1 Peter 2.13-24
No it doesn’t but it does say stuff about the principles of obeying governments. There are times when people are tempted to look for specific guidance when it is not there. At these times there is a temptation to cast around for additional specific guidance perhaps through a prophecy or dream and there is a risk that these can take precedence over existing biblical guidance. 1 Peter 2.11 begins a section that sets out guiding principles for much of our everyday life. It is then our responsibility to consider how they apply to our circumstances and how they fit within the wider teaching of scripture. On the day of writing significant Conservative Party advocates and donors have resigned their party membership in the belief that the government has breached their individual freedom to choose where they refuse to wear a face mask.
Today’s passage addresses submission to Authority and individual freedom, whether it is in the context of obedience to governments or employment even in unfair circumstances. The starting point for Peter is acting for the Lord’s sake vv 2.13,25 following the example of Christ. v 2.21 Peter is building on his teaching that we are not our own but have been ‘ransomed’ v 1.18 from our former life and are now a, ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession’. v 1.9 The freedom we have now received is to, ‘live as servants of God’. v 2.16 In doing so we are to, ‘honour everyone’ v 2.17 whether we like them or agree with them. The notion of universal human rights is for most of history an unknown concept, outside of the gospel. Even today although affirmed by most nation states it is very widely ignored by many of the same states. But the Christian is called to see people as Christ sees them and in every individual there is a likeness of God, 1 Corinthians 15.49 however deformed it may have become. The Christian is to love the brotherhood, fear God and honour the Emperor. v2.17
The purpose of respecting civil authorities is to promote law and order and to assist society to prosper. There are also gospel reasons and that is to silence those who would point to Christians as rebels or insurgents in society. Such allegations later became common currency in Roman society. Christians are called to emulate Jesus’ own character of one who does good even when treated badly, who speaks honestly, behaves humbly and does not retaliate with the same attitudes and behaviour that he has been subject to. vv 2.21-13 Judgement and justice is ultimately to be trusted to the hands of God as Jesus himself did.
Does this mean that Christians should always be passive recipients of injustice on behalf of themselves or others? This is clearly not the case as we take into account the wider teaching of scripture. Peter himself draws a line when the will of God diverges from the will of a governing authority. Standing before the highest court in Israel he said, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard … We must obey God rather than men’. vv Acts 4.19-20,5.29 This same challenge faces many modern Christians. During the reign of the Nazi Party in Germany they rewrote the statement of faith of the Lutheran Church to conform with racist ‘Arian’ ideals. Sadly, much of the church leadership agreed to it because they thought they were obeying the principles Peter wrote in verses 2.3-15. Others such as Bonhoeffer opposed the Church leadership and Nazi Party in that and other ways. Bonhoeffer lost his life for participating in the plan to kill Hitler. A similar situation is now being faced by the Christian church in China as the government is authorizing a ‘new translation’ of the bible to conform to the Chinese State communist ideology. (The same action is being taken over the Koran.)
Similarly, Peter and other apostles repeatedly instruct Christians to do good. This includes advocating for justice, fairness and the good of society especially the most vulnerable. In this way Christians have been and continue to be at the forefront of campaigns for racial justice, improved prison systems, provision for the poor, the care of refugees fleeing persecution and care for the elderly, along with many other good causes.
To revert to the first question, does the bible say we should wear face masks? Not specifically but where the Authority has brought in a regulation for the good of society, even if we are annoyed that it infringes our personal liberty, the biblical principle is to obey.
In what ways are we challenged to follow the example of Christ to do good even if we suffer for it?
Do we uphold in prayer and in other ways Christians who face the challenge of obeying God by disobeying their government?
Trust and obey