We are sojourners among the lost. We are exiles in this world. When people see us, we should be recognizable as children of the Living God and citizens of Heaven. We are distinguished as Christians because we are conformed to the image of Christ, and everywhere and in everything we glorify Him. The culture of our home is unlike the culture of the world. We are not reactionary, we are revolutionary. We do not treat people the way they deserve to be treated, we remember Christ and treat them the way our God asks us to, with love and grace.
That includes people who are cruel, people who yield power unreasonably, and those in the government whether we like their politics or not. We submit to the Lord and in that deference we remember He is in control and He gave them their office. Respect for those in authority is respect and trust for God.
Verses 13-15 read,
“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.”
It is unusual to have that esteem for those in authority over us, especially a government we don’t agree with. But in doing that, we show how different we are. We venerate God by respecting and submitting to authority. People see the culture of the Kingdom of God when we do good. They can’t fairly say anything bad about Jesus, when we walk in obedience and goodness.
We walk as sanctified children of God by choice. We are not burdened by rules. We are not oppressed by the threat of punishment or condemnation. So we are free to love people, do the noble thing, the right thing, and the loving thing. We are free to emulate Christ. That makes us uncommon, separate, and divergent from the masses. We belong to Christ, not this world. Verses 16-18 say it this way,
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.”
Jesus didn’t have to stand in front of Herod while he cruelly derided Him and quietly take it, but He did. He did because He loved Herod and Herod had been given a position of authority. Did Christ’s humility hurt Him? No, He knew the truth, He knew where the real power was and Who held it. When Jesus stood in front of Pilate knowing He would be beaten, He remained quiet and humble. He told Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11).
Being humble enough to let people have the upper hand is not the way the world works. We live in a society that glorifies power, superiority, and dominance. But the ethos of the Kingdom of God is one of humility, grace, and kindness. It is one of imitating Christ and turning the other cheek. Verses 19-21 say it this way,
“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
Of course the key here is that we must do good. Suffering because we sinned or didn’t plan well is not special and doesn’t call attention to the King of kings, even when we withstand it with steadfastness as we should. But suffering for the good we have done is suffering on Christ’s account and that does glorify our God.
Jesus was good. He was completely blameless. He had all the authority and dominion of God. He could have struck Pilate down, He could have smote Herod, He could have destroyed the Roman soldiers who beat Him. But He didn’t. He didn’t even tell them that He had armies of angels and all the power of God at His disposal. He took it graciously because of His love for us and for them. Even as he agonized on the cross, He was gracious as He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).
His grace saved us. His submission to earthly authority made it possible us to know Him and be called sons of God. Verses 23-25 read,
“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
That grace is impossible for the world to display or even grasp. It is foreign to the lost to not hate those who hate, to not fight back or even threaten. But we can because we trust God. We know the Lord loves us, has a plan, loves the one who hates us, and will judge all of us. When we exhibit the grace He asked us to, people see Jesus in us. The strength of the Holy Spirit emanates from us when we bow down in submission, love, and grace to authority in obedience to our Lord.