In verses 9 to 12, which we looked at the last time, Peter reminded his readers — and therefore he was reminding us — that we’re aliens and strangers in the world. And we’re aliens and strangers in the world because, so long as we go on living on the earth, we’re living far away from our true home. Our true home is in heaven with Jesus Christ our Saviour. That’s where we belong by faith, since we were raised with him to the heavenly realms. That’s where our citizenship lies, because we’re now citizens of heaven and we’re waiting for our Saviour to come from heaven, because when he comes again, he’ll gather all of his believing people and bring us in body and soul into our heavenly home. And so, since our true home is in heaven, we’re aliens and strangers in the world.
But while we go on living on the earth, we’re to live good lives; and we’re to give ourselves to doing good deeds. And we’re to live good lives and we’re to give ourselves to doing good deeds in the hope that others will see the way we live and they too will come to believe in the Saviour. Do you remember? Peter wrote in verse 12 about the pagans — and he means our unbelieving neighbours — seeing our good deeds and glorifying God on the day he visits us. He was talking about the day of judgment. And on that day, those who have not believed will weep and wail because of the judgment that will fall on them. But others will rejoice and give thanks to God for his salvation. And Peter is hopeful that some of those who see our good deeds will be convinced and converted to faith in Christ so that, on that day, they will be among those who rejoice and give thanks to God for his salvation.
But what does it mean to live a good life? What good deeds does Peter have in mind? Often Christians think living a good life means reading our Bible and praying and going to church. And those are all good things to do; and we ought to do them. In fact, those things are vital for Christians, because the Lord works through these good things in order to build us up in the faith and to enable us to persevere. However, people in the world don’t care whether we do these things or not. They won’t admire us for praying or for reading the Bible or for going to church. In fact, they might condemn us for doing those things; they’ll say that doing those things are a waste of time. So, if those are not the good deeds Peter has in mind, what does he mean by good deeds? What does this good life look like?
Well, that’s what the following verses are about where Peter looks at three areas of our life. First of all, there’s the public square, if you like, and our attitude to the ruling authorities. Secondly, there’s the workplace and our attitude and behaviour towards our employer. And thirdly, there’s the home, and how husbands and wives treat one another. We ought to live such good lives in these three areas so that those who don’t believe will see how we live and what we do and the attitude we take and — who knows? who knows? — they might eventually be convinced of the truth of the Christian faith so that they too are converted to faith in Christ. And, if they’re converted to faith in Christ, then they will be among those who praise the Lord and glorify him for his salvation when he comes to judge the world.
Well, today we’re going to look at the first of those three areas which Peter refers to in verses 13 to 17 of chapter 2.
Every human authority
And so, in verse 13 he writes:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors….
So, he refers to the king and to those governors who are appointed by the king to positions of authority to govern the people on his behalf. Now, in Peter’s day, the king was the Emperor: the Roman Emperor. And the Roman Emperor had various governors — procurators and proconsuls and others — who acted as his representative and who ruled the various provinces which made up the Roman Empire. So, in the gospels there’s Pilate; in the book of Acts we read about Felix and Festus; these men were governors and represented the Emperor and ruled on his behalf. In our day, we’re to think of the Royal Family and the Prime Minister and the MPs in Parliament and the MLAs in Stormont and all the councillors who work in our City and Town Councils; and to the police who are appointed by them to uphold law and order. We’re to submit ourselves to every authority, says Peter. Whoever they are, and whatever they are, if they’ve been appointed to a position of authority, we’re to submit ourselves to them. So, though we’re citizens of heaven, we’re to be the best citizens we can be of whatever nation we find ourselves in.
Now, there’s one little detail which is perhaps obscured by the way the NIV translates Peter’s words. In fact, most English translations obscure this little detail. The NIV refers to every authority instituted among men. Other English translations refer to every human institution. And really it’s the word ‘human’ I’m thinking about. Peter is making the point that these rulers are human rulers. And that was important in Peter’s day. You see, in Peter’s day, the Roman Emperor was regarded as divine, or semi-divine. He was regarded as a god to be worshipped. And Peter was reminding his readers that no, the Roman Emperor was not divine. He wasn’t semi-divine. He wasn’t a god. He was a man. He was only human. So, Peter’s original readers were not to worship him as if he were a god. However, they were still required to submit to him. They were to obey him.
Now, it’s perhaps worth saying that while we don’t say our politicians are gods, nevertheless from time to time, you get the impression that some people regard them as if they were divine. What do I mean? Well, in the same way as believers look to the Lord to help us, so they look to their political leaders to sort out all our problems. They look to their political leaders to put right everything that has gone wrong in the world. They think to themselves: If only we get the right leaders, if only we get the right person in power, then everything will be okay. The world is a mess; the country is a mess; society is a mess; but we believe that this man, this woman, is the one who will make it all right.
But they won’t. They won’t. They’re only human; and there’s only so much they can do. And whatever improvements they might make, they won’t be able to fix the world which has been broken ever since Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit and sin came into the world and everything was spoiled. Whatever leaders we have, they won’t be able to put right what’s wrong in the world, because they’re only human. Nevertheless, we ought to submit to them.
And, of course, we ought to submit to them whoever they are and whether they’re Christians or not. When Peter wrote these words, and when he wrote to these believers and told them to submit to every human authority including the king and his governors, he was referring to the Roman Emperor who was a pagan unbeliever. But whether he believes or not, doesn’t matter. It’s the will of God that believers should submit themselves to every human authority. That’s the right thing to do.
The Apostle Paul said the same thing in Romans 13. In fact, Paul went further and taught his readers that whatever authorities there are have been established by God and they are God’s servants. They might not know it, they might not be aware of it, because of their unbelief, but they’re God’s servants, appointed by God without their knowledge to carry out his will on the earth.
Role of the leader
So, whoever they are, you’re to submit to them. And why should we submit to them? Well, one reason we ought to submit to them is because of the work they do. Look at verse 14 where Peter refers to the work of the governor. The governors, he says, have been sent by the Emperor to do what? To punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. In other words, the work of these human authorities is to uphold law and order and to ensure that those who do wrong are punished and those who do what is right are praised. The Romans would erect statutes or they would give special privileges to those citizens who did well and who contributed to the good of society. Meanwhile, the Romans came down hard on those who did wrong. And so, that’s what Peter is thinking about here.
And, of course, this fits in with what Paul wrote in Romans 13 where he said that the authorities are God’s servants, agents of God’s wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. God rules over all people everywhere; and one of the ways he maintains law and order and justice in the world is through the work of the civil rulers who have the right and authority to punish those who do wrong.
And this also fits with Paul’s first letter to Timothy where he told Timothy to pray for kings and those in authority. Why should we pray for kings and those in authority? So that we might live peaceful and quiet lives. And we’re able to live peaceful and quiet lives because we can count on the authorities to uphold law and order.
So, that’s one reason why we ought to submit to these human authorities. We ought to submit to them because of the work they do to ensure there’s law and order. If there was disturbance outside the church, we could phone the police in Tennant Street and they’d send someone down to help us. If someone breaks into our home, we call the police who will do what they can to catch those who did it. Because of the work they do to protect and help us, we ought to submit to them.
For the Lord’s sake
But, of course, we ought to submit to them as well ‘for the Lord’s sake’. Do you see that in verse 13? Perhaps you don’t think they do a good job to maintain law and order. Perhaps you don’t think they deserve our obedience because of who they are or because of decisions they have taken. Well, another reason we’re to submit to them — and this is really the chief reason — is because this is the Lord’s will; and part of our obedience to the Lord is that we should obey those whom he has placed over us. That’s what that expression means: submitting to them for the Lord’s sake means submitting to them out of obedience and reverence to the Lord.
Again, this fits with what Paul wrote in Romans 13. In Romans 13 he taught that whatever authorities there are have been established by God. Consequently, Paul said, consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted. In other words, whoever disobeys the ruling authorities is disobeying the Lord who established them. And as believers in the Lord Jesus, as his servants on the earth, we want to obey the Lord and do his will which includes submitting ourselves to whatever ruling authorities he has placed over us.
Silencing foolish talk
So, we’re to submit to them because of the work they do. And we’re to submit to them out of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. But there’s a third reason for submitting to them; and it’s found in verse 15. We’re to submit ourselves to them because by doing so we’ll silence those who criticise the church.
Peter wrote: ‘For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.’ Now, it’s perhaps best to take the mention of God’s will as referring to what Peter has just said. So, it’s God’s will for us to submit to every human authority. And if you do so, the result will be that you will silence their foolish and ignorant talk. So we might paraphrase verse 15 like so: ‘It is God’s will for you to submit; and so you will silence the ignorant talk of foolish men by doing good.’
Now, in the early days of the church, Christians faced all kinds of slander. Because they spoke about eating the body of Christ and drinking the blood of Christ as part of the Lord’s Supper, they were accused of cannibalism. Because they spoke about loving their brothers and sisters in the Lord, they were accused of incest. Because they refused to join their pagan neighbours in worshipping the Roman gods, they were accused of threatening the peace and prosperity of society. You know, the gods would be angry with the Romans and would punish Rome because of the Christians. And they were accused of being disloyal to Rome and to the Emperor, because they insisted that Jesus Christ was their Lord and King and not the Emperor. They faced all kinds of slander, ignorant talk from foolish people who did not understand what they believed or did.
But by submitting to the Emperor and his governors, by seeking to obey the human authorities, and by doing all that was required of them, they would show their unbelieving neighbours that you can count on Christians to be the best citizens possible. When others disobey the laws of the land, when others resist the right of the authorities to rule over us, when others refuse to yield to the ruling authorities, Christians will obey. And by doing so, they will silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.
That’s what Peter said to his first readers. And that’s what he says to us as well. People might despise us for what we believe. They might hate us for what we stand for. But we ought to submit ourselves to the ruling authorities and thereby show that, whatever you may say about us, you can count on us to be the best citizens possible, because of our willingness to submit and to obey to those who are in authority over us.
But are there no exceptions? Should we always obey? Well, we need to remember what happened in Acts 4. The Lord had commanded his Apostles to preach the gospel to all. And so, in Acts 4 you have Peter and John, preaching in the temple about Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. The priests and the captain of the guard and the Sadducees were greatly disturbed by what they were preaching. So, they seized them and brought them before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court. And after listening to Peter and John, the members of the Sanhedrin commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Well, the Lord Jesus had commanded them to preach about him; the Sanhedrin had commanded them not to preach about him. Who should they obey? Well, Peter understood that though normally, normally we’re to submit ourselves to the ruling authorities, nevertheless, if the ruling authorities ask us to do something which contradicts what the Lord has commanded, then we’re to obey God and not the ruling authority. So, in those particular cases — and it’s very particular; only those occasions when the ruling authorities ask us to do something which contradicts what the Lord has commanded — we mustn’t submit to them, but to God.
But here’s the thing which we often miss. Peter and John disobeyed the ruling of the Sanhedrin, but they were prepared to submit themselves to whatever punishment the Sanhedrin imposed on them. They didn’t resist arrest; they didn’t fight back; they didn’t lead a rebellion; they did what the Lord commanded them to do which was to preach about Jesus Christ; and they were prepared to suffer the cost for doing so. And so, if you read on in 1 Peter, you’ll see he goes on to say that if you suffer for doing good, and endure it, that is commendable to God. ‘To this you were called’, he says in verse 21 of chapter 2. To this you were called, because the Lord Jesus Christ suffered like that for us; and he left us an example that we should follow in his steps and suffer for doing good.
Christians are to be the best citizens possible: we’re to submit ourselves to every human authority. And even when we have to obey God rather than men, we’re to be prepared to submit ourselves to whatever punishment the ruling authorities impose on us for our obedience to the Lord.
Peter hasn’t finished yet. He goes on in verse 16 to command us to live as free men, or free men and women. But we’re not to abuse the freedom we have in Christ and use it as an excuse for doing what’s evil. And we’re to respect and honour everyone; and we’re to love our Christian brothers and sisters; and we’re to fear the Lord; and we’re to honour the king and ruling authority. We’re to do all of those things. But our time today is almost over and so we’ll come back to verses 16 and 17 the next time.
But just as we close, let’s remember that we live our lives before a watching world. The world is watching us to see what we’re like; and to see whether being a Christian makes any difference; and to see whether Christianity is real and is it good? We live before a watching world. And so, we’re to be careful to live such good lives every day so that men and women and boys and girls will see our good deeds. And, all the while, we’re hoping and praying that they too will be persuaded that Christianity is true and they’ll worship the Lord with us.
Well, this puts a great responsibility on our shoulders, doesn’t it? To live a good life. But we can do it. And we can do it because the Lord our Saviour will help us. He puts his Spirit in his believing people; and the Holy Spirit is at work in us to renew us in God’s image so that we become more and more willing and able to do his will while we go on living on the earth. The Lord Jesus Christ, who submitted himself to the Sanhedrin and to Pilate, and to the Roman soldiers who nailed him to the cross, puts his Spirit within us and enables us to submit to others just as he did.
So, we can do it because the Living Lord Jesus will help us by his Spirit. But what if the world still hates us? Or what if the ruler commands us to do something we know is wrong and then punishes us for not doing it? Well, we can endure that as well, can’t we? We can endure it because we know that this world is not our true home; we’re only living here for the time being. And though we might lose everything we have in this life, we know that we have an inheritance in heaven which Christ our Saviour purchased for us by his death on the cross. And that inheritance in heaven will never perish, spoil or fade, because he’s keeping it safe for us for ever. And whatever we have to suffer in this life is nothing, nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in us and to us when Christ our Saviour comes again and brings us to our heavenly home. So, we can endure all things in this life, because we’re looking forward to the glory to come.