Fear God. Honor the King. 1 Peter 2:17bNKJV
Question 127 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What is the honour that inferiors owe to their superiors? It gives the answer, “The honour which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behaviour; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels, due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defence, and maintenance of their persons and authority according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honour to them and to their government.” Last time we looked at this question we saw how human authorities are from God and as such are to be held in honor. Today we will look more closely at what it means to reverence earthly authorities.
The old Webster’s dictionary defined reverence as “fear mingled with respect and esteem.” Can we really show this kind of attitude toward authorities and not just show it but truly generate it from our hearts, sincerely feeling and believing it? I think most of us can understand this command when applied to our parents, but how can we turn our hearts towards our magistrates in this way when they do things that are stupid, offensive, or even sinful? The Scripture at the head of this article shows us how. We can reverence authorities from the heart by fearing God. As we saw last time God has appointed all authorities that exist. Now this fact does not mean that God condones the way some rulers came into power, nor does it mean that the ruler cannot err or is even the best person for the job! What it means is that God is sovereign and active in this world and that we should see any and every earthly authority as having ultimately been put in place by God. Sometimes God puts wicked people in positions of power to punish evil doers, to test the righteous, or for some other purpose. But to think that any ruler is in power apart from the ultimate will and plan of God is not to think theistically but atheistically.
Accordingly the reverence that we show for people in positions of authority is to be an extension of the reverence we show to God. Since we are to revere God from the heart we must revere from our hearts the things God does and one of those things is to appoint authorities over us (Rom. 13:1). Sometimes we have some say in who gets to be in that position of authority. People living in democratic countries get to vote in elections for the candidate of their choice. In America the laws even allow us to campaign for our preferred candidate in order to try to persuade other people to vote for them. We have a similar say in electing our local rulers. The right to choose our rulers is a great blessing from God and a sober responsibility. In effect, the right to vote is to exercise a small portion of ruling authority, all of which is from God. Jesus is Lord in the voting booth just as much as anywhere else. Therefore, we, as authority wielding voters, are obligated to vote for the person whose rule will be most in accord with the Word of God. Even as rulers will answer for how they used (or abused) their authority so we will answer for how we vote. Do I vote for the candidate who promises to give me and my group more material goods, a better paying job, more freedom to do the things I like, who makes me feel the best, speaks well, looks pretty, is most like me, or for the candidate whose campaign platforms more closely conform to God’s law? We can hardly fault our rulers for doing what is most pleasing to them if that is in fact the same way we decide our vote, though God will fault us both.
We have even more say in determining other authority figures in our lives. We choose which professors will be our authorities in college and which employers will be over us at work. We cast that “vote” as it were, by agreeing to go to that class or school, or by taking that job or contract. Usually wives-to-be have the deciding vote as to the husband who is going to be over them in the Lord, which they cast by agreeing to marry him. However, there are other examples where we do not have a say in who are authorities will be. Children do not get to choose their parents. The candidate we vote for loses. I have to take a job I do not want. My spouse turns out to be different than who I thought he was, etc. Here is when we must remember that the authority figures in our lives are from God and we are to honor them because we fear, love, and trust in Him, that He will be glorified by our obedience and that He is at work for our good.