A member of the US media tweeted, “Obama's dad dumped him at birth & his mom got rid of him at age 10—did they know something we didn't when we signed up for this guy?” We’re so used to such speech in America that for many of us, it’s doesn't even make us cringe. But such statements are evil on many levels. And they’re in direct disobedience to a command in 1 Peter. Let us as Christians never be among those who would talk this way, even though we live in a world where we hear and read comments like this all the time.
The apostle Peter, writing to believers scattered across the Roman Empire, exhorted his readers, as slaves of God, to “honor all; love/esteem highly brothers and sisters in Christ; fear God; honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). Let’s look closely at the groups he had in view.
All. The first group we’re to honor is “all.” No room for rudeness or name-calling or treating others like we think they’re worthless. In a world that had sixty million slaves, it was easy to honor the important and dishonor the minions. Yet Peter exhorted his readers to honor every person. Why? Because every human bears God’s image, and is thus worthy of respect. This is the same logic those of us in the pro-life movement have for the unborn—all are worthy of respect, having inherent dignity. We need to make sure we show such respect not just to the unborn, but to the “born.”
Spiritual siblings. Believers are to have a special esteem for one another, because we are progeny of the same heavenly Father. So it should go without saying that our familial relationships must transcend our political loyalties. That means there’s no room for showing anything but love and esteem for believers who voted for the “other” candidate(s), or refused to vote for any candidate, or who wrote in the name of a candidate destined to lose. While some have argued that each of these actions is a moral imperative, such arguments have often disregarded the scriptural imperative about never causing a fellow Christian to violate his or her conscience (see Rom. 14). We increase the love in our spiritual family when we treat fellow Christians with affection despite our political differences. The church is Jesus’s bride. He adores her. This earth will fade away; the bride will not. Our prioritizing of the spiritual family over politics communicates what really matters—certainly what matters most to God.
God. Notice that Peter distinguishes here between fearing God and honoring “the king” (v. 17). God receives our highest respect because he has the power over life and death, heaven and hell, while the president has power only in the earthly realm. And God is in control of earthly governments. This election did not take him by surprise.
The president. In the days to come it’s especially important that Christ-followers remember and practice the last imperative in Peter’s exhortation: Honor the king. The people in Peter’s world did not technically serve a king; they served an emperor. But Peter’s word for “king” was broad enough to include whatever earthly power was over his readers. In the case of the Roman Empire, that was the emperor; and in the case of the United States of America, it’s the president.
Once all ballots are tabulated, American Christians will groan—no matter which way this election goes. So how do we go from guffawing over SNL sketches to talking respectfully? In the power of the Spirit, following the example of those who have gone before us in the faith. If Peter’s readers could honor Nero—who wandered the streets murdering the innocent for sport, had numerous Christians killed, and knocked off his own mother—we can certainly honor the United States president.
Our honoring the president can have two results:
1. Our respect will show our belief in the sovereignty of God. We demonstrate our trust in God by being respectful, especially of a president we really dislike.
2. We'll add credibility to our witness. We risk alienating people from the gospel when we make politics an additional obstacle. But if we demonstrate honor for those who do not deserve it—not just the office but even the person who inhabits it—we show something of what Christ showed to all whom he came to serve.
Perhaps you loathe the new commander in chief enough to assign the label “enemy”? If so, recall what Jesus told his followers to do for their enemies: pray for them, and not prayers calling down brimstone, but prayers of blessing. In blessing those whom we might even despise, we show that we belong to a different kingdom with a better ruler.
Peter’s exhortation to honor the king came in the context of reminding the powerless Christians of his day that they were destined for a different country to be ruled by a Good Shepherd-king from whom they would receive a massive inheritance. That is our destiny, too. So take heart. In the words of the elderly John, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). This isn’t the end of the story.