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10. Submission To Authorities (1 Peter 2:13–25)

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Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover–up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 2:13–25

Why should believers submit even to unjust authorities?

In this text Peter is talking about submission---submission to authorities in government, submission to masters, and all of this is in the context of suffering. When people look at Christians, they shouldn’t find those who are slandering their leaders or starting riots to overthrow government, even in the case of injustice, such as persecution or slavery.

Remember, in this context Nero is on the throne and Christians are being thrown to the lions and burned at the stake. It seems like an ideal time to fight back, but that is not what Peter teaches the Christians to do. He tells them to submit to the unjust authorities in leadership.

In this passage, we will learn why Christians should submit even to unjust authorities and see how they should be known for their submission. They should not be known for complaining, arguing, or starting protests, but by the beauty of this submission.

Big Question: Why should believers submit even to unjust authorities in 1 Peter 2:13–25?

Believers Should Submit to Authorities to Honor God

Submit yourselves for the Lords sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 2:13

The first reason believers are called to submit is because of the Lord. Peter says we should submit for “the Lord’s sake.” This is the reason that believers can demonstrate lives full of submission even amidst persecution. It is because they live a life of submission to the Lord.

Look at what Paul taught in Romans 13:1–2,

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

Paul says believers must submit because there is no authority except that which comes from God and to rebel against the authority is to rebel against God. We see this very clearly in the scenario with David and Saul. David had been anointed as future king, and yet King Saul wanted to kill him. He threw a spear at David, had soldiers come to his house to take him, and chased him through the mountains, and yet David always said this, “I will not touch God’s anointed. Who can touch God’s anointed and be guiltless?” Look at what he says:

But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the LORD lives,” he said, “the LORD himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORDs anointed (emphasis mine).
1 Samuel 26:9–11

See, for David, he realized that if he touched God’s anointed, he would be guilty before God. He saw God as establishing Saul’s leadership even though he was in rebellion.

Do you see God as having established your pastors, your small-group leaders, your bosses, your president, even those who are ungodly?

Many are guilty before God because they have touched God’s authority by their criticism, their abuse and attacks, and not only have they touched these people but touched and disrespected God.

Does this mean we do not recognize wrong? Certainly, we do, but the manner in which we do it makes all the difference in the world. Does our response mock, belittle, disrespect, or encourage rebellion in others? If we have done that, we have dishonored God.

The reason we submit is for the Lord’s sake that we may honor him and also to avoid being disciplined by him. Paul said this in Romans 13:2, “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (emphasis mine).

Interpretation Question: How can God have established all authorities if some are unjust like Hitler? How does the believer reconcile this?

One author said God understands that even a bad ruler is better than no ruler at all because then there would be total anarchy. Also, it should be noted that God many times gives us the leaders we deserve as a judgment. With King Saul, the people had rejected God and asked for a leader just like the other nations had. God gave them the oppressive king they asked for in order to humble them and teach them to submit to God.

We see this in other Scripture as well. Read Isaiah 3:1–12 where a lack of leadership is shown as a judgment of God. Even the children end up in leadership because Israel had turned their backs on God (v. 4). When there are presidential elections in my country, it is very common for people to feel like they are choosing “the better of two evils.” We are in a stage where it seems God has removed many of our godly leaders even as he did with Israel. Look at Isaiah 3:1-6:

See now, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support: all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and warrior, the judge and prophet, the soothsayer and elder, the captain of fifty and man of rank, the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter. I will make boys their officials; mere children will govern them. People will oppress each other—man against man, neighbor against neighbor. The young will rise up against the old, the base against the honorable. A man will seize one of his brothers at his father’s home, and say, “You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!”

In Isaiah 3, we see that one of the judgments on Israel for rebelling was taking away leadership. He took away heroes, warriors, judges, prophets, etc. We see that people were crying out for young boys and children to govern them. There were no great leaders left.

I cannot help but notice that in my own country’s elections. Every election, it seems people are voting against someone but not really voting for someone. This is a reflection of the judgment of God on a people who no longer reverence and seek him. He takes away the blessing of godly leaders. However, either way we must affirm that God is in control of government and specifically our leaders. This is why we must submit to them, out of submission to the Lord.

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced ungody leadership and how did you respond to it? How can we seek to honor God better in those situations?

Believers Should Submit to Authorities Because of Their Purpose

Or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
1 Peter 2:14

In this passage, Peter talks about the reasons God established authorities. He has established them for two reasons: (1) to punish wrong and (2) to commend right. These are the reasons God established authorities on the earth. In fact, we see the first establishment of human government after the flood with Noah. Look at what God says to Noah:

And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”
Genesis 9:5–6

God says he would establish an accounting for man’s blood whether through animal or man. If a person killed a man, man was to exact retribution through capital punishment. In this covenant with Noah, he essentially establishes our government system, our military system, and our police system in some sense for the encouragement of righteousness and as a deterrent to sin.

This system of government had not been established previously, before God’s covenant with Noah. Remember, Cain did not die for his murder, and neither did his son, Lamech. He had not yet established this system. God judged them directly. But after man’s utter failure to live godly, he wipes them out in the flood and establishes delegated authority in the government.

One of the reasons we should submit to government is because we understand their purpose. They are given for the purpose of deterring sin and for promoting righteousness. They deter sin by discipline and they encourage righteousness through commendation or reward. We see this as presidents will often fly to congratulate heroes or those who accomplish something special in a country.

Listen again to what Paul said:

For he is Gods servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is Gods servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (emphasis mine).
Romans 13:4

When those in leadership promote good and deter sin, they are acting as God’s servants, his ministers. For that reason, we must submit to them because we understand their purpose.

Application Question: In understanding the role of government, what else should be the Christians response in supporting government other than submission?

Other than submission, the Christian should pray for the government (1 Tim 2:1, 2). The Christian also should consider serving in government. God placed Joseph and Daniel in government positions in order to help promote good in pagan countries. In fact, David and his mighty men essentially all served in the army, which was part of promoting and protecting good in Israel.

Believers Should Submit to Authorities to Quiet Those Who Are Antagonistic Toward Christianity

For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
1 Peter 2:15

Peter tells us one of the reasons for our submission should be to “silence” the ignorant talk of foolish men or those who do not believe in God. Psalms 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” No doubt, many of these Christians again were being mocked, passed over for promotion, and persecuted. Nero actually cursed the Christians and used them as a scapegoat for the Great Fire of Rome. He accused them of starting the fire and also angering the gods because Christians wouldn’t worship them.

These Christians bore the sting of unjust accusation and slander because of their beliefs and their chaste lives. Instead of responding with disobedience or anger, they were to respond with submission, and it would essentially quiet the mouths of those who cursed Christianity and the God of Christianity.

The word silence is actually the word muzzle. It meant to make a person incapable of responding. Yes, believing in a resurrected Lord, a seven-day creation, etc., may seem foolish, but when Christians live such wonderful lives, it silences the lies and the accusations against them and shows the beauty of Christ. This would be even more important in a society where Christianity is not accepted but rejected as foolishness.

Paul said it this way:

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:19–21

Paul said by submitting to your enemy and serving them, you actually heap burning coals on their head. You make it very hard for them to dislike you and to seek to bring you harm. In fact, you “muzzle” them, making it impossible for them to speak harshly about you.

Have you ever tried this while being mistreated? Submission is a tremendous muzzle, but returning evil for evil actually fuels the fires of animosity. Does submission characterize you? Does your lifestyle muzzle those who criticize the gospel?

Application Question: Have you ever seen acts of good, done in submission to those who have been antagonistic, muzzle those who are foolish? Have you ever tried this with those who did not like you? What happened?

Believers Should Submit to Authorities Because They Are Free from Sin

Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 2:16-17

You can imagine people as they are thinking about Nero and their evil officials in the government. Why should I still pay taxes to a man who is trying to kill us? That is illogical. How can it be possible? Some might even scoff at this exhortation to respect and honor the king.

Peter says it is possible because they were free men.

Interpretation Question: What does Peter mean by Christians being free men in the context of submission?

He is talking about freedom from the slavery of sin. Listen to what Jesus said:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
John 8:34–36

See, Peter realizes that true freedom is freedom from sin. Sin enslaves us. It enslaves us to unforgiveness; it enslaves us to bitterness. The one who is truly free is free to obey God, free to love him and free to love others. Listen again to what Paul said in Romans 8:7, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”

We often talk about free will. The reality is that the person who is not born again is not free. He cannot submit to God. He cannot believe the gospel. He cannot love his brother as himself. It is only by the Holy Spirit that the chains of past scars, the chains of slavery to lust, the chains of slavery to the sin nature are removed. The natural man cannot submit to God’s law.

How is it possible to live this life of submission? It is possible because we are free. Well, you might say, “Brother, I hear you, but I still feel like I’m in bondage. I’m in bondage to my sin. I can’t forgive my parents who are my authority. I can’t forgive this person who hurt me. How can I have this freedom you speak about?”

Application Question: How can a believer start to walk in the freedom Christ has given them to forgive, serve, submit or bless those who have hurt them?

Here are two suggestions to help you walk in the freedom Christ gave you:

1. Choose, as an act of the will, to obey God. Choose to forgive and obey.

Look at what Paul says:

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness (emphasis mine)?
Romans 6:16

In speaking about believers who have been set free from sin (6:2), he talks about the possibility of them still becoming enslaved to sin. They could still offer themselves as slaves to sin. However, they should offer themselves as slaves of righteousness. Listen.

I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness (emphasis mine).
Romans 6:19

You must choose to offer yourself as a slave to righteousness in faith. You must act upon your freedom, even though you feel weak in your flesh. We choose to obey God in faith. “I am free from slavery to unforgiveness, and therefore, I will obey God in faith by loving and serving my enemy.”

Here is a second thing.

2. You must give yourself to the Word of God.

Listen to what James says:

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does (emphasis mine).
James 1:25

He calls the Bible the perfect law that gives freedom. It is almost a paradox--a law that gives freedom. We think of laws bringing bondage—”You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” We should think of biblical law as “I can have a godly speech. I can love my enemy.” This law actually gives freedom to somebody who has been enslaved to sin. When you give yourself to studying the Word and obeying it, it frees you. Paul calls the Word “water” that cleanses and washes away our sin (Eph 5:26).

We must give ourselves to study and obedience to the Word of God. Even now as we study, no doubt we feel more empowered to live a life of submission. Why? It is because we are submitting to the perfect law that gives freedom. God sent it to free people. It is a sharp two-edged sword that breaks the chains of sin off those in slavery.

Let us choose to submit, even to those who are unjust, because God has made us free to do so. God has made us free by Christ’s death and resurrection. It broke the power of sin over our lives. We can submit because the Word of God enables us to. It is the law that gives freedom. We also must do it as an act of the will; we must choose to live in this freedom. Study Romans 6 and let the Word of God—the law of freedom—set you free from any bondage you are still walking in.

Application Question: What ways have you seen the Word of God make you free from bondage to sin or give you the ability to submit?

Believers Should Submit to Authorities Because of Reward

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 2:18-20

What is the next reason Peter gives for submission to authorities?

In 1 Peter 2:18-20, he talks specifically to slaves who are serving harsh masters. He does not tell them to run away or break free. He says submit to them because it is commendable before God. To commend means to praise, honor or congratulate. God will reward those who submit to authorities, especially harsh authorities. In fact, I think he gives us a secret to enable us. We must live with a consciousness of God (v. 19). We must have an awareness of his presence in order to enable us to submit. Listen again to what he says in 1 Peter 2:19: “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.”

This submission in the face of unjust suffering will result in commendation and reward from God. The believer should submit with a consciousness of the God who rewards those who are faithful. Listen to what Christ said:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (emphasis mine).
Matthew 5:10–12

Christ says you are blessed if you are insulted for Christ or insulted for righteousness. He says great will your reward be in heaven. This should encourage us when working with difficult bosses, employers or families. We submit because of consciousness to God, who rewards the faithful.

Application Question: Does the prospect of receiving reward motivate you, especially in the context of being treated harshly by authorities? Why or why not?

Believers Should Submit to Authorities Because of the Example of Christ

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 2:21-25

Another reason Peter gives for submitting to authorities, especially unjust authorities, is the example of Christ. Let us remember that Christ lived the perfect life of submission. It was submission that sent him to the cross. He submitted to the Father’s will. He did not complain when things got bad or become angry with God. No, he submitted to the Father.

But he did not just submit to the Father; he submitted to the unjust authorities and suffered for us. He did not curse Pilate. In fact, he talked about how God had given Pilate this power, this authority. Look at what he said:

“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin (emphasis mine).”
John 19:10–11

Christ saw Pilate’s power as from above. He honored him and recognized God as the ultimate authority even over unjust leaders. Christ even taught submission to the Pharisees. Look at what he said:

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach (emphasis mine).
Matthew 23:2–3

When Christ went to the cross under both of these unjust authorities, he submitted to them and suffered willingly. He did not fight back and he did not resist. Why did he do this? It says it was because he entrusted himself to God (1 Peter 2:23). He knew that God would take care of him and fight his battles.

We can submit even to unjust authorities because of Christ’s example. He submitted and suffered in a manner that honored God.

Application Question: Isn’t there a time to defend ourselves? When should we not submit to unjust suffering?

In short, there must be wisdom. Scripture declares that we should turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39) and that we should overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21). We are called to, at times, just accept wrong committed toward us. Look at what Paul says to the churches that were suing one another in 1 Corinthians 6:7: “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated (emphasis mine)?

However, we clearly see times with Paul, where instead of accepting unjust treatment, he appealed to the higher authority. Paul said, “I appeal to Caesar,” while he was awaiting a court case in jail (Acts 25:11).

Also, it should be noted when Christ went into the temple, he pulled out a whip and turned over tables (John 2:13–17). He did not just accept the injustice. How do we reconcile this?

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Especially in personal offense, the believer should practice submission even to unjust treatment. We should practice turning the cheek (Matt 5:39).
  2. When others are experiencing injustice or when God is defamed, the Christians should seek justice. Christ turned the other cheek with personal offense but responded with a righteous anger when God was dishonored and others were harmed (John 2:13-17).
  3. Since all authority is from God, there are times when we should use these authorities. This may mean calling the police, talking to leadership, writing our congressman, etc.
  4. In all these times, there is a need for wisdom to discern which to do in what circumstance. God often gives this wisdom through prayer (Jas 1:5) and seeking the advice of others (Prov 12:15).

Believers Should Submit to Authorities Because God Judges Justly

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 2:23

When Christ was persecuted unjustly, he did not retaliate, but he entrusted himself to God. The word entrust is a banking term. Christ placed himself in the bank of God and trusted that God would do what is right and just. In fact, we see this right before Christ dies; he quotes a Psalm, saying, “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit (Psalm 31:5).”

Paul says the same thing in 2 Timothy 1:12 while he was in prison: “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (emphasis mine).

Paul is about to die unjustly as well, but the reason he was not ashamed was because he believed and was convinced that God was able to guard what he had entrusted to him until the day of Christ. Paul had put his entire life in God’s bank, and he knew his life was ultimately eternally safe and would produce tremendous interest. Though the world misjudged him and wrongly valued his life and character, God would not. God is a just judge, and in his justice, he would also judge those who had wrongly persecuted him.

Have you invested your life in the bank that will never go under? Any other investment will not prove profitable. It means you will be misjudged by the world, but God will reward you and ultimately bring justice on those who have mistreated you. “Therefore brothers, Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Rom 12:19).

Application Question: What does it practically mean to “entrust” your life into God’s hands, especially during unjust persecution? What are some hindrances to entrusting our entire lives or hard situations into God’s hand?

Conclusion

Why should believers submit even to unjust authorities?

  1. Believers should submit to authorities to honor God.
  2. Believers should submit to authorities because of their purpose.
  3. Believers should submit to authorities to quiet those who are antagonistic to Christianity.
  4. Believers should submit to authorities because they are free from sin.
  5. Believers should submit to authorities because of reward.
  6. Believers should submit to authorities because of the example of Christ.
  7. Believers should submit to authorities because God judges justly.

Application Question: In what ways has God challenged you in the area of submission? How do you plan on implementing this virtue in your daily life?

Chapter Notes

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Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.

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