Many Christians are afraid to speak up about their religious beliefs. Too many Christians hold the opinion that they are to passive when persecution starts. We hear, “turn the other cheek,” “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” “Jesus didn’t get mixed up in politics,” “there’s a separation between church and state,” and “we are not to judge.”
What should Christians do if more attempts are made against individual Christians, schools, churches, and ministries? Should we surrender to the attacks and chalk it all up to righteous persecution because it’s the Christian way?
Peter pushed back against those who wanted him and his fellow-Christians to remain silent:
Notice that Peter does not cite these exceptions in his call to “submit … to every human institution” (1 Pet. 2:12). Did he change his mind? Not at all. Peter’s admonition tells us that we must evaluate our submission to authority (not surrender) in terms of the entire Bible.
Anyone familiar with what we call the “Old Testament” would have known that there were specific exceptions to Peter’s absolutist comments: the Hebrew midwives, Rahab and the spies, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azzariah.
Did Paul, as a Roman citizen and a Christian, “surrender” to the Roman authorities in everything? Consider what happens when they were brought before the Roman “chief magistrates” (Acts 16:19–20) when those who opposed their message wanted them silenced:
The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks (16:22–24).
Notice what Paul does next after they are released from jail:
And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore, come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed (16:36–40).
Was Paul damaging his Christian witness by such a demand? Not at all. He was exercising his rights as a Roman citizen. This was not a turn the other cheek moment. Remember, they had been beaten.
Did some people take exception to him and his message? Most certainly. They took issue with Jesus even after He healed and fed people. The book of Acts shows different reactions to the message of Peter and Paul. Some believed and embraced the Christian message and others opposed it with great force. God’s Word causes division, and Christians are going to be attacked no matter what they do (2 Cor. 11:21–29). Passive in the face of opposition is not always the biblical way.
Paul was simply expounding God’s Word. He was attacked because it meant a complete change in religious loyalty and morality. They were accused of “acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus. And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things” (Acts 17:7–8). Little has changed.
Prior to writing about submission “to every human institution,” Peter wrote, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12). Even the practice of good and right (constitutional) deeds and actions Christians are going to be attacked like Jesus, Peter, and Paul were attacked. Submission to authority does not mean silence, inaction, or surrender to unbelievers at every level.