“Enough already!” Is that how you feel after 139 days of lockdown?
I think it’s true that most of us have done well abiding by the government’s restrictions concerning curfews, family visits, church gatherings, protocols at work, wearing of masks, and, (I hope!), the cigarette ban. But perhaps, like me, you are increasingly feeling the urge to say, “Enough!” and to push the proverbial envelope. You know, to have that family braai you’ve been longing for, or to take that holiday to the Kruger, or perhaps doctoring an excuse that will get you through the checkpoint, or to accommodate a lot more congregants than the prescribed limit of fifty at a church service.
Well, if you are struggling with such temptations, let me encourage you toward continued patient submission. The Scriptures make such an appeal.
First Peter 2:13–17 exhorts the church to submit to earthly rulers. It should be noted how these verses imply submission over the long haul. Peter desires for the good behaviour of Christians (i.e. respectful submission to those who rule) to be a means of silencing slanderous accusations towards the church. It is assumed that, over the long-haul of continual submission, the testimony of the church will be strengthened giving them a voice that will be heard. In the verses that follow, servants are exhorted to be patiently submissive to their masters (2:18–20). This expectation is for long-termsubmission as indicated by the repetitive use of the word “endure.” And what is the outcome of their patient submission? Peter answers: “This is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (v. 20).
My wife often counsels, “Submission isn’t really submission if you agree anyway.” Her point is that a wife submitting to her husband is at times difficult precisely because she does not agree with him. But unless he is asking her to do something sinful, submission, generally speaking, is called for. It seems that in these days it would be good if Christians embrace this truth. Those who wish to defy the government’s restrictions need to reckon with the biblical point that, unless the government is commanding us to sin, disagreement—or mere impatience!—is not sufficient cause to disobey. There is a lot of nuance to this that I don’t want to unpack in this short article, but suffice it to say that it seems clear to me, to our elders, and to a multitude of Christians that in South Africa that we are not at a point where we are being asked to choose between Christ and Caesar. Rather, we are being asked to choose between the discomfort of patiently submitting or defiantly rebelling.
How, then, can we continue to patiently submit? Let me suggest that, first of all, we should consider God’s providence. He is in control of this pandemic and so we can be sure that he is at work in accordance with his purposes. When we submit to a government that is simply fulfilling its mandate—namely, health and security—we are submitting to God who is ultimately in control.
Second, reinforce your conviction about God’s power. He is able to build his church, even if government wrong-headedly overreaches with restrictions. Third, develop the conviction that God’s people, by God’s power, can persevere and willovercome this temporary inconvenience. God will see us through. And, finally, adhere to God’s precept. Since he has commanded us to submit to the powers that be as they fulfil their mandate (Romans 13:1–7), “obedience,” as the song says, “is the very best way to show that you believe.”
The government is neither persecuting us nor telling us to sin. Their rules about family gatherings, requiring face masks, and restrictions on congregational gathering are not a command for us to sin. We should be careful of wrongly applying Acts 5:29 (“We ought to obey God rather than men”). Rather, brothers and sisters, since God wrote the rules about submission, let’s be sure that we do not disobey him.
Working on patience with you,