I didn’t vote for him. Maybe you did or didn’t. Or, maybe you didn’t vote at all. But based on what the Bible teaches, there’s a pretty strong case for honoring Joe Biden.
But how in the world are we supposed to honor governing authorities we vehemently disagree with on certain policies? What do we need to be generally submissive to, and what should we outright reject? Does honor mean that we have to agree, celebrate, or accept worldviews that aggressively attack what our God commands of us?
These are important questions, and the extremes beckon us from all sides. Thankfully, wherever we find ourselves on the political spectrum, the gospel transforms every believer into a generally law-abiding, government-honoring, human-loving, God-fearing (most important of all) people!
Is this a new concept or a new challenge for Christians?
If you’re tempted to think that honoring governing authorities is a new issue for Christians, rest assured that for thousands of years God’s people have wrestled with two extremes:
Extreme #1: An overemphasis on rule-following to the point of blindly submitting to everything the government says.
Extreme #2: An overemphasis on civil disobedience to the point of rebellion that declares, “Since we submit to God on everything, we will submit to the government on nothing!”
Both of these extremes miss the point of passages like 1 Peter 2:13-17 which remind us:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by 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.
In short expositional summary, Peter is saying that Christians should be generally submissive to governing authorities and the law of the land, known for good works which will render slanderous accusations false, using freedom as a license to serve and not to arrogantly sin, and to have our relational priorities in order — especially the fear of the Lord.
Does being “subject” mean blind obedience?
At the time that Peter wrote these words, it’s not hard to imagine how frustrating this could have been for some believers as the tyrannical rule of Nero was heating up and the tone of culture was aggressive towards Christian views. But Peter reminds us all of the “why” behind the “what.” We submit to government “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13).
Does God expect us to blindly follow and submit to the government when their directives contradict God’s commands? No. How could we ever say that we are submitting to government “for the Lord’s sake” when we go against the Lord in acting out our submission? God expects submission from us regarding the law, but the government must punish evil, and reward good. When it steps beyond that boundary, we can do no other but obey God over the government. That is 100% biblical.
We see proper disobedience to governing authorities in Acts 4:18-21 when Peter and John are told to stop preaching but Peter and John answer, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
We see a very sobering example in the life of Daniel who doesn’t just lay low and worship God in secret. He dares to do it as he always did. Daniel 6:10 records, “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”
Just in case we ever get tempted to say: “Oh come on, just endlessly follow the rules and lay low and you’ll be fine. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we should just be out there in the open, flaunting our faith and daring people to do something about it. If you do that, you’re asking for it”.
Think about this: Daniel could’ve shut his windows. Daniel could’ve laid low. Daniel could’ve prayed in a different direction. Perhaps God would understand. It would keep Daniel out of the lion’s den. It would even keep his prayer life going since he’d be alive to keep praying!
The two extremes we must avoid are a blatant dishonor towards the government (complete with rebellious attitudes towards authority unless it caters to us), or blind obedience in the name of Romans 13:1 and a passage like 1 Peter 2:13-17. If we let the Book talk, and scripture interpret scripture, we find when to obey, and when to disobey the government.
But beyond the tightrope walk of generally being submissive and knowing when to disobey the government, there is another aspect that has no caveat.
Perhaps showing “honor” is the greatest challenge of all — especially when dealing with governing authorities we strongly disagree with.
How in the world do we honor Joe Biden?
In 1 Peter 2:17, we read, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” It’s as though Peter (and the Holy Spirit) knew how the blood pressure of Christians then — and now — would rise and our knee-jerk responses would cause us to say: But…but…not this leader!
Generally speaking, the laws that punish evil and reward good are to be followed, and government laws that do not directly contradict commands given in God’s word are to be obeyed. In other words, pay your taxes, buy a fishing license, drive the speed limit, don’t steal, assault, rape, murder, abuse, exploit, molest, vandalize, break-in, hit and run, kidnap, trespass, lie, launder, resist arrest, deal drugs, smuggle goods, tamper with or disable smoke alarms in an airplane lavatory, leave your baggage unattended in the terminal, or discharge a firearm illegally.
Overall, Peter’s words offer very little nuance and command we have the right priorities and attitude. In particular, “honor the emperor” is easier to overlook, but we do well to face it head-on and apply it to our 2021 context.
But how would Christians honor a man like Joe Biden if feelings of frustration boil towards the surface and disagreement with him is constantly inevitable?
Here are four ways:
1. Pray for him as a governing authority
The Bible calls on Christians to pray for leaders of the land. Paul the apostle writes, “I urge the entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who in authority…” (1 Timothy 2: 1-2). Whether you like him or not, voted for him or not, or feel like it or not, we must pray for him. Honor does not include blindly obey into sin, but it could certainly include prayer. Furthermore, prayer and honor are connected! The rest of this list shows how.
2. Empathize with the state of his soul
Did you know that if President Joe Biden dies in his current spiritual condition, his problem has nothing to do with how you feel about him? How you voted doesn’t even matter in Biden’s eternity. He will meet the Creator of heaven and earth and his pagan policies and shallow religiosity would not save him from God’s wrath. That should cause us to pray with sympathy for his soul! He needs Jesus. No judgment you or I could ever administer will compare with what awaits those who actively labor against God’s Law in flagrant rebellion. Sure, you can join the parade of Facebook haters and accomplish nothing but wasted time. Or, you can honor Biden by spending time empathizing with the state of his soul.
3. Respect the rank of “President of the United States”
I was talking with a military friend recently who said it this way, “I don’t like Biden, didn’t vote for Biden, and didn’t vote for other presidents in the past that I didn’t generally agree with. But I respect the rank or office of ‘President of the United States.'” Perhaps you have slanderous words or nicknames for President Biden, but as a Christian, it may be the most honorable thing to keep his title clean and honor his rank, while vehemently disagreeing with his policies. Does everyone agree with how he came into office? No. But he is there, and that’s not changing for now. Our gospel witness is not made more effective by reviling revilers, repaying evil for evil, and insult for insult (1 Peter 3:9-14). Scripture calls us to do the opposite.
4. Take a seat on the bench for a political “timeout”
A dear pastor friend of mine who is a patriotic American and has taken an oath to serve this country has offered an approach to “honoring Joe Biden” that might be especially useful for people who have a difficult time with self-control amid political unrest. Playfully, think of this one as putting yourself in the “penalty box” for two minutes because you’re playing too rough on the ice. He encourages people to do what is on this list, then take a seat and generally ignore (yes, ignore!) the President, the news media, the social media fights, and focus on living for the gospel. This is a counter-intuitive way to honor the President because it protects you from slander and sin. This is not an option that all must take but could be a wise detox step for some of us who have been firing on all cylinders and overheating over everything Biden does. If you’re in politics, this is not an option. If you’re one of the helpful Christian lobbyists working hard to impact politics, this is not an option. But if you’re blowing your witness by blowing a gasket every time Biden does something you don’t like, it may be time to sit on the bench for a bit.
If you’re looking for more resources on how to relate to government, here is a sermon I preached this past week on 1 Peter 2:13-17. The Bible doesn’t call for blind obedience to the government when it oversteps its duty, but the Bible does guide how we act, and how we speak amid political turbulence.
May we stand courageously, and yet, graciously!