In this section of his letter, Peter talks about submission, and why it is what Christians ought to do.
Our submission to the Lord Jesus Christ is the reasonable response to his rescuing of us from sin and death. Once we were not the people of God. In fact we were his enemies and we were heading toward a well deserved judgement. But we were brought out of the darkness of our rebellious ways by the obedience of Christ. We were saved from death by the death and resurrection of Christ. Those who trust the Lord Jesus have every reason to love, serve and praise him.
Because the Lord Jesus is the ultimate authority in heaven and earth, because he predestined our situation in life — whether we are prime minister or tax payer, slave or free, boss or employee, married or single — we are to submit to him in whatever circumstance we might find ourselves. And we are to submit in appropriate ways for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The word ‘submit’ is an interesting one.
Literally it means to ‘arrange yourself under’, so it is an act of will. Again, part of the original Greek word gives us the word ‘tactics’, so submission also implies the use of our intelligence in submitting to authority. We are to submit to, bring ourselves into conformity with, every law made by an appropriate authority because our saviour wants us to do so.
The submission that Peter and the Holy Spirit urges us to show is not blind conformity. It is intelligent and willing obedience to lawful commands from Federal and State Parliaments down to local council by laws.
These ordinances include taxes, speed limits, court-orders, registrations, licenses and regulations (like swimming pool fences).
Why is this important?
One reasons is that our God is a God of order and peace. A peaceful and orderly society is a benefit. It is a good thing. Nothing is more frustrating, debilitating and dangerous than chaos.
Now you might consider some laws and regulations very frustrating in themselves, but this doesn’t mean that the solution to your frustration is to ignore these laws. If everyone did that the problems and frustrations would just get so much worse.
You might remember the riots in the UK several months ago. Some people believed an injustice had occurred. They were frustrated and took the law into their own hands. The result was that many more injustices occurred which led to much greater frustration, damage and loss.
There are systems in place in society to suggest and accomplish change. But these means of change are themselves the result of laws and regulations.
Another reason is the point Peter made in verse 12 of this chapter. We are God’s people who are social outcasts — our faith makes us objects of suspicion. People regard our trusting of Jesus Christ to be offensive. Our confession is a message that people are wrong and will face terrible judgement. Christians believe that our only hope is that a man call Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to save us because nothing else will. So people think of Christians as judgemental and weird.
Our good behaviour within the community, within society, is important because we must not give any ground for just criticism. We are to be careful not to give our Holy and Good Saviour a bad reputation by our bad behaviour. The only thing about us that should give offence, if offence is taken, must only be our following of Jesus Christ.
Peter actually says that our socially responsible behaviour is what God wills so that we ‘might silence the ignorance of unthinking people’.
Our public and private well-doing is to deal with prejudice. It is to correct the wrong thinking of the community. It might even get people thinking about our main message, which is not ‘moral behaviour’ but the free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord Jesus has made us free, but our freedom is from sin and death. It is not freedom from living responsibly in the world. We are not, Peter says, to use our Christian freedom as a ‘cover’, as a reason for bad or disrespectful behaviour. We are not to say, ‘Well, Jesus has set me free, so get out of my way! I’m not going to be restricted by you (insert name)’.
We need to know that the ‘king’, when Peter was writing his letter, was probably someone like Nero. Nero was a moral monster and probably certifiably mad, if the historian Suetonius can be believed. Yet Peter says we are to honour the king since the king or ruling party is established by God (c.f. Rom 13). In showing respect to the king we are ultimately showing respect to the God who, for his own good reasons, put that ‘king’ in power.
For this reason, we need to show respect. We might not like the Prime Minister or the Premier or the local police officer. That is irrelevant. We are to treat them with respect for the sake of their office. These people hold their office because God put them there, and they will hold that office until God removes them.
We are to submit to these powers for the same reason. We are to use our minds in doing this. We are to be tactical (not tricky, but wise) in our dealings with authority. For the most part, human laws do not require us to do anything that God forbids.
Only rarely do circumstances arise that require Christians to say ‘No’ to authority. Peter himself said ‘No’ to the ruling council in Jerusalem (Acts 4), when they told them not to speak of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ had told Peter to speak. Peter, in this particular, case was right to obey God rather than human beings. It is a rare example. Even laws that we don’t like are usually not the sort that call for civil disobedience.
To recap, Jesus did not save us so we could become rat-bags.
We are to treat all people with respect, to love our fellow Christian (even those who irk us), to give reverence to our God and to honour the Government and its representatives.
(continued in Part 2)