Submission is one of those dirty words we don’t want to talk or think about. It seems debilitating and threatening to our self-worth. And yet we arrive at our next step in our walk through 1st Peter and the first word we run into is “submit.” Ouch. While this is the first time Peter brings up this dirty word it won’t be the last. Each time seeks to bring our faith to a higher level.
Welcome to our 12th article in this series of Walking Through 1st Peter. If you’re just joining or would like to take a look at previous installments, they can be found at lambchow.com. In our last installment, we noted that Peter had shifted gears. Where the earlier parts of the letter were building his reader’s identity in Christ, Peter now considers ways faith in Christ expresses itself.
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:13–17, NASB95)
Before we dive into the specific submission Peter encourages in these verses lets consider submission in general.
We all probably have a good idea of what it means to submit. In a way, our walk with Jesus began with submission as we turned our lives, in some degree or another, over to Jesus. And while we may struggle to turn over certain aspects of our lives we agree that submission to Christ is a good thing.
Let’s dig just a bit deeper. Why don’t we consider submission to be a dirty word when it comes to our relationship with Jesus? I think the key that unlocks the mystery is love. God’s love for us and our love for Him. We willingly submit to Christ’s reign and rule in our lives because of love. Well, at least that the way it should be.
Over the course of Peter’s letter he specifically brings up four areas of submission to human authority. This is where we often find it challenging. Submitting to Christ – OK. Submitting to that king, president, boss, spouse, or wisdom of an elder – not so much. But when we refuse or lessen our submission to those human institutions we’re really refusing or lessening our submission to Christ.
For the Lord’s Sake
Let’s consider the specific area of submission found in today’s verses. For the Lord’s sake, submit to every human institution of government. Whether that is a king, president, governor, mayor, or school board. This applies not only to the rulers themselves but those appointed to represent them and enforce their rule. Peter calls these governors, which is accurate in the context of empires and kingdoms. Most of us don’t live in that context. The best examples for us would be the police, sheriff, judges, DMV workers, teachers, and those at other agencies of government.
We are instructed to submit to this authority. Peter doesn’t qualify his directions in any way. There’s no, “if their rule is just” or “if you agree with their policies and politics” not even anything about liking or disliking them. Many will at this point bring up whether we should submit to a despotic dictator. Submission comes easier when a ruler’s reign is just, likable, and prosperous. Our faith is stretched when asked to at least honor a leader who is ruthless, unkind, or just plain bad.
It is important to remember that Peter is writing to a persecuted church. His instruction was not given in the vacuum of peace but in a time of hostility towards people following Jesus.
Submission doesn’t leave us voiceless or without a witness. Most, if not all, of Lambchow readers, live where some form of democracy reigns. We are invited to participate in elections and are free to hold and voice our own opinions on matters of government. But there are still rulers, those that at this moment in time hold the authority. Sometimes those elected are downright sinful and evil. Then what do we do?
There are right ways and wrong ways to express God’s truth to an evil government. When King Nebachanezzer demanded that all of his subjects bow down and worship him three men refused. The king gave them a second chance, but they still refused. They didn’t riot, they didn’t call the king bad names, they didn’t march, they simply stood there and when asked they calmly explained why they couldn’t worship Nebuchadnezzar. They achieved submission to God and honored the king at the same time. (Daniel 3:1-30)
Act with Liberty
Peter next pulls two truths together. On the one hand is the freedom and liberty we have in Christ. On the other hand is our submission to Christ. Peter says, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” So often our submission looks and feels like bondage instead of freedom. But when our submission is motivated by love it is liberating. There is no fear, no doubt, no competition, no anger. We truly do live in liberty while also staying within the lines God designed for us.
This kind of liberty is bound in love. It’s not a free-for-all where anything goes. Sometimes we willingly put aside what liberty we have for the sake of someone else’s conscience or addiction. Other times we put things away because God convicts our heart. Sometimes for a season, sometimes for a lifetime. From the outside looking in this may seem like bondage and that God is the great cosmic killjoy. The opposite is true, willingly laying down something for God’s sake brings greater freedom and release.
Honor and Love
Peter ends this particular call to submission with a simple four line reminder which I also leave with you. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Just think on those for a few moments and what they mean. Ask God to show you ways to more fully walk in each one.