muzzle” them. So what does Peter mean when he calls us to “do what is right?”
1. Give Honor to All
There is a construct in the Greek text that indicates a continuous, conscious choice to actively seek ways to give honor to others. The apostle Paul said in Romans 13:7 that we are to give honor to whom honor is due. Peter seems to have expanded on that, teaching us that honor is due everyone, all.
As Christ-followers, we do not merely tolerate one another. We certainly do not publicly and intentionally humiliate one another through degrading speech, name-calling, and insults. Such behavior does not show honor to anyone – not to those we are degrading, not to ourselves, and not to God.
I believe it is important to bear in mind always, that every man, woman, and child I encounter is a human being created in the image of God. Thus, for me to disrespect them, to refuse to show them honor, is to disrespect and refuse honor to the image of God – the same God in whose image I am created.
We are in society as representatives of Jesus Christ. Peter says we are “in the world to proclaim the excellencies of the one who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). We are advertising God’s virtues, and we belie that reality when we publicly denigrate those with whom we disagree.
The apostle Paul told the Christians in the city of Philippi, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, NASB).
Even when I stand in opposition to another, I am to address them with respect, and to grant them honor.
2. Love the Brotherhood
I take loving the brotherhood to mean loving the family of faith – other Christ-followers. The apostle Paul told the church in Galatia that as we have opportunity, we do good to everyone, but especially to those who are of the household of faith. Earlier in his letter, Peter said, “Since you have purified your souls in obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, fervently love one another from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
We do love one another, not because we are being told to do so, but rather because our hearts are pure. With that purity of heart, we continually, habitually love other believers with this congenial affection that goes well beyond the love we have for humanity in general. There is a bond in Christ that is not present in the world, and that is not even understood by the world.
The next time you are in assembly with your faith family, deliberately look around you. Take in the diversity of that gathering. If your church family is like my church family, there are some wildly distinctive people in that gathering, so much so that, outside of that setting, outside of the common bond in Christ, we would not have a relationship. But there is a commonality in Christ that draws us to one another. It makes us one through a love that the world has no capacity to understand.
Love governs our relationships in Christ. We need to understand that, and submit to that love, because people in the body of Christ will let us down. They will disappoint us, and at times they will sin against us. There are times we will sin against others. Peter, in this same letter, calls on love to address that reality, saying, “Above all [meaning if you cannot do anything else, do this] keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
It is only through covering the sins of others with our love that we are able to “remember their sins no more,” and “keep no account of a wrong suffered” at their hand.
3. Fear God
Fearing God means one thing to a Christ-follower and something entirely different to a non-believer.
As a youth, I was a tinkerer. I was constantly disassembling and reassembling things in order to learn how they functioned. On one occasion, I absent-mindedly picked up a piece of electrical equipment that had the bottom panel removed. As my fingers folded underneath the appliance, they contacted live components and the ensuing jolt sent me about ten feet across the room.
Electricity is an amazing thing. It can be a good servant, but it demands our respect.
I love the line from CS Lewis’s The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe where Mr. Beaver addressed the children’s question about Aslan being a “safe” lion. Mr. Beaver responded, “Safe! Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he’s not safe. But he’s good!”
God is like that. Even a semi-accurate understanding of God informs us that God is awe-inspiring. As Christ-followers, we are in an intimate relationship with the Lord-Creator of the universe. There is a reverential awe that springs from recognizing that reality.
The prophet Isaiah caught just a glimpse of God and came completely undone. He saw his own utter depravity by comparison. God is wholly other!
Moses had an encounter with the glory of God and his face glowed so brightly that he had to cover it with a veil because it was frightening the people of Israel.
We worship and serve a good, loving God, but he is also a God who inspires awe, an awe that transcends respect and includes a healthy dose of fear.
Proverbs 1:7 tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. We gain knowledge and wisdom when we understand that our God is a consuming fire, but also that he is holy, just, and righteous. Thus, we fear God in the sense that we reverence him and stand in awe of his magnificence, but we do not fear Him in the sense that we are scared of him, because he is good, he loves us, and he works for what is best in our lives.
4. Honor the King
In the United States, my home, we do not have a grasp of what it means to live under a monarchy with a single, unelected ruler. We are allowed some say in who our leaders are.
At the time Peter wrote this, kings were kings just because they were. There were good kings and horrible kings. Regardless, the apostle Peter says, “Honor the king.”
In the original language, this is second-person, plural, active, imperative, meaning, “Do this! Don’t question it, or try to soften it. Honor the king.”
Four verses prior, Peter said, “Submit yourself, for the LORD’s sake to every human institution, whether the king or a governor…” (1 Peter 2:13-14) Peter did not say I had to like the king or governor. He did not say I had to agree with them or admire them. But I am to submit to them and to grant them honor, and not just when I think they deserve it.
When we consider what Peter is saying in light of our political systems and our reaction to those systems, the disparity is disconcerting. Look at social media. Listen to discussions on talk radio or television programming. I can go to my local church and hear horrible things said about our political leaders. We disgrace the name of the Lord Jesus when we engage in such disrespectful behaviors.
One could object to the corruption pervasive in government, and I will agree with that. It doesn’t matter. Consider who was on the throne at the time Peter wrote this directive. Nero!
Nero ascended to the throne with the consent of the Praetorian Guard following the suspicious death of his great-uncle, Claudius. He was the last Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. His reign was one of tyranny and opulence.
The Great Fire of Rome, in 64 AD, is reputed to have been instigated by Nero in order to allow for the construction of his palace, the Domus Aurea (Golden House). To deflect attention from himself, Nero spuriously blamed the fire on Christians, and in a move of astounding cruelty, acted on his baseless claim by burning Christians alive.
Further solidifying Nero’s reputation for cruelty, five years into his reign he had his mother, Agrippina, murdered. Various plots against Nero’s life were uncovered, and as each was revealed, Nero had the instigators (usually from his own inner-circle) executed.
Ultimately, numerous territorial governors revolted against Nero causing him to flee Rome. Nero was tried in absentia and sentenced to death as an enemy of the public. As a result, on June 9, 68 AD, Nero became the first Roman Emperor to die by suicide.
That is who was “president” when Peter said, “Honor the king.” We have no biblical foundation, none, zero … for dishonoring our governing officials.
Even with the freedom of speech we enjoy in the United States, Peters teaches us that we are not to use our freedom as a covering for evil, but rather to use it as bondslaves of God. We submit to our political leaders precisely because we are submitted to Christ. In that reality, the last two directives from Peter go hand in hand. “Fear God, and honor the king.”
He that fears God, loves his brethren, and embraces all mankind with becoming love, will not fail to render also to kings the honour that is due to them. – John Calvin
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. – 1 Peter 2:1-2, NASB