Explore the Bible: 1 Peter 2:12-25
Peter has some timely advice for those of us who are going through the pain of another interminable presidential campaign in America. It seems no matter which candidate or party someone supports, they claim that the country will be permanently damaged by their opponent, while their candidate is the only hope for any kind of a decent future. This really isn’t something new; it’s just accentuated by the particular qualities (or lack thereof) of the major party candidates.
It wouldn’t matter if both candidates were sterling examples of morality, ethics, and professionalism, however. No human being is capable of meeting all the expectations our modern society places on the President. In many ways, a large number of Americans, including evangelical Christians, have set up our government as a god. The President is viewed as a Messiah, and we place our hope and trust in a person or a party to protect us and uphold what is right. We may not be burning incense on the steps of the White House, but we do look for answers in human institutions.
Peter reminds us of the role of those institutions. He wrote this letter during the reign of Nero, so he wasn’t looking to a stellar example of a just and fair ruler when he told Christians to be subject to the Emperor. I doubt Peter expected Nero to be a champion of Christian virtues or someone who looked to Jesus for guidance. What he did understand is that Nero sat on the throne by the will of God. Not every ruler gains power because of their outstanding virtue in the eyes of the Lord, but all serve a purpose in the unfolding of human history.
No matter who wins an election, we as believers are to be subject to them, as far as we are able. But note that Peter places “honor the Emperor” after “fear God.” The demands of any human institution, including government, are themselves subject to the commands of God. Peter knew this, and would later experience it for himself when he was martyred under the Emperor he is here telling Christians to follow. We must follow the Lord first, before any human institution.
In our country, we have ways to address governmental demands that fly in the face of godly principles. We can vote for new leaders, petition for changes, go to court, and peacefully protest. If we must obey God rather than man, we may also have to face the reality of persecution and punishment for refusing to obey the government. Christians are called to be good citizens of their earthly kingdoms, but to be good citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ above all.
So whoever wins the election this November, don’t expect a new messiah, or an earthly kingdom that is the kingdom of God. Rather, prepare to be a good citizen, to pray for your President and other officials, but to fear God first, then honor the rulers. And remember, no matter who is the President, Jesus is still the King.