respecting authority

Respecting Authority, Even When It’s Tough

A few years ago I was on vacation with my wife in southern Oregon. We stopped at this family owned hotel and began checking in for the night.  The gentlemen behind the counter was an older fellow so naturally I answered his questions with “yes sir.”  After a few minutes he looked at me and asked, “when did you get out?”  I looked at him quizzically and said, “Out of what?”  He replied, “The service.”  I chuckled because I understood why he was asking me  that particular question. I explained to him that I was originally from The South and that my father had taught me to treat others with honor and respect, especially those who were my elders and those in authority.

What my father taught me was inherently biblical. What does it mean to give honor to something?  It means to hold something in high value.  When something is of high value, we are careful with it.  We give it respect and honor.  I remember getting my first car.  It was my very own, a 1966 Ford Mustang.  I was so careful with it. I washed it and kept it clean and I was so proud of it. I gave my car honor, I put a high price on it.  What are we told to honor if we claim to be Christians?  We are to honor people, the authority above us, and God (1 Peter 2:17).

R-E-S-P-E-C-T (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent my him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

God Teaches Us to Give Respect to Those that He has Given in Authority Over Us.

We give honor to the human institutions that exercise this authority.  Have you ever thought about the government that way?  God ordained government as a human institution for the purpose of crime prevention and the protection of those that are innocent.

When you go to school, guess what? You are attending a human institution ordained by God.  Also, when you address police officers they too are part of a human institution given by God.  When you see people disrespecting police, teachers, and the like, why would you join in or encourage them?  Our response should be to honor all those in authority.  In fact, Peter says in 1 Peter 2:15 it is God’s will for you.

What about your parents?  Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” How do we honor our parents?  Ephesians 6:1-3 says that children should obey their parents.  We listen to them and show them honor not because they deserve it (though they do), but because God has commanded it for us. As we get older that responsibility does not change.  We may cease to be minors, but we never cease to be responsible for honoring our parents.  If you want to have a blessed life, honor you parents.

Why do we honor those in authority? 1 Peter 2:15 says we do this to prove to others that we are different.  We live in such a way to cause others to glorify God because of our behavior, for they cannot say untrue things about us.  In this way, we silence them by not making trouble or breaking the law.

Submission is Not a Bad Word.

1 Peter 4 says we must submit to the authority God has given over us. What then, is “submission?”  When we submit, we willing place ourselves under another’s authority.

Submission originally was a military term.  An ordinary soldier would willing place himself under his superior officer’s authority.  Peter spends a large portion of his first epistle addressing the issue of submitting to those in authority over you (1 Peter 2:13-3:12).  Submission to earthly authorities teaches us how to properly fear and submit to God’s authority. After all, if we will not submit to the authority that we can see (earthly), then why would we submit to an authority that we cannot see (God).

Show Respect Even When It is Not Deserved.

Even when authority is overbearing and sinful we must still submit. Our culture teaches us to escape and avoid suffering at all costs, but think about the time Peter lived and to whom he was writing. These believers were undergoing intense persecution for their faith.  They were facing social ostracism, financial ruin, physical threats to themselves and their families, as well as some state sponsored persecution. And yet, Peter tells them to submit to the government and give it honor.  The question is not “Do they deserve the honor?” but rather, “What does God say about honoring authority in our lives?”

In the movie Band of Brothers there is a great scene in which Colonel Winters comes across a Captain that once was his own commanding officer.  The subordinate officer  blows by Colonel Winters without saluting. Winters stops him in his tracks and says these words. “Captain, we salute the rank, not the man.”

That must be us.  We are to respect the position, even if we cannot endorse the man. We must honor and pray for the President even if we do not agree with his policies.  We must do the same for the police officer that stops us.

We can submit to unjust authorities because we know that God works all things to our good and to His will (Romans 8:28-30). That good is our sanctification or Christ-likeness.  A big part of conforming us to the image of Christ involves suffering. Nothing refines the believer like the fire of tough circumstances.

Christ is the perfect example for us in this regard and Peter addresses this to the persecuted believers in 1 Peter 2:21-25. Jesus did not deserve the hardship He faced in His life, and yet He bore it trusting Himself to the Father.  He did not revile in return, or threaten, but rather looked to the One who judges righteously. This is exactly what we must do when we suffer unjustly from tyrannical and sinful authority.

Do Not Believe Satan’s Lies (Genesis 3).

What do we see constantly in our culture?  A total disdain and disrespect for authority.  Satan has succeeded in deceiving many of our peers from the truth by leading them to believe all authority is bad. Look at the general treatment of innocent police officers over the last few weeks. A few incidents of bad behavior do not give us the excuse to show disrespect to those doing their God appointed jobs of protecting innocents and punishing evil doers (1 Peter 2:14).

It is a lie of Satan that all authority is tyrannical.  Satan has been telling this lie since the beginning when he deceived Eve.

Take a quick look at Genesis 3.  The serpent immediately begins deceiving Eve upon approaching her.  He questions God’s promises (Genesis 3:3) and he questions God’s character (Genesis 3:5).  He wants her to disregard her God-given boundaries as unreasonable and tyrannical. Unfortunately, she believed the lie of Satan and then led her husband down the same sinful path, thus causing the creation to be cursed.

If you claim to be a Christian you must follow God’s commands to show those in authority the respect that they deserve. Don’t believe the lies of Satan. Not all authority is tyrannical.  As Peter says, “…fear God and honor the king.”  God is just and He will reward the faithfulness of His people.

Concluding Thoughts

In college, I worked for a bread company where I typically delivered to grocery stores.  Part of this process was getting my bread checked in by a receiver at the back door.  I had this one store in which the female receiver was a real hard case.  She was tough on everyone.  One day I was leaving and I replied to a question of hers with “yes m’aam.”  She looked at me and said, “I’m not that old!”  I smiled and replied that it was not a matter of age, but of respect. After that her attitude toward me changed and I never had another issue with her again. What had changed?  She simply felt respected.

I will not allow my son to be like so many around him. I am teaching him even now that he is to show respect to his parents, his teachers, and those that are his elders (he is three, by the way).  As he grows older, I will teach him to honor the government and agents of the government even if they do not deserve that honor.  He will learn that it is not tradition that we do this, but rather to honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

2 thoughts on “Respecting Authority, Even When It’s Tough”

  1. Dear Pastor Coley,
    I appreciated your post titled Respecting Authority Even When It’s Tough. It was such a good reminder of the biblical foundation for why we submit to secular authority and how we should respond to that authority. In the section Show Respect Even When It is Not Deserved, you say “Even when authority is overbearing and sinful we must still submit.” Would you please clarify what you mean by this? It seems that this statement could be misinterpreted to mean that we should submit to authority even if that authority is asking us to do something sinful and contrary to God’s word. Although I don’t believe this to be the meaning, based on how it is written, this could be one interpretation. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your question. Submission in its basic meaning is to willingly place oneself under another’s authority. It is not talking about blind obedience that runs contrary to God’s word. In those cases we must submit to the higher authority, God Himself.
      What I was speaking about has to do with the honor that is due to those in authority based on the position that they have versus what we know of their character (i.e. “sinful and overbearing”). Peter told his readers in 1 Peter to submit to the Roman Emperor Nero and his government even though he was a madman.

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