In the last few months, some would describe the involvement of federal, state, and local governments as intrusive. This involvement has reached individuals, families, and businesses, but it has not stopped there. It is also affecting churches. Historically, in the United States, churches and the government have mutually avoided both entanglement and conflict, but it seems as though this has been changing and may continue to change. Local churches across the country are now having to make difficult decisions about imposed regulations and, in some cases, whether to assemble physically at all. Christians need biblical direction to know how to respond.
Fortunately for us, Peter addressed several first century churches who were not only experiencing government involvement, but intrusion and ultimately persecution. These churches were “grieved by various trials…tested by fire” (1 Peter 1:6–7). Understanding the apostle Peter’s instruction to these churches will provide the biblical principles for us to respond with obedience and a godly testimony. Peter wrote his first letter to help these believers to secure hope amid uncertainty (1 Peter 1:13) and to shine forth light amid opposition (1 Peter 2:9–11).
Securing Hope Amid Uncertainty
As one of his first commands, Peter exhorted these suffering believers to fix their hope on the grace of Christ (1 Peter 1:13). But how? You may expect Peter to tell them to read, trust, meditate, or pray. All of these are important disciplines, of course, but that is not his focus. He explained that hope in God’s grace is actively maintained by our simple obedience as God’s children (1Peter 1:2, 1:14–16; 1:22; 2:7–8).
Why is obedience so crucial to experiencing hope in grace? Because the source of grace is Jesus Christ Himself (1:13). Believers possess Christ’s grace, but they are not guaranteed the ability to experience His grace. When we walk with Christ in obedience, we “taste” or experience that the Lord is gracious (1 Peter 2:3). On the other hand, disobedience causes our perception of Christ to be an offensive stumbling block (1 Peter 2:7–8). In short, obedience equips us to firmly fix our hope in grace as we experience Christ.
Seizing the Opportunity Amid Opposition
As the first century churches experienced increasing government intrusion that often resulted in persecution, their response would determine whether this intrusion would be an obstacle or an opportunity. In chapter 2, Peter’s primary and guiding purposes come into view with two statements. First, Peter wanted these churches to proclaim the praises of Christ to the world (1 Peter 2:9). Second, Peter wanted these believers to conduct their lives before the unbelieving world in such a way that the world’s [u1] observations cause them to ultimately glorify God (1 Peter 2:11–12). Peter wanted these churches to shine brightly with a wonderful testimony to the world amid opposition from the world.
How, then, do Christians seize this opportunity? The key that unlocks the door of opportunity may surprise you. We must submit as foreigners (2:11-3:12). If we view ourselves as servants of Christ instead of citizens of an earthly kingdom, we are not bound by fear or even compulsion (1 Peter 2:16). We are free, rather, to submit for a higher purpose! We submit in attitude and in action as shining lights in an increasingly dark world.
Glorifying through the Lens of Submission
At least six times the concept of submission is discussed throughout the book of 1 Peter. Peter speaks of submission to government, husbands, employers, and church leaders. But why is submission so important for our testimony? I think we find the answer when Peter exhorts wives to be submissive to their unsaved/carnal husbands. In 1 Peter 3:4, a submissive disposition provides a lens to view the “hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” Of course, this is most directly applied in a marriage situation, but I believe this can be applied generally as well. All Christians have a new nature from God (2 Cor 5:7). The unbelieving world views this new, beautiful nature through the lens of submission. Our new nature is what we want the world to see, and thereby glorify God as a result.
Handling Government Involvement in Our Current Situation.
Much is at stake! If we don’t handle government involvement biblically, we risk disobedience to Christ and that disobedience may prevent us from fixing our hope on Christ. Additionally, we risk removing the lens of submission whereby we shine Christ’s light and glorify Him. So, how do we maintain a submissive attitude and behavior in our current, tenuous situation?
- We submissively obey wherever we can.
In 1 Peter 2:13–15, God commands, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
2. We submissively disobey wherever we must.
The thorough language of 1 Peter 2:13–15, begs the question: Are there any exceptions? Just one exception exists. If a governmental authority contradicts a Biblical command or prohibition (Acts 5:29). However, I do believe in such a case we can still civilly disobey with a submissive, humble attitude. Submissive disobedience rules out defiant rebellion or revolution.
3. We submissively explain whenever we’re questioned.
I can only think of three times in the entire Bible where believers were openly, civilly disobedient—twice in Daniel and once in Acts (Daniel 1, 6, and Acts 4-5). But in all three instances, they simply took a quiet (even silent) stand without going on the offense. In all three cases, they did not speak out until they were questioned. Additionally, when the first century church was no longer able to assemble in public, they assembled quietly, not defiantly. We should follow these examples and be ready to give an answer to people who ask us (1Peter 3:15).
Believers and churches will apply these principles in various ways depending on the situation. But if we apply them faithfully and wisely, we will be able to respond in scriptural obedience and preserve a godly testimony.