I Peter 2:13-14 – 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.
Our last post ended as Peter was instructing the Christians of Asia Minor to keep their conduct among the Gentiles honorable. Obviously, Christians will want to live holy lives because it glorifies God and it is the reasonable thing to do in light of the salvation Jesus died to purchase for us.
Peter also told his readers that they should act honorably because it was a witness to the unbelievers around them, who were looking for reasons to discredit or shame Christians, and the God they served.
But why would Peter feel the need to address issues relating to civil government and authority? Doesn’t everyone honor their government?
In the case of the Jews, the answer is emphatically ‘no’! Remember, at one time the Jews had their own nation and their own king. But that ended when they went into exile (586 BC). Even though God brought them back to the land after their punishment, their monarchy was never restored. Ever since that time, they have been ruled by a foreign power.
And truth be told, they hated and despised that fact! The Jews were notorious for their constant rebellions against the Romans. Many Roman officials did not want to rule over Jerusalem because the Jews were so hard to govern/keep under control.
Furthermore, if Peter wrote this epistle around 60-64 AD as we discussed in the introduction, then it is a mere 6 years (plus or minus) until the hostilities between Rome and the Jews totally erupt in a violent and bloody war which almost wipes out the Jews and burns down the temple (70 AD).
Keep in mind that the people of that era considered Christianity to be an offshoot of Judaism. Naturally, they are going to assume that Christians would be almost ungovernable, just like the Jews.
Now do you see why Peter gives the Christians a reminder to submit to the yoke of civil authority? If they don’t, they will greatly damage their witness for Christ and the reputation of Christianity as a whole. They will give unbelievers a reason for despising not only themselves, but God.
Respect and submission were to be given to all ruling authorities whether those were kings, emperors, governors or magistrates. Obedience is due to them because they have been granted that position/authority by God’s providence; submitting to their authority was another way of glorifying God, and displaying a good witness to unbelievers.
Romans 13:1 – Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
The apostle Paul agrees with the apostle Peter – government officials rule by the command of God. They would not be in power if God did not allow it. Therefore, unless the authorities are requiring something that is contrary to the laws of God, their authority is to be recognized.
Peter goes on to say that civil authority should be respected because it has been appointed by the Lord for the common good of mankind – it oversees public peace and safety, while punishing those who break the law.
It would be wonderful if all civil powers were just and righteous in their doings. Of course, this is not the case. However, we must consider that government, even tainted by corruption, is still better than anarchy.
And thankfully, in America we have the right to vote out any government official that is doing corrupt or unrighteous things. So take a look around you. If you don’t like the officials that govern you, take action! Vote them out of office. You might even consider running for office yourself! What a blessing it would be if every mayor, governor, congressman, senator, and judge in America was a Christian!
I Peter 2:15 – For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
What do you think of when you read the phrase ‘put to silence’? It makes me think of old gangster films where the bad guys would kill anyone who challenged them! But of course that is not the case here.
The phrase ‘put to silence’ literally means ‘to muzzle’ as you would an animal, which implies to stop their mouths; to leave them nothing to say.
True wisdom can only be found in the knowledge of God. Therefore, people who are still unsaved have no wisdom; they are ignorant. Interestingly, the original Greek word carries the connotation of “self imposed” or “self caused” ignorance, which means these people chose to reject the obvious truth of the gospel.
Furthermore, they are foolish – absurd, despicable, contemptible; without judgment or discretion.
Peter’s point is that people who do not know God lack true judgment. Naturally a person of that mind set would accuse Christians of being unfit citizens of their country. They would accuse Christians of causing civil unrest and anarchy. In fact, they tend to blame Christians for any and all ills that society suffers from.
According to Peter, how were the Christians supposed to react to this situation?
These false charges are not to be fought with words of indignant self vindication, but by obedience. Actions speak louder than words!
What about us? Do our actions enforce the Christian lingo coming out of our mouths? Or do our actions contradict the ways of God? Are non-believers paying more attention to what we say, or what we do?
I Peter 2:16 – Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
The Christians of Asia Minor had been set free from both the bondage of sin and subjection to the Mosaic law. They had become God’s people; he, and he alone, was their ultimate authority. Therefore, it was looked upon as an indignity to subject themselves to the heathen rulers/government. By virtue of being subjected to the law of God, they felt they were above the laws of fallen man.
Meanwhile, because they considered Christians an off shoot of the Jews, heathen rulers looked upon the church as a dangerous, lawless organization. Their views were based on history – the Jews in general had long held the belief that they were not subject to any heathen government (John 8:33, Deuteronomy 17:15) and this belief was the underlying foundation of their constant rebellion against Rome. And Christianity in general had certainly turned the world upside down!
But freedom in Christ is not a cloak or a mantle that we can use to cover up evil. In other words, freedom in Christ is not a license for unrestrained behavior.
In this particular case, Peter points out that sedition and rebellion against Rome were a sin because God’s law required subjection to the civil authority of the land, which He had placed in power.
In the next verses, Peter goes on to explain or clarify what is/is not entailed in the freedom of a Christian.
I Peter 2:17 – Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
- Honor everyone: Due respect is to be given to all men based on their personal worth as humans and based on the offices/positions of authority they hold.
- Love the brotherhood: We are all part of the body of Christ. There is one body, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism, and one Father God. Therefore, we should strive for unity in the Spirit and a bond of peace among ourselves (Ephesians 4:3-6).
- Fear God: As I am sure you already know, ‘fear’ means to show reverence and honor. Reverence and honor to God are exemplified in obedience and submission to his will and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
- Honor the emperor: At the time of writing, this would have referred to the Roman rulers, but in our generation it is a mandate to respect those that God has placed in authority over us. We are to obey their rule, as long as it does not directly conflict with the word of God. This would also include praying for them, and cheerfully paying taxes!
And again, let us be thankful that in the United States of America, we have the means to oust tyrants and wicked rulers from office by being politically active. This is a huge blessing, for many Christians live in places where they have no recourse for bad government.
I like the way that Peter puts things in the proper order – fear of God first, loyalty to government second!
I Peter 2:18 – Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentile, but also to the unjust.
Peter is still on the same topic of freedom in Christ, and what that looks like at the basic levels in life. He just showed us that freedom in Christ does not allow us to be anarchists – we must obey the rulers God has set over us in government.
Next, he shows us how that freedom works itself out in situations where another person has authority over us on a daily basis. Let’s take a look at the original Greek word for “servants”. Its literal meaning refers to domestics – those employed in a house. So just to be clear, they are not slaves. They can best be described as employees.
Likewise, the Greek word for “master” refers to the head of a family, (who would be supervising the domestics) not the owner of slaves.
So, we could read the verse this way: Employees, be subject to your boss with all respect…
In almost all instances, if you are employed, you did that voluntarily. You approached the company and requested to work for them. Even if they approached you, you accepted their offer. In the end, it all works out the same – you agreed to the company’s terms of employment.
As Christians, we need to show our bosses respect in the way in which we speak to them and the way in which we speak about them. We owe them, and the company, fidelity – faithfulness, honesty, integrity and loyalty in the discharge of our duties.
That is a pretty easy thing to do, if you have a fair, honest and caring boss. But what if you don’t? What if the person who supervises you is an ungrateful tyrant? What if they take credit for your hard work, or pass over you when handing out promotions?
Peter says that for the Christian, it doesn’t matter whether they are good/gentile or unjust/unfair. The character of your boss has no direct effect upon the way you are to perform your service. God is well aware of any and all ‘wrongs’ and injustices done to his children. In the end, he will account for all of these things.
But in the meantime, we have two choices. One, we can slander, complain, undermine and rebel against the authority of our boss. We can sabotage their projects and requests. We can turn in incorrect, late work and we can perform our duties at a standard less than we are capable of doing. In other words, we can act just like unbelievers. But if we do, what kind of a testimony does that exhibit to the world?
Romans 12:21 – Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Two, we can acknowledge that God is our ultimate authority and because we serve Him, we can continue to discharge our duties to the best of our abilities and show respect for our boss. Although this is a very difficult position, it brings great glory to God. We become a witness to the nature of God when we bear up under unjust suffering. Who knows – maybe you will get an opportunity to bring this lost person into the kingdom of heaven.
Also, keep in mind that those with authority, including your boss, will someday give an account of their stewardship of that authority.
I Peter 2:19 – For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
In other words, if you suffer injustice or wrongful treatment at work (or elsewhere), but still continue to discharge your duties properly (including keeping a guard on your mouth), this is pleasing before God.
This is a practical demonstration that you have chosen to obey/submit yourself to the will of God, rather than give into the desires of your own will/flesh. This is definitely an instance where your actions will reflect a testimony for God, without you saying anything.
I Peter 2:20 – For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
Common sense tells us that there is little or no reward in patiently enduring a punishment that you deserve. Unbelievers are not going to see any virtue or honor in your actions, because you were guilty of the crime.
In comparison, a person who is innocent but willingly and graciously bears a wrong done to him/her because they consider it their duty before the Lord, will display an unusual and noteworthy grace that others will attribute to God.
So, what can we conclude here?
If you are in a bad position at work and you no longer feel that you can honor God in that situation, you should look for other employment. If you are constantly griping and complaining about your position, your boss or your company, you should consider moving on, rather than displaying a poor witness for Christ.
Alternatively, if you really want to keep your position, then you need to get a handle on yourself. You will need to practice keeping control of your mouth. You will need to change your attitude about your job. One of the ways you can do this is to begin thanking God for your job, and all of its benefits (rate of pay, hours, retirement, health insurance, personal satisfaction, etc). Be content with what you have. You can pray for your supervisor/boss and your situation and see what God will do.
As a side note, we can’t help but be reminded that the borrower is a slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). This might be a good time to stop and consider your situation. Are you living within your means? Are you a good steward of the resources God has placed in your care? Do you have a plan to become free from debt and the bondages it carries? If not, make changes now, before your situation gets worse.
I Peter 2:21 – For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
Peter now provides us with two further arguments in favor of Christian patience under unjust suffering.
First, all Christians are called to endure suffering for righteousness sake. Part of being a Christian is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). This is what we have been called to do; so if the situation arises, let us respond to the call and embrace the opportunity.
I Thessalonians 3:3 – …that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.
And lest we are tempted to complain about our suffering, please remind yourself of all those martyrs who have given their very lives for the cross of Christ. What is your suffering compared to theirs?
Second, the suffering of our Lord and Savior was on our behalf. He suffered not because of his own sin but because of ours. He endured suffering voluntarily, with patience and righteousness. This is the example he has provided for us. We too are to voluntarily suffer with patience and righteousness, when called by God to do so.
II Timothy 4:5 – As for you, always be sober minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Just as the unjust suffering of Jesus brought people into the kingdom of heaven, so our unjust suffering will be a witness that lifts up the name of Jesus and draws all men to salvation (John 15:18-20, 27).
Here is a word of comfort for you – afflictions in this life are temporary and they will result in great eternal glory if we embrace them properly (II Corinthians 4:17).
I Peter 2:22-23 – He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
The apostle Peter now goes on to give more in-depth insight into the suffering of Jesus, and shows how this is an example for us.
As we already noted, Jesus himself committed no sins, so when he suffered it was unfair and unjust. We too, should live our lives in such a way that if we suffer, it should be unjustly. As Christians, we should be careful to not get ourselves into a position where we are suffering because we deserve to be punished! It is as much our duty to live in a manner that avoids any kind of guilt as it is to suffer patiently when we are unjustly accused.
Jesus never sinned with his actions or his mouth! He never deceived, complained, cursed, gossiped or told a lie. This is always the example that we need to follow. Taming the tongue is one of the most difficult things we are called to do (James 3), and also one of the most important. I doubt we can ever reach perfection on this, but that is what we should strive for!
Jesus never retaliated. When his earthly enemies blasphemed him, mocked him and accused him of all manner of sin and evil, he said…nothing!
Isaiah 53:7 – He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
Furthermore, when they whipped him, spit on him, plucked out his beard, slapped him and jammed a crown of thorns on his head, he did…nothing!
Jesus could have called down legions of angels to annihilate the men who abused him. Instead, he patiently and righteously endured these afflictions, trusting in the Father to eventually vindicate his innocence and avenge him on his enemies.
What about you and me? Is it better to try and vindicate your own innocence, or trust God to do it in his own way and his own time? Is it better to try and avenge your enemies yourself, or leave that in God’s hands?
An honest, impartial look at the word of God reveals that provocation by our enemies is not an excuse to sin or take revenge. But many times, when you are personally being attacked, your emotions are involved and it is hard to set those aside and do the right thing. It is good for us to examine this issue now, so when it affects us, we are ready to follow the example of Jesus and commit injustices and revenge to God.
I Peter 2:24-25 – He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Can we take a few minutes to bow down and take a fresh look at His sacrifice?
A price HAD to be paid for our sin. Had Jesus not done it, the task would have fallen upon us. Having no possible way to pay our debt, we would be eternally dead in our sin, eternally without the love and mercy of God, forever cut off from life. We cannot fully comprehend what a bitter, hopeless and anguished existence that would be!
Think about the nature of the one who willingly became the substitute for our sin. He is God! This means that the creator of all things, the only true God in whom resides all wisdom, power and authority, allowed himself to come to earth in human form, for the express purpose of paying our debt; of bearing those sins in his own mortal body. This is truly a mind-boggling thought! How can it be that the eternal God would seek to join himself to his creation in such a manner? What does he see in us that would make it worth it to Him?
Think about death on the cross. Certainly, it was a hideously painful way to die. But it was more than just physical pain. It was a place of scorn. The Romans would not suffer any of their own to die that way; yet they hung the Son of God there as if he was a common murderer. They cast lots for his clothes as he hung up there naked. Then everyone (Jews and Gentiles alike) proceeded to mock and laugh at him as he suffered. But that is not all. The cross was also a place of mental and spiritual anguish, as Jesus was completely separated from the God-head! There is no way for us to comprehend what that anguish and suffering were like.
The cross is also the place of the curse. Scripture says ‘cursed is every one that is hanged on a tree’ (Galatians 3:13, Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Jesus was made a curse for us, as he innocently hung on that tree! It was our sin, our curse, our failure, our rebellion that put him there.
We have so much to thank and praise him for!!
Now, consider this: We did absolutely nothing to deserve the gift of eternal life that Jesus provided for us on that cross. God’s mercy and love are the only basis for our redemption. Because of his great sacrifice, we have been delivered from the power/bondage of sin. We are now free to live righteous lives in Christ.
How then, can we continue to live worldly lives? How can we ignore biblical mandates pertaining to personal holiness? How can we complain if we are called upon to follow in the footsteps of Christ and suffer unjustly?
When we were sinners, we were far from the protection, provision and love of God, just like a straying sheep. But now, through the sacrifice of Christ, we have returned to the One who loves us so much, he laid his life down for us. Jesus vigilantly watches over his flock, to keep us safe and secure. Let us cease from our wanderings and cling to him in righteousness.
Let me offer you some encouragement and strength:
This is not an easy portion of scripture! In order to use our freedom in Christ, we must deny our flesh and its desires. We must honor those in authority over us, even when that is difficult.
Maybe you are experiencing a tough situation right now at work. Maybe your boss or supervisor is unkind or treats you unjustly. I encourage you to take a step back and think about your response.
Jesus has given us the mandate to follow in his footsteps and be examples of righteousness in these situations. He would never call us to do something that he himself is not willing to do. He would never assign us to a task that he did not equip us for. So take heart. Be strengthened. God has given you the grace to endure this situation for the glory of God.
Let me offer you some relief:
Respecting authority can be a tough thing, especially when those over you are unbelievers who are dishonest or foolish. Suffering unjustly is also a tough thing. But these trials also bring about good.
They allow you opportunities to show forth the righteousness of Christ. They assist in shaping you into the image of Jesus. And you can be relieved knowing that God has allowed this trial in your life, and that he is going to use it for your good.