Submit to the Government (1 Peter 2:13-17)
In this first major section of how believers are to act towards the outside world, we see that believers please God by living in a way that makes the Gospel attractive in their everyday lives. Christians demonstrate a godly lifestyle by submitting to those in authority. Believers should submit to government authorities, slaves should submit to masters, and wives should submit to husbands. The goal in every instance is to live in such a way that unbelievers will glorify God and repent and believe; therefore, these sections flesh out verse 11 and 12 that we studied last week. Christ’s suffering is the supreme example to imitate, for his own suffering was the means by which human beings returned to God.
Another theme is this section is that a godly life is necessary to receive an eternal reward. In the summary 3:8-12, Peter called on his readers to live in a way that pleases God so that they will obtain life on the last day.
The theme of this passage can be found in the first word of our passage today. Our theme is to submit. What are examples of people that you have to submit to on an almost daily basis? How does it glorify God for us to submit to the government that rules over us? If we are aliens in this world would we not expect to be able to live by our own rules?
First of all, God is all powerful and has placed those authorities over you. Sometimes it is good and in other times, God can get more glory by allowing corrupt leaders or teachers so that his people will stand out more. So we submit to the government because we are submitting to the leaders that God has placed over us. Second, normally government is there to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. Therefore, normally we want to be in the group that the government is praising for doing good, not evil.
Third and probably most important reason, is so that we can silence the ignorance of foolish people. Such ignorance that we see on TV about Christians is not innocent but blameworthy, rooted in the foolishness of unbelievers. To refer to unbelievers as foolish is no belittling of their intellectual capacities. Because we did not come to faith because we are smarter than everyone else. But is a reference to the use of fool in Proverbs, where the foolish are morally debased, those without a future hope. They are foolish because they do not fear the Lord and walk in his ways. These ignorant and foolish people are silenced by the good deeds of Christians.
My fear is that more people know what Christians are against than what we are for. Ignorant and foolish people watch the news and hear that Christians are against abortion, so they assume we are against women’s rights. Well, Christians are not against women’s rights, we are “for” the rights of every human being, even those that have not been born yet. Ignorant and foolish people watch the news and hear that Christians are against gay rights, and they assume that we are against love or people being happy just because they are different from us. However, Christians are not against being happy and in love, we are “for” how God created us to be ultimately happy and in love.
When these ignorant and foolish people meet real Christians they should come to realize that Christians are not angry hatful people, but are loving people. So here is a hard question that many struggle with today, if Christians are about loving people why would they not allow them to live lives that make them happy? This is because Christians want people to be ultimately happy, not just achieve short-term happiness.
If someone was on the train tracks and did not hear a train coming, it would be unloving for you not to tell them. Therefore, if someone is on the path to eternal punishment, we need to tell them. We need to tell them that yes, an abortion might help you from going through some financial hardships now, but it is not worth losing your soul for eternity and the guilt that you will carry for the rest of your life. We need to tell them yes, marriage is good, but only the way that God designed it to be.
What is at stake? Why is this important? What is at stake is the Gospel. The Gospel tells us that we all are sinners that are on our way to Hell because we deserve God’s wrath because we all have sinned against Him. We all have stolen and we all have lied. However, there is one that came and took away our sins, so that we might have a right relationship with God. So whoever believes in Jesus and repents of their sins, is now forgiven and brought back into a right relationship with God. Therefore, if the government starts telling everyone that they are OK and for them to pursue what makes them happy, then why would they need a savior if they do not understand what they need saving from.
In verse 16, we see that Peter was not merely concerned about the outward actions of believers but also the motivations that inform their submission. God cares more about what is in your heart than if you are just a good moral person. Worldly sinners can be moral. In the Bible we see that the Pharisees were good moral people on the outside, but what does Jesus say about them? He says they are like white washed tombs. They are clean on the outside, but on the inside lays decay. God wants to know what is in your heart. Peter gives three phrases explaining the standpoint from which Christians should operate in submitting themselves to governing authorities.
First, Peter reminds us that we are free people. Therefore, submission of believers is never out of weakness. Second, as free people we are not to use our freedom as an excuse to indulge in evil. Genuine freedom liberates believers to do what is good. Those who use freedom as license for evil reveal that they are not truly free since a life of wickedness is the very definition of slavery. Christians should never respond to the dictates of government slavishly, but they should obey out of strength and because of their freedom.
Third, believers should submit as slaves of God. Believers do not enjoy unrestricted freedom. Their freedom is exercised under God’s authority. In fact, genuine freedom is experienced only by those who are God’s slaves. One is either a slave of sin or a slave of God. True liberty, according to the New Testament, means that there is freedom to do what is right. Therefore, only those who are slaves of God are genuinely free. Believers are called upon to live under God’s lordship, obeying the government as God’s slaves.
Is there ever a time in which we do not submit to the government? Yes, if the government ever calls you to do something that is against God’s law. For example, in Daniel 3 we see that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faithful servants of God and the King. However, the king passed a law that at certain points of the day that people must stop what they are doing and bow down and worship the god that he had made out of gold. Therefore, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused and were thrown into a furnace. Although God delivered them to be able to show His power to the world, when and if we stand up against the government, we must be ready to accept the punishment that the government has for us.
What are examples of things that if the government tried to force us to do that we would have to respectfully refuse?
However, we can all agree that these cases are usually not the norm, and that we should be living lives that honor everyone, love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, to fear God, and to honor our government.