The idea of respect for authority is something that has fallen out of favor in our society. Have you noticed that there seems to be a disdain for anyone in a position of power or influence? In schools students seem to dare teachers to try to exert authority. In many homes parents have surrendered their authority to gain a peace that had been held hostage by their kids. In places of business workers want more money for less work and don’t want anyone to “tell them what to do”…even if they are the boss.
We also see this in relation to the government. There is a real good chance that someone will share with you their negative opinion of government sometime today. Regardless of your political leanings the problems we face will always be blamed on “the other party”.
Sadly, even some Pastors stand in pulpits and rant and rave against the government. Their spirit is angry, abusive, and rebellious. I think they believe they are “contending for the faith” but they have missed the very point that Peter makes in 1 Peter 2:13-17. He tells us: If we want to know hope for our country and society we have to reestablish the idea of respect.
Peter instructs us to
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
The Nature of Submission
The overarching principle Peter gives us is “submit yourselves to the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.” We will look at the general principle this morning and in the weeks to come we will apply it to everyday situations.
When people hear the word “submit” today they recoil. “Submission” is one of the few dirty words left in our society. People believe submission means being taken advantage of or being diminished as a person. It is weakness.
Notice two preliminary things before we define the term. First, note that this is a voluntary action. We are to “submit ourselves”. This is not a result of coercion but it is a choice. It is not an act of weakness but an act of faith.
Second, don’t miss the qualifying words that follow: “for the Lord’s sake”. The reason we take this voluntary action is to obey and honor the Lord. This is a spiritual act that reveals our trust and reliance in God.
So what does it mean to submit? Here’s a simple definition it means “to place under; to subordinate,” in this passage it is a synonym of the verb to obey. Peter tells us that we are to place ourselves under “every authority instituted among men”. In other words we are to recognize and respect the authorities that have been established. That means the President, Congress, Judges, State governing officials, local officials, Teachers, Law Enforcement, Employers (more on that next week) and more.
Let’s concede that this goes against the current of contemporary culture. Peter however tells us that even if we disagree with the policies of the government we must always be respectful.
Look around you. The confrontation and rebelliousness of our day has led to a divided nation, chaos in homes, rampant divorce, a negation of what is “true”, and a huge uptick in violence as a solution to problems.
Peter wants us to understand that when Bible Believing Christians adopt these same confrontational and belittling tactics, we have embraced the ways of the world at the expense of the advance of God’s Kingdom!
Let’s be clear. Submission does not mean that we just compromise with evil. Throughout the Bible we see examples of people who refused to do what was wrong, faced the consequences, and did it all respectfully. There are the examples of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego Peter and Paul and many others. We must respect the governing authorities but we must also stand up for what is right.
We must stand against evil in our society. We must make our voice heard on issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, ballooning government control, and fiscal irresponsibility. We need to be leaders in addressing the AIDS epidemic in Africa, in providing clean water in underdeveloped countries, providing aid to those who have been devastated by tragedy, and addressing the needs of the poor. Christians should run for office and be informed on issues. We must lift our voices and persevere. Peter is not calling us to simply embrace the status quo. He is calling us to pursue change with the proper demeanor.
We are to have an attitude of respect no matter who the leader is. Today two-thirds of the world live under repressive governments. Peter was likely writing during one of those times. Nero was probably on the throne. He was hostile to Christians and was a violent dictator. Think of him like Moammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein, or Adolf Hitler. Nero may even have been the emperor who executed Peter and Paul. Peter’s point is that even in a repressive and godless government we are to be respectful to our leaders.
This is a very difficult balance to maintain. You may be following the story about Pastor Nadarkhani in Iran. He Pastored a good size Christian Church in Iran. He was arrested because he had converted from Islam to Christianity when he was in his teens. Muslims have charged him with apostasy (or deserting the Muslim faith. They have threatened to execute him. In the midst of this Pastor Nadarkhani has not spoken against the government. He was not hostile. However, he did steadfastly refuse to deny his Christian faith in order to be set free. This Pastor has chosen to trust God. It may cost him his life, but he understands that this is a principle on which he must stand.
The Practical Benefit of Submission
A natural question (especially for Americans) is: Why should I live this way? Why show respect when officials are evil or corrupt? Won’t people simply take advantage of us? Peter explains.
[government officials] are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
He gives us two reasons. First, Submission to Authority Preserves Order. Paul tells us that God established the governing authorities (Romans 13). Government is established by God to serve a purpose in society. Government’s purpose is to keep order and restrain evil. Without respect for the government we will have lawlessness, chaos and eventually anarchy. Without government it is “every man for himself”.
Think of the benefits of the government that we enjoy every day. It is the government that gives us highways, waterworks, disaster response teams, welfare, unemployment insurance, law enforcement, and the military. Government protects our food and medicine. It is the government that organizes and helps underwrite public education.
Without the government we would not have building codes or water and sewer services. We likely wouldn’t have electricity, natural gas, the railroad or many of the other means of travel. Without the government our freedoms would be governed by whoever had power. The weak would be victimized by the strong.
The government has been guilty of excesses but we must not overlook the value of government in our daily lives. Peter wants us to understand that when we submit to those in authority over us, we are preserving the order that God has designed for our lives.
There is a second reason we are to show respect to the government: Submission is the most effective agent of change. By being respectful we “silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” We know this from personal experience. When someone argues with us, is hostile to us, or treats us in a disrespectful way one of two things happen. We either ignore the person, or we fight back.
We all respond better to people who are respectful in their tone and in their words. When we are respectful towards those in authority, when we do what we are asked to do (as long as it does not cause us to sin against God), we take the fuel away from those who want to create conflict.
The apostle Paul told Titus,
Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. (Titus 3:1–3)
The goal for the Christ-follower is to treat every person as a valuable treasure who has been created by God. Practically this means,
- Listening before we speak. We must remember that we are all students and can learn from others. When we listen carefully we are much less likely to jump to erroneous conclusions.
- Speaking softly and calmly even when others are raising their voice. When you are calm and soft it will bring calm to the situation.
- Trusting the timing and power of Holy Spirit more than our ability to win an argument.
- Eliminating mocking, ridicule, and intimidation from our dealings with and talk about others.
- Recognizing that arguing about theology or the Bible is not always “contending for the faith” sometimes it is simply being obnoxious.
- Understanding that our tone can undermine our ability to proclaim the truth of the gospel.
Peter goes so far as to say, to live any other way, is to “use our freedom as a cover-up for evil”. Many times we use “faith” or a “concern for the truth” as a way to excuse anger, meanness, arrogance or abusive nature. These kinds of things are sinful even if they are cloaked in Christian sounding arguments or prefaced with a Bible verse. This kind of behavior hurts the cause of Christ rather than opens doors. It is NEVER right to do what is wrong!
Peter sums it all up this way,
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Let’s look at each one. Honor all people. This is the general principle. If we honor and respect everyone then we will naturally honor those in authority. As believers we should see each person as a unique and valuable creation.
This means that things such as skin color, gender, ethnicity, age, social class, appearance, or reputation should have no bearing on how we treat another person. We should show honor and respect to everyone.
Stop for a minute and consider how many people have been ignored, pushed aside, or been taken advantage of all their lives. People have looked past them but no one has really seen them. A kind word, a listening ear, a little respect, or a loving act can change the lives of these people. We can make a huge impact by showing simple respect to everyone.
Love the brotherhood. We need to love each other in the church (we will come back to this). The world is watching us. They look at how we relate to each other to see whether or not the Christ of Christianity is worth seeking. The world is watching to see,
How we respond to those with whom we disagree (do we argue or do we work together to seek truth? Are we respectful and loving even in our disagreements?)
How we will treat the person in need (will we effectively turn them away or will we roll up our sleeves and help?)
What we do with the person who has failed (will we shun them or kick them when they are down or do we help them get back on their feet?)
How long do we hang in there when there is a long-term need (does the initial period of concern fade away or do we stand with others over the long haul?)
Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this will all men know that you are my disciples”. The world draws its conclusions about Jesus from the way they see (or don’t see) Jesus in us.
Fear God. This is the necessary balance to everything else. We will not be able to honor men until we have first learned to honor God. We are not free to negotiate the truth in order to “be loving.” To stand on the sidelines when wrong is being done is to compromise faith. It is also an unloving thing to do. The most loving thing we can do is share with people the truth that God gives us. Honoring Him must be our primary concern. If we truly fear God we will then begin to love others in a way that is appropriate and valuable.
We must stand up for the truth of God. Chuck Colson and some friends have written a document called the “Manhattan Declaration” which you can and should read online. In it the authors respectfully stand for Biblical truth. One of the last lines of the document says, “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.” This is the balance we must strike: respect for our government without compromising the truth of God.
Throughout church history men and women have refused to compromise their faith. They were burned at the stake, mauled by lions, beheaded, and crucified. They faced firing squads, years of exile in prison, and pressures and hostilities from all side. And they did all this for one reason. They understood that it is the truth alone that truly sets people free. They embraced the fact that it is better to honor God and die than to deny Him and live.
We may not be tested in such an extreme fashion but we will face tests every day. We should resolve that we will honor God in the way we speak of Him. We must determined to obey Him in the “little things” of life; the things that determine our true character. We must recognize that we honor Him by the priority we give Him in our lives. And we show our respect for Him by the way we respect those who were created in His image.
Honor the King. This last injunction which must have seemed so incredible (considering the political climate of the day) is much easier to embrace when we embrace the other truths. We honor our leaders not because they are always right. We do not honor them because we always agree with their agenda. We honor our leaders because it is the right thing to do. We speak respectfully of the one who holds an office because we respect the office even if we don’t agree with the man who occupies that office and may even campaign against them.
Peter reminds us that showing honor is the way God has ordained for keeping order in our world. We honor those in government because we know that love and kindness is much more powerful that hate and anger.
If we want to see real change in our country we must begin by opening dialogue. We can only do that if we speak in a respectful way and in calm (rather than threatening) words. We want the government to hear us rather than ignore us. For that to happen we must approach our leaders respectfully rather than with hostility, with a smile rather than a scowl, with arms that are open, rather than fists that are clenched.
Christ-followers should be the best citizens in the world. We should be informed on the issues, involved in debate, willing to serve in leadership, and be present at the voting booth. We should pray constantly for those who lead. Their burden is great. We should do all this in a spirit of love and respect. And if we do this, the world around us won’t know what to think. And then, hopefully, they will ask us why we act the way we do. And then it will be our joy and our privilege to tell them about the One who has changed our hearts and our lives. And that is when real change can begin.