by Bruce Mills
"Honor the emperor" (1 Peter 2:17, ESV). With those words, the apostle Peter established a principle which is often ignored or overlooked by many Christians. The apostle Paul gave the same principle in Romans 13:7 in regard to the believer's responsibility toward government and governmental authorities--"Pay to all what is owed to them...respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." He was not saying that Christians only need to show respect and honor to those whom they believe deserve respect and honor; rather, he is affirming the universally understood principle that kings and emperors are to be respected and honored because of the position they hold. Paul also instructed Christians to pray for their secular government leaders--"I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior" (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
Why are these instructions so important? Because it is my observation that many within the generally conservative American evangelical community do not demonstrate the kind of respect and honor that Scripture calls for regarding those political leaders with whom they disagree. I have heard many Christians (and I have fallen into the same trap) besmirching and ridiculing the character, behavior, and actions of men such as Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and now, Barack Obama, because they disagree with their political positions.
Sometimes their dismay over those matters is justified, such as when Bill Clinton engaged in immoral sexual behavior and then lied about it to the American people. Yes, his conduct was reprehensible, but that does not abrogate the responsibility of believers to pray for our leaders and honor them. God has sovereignly placed them in their position of authority over us and we are commanded to respond with submission and honor.
As Barack Obama has assumed the presidency of this nation, conservative Christians again find themselves in the position of having to demonstrate respect and honor for a man whose political positions and personal beliefs are often in conflict with the requirements of Scripture. Many find President Obama's position on abortion to be abhorrent, his position on homosexual marriage to be an abomination, and fear that his support for the nation of Israel may be less enthusiastic than his predecessors. In addition there are grave concerns among many that conservative values and those who hold to them will be increasingly marginalized and rejected as being "outside the mainstream." Some even go so far as to say that speaking out on certain biblical positions will be deemed hate speech and may be prosecuted by the government.
I have no idea how many of the perilous predictions that many evangelical Christians are expecting will come true under President Obama's administration. But I do think it is reasonable to expect that many will be very unhappy with him because of the effects of his executive orders and legislative pursuits upon values important to conservative Christians. However, none of this should have any impact upon our commitment to pray for and demonstrate honor and respect for President Obama.
Keep in mind that at the time that the apostles Paul and Peter wrote the words which opened this post, the emperor was Nero. He was the man who carried out the worst atrocities upon his victims. He enjoyed dipping Christians in wax, impaling them on poles around his palace, and then lighting them on fire, yelling, "Now you truly are the light of the world." He also sent many into the arena at the Circus Maximus where he would wrap Christians in animal skins, throw them to lions or dogs which would then tear those men and women apart in front of thousands of entertained spectators. At other times he would crucify them, and after the crowd would get bored, he would set the Christians on fire.
Additionally, Nero was an adulterous bi-sexual who ordered his own mother's execution. He was just about as vile as a man can be, yet this was the emperor whom Peter said to honor and for whom Paul instructed his readers to pray.
There is simply no way to validly compare President Obama to a man as evil as Nero. But, like Nero, Christians are to pray for President Obama and request the Lord to grant him wisdom and strength to carry out the duties of his position, and that the Lord will restrain him from poor decisions and direct him toward wise and good decisions. You may not agree with him politically, but he is our president. Thus, we are to obey the commands of Scripture to submit to, honor, respect, and pray for Him.