Peter and Despising Government

Not only does Peter say we should obey every ordinance of man so that we can silence charges against us, he goes further in 2 Peter:

“But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.”

People who despise government are people who are not afraid to rip on government officials. This is a problem with God since every power is ordained of God.

A person who despises government (despise meaning to think little of) is despising God’s chosen vessels and is thus self-willed and presumptuous. You’re an arrogant man who is daring authority–government’s or God’s.

Ultimately, Peter describes people who despise government and speak badly of government officials as fleshly minded and unclean, which in Peter’s world means “unbeliever heathen scum.”

How frequently do we hear in Christian circles the despising of government officials? How frequently do I say and think these thoughts? How far we are from the Christian ideal.

People say “if you don’t vote you can’t criticize.” And by “criticize” we mean calling them “commi-pinko, flip-flopping, big government whores, etc.” This should better be said “If you’re a Christian you can’t despise them.”

American Christians have fallen off the wagon on this one. Most of us are downright unbiblical and acting like heathen scum who truly do have their hope in this world.

Being entangled with the affairs of this earth is akin to placing your treasure on earth, despising your eternal inheritance and treading under foot the King of Kings. Let us live peaceably with all men and pray for those in authority.

10 thoughts on “Peter and Despising Government”

  1. How would you balance this against the struggle of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany? Certainly Hitler’s government was ordained by God, but is that also a call for Christians to sit back and watch everything unfold? Aren’t we called to be active in the world?

    Senseless criticism gets us nowhere, but I think men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. were on to something when, as Christians, they stood against their governments and denounced their injustices.

  2. Josh,

    That was on my mind too.

    However, these struggles you mention were not struggles against governments so much as struggles against evil. The government is supposed to be a terror to evil works (Rom. 13:3). However, when a government makes laws that are evil: that are against God and man, then love requires that we resist those laws, in order to help the government see that they are out of harmony with God and justice.

    This is in no sense the same as anarchy. True civil disobedience is real patriotism. It means loving the state enough to die for it. It means acceptance and obedience to any punishment handed out for the disobedience. It requires an absolutely self-less spirit that is willing to suffer for the good of others.

    This is entirely different from some of the protests against abortion, where doctors have their offices blocked, or are killed “in the name of God.” That is using evil to overcome evil, and it is deplorable.

    If you go to, there is an excellent book called “Teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.” Page 89 and onwards have some paragraphs devoted to the topic of Civil Disobedience. I’ve found this whole book to be one of the most remarkable I’ve read in a long time.


  3. Acting against government has a place when government is legislating things contrary to God, but even then, the one protesting must submit to the government’s authority to punish them. I see this at work with the apostles who were forbidden to preach by the governing authorities, they said “When a choice exists between listening to you or God, we go with God” and they preached anyway, and humbly and gladly took the punishment. I think this is our example for these issues of legislating evil. Even when not submitting to a government law, the non-submission is done in humble submission to God.

  4. Jeff,
    David might provide another example of this: he resisted the attempts of Saul to murder him, even though Saul represented the government of that time…so in a way he was disobedient to the civil authority. But he would not lay his hand on “the Lord’s anointed”…would not kill Saul when he had a chance. It shows the same respect.

    There is also a distinction to be made between the few rulers of ancient Israel who were anointed by a prophet, and thus directly appointed by Divine choice…and those governments we have today who are elected by the people. “The powers that be are ordained of God”…it does not say the “presidents that be are ordained of God”. A prophet did not travel to Washington DC to ordain Obama (…at least I don’t think so…!)

    Our governments today are an ordinance of God in the sense that God has put in man a desire for self-protection, and man lives that out power by grouping together into nations, and choosing rulers to protect their rights. This explains why our governments today have no right to “legislate for God”.

    The false idea, that kings such as those in Europe were divinely appointed, just as some of the kings of Israel, led to a false theocratical idea…that they could therefore act for God in spiritual things as well as temporal, and therefore command a certain form of worship under pain of death.

    It also answers the question “why would God choose someone like Hitler?” He didn’t…we humans did. God ordained the power…we misused it and chose the wrong person.

    There is of course the working of God’s providence also, which is constantly at work to prevent evil from consuming the earth; and an invisible spiritual battle is going on over the minds of men in responsible positions, similar to that mentioned in Daniel 10:12,13. Therefore we are also instructed to pray for them.

    Getting back to the original post though, the importance of the matter is shown by the fact that Lucifer in heaven was the first one to complain about governments, when he desired a higher place that was not given to him. He carried this dissatisfaction with him, and expressed it in his temptation to Eve. Now we are all born with the tendency to complain about authorities and murmur against them. This is why we must overcome this disposition now, if we are ever to find our way back to heaven.

  5. Hmm…on second thought I’m wondering a bit about David. His refusal to take Saul’s life was definitely a respect of “the powers that be”. But his running away from Saul’s presence was mixed with some unbelief. He lied to the high priest, then he ran away to the enemies of Israel and pretended to be mad. These were not appointed by God. Perhaps he should have just stayed at the court of Saul and let God protect him…as the Lord had already done by supernatural power when David was with Samuel and the prophets earlier. What do you think? Should David have stayed with Saul, submitted to “the powers that be”, and left his life in God’s hands?

  6. As to David, not sure what the right thing is to do there. He did what he did, and was more righteous than Saul throughout, according to Saul, so he did something right! I think in many instances an act of faith could have been done more faithy, but when a man is faced with flung javelins, it’s hard to stand your ground and let God send a mighty wind to blow the spear aside than it is to duck. And, quite frankly, there’s a fine line between faith and testing God!

    As to God not setting up Hitler, not sure about that. From Psalm 75, “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” Bible seems to say God sets up nations and kings, even the creepy ones–Pharaoh in Romans 9. God is famous for giving people what they deserve–be not deceived, God is not mocked, you reap what you sow. When a nation does what Germany did, Hitler is their reaping. Hard to contradict Scripture on this issue even though it seems to make God at fault for putting in creeps, but I think it has more to do with the justice of reaping and sowing rather than God’s fault.

    Bottom line: the eating the fruit deal was a pretty big deal and we pay dearly, and no matter how bad it gets “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.” Our leaders should be worse.

  7. Jeff, did you see that movie, “God on Trial”? It’s a story (possibly based on a true occurrence) where a bunch of Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz hold a mock trial…they put “God” on trial for all the events that were happening. It’s quite interesting to see all the different arguments that come up from the different prisoners…every possible angle is explored (except they do not discuss Christ! which is a shame). Of course they also bring up the question, did God choose Hitler.

    But I am convinced that when the Scriptures refer to God “doing” this or that, we must not interpret it in such a way as to understand that God works unrighteousness. His methods are always in accord with the principles of His law. God does not say “thou shalt not lie” to us, and then turn around and lie Himself. Therefore, when it says “God puts down one and sets up another,” we can automatically know that whatever influence God has in the affairs of men, is always exercised with the strictest righteousness. And since the law is summed up in love, and love “works no ill to his neighbour”, neither does God, in His influence upon men, work ill.

    One illustration is in the way Scripture deals with the death of Saul. In one place it says “the Lord slew Saul” and some verses later it says “Saul killed himself.” We know Saul’s part in the killing: he took his sword and fell on it. What was the Lord’s part? The Lord repeatedly warned, counselled, instructed, and rebuked him. The more He did this, the more Saul became determined in his rebellion, until God could no longer protect and help him control his evil temper. It even says “an evil spirit from the Lord” was sent to Saul. Does the Lord have a cage full of evil spirits in heaven that He sends out to torment us? Not at all! These evil spirits are part of Satan’s army. It says “from the Lord” because it was only when the Lord was compelled by Saul’s rejection to remove His protection, that the evil spirit could come in. The Lord’s action of removing protection was the determining factor. God wants us to fear being separated from Him, not to fear evil spirits (which is superstition). Therefore, He shows us that good or ill are determined by our relationship to His protective power.

    The invisible history of the election of Hitler to the ruling seat of Germany is not unveiled to us yet (although it is certainly written in heaven). But we can already know that the Lord never planned evil, but tried to prevent it. He loved both Germans and Jews and was working to save them. That a man like Hitler came to power indicates that somewhere along the line, God’s protection was rejected. A true study of Germany’s history would consider this spiritual warfare, and how the people responded or didn’t respond to the principles of righteousness just before this event. This would be a very interesting study. Who says history needs to be boring?

  8. Re: David
    Your comments made me think a bit more on this.

    First of all, consider Christ…He had the assurance that He was God’s beloved Son, when the voice came from heaven at the baptism. Then where does Christ immediately go? Into the wilderness to have His trust in this word thoroughly tested. Circumstances seemed to indicate that God had forgotten about His Son and Christ was going to die in the wilderness, before His mission ever really got started.

    Now consider David. David had the assurance that he was God’s anointed for the throne, when Samuel administered the ordinance. Then, shortly after, the circumstances (hatred and jealousy of Saul) seems to indicate that David will be put to death before he ever sees the throne. Or as David expressed it, “there is a step between me and death.”

    Now that we have the parallel in place, we can just go through the events to see if what David did matched up with what Christ did.

    The first temptation was over “doing something” to save yourself. Christ refused it, trusting in God’s provision instead. David faced his first temptation when he went to Nob to get provisions from the High Priest. Interestingly, it was also over “bread”. There is perhaps also a question as to whether David should have even been there, but although we might not be able to answer that fully, we certainly know it was not God’s will for David to lie to the High Priest. But he did, because of fear. This sin was immediately followed by another one, when David encountered Doeg the Edomite, chief of Saul’s herdmen. This immediately struck fear in David, and he asked the High Priest for a weapon. There was only the sword of Goliath available, and David had a choice: the sword in his hand, or an empty hand full of invisible faith…he chose the sword. So, where Christ was victorious, David failed twice.

    The second temptation of Christ was presumption: to put Himself in a dangerous place that God had not put Him, and then hope that God would deliver Him. Christ refused this temptation. David did not. After obtaining the sword of Goliath he fled to the land of the enemies of Israel…the Philistine king, Achish. This put him in a fearful position, as the Philistines knew of his fame, so David sinned yet again to deliver himself by faking madness. Again, where Christ was victorious, David failed.

    The third temptation of Christ was to take a shortcut to kingship by worshipping Satan. Christ refused this. In David’s case, after fleeing to the Philistine lands (a second time) for safety, he got caught in a final trap…to go to war against his own people with the Philistines. This would have been, in effect, to worship Satan by building up his kingdoms.

    David did not have the courage to directly refuse to go, when he said to Achish, “you know what I can do.” To answer more directly would have been to expose his previous lies. However, we can be sure that David had no intention of fighting against his own nation, and we assume there were many prayers to God going on while the battle was being set in order. Finally, through the distrust of the Philistine generals, God worked to deliver David from this terrible situation. So, in a way, David refused this temptation, but it was only by the mercy of God that he was not killed.

    I think this simple comparison makes it clearer that some of the events of David’s career in this time period were not in God’s order, and in fact, we are robbed of seeing some remarkable deliverances that God would have wrought for David in some other way, had he trusted fully to God’s promise that he was to be the next king.

  9. Gen. 50: 20/ In this verse we see that God can use even evil to bring about His will. God is sovereign over all things His will shall be done, and yet man has a free will to do the exact opposite of God’s. Even so, God is in complete control of mankind, even when it comes to our free will, this is a mystery our minds cannot understand.

  10. Paul,
    The story of Joseph, which you made reference to, is an excellent illustration of how God turns evil into good. But it was not by some supernatural twisting of people’s minds and hearts, or puppet-like manipulation, but by working through a godly man to save the people. Joseph was a key in God’s hand to unlock heaven. During his whole life in Egypt, he manifested faith and trust under trial, and strict obedience and trustworthiness in his daily life and responsibilities.

    There is no shortage of power with God, no “energy crisis”…but there is a real shortage of men like Joseph. And it’s not because God has “predestined” it to be so, rather it’s because people are taught in their churches that it is not possible, that nobody can really be obedient to God, they are too weak, etc. And further, the law of God, which Joseph obeyed, is put down as “works of the flesh”. Just the other day I came across a sermon called “grace trumps law”. Such a teaching is never found in the Bible. Rather, there we are taught that “grace establishes the law” (Rom. 3:31), and that “true circumcision” is “keeping of the law” (Rom. 2:17-29).

    This is simply apostasy from the truth, and apostasy comes when people do not receive “love of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). God offers truth, men do not love to have it, and so He lets them have apostasy instead. This is how God makes “vessels of wrath for destruction”. He never sets out purposely to make evil men, any more than a potter (or any craftsman) would purposely waste his time making a ruined piece of art. But he offers them truth, and when they refuse it, they are bound to their sin. Sin is a destroyer, and the wrath of God comes on the disobedient (Eph 5:6). So they are destroyed by their refusal to submit to the potter’s shaping hand. This is taught very clearly in the story of the potter (Jer. 18:2-10).

    Every sinner is a vessel of wrath (Eph. 2:3), until he is turned into a vessel of mercy. The apostle Paul was just as much a persecuter of God’s people (when he was Saul) as Pharaoh. Both were vessels of wrath. Both were called to “show God’s power to the nations.” Paul accepted the call and was changed to a vessel of mercy by accepting Christ. Pharaoh refused the call, and so faced the consequences of having God’s power, mercy, and protection removed from him and his nation.

    There are mysteries in God’s ways that we will never fully fathom, but there are also interpretations of the Bible that make a mystery even out of the things that God has plainly revealed.

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