Free servants of God submitting to earthly authority

Bible readings

  • Psalm 45;
  • 1 Peter 2:13-17


Some of us might remember Kim Davies who served as county clerk in the state of Kentucky in the USA. She was supposed to issue marriage certificates to same sex-couples.  Kim Davies said:  

“I promised to love Him [God] with all my heart, mind and soul because I wanted to make heaven my home,” 

She described how she became a Christian and said she is unable to believe anything else. The court ruled that her good faith belief is simply not a viable defence.  She was then jailed.

Should she rather have resigned from her position knowing that her faith dictates that she could not bow to earthly laws?  It is perhaps easy for us to say.  But what is clear from all of what transpired we know that it is surely far more difficult to be a Christian in a world which is hell-bent on destroying Christians values.  

The Christians to whom Peter wrote became citizens of a new kingdom.  Their highest allegiance was to God and not to the Caesar.  He presented himself as god and they worshipped him as god. Everyone else saw him as the one who made life possible for them.  But Christians did not bow to him.  Therefore caesar-worshippers looked at Christians are citizens who turned against the gods of old who had made Rome strong. Therefore Christians were made responsible for the disasters which were slowly overtaking the Roman world.  

Westminster Confession of Faith

How do Christians live in the world hostile to the Gospel and Kingdom of Jesus Christ? Our Confession helps us.

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil authorities, to be, under Him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good. And, for this purpose, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them who are good, and for the punishment of evildoers.  It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people.

Submission with the purpose of doing good

Peter writes:

Is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (verse 15)

We get our directions for living and conducting our lives in a pagan culture from the Bible where the will of God is revealed. Remember, we are aliens and strangers. We follow the terms of God’s covenant as the way how to live in this world. He tells us what is right and what is wrong through his Book.  The Bible is our supreme authority for daily living. 

But we are not called to a sort of Christian jihad: we are not persecuting others because they don’t believe as we believe; we don’t behead those who pass rules and laws which do not reflect our understanding of the Bible. It would be nice if all laws were Christian laws; but this is unfortunately not the case.

God’s purpose for his for us as his church – just like it was for the people of Israel – is that we live out such a joyful, sacrificial, humble, fearless life of goodness to others that their vilification of Christianity will finally be silenced. Remember what the verse says:

“By doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” 

Foolish people, as we heard it this morning in Proverbs, are not those who are intellectually backwards, but those who do not believe in God.  On average non-Christians do no know the God of the Scriptures and then form their ideas, make pronouncements, and judge Christians accordingly.  

Christians in the time of Peter were distrusted in part because of their so-called “secret” meetings; they misunderstood nature of Christian worship. Words like “love feast” and talk of “eating Christ’s flesh” sounded understandably suspicious to the pagans, and Christians were suspected of cannibalism, incest, orgies, and all sorts of immorality. Many stories even today are spread against Christ, Christians and the church.  Many of them are true, because Christians don’t live holy lives.  

In a discussion of Facebook about what has happened to Kim Davies someone wrote:

If you choose to fashion your belief system around a collection of bronze-age goat-herder fairy tales, edited, redacted and thoroughly bastardised in the Middle Ages, now used to suck money out of the poor and ignorant by Calvinist televangelists, fine. But don’t expect the rest of us who live here in the 21st century age of Science and Reason to be bound by your ghastly primitive prejudices and predilections.

Unfortunately what Christians sometimes say they believe and what Christians live out, don’t always add up.  That is a sin in the eyes of God.  Unholiness brings dishonour to the Name of Christ.

When Christians can’t love one another, when Christians drag one another before the civil authorities, when Christians lie and swear and drink and cheat like the rest of the world, it brings dishonour to the Name of God.  In short, when Christians feel at home in the world and start loving the world, and when they forget that they have heavenly citizenship, the world rightfully judge the church. 

A.W. Tozer once wrote:  “Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more that the Christ within us.” This is true about all aspect of Christian life and witness.

But if by our lives and example we truly live out what we believe, the uninformed world will be informed and their ignorance may be contradicted.

Let us take an example:  Any good Christian parent, who wants to glorify God in the upbringing of their children, will know that God demands us to discipline our children.  The general picture the world has about a disciplining parent is one who walks around with a long stick, hitting his children into submission.  But discipline is far more than the rod.  Upbringing under God for his glory is what counts.  If we are successful in this, the world will look at children of Christian parents and they will notice a difference.  They already see the difference as they in droves enrol their children at Christian schools.  Of course, if we fail in doing what God says and we follow worldly standards in raising our children, we have nothing to silence them with.  We failed and brought dishonour to the name of God.

In everything we do, we get our strategy and the strength, and guidance to live, it from God. 

Submission to authority as bond slaves of Christ

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God (verse 16).

We belong to God and not to any government or human institution. We are slaves of God and not man. We do not submit to human institutions as slaves to those institutions, but as God’s free people. We submit in freedom for his sake. Not in bondage for the king’s sake. 

Our society is full of examples of people who are not free, although boasting in their freedom.  However, immorality and ungodliness leads to slavery and bondage – just ask the alcoholic and the drug addict; just ask the parent who could not care less about the upbringing of his child, and now spend endless nights crying themselves to sleep. 

We are aliens in this world.  We have passed from death to life. But in the in-between God sends us back into this world – not as we once were – but as free people, as aliens who live by other values and other standards and goals and priorities. We do submit; we are not Christian jihadists. We submit freely, not shrinking before human authorities, but gladly obeying our one true King – God. 

Because we belong to God, our whole nature of freedom and joy and fearlessness and radical uniqueness from this world is founded in Him – which in one sense is slavery (because his authority over us is absolute) but in another sense is glorious freedom (because He changed our hearts so that we love doing what He commands us to do). As Martin Luther said in his wonderful little treatise called “The Freedom of a Christian”: 

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

The key to that paradox is God. Freed by God from slavery to all human institutions; and sent by God freely and submissively into those institutions – for his sake! 

Submission in order to honour

Honour all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honour the king.

Maybe there is a progression here. 

  1. First give to all human beings (good and bad) a basic respect and honour. The way you respect a murderer and the way you respect a saint like Billy Graham will be different. But both need respect as people created by God. 
  2. Then, beyond that common respect and honour of all humanity, there is a special love that is to be given to “the brotherhood, that is, to fellow Christians. 
  3. Then beyond that common respect for all and that special love for Christians there is a special fear appropriate to God, and no one else. We are not slaves of men, and so we do not fear men. We give them honour freely. And we love Christians freely. And we bow to God’s absolute authority reverently. 
  4. Then, back to the basic honour — “Honour the king” (include here in the honour and respect given to all). If the king is not a Christian, he is not to be feared and he need not be loved as Christians are loved. But he—or more so—his office must be honoured. 

First comes our absolute allegiance to God. Next comes our affectionate love for other believers. Then comes our honour to the king and other unbelievers. The king is not God. Only God is God. 

Respect and honour

What happened to respect in this world?  But more important than that:  Do Christians show respect?  Do Christian parents teach their children to respect their parents?  And their neighbours? And above all God?  Listen to the Word of God in this respect:

See if you can pick up the context in Leviticus 19:2-3:

Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. ‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:2-3)

All respect and honour to all forms of authority begins with God:  He is holy, He is our God.  Then parents under God respect God by respecting their parents.  Parents need to set the example of respect and honour before their children in the way the honour and respect God.  Once children pick this up they will be able to honour God, respect their parents and honour all other forms of authority flowing from it:  this means that they will see other as created beings of God, including teachers, the police, governments who over us for our own good.  Children who grow up in this understanding that all authority begins with God who loves sinners to the point that He gave his Son to pay to forgive them, will ultimately understand that when earthly authority demands of them to love institutions and people more than Him, they will know to make the right choice:  they will obey God more than people.


  • The demand to to submit to worldly authority does not rule out exceptions, for God is the ultimate authority.
  • Believers should be inclined to obey and submit to, and not disobey, rulers. 
  • The authority of worldly rulers is not absolute.  
  • We always need to distinguish between the office and the person holding the office. Even the police are under the law, and so is anyone in office:  all are under God.
  • Believers are to submit “for the Lord’s sake”; the Lord’s honour it always at stake. 
  • Authorities should be resisted if commands were issued that violated the Lord’s will. 
  • “Doing what is right” means that Christians behave as good citizens.  
  • All believers should do what is right to strengthen the social fabric.  (Think for example of hospitals, care for the elderly, Christian schools, the involvement of Christians in benevolent societies, etc.)
  • The good behaviour of Christians will lessen slanderous attacks on believers, revealing for example that charges of moral failure have no basis.  
  • Believers do not enjoy unrestricted freedom. Their freedom is exercised under God’s authority.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 May 2018


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