In the previous article I made the first of four observations about this passage. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article I made the first of four observations about this passage. Read it again and then we’ll move to the next important issue that it raises.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13-17).
(2) We are to submit to every man-made law that does not require us to sin or to compromise our Christian integrity.
Before I explain what I mean, a word of explanation is in order concerning the phrasing of v. 13. First of all, the phrase “human institution” is literally, “human creation” or “human creature.” Peter has particularly in mind the human leaders who are in authority over us. There is a reason why Peter referred to “emperors” or “kings” as well as “governors” as “human creatures.” He was countering the claims of the emperor cult which typically deified the Roman ruler. They are but “creatures”, says Peter, not the Creator. Don’t deify them. Don’t worship them. Just obey them.
Second, Peter refers to the “emperor” and “governors.” He obviously was thinking not only of the Roman emperor, in this case Nero, but also of the procurators of imperial provinces and the proconsuls who exercised authority. The equivalent in our day it would be the President, the Congress, our Governor, and our state legislatures.
Coming back to my main point: Human governmental authorities are important, but they aren’t ultimate. Our obedience is essential, but not without limitations.
Even if the state permits certain activities, that doesn’t make them right. And especially when the state commands certain activities, we are required to disobey if it entails sin.
There are countless things in our society that under the law are civil rights. But they may well be simultaneously moral wrongs. Abortion is a case in point. Homosexual activity is another. Fornication also. You’re pretty much free in our country, with obvious exceptions, to have sexual relations with anyone you want. But that doesn’t make it right.
On what basis do I make the qualification that our obedience has limitations; that we are to submit except when a law would require that we sin? Take a moment and turn in your Bible to read Acts 4:17-21 and 5:27-29. That seems to be clear enough.
So, are we being unsubmissive to the authorities if we criticize them? No. After all, in 1 Peter 5:13 he calls Rome “Babylon”! That’s a critical judgment if ever I read one! Are we being unsubmissive to the authorities if we protest against them? No, so long as we do so within the limits of the law. What about writing articles exposing their weaknesses and errors? That too is permissible, given what Peter is saying to us.
Needless to say, there is a massive issue that confronts us here in the U.S. on which I simply cannot comment today: Abortion and the tactics of such groups as Operation Rescue. These groups do in fact break the law in order to protect the lives of the unborn. I won’t address that now, other than to say that if you choose to break the law for this reason you must be willing to accept the penal consequences of your action.
One more observation on vv. 13-14 before I go on to my next point.
One of the divinely ordained roles or goals of human government is retribution, the infliction of a just punishment in accordance with whatever crime has been committed. On this, see Romans 13:1-7.
Of course, as already noted, Peter was not so naïve as to think that all earthly rulers perfectly fulfill their calling and always punish the wicked and reward the righteous. Often it is precisely the opposite. But that does not exempt us from our obligation to be obedient citizens. Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar resisted God’s will. Christ was unjustly condemned under Pontius Pilate and James was put to death by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2). Peter was aware of these facts yet wrote to us as he did.
We must remember, however, that what God authorizes the government to do he forbids the individual from doing. See Romans 12:19-21.
(3) Our obedience to the laws of the land, like all of our private and public conduct, ought always to be evangelistic! We see this in vv. 15-16.
The point of Peter here in v. 15 is virtually identical to his point in v. 12. He encourages us to live in such a way that our confidence in Christ is evident to all, rather than confidence in the perks of political power. He encourages us to live in such a way that our humility is evident to all, rather than our arrogant ambition to get ahead at all costs. Let your joyful, generous, sacrificial, Christ-centered lifestyle silence the accusations of foolish people. By the way, Peter describes them here as foolish precisely because their confidence is in political power and ambition and self-promotion rather than in Christ!
Furthermore, as v. 16 makes clear, we are the bondslaves of God (stronger than the ESV’s “servants”). This country does not own us. Our government does not own us. God does. We submit to the authorities not because we are their slaves but because we are God’s!
And whatever you do, don’t use the glorious truth of your freedom in Christ as an excuse to throw off all moral restraint. Never try to justify self-indulgence or lawlessness by appealing to the fact that you have been forgiven of all your sins and set free from bondage to guilt and condemnation.
To be continued . . .