Be Submitting for Christ’s Sake (verses 13-14)
We please God by living in a way that adorns the gospel within the social order that God has ordained. This includes submission to the authority structures that God has put in place in all of His creation. There is a hierarchical structure of authority in the universe, and at the top is God, who has delegated all authority in heaven and on earth to His Son, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The King has given certain institutions with roles to fill, including governments, kings, magistrates, etc.
Though every form of human government is defective, there is also divine authority in every form of human government. There is good in it, no matter how depraved it is. The purpose of all government is to restrain evil, maintain law and order, and promote the welfare of the people. Governments that fail in these areas fail to honor God and are disobedient with regard to God’s purpose for them. In all cases, our submission to people in authority is not for their sake, but “for the Lord’s sake.”
Be Silencing the Foolish (verse 15)
The task of the Christian is to know and do the will of God. When it comes to civil obedience, it is God’s will that we “silence the ignorance of foolish men” by “doing what is right.” The reference to “foolish men” is not an intellectual criticism; rather, it refers to those who “despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). The foolish will not be silenced by our separatism—separatism is not the solution. Rather, they will be silenced by our right behavior and servanthood. Another way to speak of civil obedience is in terms of leveraging the law to maximize opportunities to honor Christ.
Of course, there are times when civil disobedience honors God. When people use their God-given authority in an attempt to require the dishonoring of God, then the Christian must choose to honor God rather than man (c.f. Exodus 1:17; Daniel 3:16-18; Acts 4:18-20). In other words, we are to obey, except when commanded to sin. The issue is not whether you agree with the policy or not—or even if the policy is good—but only, “Is it contrary to God’s revealed will?” Therefore, we must be better acquainted with what God commands!
Be Slaves of God (verses 16-17)
All who are in Christ are free. We are free from the obligation to earn merit by perfect obedience, from the guilt associated with our sin, from the dominion of sin in our bodies, and from the Law as a covenant of works. We do not, however, have the freedom to do wrong. Freedom is not for sin. Instead, in Christ, we are free to choose what is right and to do what is pleasing to God. Our freedom is not for the usurping of submission but for submissive service as bondservants of Christ.
The religious right of Jesus’ day was expecting a political revolutionary to lead a revolt against their political enemies. When Jesus refused to claim the much smaller crown of political or paltry social king, they deserted Him, distanced themselves from Him, and crucified Him. Instead of grasping a sword with His hand, He stretched his hands out to be pierced for our transgressions. We often have a hard time differentiating between these categories and allowing the hierarchy that God ordained to be maintained. The confusion from Christ’s day between the civil or political and the spiritual continues until today. We are not theocratic successors of Old Testament Israel. Rather, we are bond-servants of Christ (c.f. Acts 16:17; James 1:1; Titus 1:1).
Summing up his point, Peter instructs us to “honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” While we are to “honor all people,” including the “king,” our highest obligations are to God and to God’s people (c.f. Galatians 6:10, John 13:34-35).
– Refusing to submit to God in the garden is what initially plunged humanity into disaster, deserving damnation. When we fail to submit to God and to His ordained authority, we cast our vote with that level of lawlessness. When we do submit to “every human institution,” we bear witness of Christ, who stands above every law. When we obey our employer, civil magistrates, parents, etc., we give honor to Christ who reigns over the whole of it all. What authorities are you called to submit to? How does the ultimate authority of Christ over all things impact the way you interact with His ordained authorities? Are you submitting to the God-ordained authorities in your life?