The last time I checked, “Honour the king” is still in our New Testaments (1 Peter 2:17). The ESV translates “king” as “emperor”, but my Greek lexicon tells me the word describes the person who holds the highest office in a political realm. So, in Peter’s day that would have been the Roman emperor, but, today, for British citizens, it’s King Charles III.
The command isn’t qualified. God doesn’t say “honour the king [when he’s honourable]”. He doesn’t say, “honour the king [if you happen to like him]”, or “honour the king, [as long as you’re a royalist]”. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, I can say confidently on the authority of Scripture: it’s God will for us that we honour the king.
This is the problem with the position of Symon Hill, who was (unfairly) arrested for protesting at a ceremony for the King’s accession last September. Hill said: “I don’t understand how a Christian can agree to a proclamation declaring somebody other than Jesus to be our only king”. Well, it’s really not very hard. Jesus has the title “king of kings” (Rev 17:14), not “the king who obliterates kings”! Jesus calls the kings of the earth to kiss him in Psalm 2, not to repent of their failure to introduce democracy. It’s very possible to be both in authority and under authority at the same time (e.g. the centurion in Matt 8:9). So, Jesus’ kingship isn’t an excuse to look at the British crown and say: “Not my king!”. We live in a place called the United Kingdom, in which every piece of legislation needs Royal Assent. Every politician sitting in the House of Commons and Lords, every member of the armed forces, every judge sitting in the courts, every police officer walking the streets, swears allegiance to the crown. Whether you like it or not, King Charles is your king.
What’s more, the Bible says: King Charles and his government has been “instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). In other words, King Jesus has put King Charles in place. I wonder, do we believe that? I’m always challenged by David’s example, who despite being anointed king by Samuel, and despite assassination attempts, spared Saul’s life twice, because he daren’t put out his hand against the LORD’s anointed” (1 Sam 24:4-6; 26:8-9)!
Now, what will it mean for us to honour King Charles? Does it mean you have to fly the Union Jack outside your house, and sing the national anthem at the top of your voice? Do you need to cover your house in bunting for the coronation? Well, quite clearly, it’s an open command that can be fleshed out in a million different ways; I’m not going to patronise anyone with a specific set of instructions. But at its most basic level, honour means showing respect. In other words, it’s got to show itself. Honour cannot stay hidden, unexpressed, and private. It manifests itself in our public actions – in little things like the ways we talk, and our body language. So, when a son rolls his eyes at his mum, he’s dishonouring her, but when he jumps up to help her bring in the shopping, he’s showing honour.
Paul modelled honour for political authority when on trial in the Book of Acts. He used titles – “most excellent Festus” (Acts 26:25); he expressed gratitude at his audience before Felix and Agrippa (Acts 24:10; 26:2). He called the church to publicly offer prayer for kings (1 Tim 2:2). Peter himself explains that honouring the king expresses itself in being his loyal subject (1 Pet 2:13-14). And none of the first century Roman emperors were saints. So, this honour wasn’t reserved only for those who acted honourably.
Now, to be clear, this Christian honour should not be confused with a blind patriotism. Jesus is the King of King Charles III, and “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). So, if his majesty’s government passes legislation which asks us to sin, we are to break the law. Christian honour doesn’t mean that Christians cannot argue for political reform and change; plenty of godly Christians through history have argued for political reform; some have even taken up arms against their king! I’m intrigued by Mordecai, who refused to pay homage to Haman, the prime minister (Esther 3:2). But their arguments were much more careful and biblical than: “I believe in democracy!”, or “I don’t like the king!”.
Clearly, the British crown no longer wields the political authority that it once did; everyone knows that if the monarch challenged Parliament, it would lead to a constitutional crisis, and the end of the monarchy. Presumably, therefore, there’s a corresponding reduction in the level of honour we owe the crown (Rom 13:7). But that only means we need to transfer the lion’s share to the Houses of Parliament, which we’re also not brilliant at doing!
If our children see us being rude about those in authority over us, can we be surprised if they disrespect us? If we fail to honour the king, can we blame them for not honouring us? We live at a time of crisis in “honour”. There’s ladles of cynicism out there. Parents struggle to honour teachers. Husbands fail to show honour to their wives (1 Peter 3:7), churches fail to honour widows (1 Tim 5:3) and elders (1 Tim 5:17). We’re cynics. But Jesus redeems us in order that we start keeping the fifth commandment (“honour your father and your mother”). Cultivating an attitude of honour that registers itself visibly is one more way that we as Christians can show that Jesus is transforming us.