Let me encourage you to open your Bible, if you will, right now to 1 Peter chapter 2; 1 Peter chapter 2. And I want us to look together at verses 13 through 17; 1 Peter 2:13 through 17. Actually this text that we're looking at under the title, "Silencing the Critics," flows from verse 11 all the way down through verse 20. But for our message tonight, we'll just be looking at verses 13 through 17. So let me read them to you.
Peter writes, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond slaves of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." Now, this great text of Scripture basically has at its heart the statement in verse 15, that it is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
The point of the whole section of exhortation is that we as Christians are to live in such a way that by our exemplary lives we stop the mouths of those who criticize our faith. We are to live a life that is above criticism, a life that is above reproach, a life that is above shame. In fact, I have noted to you on numbers of occasions, and I note it again tonight, how you live as a Christian is the greatest apologetic for the evidence of the transforming power of the gospel. There is really no greater way for people to see the transforming power of the gospel than to see the life of a transformed person. It then is the greatest apologetic. It is the foundation of all of our witness. The powerful witness comes when a person gives someone the gospel who has already laid a foundation of having shown that person a transformed life.
Peter, here then, is saying that it's essential that you live your lives in such a way that your testimony becomes believable, that the transforming power of Christ is made evident not only by what you say but by what you are.
Now as we endeavor to live our lives in the world there are three perspectives that Peter gives us here. He says you must view your life in three ways. Number one, you must see yourself as an alien to this society. In verses 11 and 12 he noted that we are aliens and strangers and we have to see ourselves in that way. Then in verse 13 to 17 he says even though you are aliens you are still citizens, even though you live in another dimension, you still are here in this world and you must conduct yourselves in a proper way as citizens. Thirdly, in verses 18 to 20, he discusses the matter that we are servants.
So Peter sees the Christian as an alien, as a citizen, and as a servant. And each of those perspectives relates to how the watching world views us. As the world sees us they must see us as aliens. As they see us they must see us as citizens, and they must recognize us as servants.
The bottom line is that the way you live will determine whether you lead someone to Christ or whether you fuel the fires of criticism. This is obvious, I think, to everybody, everybody. The Christian culture in America is suffering greatly right now because of the tremendous rebuke that has occurred to Christianity because so many leaders in Christianity have demonstrated that their lives are not above reproach and they have literally fueled the fires of criticism. They have opened the mouths of the critics rather than silencing them. They have failed to live an alien life and consequently they have harmed greatly the testimony of Christianity.
I also believe that not only are there people who obviously are not living supernatural lives and who have said to the world, "Christ transforms," but lived a very non-transformed life and thus undercut their testimony, but there also are in Christianity today people who are living in the world in such a way that even their function as citizens is causing a reproach to fall on the name of Christ. You can lose the credibility of your testimony by failing to live a supernatural life which is alien to this world, which demonstrates the power of Christ. And I believe you can lose the foundation of your testimony by a failure to live as a citizen should live under the rule of Christ.
So it's very important that we discuss not only that alien idea which we have already discussed, but that we also look to this matter of being citizens. So that's what we want to look at tonight. The two go together, and you can make the connection rather readily in your own mind, but they go together something along these lines. We are aliens in the world; that is we live at a different level. We live a heavenly kind of life. We live the life of God. We live on a supernatural plane. You know that. We are unearthly, if you will. We are heavenly. We are to be disentangled with the world system. In fact, we are to set our affections on things above and not on things on the earth. We submit to a greater authority than any earthly authority in the sense that we move under the power of the living God as expressed in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now the inherent danger in that is obvious. If we get too carried away with our alien identity, we can become utterly indifferent to the world in which we have to live. And so our alienation from the system is balanced by the demand of proper citizenship. Yes, we live a supernatural life. Yes, we live a discipline that is inward and private, energized by the Holy Spirit. Yes, we conduct ourselves with a deportment that is outward and public and also energized by the Holy Spirit so that we are different than the world around us. Our alienation is demonstrated by the fact that we abstain from fleshly lusts, according to verse 11, and according to verse 12, in that we do good deeds.
So, the character of our lives shows our alienation. We are different than the world. We are in the world, not of the world. But the result of that could be an indifference to the society around us, an utter disregard for the authority around us. And so Peter is quick to add immediately in verse 13, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution." The fact that you are citizens of heaven, that you live at a different level, that you live on a higher plane, that you answer to a higher authority does not mean that you can treat with indifference the institutions that are here on earth. We who feel we are above the system need to learn how to live within the system. So that leads Peter into the discussion of verses 13 to 17 and the matter how we are to conduct ourselves as citizens.
Now there is really no question in my mind but that the providence of God has brought us to this passage for just such a time as this. I can't think of a more fitting week for us to be teaching on this subject since we have just witnessed a large number of Christian people and a large number of church people and I guess a large number of religious people who have defied civil law. They have violated the standards of citizenship. They have violated the law civilly and they have not honored the authority over them. We have watched that happened. They have done that in the name of God. They have done that in the name of Christianity. And so we need to look carefully at that particular issue and see precisely what the Word of God has to say.
Now as we think about this, I want you to note again that it is obvious in the background to this epistle that the people to whom Peter writes are being greatly criticized. It is hard enough when you know your life is an unearthly life and you live in the heavenlies and you answer to a higher authority than any earthly one, it is hard enough to be a good citizen. But that is compounded when the society in which you live is totally hostile to you; in fact, when it is even militantly persecuting you, which, no doubt, was the case to those to whom Peter wrote. In fact, it was a rather common thing to call them evildoers, as they are so identified in verse 12, they are slandered as evildoers. That's a term of derision; apparently it was used of Christians categorically. Instead of calling them Christians they called them evildoers.
Over the first couple of centuries of the church's life it was pretty common for them to be living not only in an earthly society but in a very hostile society that was militantly anti-Christian. I have read, as you have, back in some of the records of early church history, some of the attacks and some of the accusations against the church that are representative of how they were treated. First of all, there was a basic anti-Semitism in the ancient world. They resented Jews. They hated Jews. And Christians were viewed as simply a sect of the Jews. And so they received a rather anti-Semitic sort of hostility. There was a sort of repulsive view of the Jews and the Christians among them. Apion writes, "In the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes the Jews every year offered up a fattened Gentile as a sacrifice on a fixed day in a certain feast, ate his entrails and swore eternal hostility of the Gentiles," end quote. Nothing could be further from the truth but that was simply one of the slanders that was against the Christians and against the Jews.
They were also accused of insurrection. They were accused of rebelling against Rome and all human authority. Literally that was the base reason why the Romans engaged themselves in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ Himself because it was brought to them the fact that He provided a tremendous threat against Rome, which, of course, was not true. And over the first two centuries of the church's life, those accusations of hostility against earthly governments continued to mount, even though they were not true.
The early church was also accused of atheism and there was a great hostility against them for that. It's hard to imagine, isn't it, that the church could be accused of atheism? But it was true because anyone who refused to worship the many gods of the pagan nations, including Caesar in the Roman Empire was an atheist. So if you didn't worship Caesar, no matter who else you worshiped you were considered atheistic.
The early church was also accused of cannibalism. They were supposed to be having feasts. In fact, the...the pagans... One pagan writer wrote of Thyestean feasts. Thyestes was a man, by the way, who organized banquets where the delicacy was human flesh. And so when they accused them of Thyestean feasts, they were accusing the Christian church of engaging in cannibalism. And they based it on the words of Jesus, "Except you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no part in Me," and the words of the apostle Paul who again said that when you commune with the cup and the bread you are communing with the body and blood of Christ.
They also accused the Christians of killing and eating children at their feasts. Furthermore, they accused them of immorality and even of incest. They were accused of Oedipean intercourse. We all know about Oedipus. Oedipus was adopted as a child, grew up. You remember the story of Oedipus. He grew up, saw a delightful lady, married her and found out eventually that he had married his mother. Freud gave them both a lot of publicity as he propagated his theories of sexual development with particular reference to incestuous tendencies. But long before Freud people were having trouble in this area and the pagans were accusing the Christians of incestuous behavior. The Christians called the women "sisters," and the men of the church had very close relationship with these sisters, so the pagans in their ignorance put two and two together and came up with six.
They also accused the early church of damaging trade. They accused the early church of wrecking homes. They said that the sword that fell between man and wife when one came to follow Jesus Christ devastated the home. They accused them of fostering slave rebellion because when a slave came to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, he had a new life; he had a new dignity in Christ. And they thought that hostile to keeping slaves in their place.
They accused them of hating men because they were opposed to the systems of the world. They accused them again of disloyalty to ruling powers and to Caesar because they would worship only Jesus Christ and would never bow the allegiance to any other being.
The church in the early years was not only in the world but in the hostility of a very hateful world. And to Peter there was only one way to deny the charges. The only way to deny the charges was to live a godly life, to live a vir...a virtuous life which basically shut the mouths of the critics by taking away any legitimate accusation. They wanted to live a life that was so rich in spiritual quality that there was nothing that they could use to slander Christians.
May I suggest to you that the world is still hostile against Christianity? Men still hate God. They still reject Jesus Christ. Maybe the form of it has changed a little bit. They may be a little bit more tolerant of the religious system of Christianity but they are no more tolerant of the truth of righteousness than they've ever been. And the challenge to the Christian is still to be alien and yet citizen, to be different, that is to say, we live a life that is above and out of the world, and yet live in the world. And that challenge is great. We are to live in such a way that in spite of all of the false accusations and all of the hatred and all of the hostility, we might still turn the hearts of people to Christ by the evident transformation of our lives.
So what Peter really has in mind here, if I may remind you of what I said last time, is a two-fold reason for this. And basically the underlying thing is he wants to silence the critics and bring them to faith in Christ. It's evangelistic. It is an evangelistic purpose.
Now let's look at the text. First of all I want you to notice the command in verse 13, the command. "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution." Let's just take the first part, "Submit yourselves." That's the command, a simple command, submit yourselves.
Now why does he have to say that? As I said a moment ago, because the natural thing when we think of ourselves as above the world as heavenly citizens and when we are attacked by irresponsible, ignorant, unfounded, evil accusers, the natural result is to rise up in self-defense and maybe even to retaliate, maybe even to think that I have no part in this world and this world has no part with me, I will ignore with indifference all of its systems.
But God does not want such behavior from us. He doesn't want us to think that we can act in any way that we want because we're not answerable to human institutions. In fact, He wants us to demonstrate self-restraint, to demonstrate virtue, to demonstrate a concern about community, to seek peace in the community, to do all we can to prevent trouble, to live in such a way in peace and goodwill that we deprive our enemies of the grounds for all their false accusations. The Christian way to muzzle the critics is to obey all the laws and respect all the authorities. If you want a classic illustration of that, read the record of John Wesley. And read how John Wesley, through prayer and the proclamation of the Word on the streets and to all who would hear, turned the tide toward the Christian faith. There were all kinds of abuses in the time of John Wesley, all kinds of sins within society. John Wesley's protest against that was always a spiritual one, using the Word of God and prayer. Read that, refresh yourself on the tremendous impact that that had.
The command is simple, "submit yourselves," from the Greek word hupotassō. It literally is a military term meaning to arrange in military fashion under the commander. It's talking about being subject. The best translation would be, "Put yourselves in an attitude of submission.” “Put yourselves in an attitude of submission." By the way, that is distinctively Christian because attitudes of submission and humility in ancient times were looked upon as those things which characterized cowards and weaklings. And no man of strength would ever think of submitting himself or being humble.
So God's people were to live in a humble, submissive way in the midst of a hostile, godless, Christ-less, sinful, wicked, accusing, slandering society. In fact, God's people had often been accused of insurrection, would continue to be accused of insurrection but were never called by God to engage in it, never.
Let me take you to the Old Testament for just a moment to kind of support the principle that we noted as the command, "Submit yourselves." In Proverbs chapter 24 and verse 21 it says this, "My son, fear the Lord and the king." That's interesting. "Fear the Lord and the king." And listen to this. "Do not associate with those who are given to change for their calamity will rise suddenly and who knows the ruin that comes from both of them?" Do not associate with those who are given to change, the rebels, the insurrectionists.
Look at Jeremiah chapter 29, beginning in verse 4 of Jeremiah 29. "Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon." This is most interesting. This is a message to the Jews in Babylonian captivity. They were in a pagan land. They are under a pagan ruler. They are under Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He is a pagan to the core. He is so pagan, as you well know, that he rises up, as it were, shakes his fist in the face of Almighty God. The people who were taken into captivity were really to be brainwashed by the Babylonian culture and the Babylonian system. But look what God says. "Thus says the Lord God, the God of Israel, Lord of Hosts, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, build houses and live in them, plant gardens, eat their produce. Take wives, become the fathers of sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons, give your daughters to husbands that they may bear sons and daughters and multiply there and do not decrease."
What does He say? Live your life. Live your life. Get a house, live in it. Plant a garden, eat the fruit. Marry your children to one another, carry on with life.
Verse 7, now remember, they are in a hostile, pagan society. "And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile." And the next statement is most interesting, and it assumes that there are problems and it says, "And pray to the Lord on its behalf." Did you ever feel like an exile in Los Angeles? Does it irritate you the decisions that are made in this city by the authorities of this city? You are in exile here. What should we do? Get a house, live in it, plant a garden, eat the produce, marry your children to each other, and seek the welfare of the city. Anything you can do to seek the welfare of the city and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will have welfare, or better translated, "In its peace you will have peace." Seek the peace of the city, for in its peace you will know peace. Become the agent of disruption and you will know disruption. That's the implication.
Boy, that's a very direct statement. "For thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, do not listen to the dreams which they dream, for they prophesy falsely to you in My name, I have not sent them, declares the Lord. For thus says the Lord, when seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you to bring you back to this place, for I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord. I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile." This is a marvelous principle and a marvelous analogy. The principle is this: You're in a foreign land, do everything you can to seek the welfare of that land for your own benefit, realizing that God has a plan for you that is far beyond the land in which you presently live. Understood?
You are citizens of another place. And as long as you have to be here, live here, buy a house, or build a house, plant a garden, eat the fruit, marry your children off and do everything you can to seek for the welfare of your city and pray for the city. And know this, that God has a better place for you, a better place.
There have been many protests, many acts of civil disobedience, many violations of the law, many revolutions, many insurrections, and many subversive attempts to overthrow governments. Are you ready for this, in the name of Christianity? That's tragic. We are never commanded to do that. The command is simple, submit yourselves, submit yourselves.
Go with me for a moment to Romans chapter 13, Romans chapter 13 verse 1, "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities." You see any exceptions there? You say, "Well that means except our government." No it doesn't. "Well that means except me." No it doesn't. "Every person in subjection to the governing authorities for there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves." That is very straightforward.
Paul said the same thing that Peter did. "Yeah," you say, "but Paul didn't live in a world like ours." Yes he did. He lived in a world dominated by slavery, incredible abuse. He lived in a world dominated by the abuse of women. He lived in a world where there was the murder of children. We have records of the fact that particularly female children were drowned because the parents turned their thumbs down and said I don't want the child. They lived in a world where sexual sin was rampant and homosexuality was so rampant that many of the Caesars themselves were homosexuals. They lived in a wretched, rotten, vile, ungodly, wicked society just like we do. And yet they were told to be subject to the authorities, to be subject to the powers that be because they were ordained by God. And Jesus Himself said in Matthew 22:21, "Render to Caesar (what?) the things that are Caesar's."
The command is very simple. Submit yourselves. Submit yourselves. To put it in the words of the Lord to Jeremiah, "Seek the welfare of your city." Seek peace in your city for that shall bring you peace.
Now go back to the text of 1 Peter 2 and let me take you to a second point. The first point is the command; the second point is the motive. The second point is the motive. And he says it as clearly as it could be said, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake." Why are we doing this? Because of the Lord, literally. Because of the Lord. For the Lord's sake. Because it is the way you honor Him, it is the way you respond to Him.
How is that? Well I can give you a couple of ways. First of all, to submit yourselves for the Lord's sake means to submit yourself because He demands it. So you are doing it in obedience to Him. It is to obey Him. Since there is no authority except God and those authorities which exist are all established by God, Romans 13, we just read, that when you respond submissively to the authority, you are doing it for the sake of the Lord, who instituted the authority.
When a leader in this society says do this, you do it. When the police say get up and move over here, you get up and move over there because that's what the Bible tells you to do. Why do you do it? Because of the Lord. Because of the Lord why? Because the Lord has called us to obey the authorities because the authorities are ordained by God and it's a matter of obedience. It's a matter of obedience. It's simply that. We are obeying what God has said for us to do. And somebody comes along and says, "Well how are we going to accomplish our goal if we obey the police?" Are we so foolish as to believe that if we disobey the police, which disobeys the Word of God, we can accomplish something for the kingdom of God? What kind of weapons do we want to use? Carnal ones?
But, you see, typically we fall weakly into those kinds of things. Listen to Jeremiah 24:4, "Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, like these good figs so I will regard as good the captives of Judah whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good and I will bring them into this land again and I will build them up and not overthrow them and I will plant them and not pluck them up. And I will give them a heart to know Me for I am the Lord and they will be My people and I will be their God for they will return to Me with their whole heart.’"
In other words, God says, in spite of you being in the land of the Chaldeans, where we understand they buried live babies in walls in jars when they built new buildings, in that kind of pagan culture would have all kinds of bad situations, He says as long as you're there don't you ever forget why you're there and don't you ever forget My hand is upon you and I will restore you to the place where I want you to be. I'm in charge of you.
You do not accomplish in society anything for God when you violate what God has designed for your conduct in society. That is to stoop to the wrong methodology. That is the end justifies the means and the end can never be attained, for it is God who is in control. So responding submissively to the authority is responding to God's ordained rule.
Robert Culver, writing in his book, a very helpful book on a biblical view of civil government, says, "God alone has sovereign rights. Democratic theory is no less unscriptural than divine right monarchy. By whatever means men come to positions of rulership, by dynastic descent, aristocratic family connection, plutocratic material resources or by democratic election there is no power but of God. Furthermore, civil government is an instrument, not an end. Men are proximate ends but only God is ultimate end. The state owns neither its citizens nor their properties, minds, bodies or children. All of these belong to their Creator, God, who has never given to the state rights of eminent domain."
What I want you to understand is that God controls and owns it all. And what we want to do is recognize that and recognize that He has ordained government to keep the peace in society and He has commanded us to submit to that. And you do not accomplish the divine end by violating the divine law.
There's a second reason why I believe...or a second motive why I believe we are to submit and that is not only to obey the Lord but to imitate the Lord. Not only to obey Him but to imitate Him. Would you notice please in verse 21, it says of this same text, 1 Peter 2, that Christ left us an example. And then in verse 23 it shows us what that example was. "When He was reviled, He did not revile in return. While He was suffering He uttered no threats. He just kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously."
Jesus when He was on earth was murdered by the coming together of two authorities, the Jewish authority and the Roman authority. He lived under their unjust and unrighteous rule for His life, yet He never attacked the government. He never attacked the rulers. He never attacked those in authority. He never led a protest. He never led civil disobedience. He never led a demonstration against Roman abuses. He never led a demonstration against the sins of Jewish leaders. He never led a demonstration against the sins of Gentile leaders. He never even protested when they violated every law of justice in His own trial. He spoke only of the kingdom of God. He called sinners to repent, come to Him and enter His kingdom. And He simply kept entrusting Himself to the God who judges righteously and He knew God would do right because God was sovereign and the whole world was in His control.
He spoke only of the kingdom, as I said, and He called sinners into it. He never got Himself involved in any of the earthly activities. He was no threat to Rome's government, though they accused Him of it. And the false charge of that accusation became the reason by which He was executed.
So, when Peter says, "Submit yourselves because of the Lord," it is because we are to obey Him and because we are to imitate Him.
Thirdly, we want to do it in order to glorify Him because He is honored...He is honored when He is seen as the source of virtuous, gracious, peace-making people. That honors Him. That honors Him.
Robert Haldane, many years ago, wrote that the people of God ought to consider resistance to the government under which they live as a very awful crime, a very awful crime, because it detracts from the glory of Christ. It shows Christians in anger, hostility, rebellion. That's not honoring to God. To see us in peace and graciousness, in kindness does honor God. To see us in virtue, obedience, submissiveness, humility, that honors our Christ.
Frankly, I believe it is sad to see Christians who set the example of public civil disobedience, Christians who set the example of the violation of law, Christians who harass the police, because if we are the righteous then what will the unrighteous feel that they should do? If we are the virtuous of society, if we are the righteous who serve the God who ordained government, how can we defy the very God and the very government He has ordained? And if we set the example who are the righteous, then what will the unrighteous do?
Look at Romans 13 again, verse 5, Paul further explains Peter's point. He says, "Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection." It is necessary. This is not optional. This is not optional, it is necessary, it is necessary. Look at this, "Not only because of wrath." Now wait a minute, what do you mean because of wrath? "For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you'll have praise from the same, for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid for it does not bear the sword for nothing, for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” The police — that's what he's talking about, those who bear the sword, those who are the authority — are ministers of God who avenge for God."
So he says it is necessary to be in subjection because of wrath. You could feel the vengeance of a God-ordained institution. Boy, that's an amazing statement. When the police do what they do to uphold law and order, they are the ministers of God. It doesn't mean they don't abuse that sometimes, they do. It doesn't mean they're personally Christians or personally more moral than anybody else. It means that their function, their function as an agency within human life and human society is to fulfill a God-ordained role of keeping order. And if a person obeys them, does what is good, he has no reason to fear. But if he rebels and protests, then he has every reason to fear because of wrath because God has made them ministers to avenge those for God who violate the order which He has established. So if you rebel, you should be afraid.
I understand perfectly and am 100 percent sympathetic with the cause of anti-abortion. It is sin of the worst kind. But I do not believe that the solution is to violate the law of God, which is clear. If we rebel we should fear. I read that some people felt that the police should not have used pain compliance. They are ministers of God who bear not the sword in vain, says Paul. And if you violate the law then they have every right to bring about wrath, punishment. So he says it's necessary.
Then secondly would you notice what he says? It is necessary not only because you can be punished if you violate it but for conscience's sake. This seems to me a more positive motivation. You do it not only because you're afraid of what might happen if you don't do it and understand they have a right to bring to bear wrath upon those who violate the law. But you do it for the sake of conscience. What does that mean? Just because it's right, just because it's right; so, our submission to authority is not only to be regulated by the fear of punishment and the fear of the wrath of God and man, but because it's right.
So, for the Lord's sake we submit, to obey Him, to imitate Him and to honor Him. I will never forget Georgie Vinn saying to me when we talked about that. What do the Russian Christians do to protest Russian government, doing things that they don't believe are right? He says we have a basic unwritten law that everyone lives by in the church in Russia and that is that if any Christian is ever arrested, he will be arrested for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, nothing less. Not for protesting something else.
But you say, "What about when we feel that the government is wrong? What about when we feel it's wrong? What if it oversteps its bounds? And what if it commands us to do what God commands us not to do? Or what if it commands us not to do what God commands us to do?" In that case we have a very clear word of Scripture. Remember the early church, Acts 4 and Acts 5, they said, "Don't preach." And what was Peter's response? You judge whether we ought to obey God or man.
When the government asks you to do the opposite of what God asks you to do, you have no choice but to violate the government and then to comply with whatever they ask and bear your punishment. If the government said you're not allowed to preach, I'd preach anyway and suffer the consequences. If they came to arrest me I wouldn't lie down in the street, I'd go with them. I'd accept whatever God had brought about. Do you realize Paul never resisted arrest? Never. They put him in stocks; do you think they had to wrestle him in? Do you think they had to have three guys carrying him, dragging him because he was lying limp on the dirt? No, he went and he put his hands in the stocks and he sang and God shook the whole earth and they had a revival. A lot of people got saved, the church started and he walked out of the jail. You see, the weapons of his warfare weren't carnal. He didn't need to lie in the dirt. He knew who he served and he knew how you deal with those issues in the power of God, not the manipulation of men.
You say, "Well that's easy when they command you to do something the Bible commands you not to do, or vice versa, then you do what God says and you take the consequence." That's right. "But what about when the government allows things that we think are wrong?" The government may allow a lot of things we think are wrong and a lot of governments allow a lot more things than our government allows. That's pretty normal stuff. You think the Roman government allowed some things the church thought was wrong? Yeah, like a whole long list of things, like murder of children, abuse of women, slavery, etc., etc., etc.
What does the church do? Do we protest? Do we sit in? Do we demonstrate? Do we disobey the law? Let me take you now to 2 Corinthians chapter 10 and we're going to wrap this up at this point and we'll carry the rest of the text next time. But I want you to listen to this. Second Corinthians chapter 10, this is very, very important. Verse 3, "For though we walk in the flesh," that means we're human, we're here, this is us, we're in this world, "we do not war according to the flesh." Now listen, "For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."
How you doing that, Paul? Oh, we had this lay-in the other day. No, I'm not mocking and my heart goes out to these people and I know some of you feel strongly about that issue. You don't feel more strongly about it than I do. It's the means by which we have approached it that concerns me. Look what he says here. Verse 4: "The weapons," that word in Greek means instruments of war. This is spiritual war. We are not wrestling flesh and blood. Do you understand that? We are fighting on a spiritual level. The instruments of war, I love this phrase, the instruments of war are not of the flesh. We can't use human means. We can't stoop to the level that the world uses. You want to know something? They're better at it. Who came out looking the best in the recent protests? The pro-choice people or the anti-abortion people? Pro-choice people. Every newspaper. And when the police told them to move, they moved. They looked like the good guys. We don't do well fighting with their weapons.
But our weapons, he says in verse 4, are divinely powerful. Can I give you the simple literal meaning? Powered by God, powered by God. Yeah, you say, "How effective are they?" Oh, they're good for the destruction of fortresses. What are the fortresses? The massive strongholds of sin, the massive strongholds of Satan, the massive strongholds of demons.
What's the word destruction mean? It means to tear down, pull down. The weapons of our warfare are strong enough to rip down the massive strongholds that have been built by sin.
Then he says, "They are able to destroy speculations." What is “speculations”? Human reason. They can tear them down. Do you ever hear somebody get on television and argue in favor of abortion? You listen to that and you say, "Oh, the sadness of human reason, how are we going to get to this? How are we going to get to this?" Using our divinely powerful spiritual weapons. It’ll tear down massive strongholds of sin. It’ll tear down human reason and speculation. Furthermore, it says it’ll tear down and destroy every lofty thing, every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, the towers of men's thoughts, the towers of men's planning. It’s... It's picturing an army moving against a city and just tearing it down, just tearing the whole thing down. And the weapons are all spiritual. They're all powered by God.
And then he says, "And we...we are taking every thought captive." That word in its original meaning was really vivid. It pictures a guy walking into the city with a soldier behind him with a spear up under his chin, or in his back, bringing in the captive. We approach the massive institutions of men, we approach their flawed and demonic reason, we approach their lofty pride which is exalted against the knowledge of God. We approach all the systems of men and we can tear them all down and we do it with weapons that are spiritual. We do it with weapons that are spiritual.
Would you please notice, every lofty thing, every thought. It's a comprehensive warfare and we can make them bow to Christ. We can take them captive to the obedience of Christ.
How do we do it? You say, "We do it with sit-ins." No, we don't do it with that. Beloved, what are the weapons of our warfare? Do I need to remind you? Ephesians 6, "Take unto you the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God." That's what John Wesley used. That's what John Wesley used. I think we need to preach the Word of God with power and conviction. I believe that we ought to call to the sinner to repent. I believe that we ought to stand outside of...outside of those places if need be and people going there, we ought to say to them, “Do you know what's going on? Do you understand what God has to say? Have you heard the gospel of Jesus Christ?” We need to be all about using the Word of God, that's a spiritual weapon and that never returns void. Ephesians 6, what is our other spiritual weapon? Look at 1 Timothy chapter 2. We don't have a lot of weapons, they're just powerful. Number one is the Word, number two is in verse 1 of 1 Timothy 2. "First of all then I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all that are in authority in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." How we going to do that? Prayer, prayer is what will save them. Prayer is what brings that glorious gospel that Jesus Christ is the mediator who gave Himself a ransom for all and turns their hearts. And then he says, "For this I was appointed a preacher." Simply, folks, our weapons are the Word and prayer.
You're not too surprised by that, are you? May I say to you what I've been saying on Sunday mornings for several weeks? We have done it again. We have done it through the church from top to bottom. We have stooped to a carnal level to deal with spiritual issues. This is another illustration of it. We'll do anything but pray, anything but tune in, plug in to the spiritual dimension, it seems, when that's the only way we'll ever win.
You say, "Was their world like ours?" Yeah, Nero was in power, came into power in 54 A.D. at the age of 17. He was a maniacal homosexual and had all kinds of problems, as you know, murderous to say the least. Fourteen years later at the age of 31 he committed suicide. It was during his reign that Peter was martyred. And yet it's Peter, who will die under Nero, who says, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake." That's the command. That's the motive. And again I say to you, I believe we have to do something to change this, but, beloved, I don't believe for one minute you can use carnal weapons to fight the spiritual war. Again the weapons are the Word and prayer, an aggressive proclamation of the Word of God. I wish thousands of people would go marching through the cities of America preaching the Word of God. I wish thousands upon thousands of people would get on their knees and pray before a holy God that He would break down the massive stronghold of sin called abortion that has been built. The weapons of our warfare are spiritual.
Yes, we need to tear these things down, but we need to do it in the way that God has said for us to do it. And at the same time, maintaining our godliness, our virtue, our character, a tranquil, quiet, peaceful people who do not turn into a rabble.
One footnote and I'll be through. If... If the people who are doing this really wanted to aggressively rescue children from abortion, I'm convinced that this isn't how to do it, even on the physical, human level. Because all they're doing is hindering the police from doing their work. They're not hindering the abortion from doing his...the abortionist from doing his. There's no rescue. If this is a rescue, what's it a rescue of? And the logical end of this kind of civil disobedience, if they're really going to stop abortions, is to physically attack the doctor or blow up the clinic. But to lay around the outside, which winds up being harassment of the police, directs the whole attack at the wrong group. They're not doing it. And it isn't really rescuing. It seems to me to be little more, and they will admit this, than a large-scale demonstration to try to manipulate the government to change this. Do you understand that the government is in the hand of a sovereign God and that that kind of human manipulation is not the way the church is to work? But rather we are to pray for the tearing down of those strongholds of sin and we are to proclaim the word of the living God.
Why can't the church be the church, live on a spiritual level, apply its spiritual weapons to a spiritual warfare? And I say to you what I've been saying all along, because it's become victimized by a pragmatic society in which it’s fallen to the level of that culture and that's the tragedy of it.
Now let me say in closing. Please don't take it personally if you were involved in this. I...I love you, that's not going to change. I know you probably did it with all the goodness of your heart and you were zealous and you really wanted to do right and God looks at your motive and God would...God would be pleased with the reason why you did it. But I believe the instruction of the Word of God is that there's a better way, there's a better way. Recognize God is sovereign, pray and publish the Word. You know, if we can lead these people who are getting abortions to Christ, we can stop it. If we can lead the doctors to Christ, we can stop it. But in the end, only God can stop it. Only He can stop it all. And that's in His sovereign hands. But we cannot... We cannot do wrong to get a chance to do right. Scripture is very clear.
There's much more to say about this because Peter just introduced it in the first couple of phrases, so next Sunday night we're going to dig a little more deeply. I won't talk about this current issue here, but I will expand the principles related to this truth. Let's bow together in prayer.
Father, what we feel in our hearts tonight is the desire to be obedient, that's really it, it's the desire to do what You want us to do. You've put us in this world. You've given us one shot at an effective life. And we want to submit our life to You to use our time and talent and energies in ways that are going to accomplish what You want done. Father, I just ask that in this time of prayer You'll help us to refresh our commitment to You, to be the kind of people You want us to be. I thank You for the great outcry against this wicked sin of abortion. I thank You for well-meaning, passionate, zealous Christians who want to do everything they can to tear this down. God, help them to use spiritual weapons. Help us, Lord, to be faithful in prayer, in diligent prayer. Help us to be faithful proclaimers of the truth, that we may see this society change, not because the laws are changed but because the people are transformed through the power of the gospel. Help us, Lord, to be what You want us to be.