The Ambassador’s Submission to Human Authority (1 Peter 2:13-17)
One of the joys of preaching through books of the Bible is that you get to teach and preach on topics which you would otherwise never preach on. You get to preach and learn from the breath and expanse of the entire Word of God. Today is one of those days. We have been talking a lot about living hope and living out that living hope recently as an ambassador for Christ. Last week we talked about an ambassador being both a citizen of Heaven and at the same time a representative of Christ. A citizen of Heaven does not mean you run away from society, but come alongside it. It would have been easy for Peter’s readers to conclude that since they were pilgrims and exiles on their way to heaven, they therefore have no civic responsibility here on earth. Perhaps they would have concluded that they could disregard and disobey human government (and a corrupt one at that). Today he will elaborate more on how to relate to the various circles of human authority placed in our lives.
The title of the message today is “An ambassador’s submission to human authority” Part 1 of a two-part series. Pastor Ray Pritchard asks this question, “What is the hardest doctrine in the Bible? I think the answer is, it depends. If you mean, “What is the hardest doctrine to understand?” I would nominate the doctrine of the Trinity. If you mean, “What is the hardest doctrine to believe?” I might suggest the doctrine of eternal hell. But if you mean, “What is the hardest doctrine to obey?” I think it’s the doctrine of submission.” The word “submission” is an evil word, especially in this country, which worships personal autonomy. The story is told of a little boy was misbehaving and his mother told him to go sit in a chair by the corner. After a while, she asked him, “Have you learned your lesson yet?” With a look of defiance, he replied, “I’m sitting on the outside but I’m standing on the inside!” We have all been there, like this boy, where we are sitting on the outside, but adamantly standing on the inside with people who are above us in authority. Often this “anti-authority” spirit is excused even among Christians in things they say about elected officials of the land, not paying taxes, driving recklessly or stealing on the job.
However, 1 Pet. 2:13-17 gives us a framework on how Christians should relate to all the various circles of authority in our lives. Actually, the key theme that permeates this section as well as until 1 Pet. 3:9, is submission. What does it mean for believers to submit to human authority in our lives? We are ambassadors, priests to the King of Kings, but still called to live responsibly on the earth. Three thoughts for us today. Let’s start with this:
I. Submission is a command of God (1 Pet. 2:13-14a)
When God commands something in Scripture, how much leeway is there to ignore it because we don’t like it? NONE! We cannot treat Scripture as a buffet, picking and choosing what we like and throwing away what we don’t like. We have to take it all. Look at 1 Pet. 2:13. It starts with a “be subject to” which the NIV, KJV and NASU translate as “submit,” while NLT says, “respect.”
This word is a “military expression literally meaning ‘to arrange in formation under the commander.’” Bruce Hurt says it is “not seeking one’s own interests but rather assuming a voluntary commitment of service to others.” It does not mean absolute blind obedience, like when commanded to sin. Neither does it mean silence, like you never have a say in anything. Nor does it even mean you have to promote, believe in or agree with everything everybody above you have to say.
But submission is an attitude, a disposition that actually we should have toward everyone, especially to believers as a result of being filled by the Spirit, as it says in Eph. 5:18-21: “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It is not our natural reaction, but a supernatural action through the Holy Spirit. What that teaches me is that God never commands us to do something without providing the needed resources to carry out that command. He enables to be and to do what He commands. So by nature we are rebels, each of us going our own way (Is. 53:6) and that is the way of the flesh, but the way of the Spirit is each of us going the way of Christ, who is the greatest example of submission (1 Pet. 2:21).
Here Peter gives us the extent for submission: “to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors…” A parallel passage to this comes from Rom. 13:1-7. There we see that God has created all the foundations of human society, whether it is work, family or government. Daniel 2:21 says, “God changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings…” Daniel says this in relation to the ruthless, godless Nebuchadnezzar. God is sovereign over the affairs of mankind and has ordained human government for His own purposes. It is He ultimately who has raised up kings, presidents, prime ministers, senators, governors, congressmen and supreme court justices.
Peter says our submission goes to all levels of authority from the highest which was for Peter’s day, the Emperor Nero, who was a deranged tyrant (more on him later) to lower levels like governors (Pilate was a governor in Jesus’ day). In other words, we are to submit to all levels of authority over us from President Obama to and to the Supreme Court, and to the federal judiciary system, and to the Congress, and to Governor Quinn and the Illinois state legislature, and to the alderman, state police and the local police, and to the principal at the school your children attend. We can probably extend the list further and talking about political leaders in Illinois, especially, probably want to make you gag with all that is going on and they text is not telling us to promote them or like them or approve some of their conduct or participate in their activities or to never question anything, but to show them respect because of the office that they have been given ultimately by God. God expects us to submit.
Pastor Tom Constable explained this in a way that was helpful for me. He said, “Respect is not the same as honor. We may not respect someone, but we can and should still honor him or her. For example, I have a friend whose father was an alcoholic. My friend did not respect his father who was frequently drunk, often humiliated his wife and children, and failed to provide for his family adequately. Nevertheless my friend honored his father because he was his father. He demonstrated honor by taking him home when his father could not get home by himself. He sometimes had to defend him from people who would have taken advantage of him when he was drunk. Similarly we may not be able to respect certain government officials because of their personal behavior or beliefs. Still we can and should honor them because they occupy an office that places them in a position of authority over us. We honor them because they occupy the office; we do not just honor the office. Peter commanded us to honor the king and all who are in authority over us, not just the offices that they occupy. We may not respect someone, but we can and should honor them by treating them with respect. Respecting someone and treating them with respect are two different things. Feeling respect for someone is different than showing respect for someone. Honoring others is our responsibility; earning our respect is theirs.” We will look at the word honor when we get to 1 Pet. 2:17.
Why should we submit? What is our motive for submission? Look at the text: “for the Lord’s sake.” We ultimately submit because it pleases the Lord. We are not doing it for them. We are not even doing it just to avoid punishment, but because we want to please the Lord. We are doing it because we are living for the Lord. John Piper adds, “The Bible is not a book about how to get along in the world. It is a book inspired by God about how to live to God. I love that phrase ‘live to God.’ It’s not mine. It’s Paul’s. He said in Galatians 2:19, ‘Through the law I died to the law that I might live to God.’ The aim of life—including our social and political life—is to live to God. To live with God in view. To live under his authority. To live on him like we live on air and food and water. To live for his good reputation.”
So we are not ultimately submitting because we love paying our taxes or we think some of these people deserve it, but because our attitude to them as our authority reveals our attitude toward God as our ultimate authority. We submit to authority over us because it pleases the Lord. So getting a building permit to build that deck is submitting to the laws that pertain to that and this pleases the Lord, who has ultimate authority. We don’t drive recklessly or obey the speed limit not only because we might endanger people on the road with us, but because submitting to the authority of those who put those rules in order, is ultimately pleasing the Lord, who governs the Universe. We render to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Matt. 22:21), paying our taxes, because ultimately submitting to the earthly authority over us pleases the Lord, who has ultimate authority. So we look at them and say, ““I submit to you, I honor you—but not for your sake. I honor you for God’s sake. I honor you because God owns you and rules over you and has sovereignly raised you up for a limited season and given you the leadership that you have. For his sake and for his glory and because of his rightful authority over you, I honor you.” In sum, doing all these things is an act of worship!
This is particularly convicting to me because it is easy for me to mock and to ridicule politicians or bosses or teachers or to join with others, even Christians, when they are quick to show this attitude of disrespect to people in authority. Proverbs says with the multitude of words, sin is not absent (Prov. 10:19). Again, I am not saying we should condone foolish behavior from elected officials or if our boss or teacher does some incompetent actions, but we must check our heart. Am I displaying an anti-authority spirit with that statement about so-and-so? Do we share even mean jokes about people in authority over us? Often I see cruel words about the President on facebook and it has always been from believers. I don’t care if you voted for him or not, but ultimately God put him there in a place of authority over us and we should show him respect for that. God commands us to submit to all authority over us because doing so pleases Him. Secondly:
II. Submission is cooperating with God’s intended order for society (1 Pet. 1:14b)
We are now given the purpose of the ruling authorities. Ruling authorities in Peter’s day were sent by the Emperor for a purpose. The purpose was two-fold: to uphold justice and to commend good citizens. In other words, the government’s role is “to create fear that restrains evil, punish those who do wrong, and protect those who do right.” Thus, taking the laws into our own hands (vigilante justice) is not commended for disciples of Christ. Perhaps Peter learned this lesson the hard way when Jesus had rebuked him when he cut off the servant’s ear when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:51-54; John 21:20)?
Peter is talking in a general sense, because we know Christians were not praised for the good they did in society, but the government has an overall purpose of keeping order that God has intended for them to carry out. Obviously Peter is not saying the ruling authorities always fulfill such a purpose. Rulers and governments can be corrupt, even handing over an innocent Jesus to death and slander His believers, but “even the most oppressive governments, however, hold evil in check to some extent, preventing society from collapsing into complete anarchy.”
God’s will is order in society and as believers, we of all people should cooperate with His will in keeping that order in the land. Now let’s be clear. When the laws of the government make it illegal to worship God, we must obey God rather than man and accept the consequences. After all, Peter himself said once when the religious leaders had told he and the apostles to stop preaching that “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Tom Constable writes that, “Some Christians have taken the position that believers are free to disobey their governments if the government permits conduct that is contrary to God’s will. Consequently some Christians feel justified in bombing abortion clinics, for example. However cases of apostolic civil disobedience recorded in Scripture involved situations in which believers had to disobey God’s will. Christians should practice civil disobedience only when the government requires its citizens to disobey God, not when it only permits them to disobey Him. Currently the United States government permits abortion, for example, but it does not require it.” When you are told that you HAVE to disobey God is when you should choose not to submit. In all other instances, we must work toward cooperating with God’s intended order in society.
Furthermore, 1 Tim. 2:1-4 tells us that we should pray for people in authority over us because through them we live in God’s intended order in society and create an avenue for everyone to know Christ. When was the last time you prayed for the President or those in elected positions in our land? Praise God for the freedom we do have in this land and God only knows how long we will have it, but let’s keep praying that through our cooperating with God’s order as model citizens, we might be used by God to spread the gospel. And this is where Peter goes next:
III. Submission silences the critics (1 Pet. 2:15)
Peter just talked about our conduct in mission and evangelism in 1 Pet. 2:12. He brings that back up here. He wants us to come alongside unbelievers and influence them for the gospel. Look at 1 Pet. 2:15. For “this” referring to submitting to human authority, will “silence the ignorance of foolish men.” “Silence” here means “‘to restrain, muzzle, or make speechless” (cf. Matt. 22:12, 34; Mark 1:25; 4:39; Luke 4:35). It denotes the gagging or stopping of someone’s mouth so as to render that person incapable of response.” Warren Wiersbe says it is “as though the pagan critics were like a pack of yelping, snapping dogs!”
Ignorance refers to the willful, hostile rejection of the truth of the gospel, which has caused people to become foolish, which means lacking in spiritual perception. Spurgeon adds, “Ignorance, you see, is a noisy thing. An empty drum makes a loud noise when it is beaten; and empty men, like empty vessels, often make the most sound. How then are we to silence this noisy ignorance? By argument? No, for it is not amenable to argument. Ignorance is to be silenced “by well doing.” Holy living is the best reply to infidel talking.”
Paul wrote to new believers in Titus 3:1-2: “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” Pastor Stephen Cole says, “When Christians live like that in the midst of a pagan culture, it is a powerful testimony. On the other hand, when professing Christians disrespect authority, when they disobey the law, or when they just withdraw from society and live unto themselves without doing good deeds, it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those who are prone to criticize Christianity.” Fourthly:
IV. Submission balances freedom and responsibility (1 Pet. 2:16)
Peter then talks about maintaining credibility toward unbelievers. If you want to do so, you have to understand that your spiritual freedom is not an excuse for breaking the laws of the land. We were under Satan’s bondage, the world’s control and sin and death’s power, condemned to die under the law’s penalty, but Christ, bought us with a price and set us free. And if the Son sets us free, we are free indeed (John 8:32). Christ has set us free, but that does not mean independence. You need to balance your freedom with responsibility.
Wiersbe adds, “Someone may argue, ‘But, as Christians, are we not free?’ Yes, we are free in Christ; but we must never use our freedom for ourselves. We must always use it for others. Sad to say, there are ‘religious racketeers’ who prey on ignorant people and use ‘religion’ to veil their evil actions. A true Christian submits himself to authority because he is first of all submitted to Christ. He uses his freedom as a tool to build with and not as a weapon to fight with. A good example of this attitude is Nehemiah, who willingly gave up his own rights that he might help his people and restore the walls of Jerusalem.”
“Cover-up” here means “placing a mask or veil over something.” Your spiritual freedom was given to you not so you can do as you please, especially in not wanting to submit to the ruling authorities, which he calls “evil.” Christ set you free from the bondage of serving sin, so that you can be free in serving Christ. John Macarthur says, “Freedom in Christ and citizenship in the kingdom of God in no way permit believers to abuse or disregard the standards of conduct God has established for them on earth.”
Submission is truly balancing your freedom with responsibility. Victor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist said, “Freedom is only part of the story and half the truth.… That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” Tony Evans notes, “A tennis player isn’t free to play tennis if there is no baseline. A baseball player isn’t free to play baseball if there is no foul line. A football player is not free to play football if there are no sidelines. There are some “nots” in athletic games in order for the game to be maximized. The reason that God allows boundaries is to create the opportunity to take full advantage of freedom. You cannot be free without restrictions. A fish is not free to roam the jungle. It wasn’t made for that. A lion is not free to live in the ocean, because it wasn’t made for that. Freedom is having the benefits accrue to you that you were created to receive. Freedom doesn’t mean there are no boundaries. Freedom means that within the right boundaries you can maximize your potential.”
This verse is very liberating. Peter is talking about the power of submission that creates a balance between freedom and responsibility. So often we fall under the weight of the authorities placed in our lives. Watching the news may anger us at what is going on in Washington or in Springfield. We may be bothered at work by what our boss has said or done or not done. We may have parents that weigh us down emotionally. We may have a tough teacher that is not fair. What Peter is saying is that “live as the free people you are.” These things will come and go. These people will come and go. There is no need to let them put you in bondage. I remember when Moody started laying off its employees due to the bad economy and it hit graduate school where I was working. I got all nervous about my job and it consumed me. Now in looking back, I feel silly about how I let it get to me. It was just a season! When we let these things consume us, we lose the freedom to maximize our potential in doing Kingdom work. When your teacher or your boss is hard on you, how excited are you about spreading the gospel among your classmates or co-workers? This is precisely the bondage God wants to set us free from so that we can be effective witnesses for Christ.
You are ultimately a servant of God Peter says, not a servant to situations, people’s opinions and circumstances that often human authorities over us may put on us. In the original, “servants” means “bondservant,” which means “one who surrendered wholly to another’s will and thus devoted to another to the disregard of his own interest.”
At the same time, just because your identity in Christ frees you from living for these things, does not mean you are sloppy or careless in how you live. Just because you believe the government is taking your money does not mean you lie on your taxes. But you make sure you can get every deduction you can on them; not doing so is being a poor steward of God’s resources!
Just because you think your company is not paying you enough does not mean you steal from them. But you may need to get another job or talk things over with your employer. Just because you think the teacher is not fair does not mean you cheat on your exam. But you study hard and let God deal with him or her and even help others study better. Being free does not make you independent. God is calling these activities “evil.” These things take away from the power of your Christian witness. But within the boundaries God has set for us, take advantage to make much of God through the way we live. Lastly,
V. Submission is cultivating an attitude of honor with everyone around us (1 Pet. 2:17)
Peter ends with four short applications (to every dimension of life) in connection to what he has been saying about submission. Interesting tense usage here in the Greek: One commentator takes notes of this when he says, “The Greek imperative is in the aorist tense, yet it is followed by three present imperatives, love … fear … honor. The meaning seems to be: Take up once for all (aorist imperative) as a permanent stance the attitude of respect for all. In practice this works out as continuously (present imperatives) loving the brotherhood of believers, fearing God, and honoring the king.” We are a privileged people, chosen priests to the King of Kings and God’s own possession, but that does not mean we look down on anyone.
“Honor everyone,” he says first of all. Everyone is created in the image of God, though depraved, they possess dignity. As a result, you have to respect them. The word “honor” here means “to attribute worth to or merit in some person or thing. Show all men the respect which is due to them according to their worth as those made in the image of God.” Not all people are honorable and not all people deserve honor because they are but people like us, depraved but possessing dignity.
This does not mean tolerate everyone’s conduct mindlessly or promote what they say, like them or love everyone or agree with them. Secondly, love the brotherhood. Respect everyone, but love the people of God. Peter talked about loving the people of God earnestly (1 Pet. 1:22). One of the ways we can love each other is cultivating an attitude of submission with each other. Again this does not mean being passive or quiet, but an attitude of humility, letting petty things go, seeking ways to out-serve one another and treating others better than ourselves. Thirdly, fear God. Again, Peter talked about this wholesome dread of displeasing God in 1 Pet. 1:17. Again, this is our motive for submitting to earthly authorities as it shows our attitude toward the One whose opinion only counts in the end. Lastly Peter says, “Honor the Emperor.” This brings it back full circle to 1 Pet. 2:13. This is an amazing statement from Peter. Do you know Peter who Nero is? He sure did know who Nero is.
Emperor Nero was the emperor of Rome from 54 AD to 68 AD. He became emperor when he was 17 years old. The initial time of his ruling went well, but soon he became paranoid that someone was going to assassinate him. So a year after he was made emperor, he killed his stepbrother. In 60 AD, he killed his own mother and two years later, his wife was banished executed as well. He also killed several generals and other leaders who he thought plotted against him. He said he was savior of the world and claimed divine status. This is all around the time Peter is writing this letter. A couple years later, a fire broke out in Rome and Nero’s popularity began to wane, so he blamed the Christians for starting it. This began an intense purposeful campaign against Christians. Nero would crucify Christians in his own garden. He would wrap Christians in animal skins and release dogs to kill them and eat them. He would drenched Christians in flammable oil and lift them up to burn. Among his victims: the Apostles Peter and Paul.  Then in 68 AD, he thrusted a dagger in his throat and committed suicide at the age of 30.
So honor him too? Respect his office and submit to him as long as he is not commanding you to sin. Worship him as king and emperor? Absolutely not. Stop preaching the gospel because he said so. Absolutely not. Condone his actions? No way. But see him as someone who needs the gospel, who is truly broken, brought into your life so that he may see the light of the gospel through you and your submission, even though he is cruel and deranged. Again, it is the attitude that God is after that we must be cultivating around everyone, whether our neighbor or the President.
In what areas are we demonstrating an anti-authority spirit? If we are to be ambassadors of living hope, we must be careful to have a lifestyle that is without reproach. It is not about us (God is mentioned five times here). It is about making the gospel credible. Also, with a multitude of words, sin is not absent. Perhaps we have mocked our president or are there people we do not tend to respect? Are you weighed down by the authorities in your life? Are you in bondage to them? We don’t have the power to be free. He needs to set us free and live out our freedom with responsibility.
Pritchard, Ray. “Serving God in an Unbelieving World” http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2004-12-05-Serving-God-in-an-Unbelieving-World/ accessed 10 June 2010.
MacArthur, J. (145).
Hurt, Bruce. “1 Pet. 2:13-17 Commentary” http://www.preceptaustin.org/1peter_verse_by_verse_213-25.htm#2:13 accessed 10 June 2010.
Constable, Tom. (1 Pet. 2:17)
Piper, J. (2007). Sermons from John Piper (1990-1999). Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.
MacArthur, J. (150).
Schreiner, T. R. (129).
Constable, Tom. (1 Pet. 2:13).
MacArthur, J. (150).
Wiersbe, W. W. (1 Pet. 2:13).
Spurgeon, C. H. (1998). Vol. 54: Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 54 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Spurgeon’s Sermons. Albany, OR: Ages Software.
Cole, Stephen. “Christian Citizenship,” http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/083092m.pdf accessed 10 June 2010.
Wiersbe, W. W. Ibid.
MacArthur, J. (151).
MacArthur, J. (152).
Larson, C. B., & Lowery, B. (2009). 1001 quotations that connect: Timeless wisdom for preaching, teaching, and writing (203). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
Evans, T. (112-113).
Hurt, Bruce. “1 Pet. 2:13-17 Commentary” http://www.preceptaustin.org/1peter_verse_by_verse_213-25.htm#2:13 accessed 11 June 2010.
Hillyer, N. (80).
Hurt, Bruce. Ibid.
Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Tyndale Reference Library (246). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
Water, M. (2001). The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs (74). Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.
Morgan, R. J. (2001). Nelson’s Annual Preacher’s Sourcebook : 2002 edition (electronic ed.) (164). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.