1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
As Peter wrote his first epistle to the diaspora, those believers who had been living in exile (as by that time Christian persecution was already rampant in may areas of the then known world), he wrote it to give instruction and encouragement to so many who were living lives of servitude or under social or political pressures that severely limited their freedom. That context is critical to the passages that follow.
Yesterday was a cold day, relatively speaking for the Seattle Tacoma area. Here, anything under freezing is not too common, and temperatures in the low twenties or teens are very cold for this area. I’ve lived in colder climates, so I am not squeamish when it comes to cold winter weather, but at 24 degrees, these lightly insulated northwestern homes are not equipped for long term cold. The furnaces run 24-7 trying to keep up. That being the case, I do my best to keep the house warmed by burning a nice fire in the fireplace.
I was reminded however, as I went to start the fire, that where we live was under a ‘burn ban’. Weather conditions were such that the entire county was banned from burning anything that makes smoke. I became indignant, and began to list a litany of reasons as to why I could justify making a fire to keep my home warm. The government is unjust, and intruding into my life. I’m doing this to save money and be a good steward. I’m just doing my best to keep my family warm… I could go on and on.
In the end, conviction and the fact that both my wife and children reminded of the ban (my wife because she wants me to do the right thing and be an example to our kids, and my kids because they did not want to have to go outside on the cold to get more firewood!) kept me from starting the fire. But I was troubled and it just did not sit well with me. I felt like I was ‘giving in’. Well, I was.
I was giving over to the Spirit, and not giving in to my flesh. That’s why I felt so bad. My flesh was losing a battle to my Spirit, and so my human nature was riled. It wanted to tell someone on the County government that they can just pay my heating bills if they are not willing to allow me to supplement the heating of my home with wood. I wanted to shake my finger at civil authority and shout, “hands off my home”.
The bottom line is that I do still, after all this, see these rules as not only ridiculous in their very nature, but an intrusion into my personal rights and freedoms as guaranteed me by the Constitution. Our governments create burn bans because of ‘public safety’ and ‘health’ concerns when we have no real credible statistics (that I have found) that show the burning of firewood for the heating of a home is harmful to the general health of a community at large. Why just last week I saw a horrible TV advertisement showing a cute little girl talking about the dangers of smoke. It showed her breathing in a room full of smoke that just all trailed into her mouth and lungs like they were the great black-hole of smoke sucking in everything around it. The commercial went on to ask what the leading cause of lung damage is in America now – all of us expecting this to be an anti-smoking campaign ad, were shocked to hear this cute little girl say, “Wood smoke”. Suddenly campfires and wood burning stoves are baby killers. Next thing you know they’ll be protesting us at airports with picket signs sitting on those who smell like campfires. That’s how America works.
Meanwhile, we continue to coddle second, third, fourth and fifth time offenders of drunk driving, shell out fines so minuscule in their amounts to the serving bars and taverns that they could care less if they over-serve or not, we allow for medical marijuana use without provisions preventing these people from owning firearms, and promote Dr. assisted suicides and legalized abortions. Something tells me some priorities are a little bit askew, and that ‘public health’ really has little to do with the law, and that it has much more to do with the social agendas at play, and the government’s continued attempt to strip its citizenry from their own freedoms – freedoms for which we fought a war with Britain guaranty. But in the end, while my thoughts and feelings may in some ways be justified and in other ways clearly face violations of my rights as a citizen of this nation, we must always consider our citizenship to heaven as our first and true priority.
In reading for my devotional time the other morning I was reading through I Peter. There we find of course, oodles of encouragement for those entering into or traveling through trials. Peter talks about being born-again, how we are called to be living a Holy life, reminding us that we are in fact a Holy Priesthood for Him (God). But there is another encouragement in there as well. One that I know I need to be careful of, and spend more time considering.
I teach Romans 13 often when it comes to where we need to draw the line with regards to our citizenry and obedience to civil government. That chapter written by Paul to the Roman believers is the hallmark location when it comes to having such doctrinal discussions. However, one must never use a single verse or text upon which to build a doctrine, and this issue of course is certainly no different.
Peter, born a Jew, raised a fishermen (blur-colar man) in the Galilee region certainly knew Roman oppression. Unlike so many other towns of Israel that are tucked far out of the way of general Roman traffic patterns, Galilee is central to all that is Israel, Jew or Roman. Why? That’s where the water is. Peter and his family living in and around Capernaum which was a major port city on the Sea. Towns such as this would have been frequented by people from all walks of life. Roman tax collection was made there as this was a major intersection of trade routes, north, south, west and those continueing north and east around to Syria. The weight of Roman rule would have been heavy, if for no other reason than to quell the thirst for independence held by the Jews and muli-nationals there.
With this life testimony as part of Peter’s witness to the people he was ministering to, he went to them with these words, “13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
Those words would surely be enough to get the point across to the people living under Roman oppression that for the honor of the God they serve, and for conscience sake, that they need to respectfully be subject to their governmental leaders. As if that were not enough Peter then he goes on to say, “17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
The Jews were very limited in what rights they had. Some were given them by the Romans including their right to maintain synagogues and temples (in part because they too generated funds for Rome), and a right to maintain a level of self-governing autonomy. The Jews were permitted to maintain their own court system and methods for judging, but when it came to capitol crimes, or crimes against Rome itself, Roman Judges would intercede (as in the trial of Jesus). When it can to crime against Rome, unless you were a Roman citizen as Paul was, you had no means for redress. You were brought before the judge, perhaps permitted to offer a defense on your own behalf, perhaps not, and then sentencing was passed.
No matter the circumstance, God said, be peaceable. Do Good. Honor those who rule over you. Peter tells us, honor everyone, honor the Emperor. He leaves nothing to chance. I can hear it now, “but this is an unjust government”. I understand. Peter did too, and surely with more seriousness than you or I might.
In the face of this, making what has become a long devotional mercifully shorter, it hardly seemed worth the fuss to start a fire in civil disobedience. What witness am I giving my children? What do I tell the police officer who stops by to ask why I’m burning a fire and then says, “Hey, aren’t you the pastor from Calvary Chapel?” What precedence am I setting before man and God to disobey? A bad one.
My flesh warred against my spirit, but I did not start the fire. Instead, we continued to burn heating oil (lots of heating oil) through a 40 year old furnace. In the end, the burn ban looks like it will be lifting in our area tomorrow. One day too late. We ran out of heating oil today, and a truck cannot make delivery until tomorrow.
Got any extra blankets??