“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2:13–15, NASB95)
But God!! These are amazing words. They can be used to turn that which is overwhelmingly burdensome to that which is bearable because we turn our eyes to God and recognize that we are firmly placed in the center of His strong hands. We can endure because He has promised to enable us to do so. But, these words can also be used to argue against something that we believe God would have us do when we desire to do something else. It is this later use that is frequently followed by some form of justification or pleading. “But God, ….”
It seems that many Christians today are responding to the situations in our culture with this later “but God” rather than the first. There is a great deal of dissension and frustration in our country right now. There is even an intense anger prevalent among many, with even those in high places of leadership walking away from their daily tasks to stonewall or protest others with whom they are charged to work and serve. And, I imagine that some of these are Christians. We have a difficult time in our political structure drawing a line between where submission ends and rebellion begins as we navigate the right we have as a people to protest, challenge, and even work for change.
Peter’s words might be very hard to swallow. There is no equivocation or setting up of conditions in them, and this has led over the years to theologians and pastors seeking to guide their students and congregations through who to obey and how far must we go. In response to this we have the example of Scripture and the words of those who suffered at the hands of others. Peter who wrote these words could speak to this first hand. He was there at the unjust trials and crucifixion of Christ. He was there to see countless Christians taken away for their faith and even be martyred. He saw his fellow apostles arrested and dealt with harshly. He, himself, suffered arrest and being placed on trial, and he provides for us the exception of declaring that he could not heed a directive given to him by the scribes and religious leaders when they told Him no longer to speak of Christ.
Peter lived in a very difficult political climate with various competing authorities, all of whom were opposed to him, Christianity, and Christ. But still, Peter wrote these words, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution….” “Submit” has the meaning of coming under or being in subjection to. It is the recognition that someone is in a place of authority and you are to properly place yourself under that authority just as a soldier would his commander. It is a word that encompasses both heart and action, such that we are not acting grudgingly but as if we were serving the Lord as we read to be the instruction of slaves to their masters in Ephesians 6:5-8, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:5–8, NASB95)
One commentator wrote, “As citizens in the world and under civil law and authority, God’s people are to live in a humble, submissive way in the midst of any hostile, godless, slandering society” (MacArthur Study Bible). The apostle Paul words it strongly, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:1–2, NASB95)
We see both from Paul and Peter that those to whom we are to submit include all governing authorities, whether they be kings, governors, or something else. This includes those agents of those authorities such as the police and others who are endowed with authority to enforce or enact. Clearly this is not the way of many in our country as we see acts of anarchy, obstruction and disruption employed daily both in the streets and places of rule. Some may strongly disagree, but we have a Constitution which determines the process by which people are placed in authority through the election and even appointment process. To resist a duly elected or appointed individual according to the words of Scripture surely seems to be a violation of the very instructions given to us by God.
The contrasting response to rebellion is to be “doing right” or as Paul says to “be obedient … in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ, not … as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” Sure, Peter said that he could not keep his mouth shut regarding the gospel of Christ, and sure Daniel opened his windows and prayed as he was accustomed. But it is large leap from pointing to them and using their actions to justify much of what we see happening today.
Today we do have doctors who have to take a stand for Christ and lose their jobs because they will not perform procedures that may be demanded of them. We have elected officials who have lost their jobs or who might have had to seek exceptions because they could not perform acts demanded of them. And, we’ve even have businesses who were sued and who have even lost in court because they would not perform services demanded of them. Being a Christian in an evil world is a difficult thing, and there will be consequences for our having to stand for Christ. The real issue may not as much be the actions taken by others, but how we represent Christ as we walk through those trials. The greatest encouragement I find in Scripture is from the apostle Paul who spent a great deal of time in prison for the gospel, but even in prison he saw this as an opportunity to be a bond-slave of Christ even sharing his testimony repeatedly before his accusers. Not once do we see him rebelling or removing himself from their authority, but using where he was placed as an opportunity for Christ.
In the United States, we have a lot of freedoms and even responsibilities that people don’t have in other countries. We can speak up freely and we can engage ourselves in the process. But at some point, there is a line that all of us are not to cross, and the best way of our measuring this is to look to our hearts and to bring them before God seeking His direction for our steps, asking whether what we’re doing is right before Him and if it will bring glory to His name. Then as an aside, hopefully our detractors will be silenced by our response and that some will see the difference, believe and be saved.