Summary: We obey human authority, not just out of fear, but for the Lord's sake. Peter says this is to be the motivating power behind Christian submission. Good citizenship is a service to God, and it is to bring glory to God.
Christians in general and Baptists in particular have played
important roles in the patriotism of America. One of the finest
patriotic hymns is My Country Tis Of Thee. It was written in 1832
by a Baptist clergyman named Samuel Francis Smith. The Pledge of
Alliance to the flag was written in 1892 by another Baptist pastor
named Francis Bellamy. Daniel Webster said, "Whatever makes
men good Christians makes them good citizens. Nothing can be
more contradictory than a Christian and a traitor. Nothing can be
more in harmony than Christianity and good citizenship.
Christians had to be instructed, however, on what their
relationship to the state ought to be. Paul in Rom. 13:1 writes, "Let
every soul be subject unto the higher powers." Then he goes on to
explain that they are ordained of God. He urges Titus to teach this
to his congregation, and he writes in Titus 3:1, "Put them in mind to
be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be
ready to every good work." We see then that Peter was not alone in
his concern that Christians be good citizens. It is only by ignorance
or willful disobedience that a Christian could practice irresponsible
As we examine Peter's counsel to the Christians of his day we
must recognize that our obligation is even greater than theirs. They
did not have the freedom we do. Under their authoritarian system
they needed only to be subject to the powers that be, but under our
system it is not enough to be submissive, for we have the
responsibility of helping to determine that to which we will be
subject. Our responsibility is much greater because our freedom is
In verse 1 Peter makes it clear that good citizenship begins with
the duty of being subject to legitimate authority. He did not have to
bring in the exceptions and say unless they forbid what God
requires, or require what God forbids. This is obvious, and Peter is
not giving them a rule book. He is only laying down a basic
principle that applies in almost all situations. Submitting to proper
authorities is what Jesus meant when He said, "Render unto Caesar
what is Caesar's." He is the authority in control and it is the
obligation of believers to be subject to him.
Peter makes the principle almost absolute, for he says to be
submissive to every ordinance to man. This is a real blow to the
mystical type of Christian who feels that he rises above the reality of
the world and need not bother with mere human institutions. Here
is the text that tells a believer that the law of the land is the law you
are to obey. They are often arbitrary and only man made, but
Christians are to be ideal citizens by obeying these laws. Peter is
writing to believers who had no say in the human institutions. We,
on the other hand, can seek to get changes made that are more
realistic. But as long as a thing is legally in force it is our duty to
obey it. In so doing we reveal that we are good citizens, for we are
willing to obey even what we feel is disagreeable.
Christianity is other worldly in its origin and its goal, but no
one can charge it with being so in its practical effect in everyday life.
It is to produce the most helpful people in the society of the world.
The Christians greater vision beyond this world is to make them
better servants and citizens. We have a motive that no one else has.
We obey human authority, not just out of fear, but for the Lord's
sake. Peter says this is to be the motivating power behind Christian
submission. Good citizenship is a service to God, and it is to bring
glory to God.
Peter than gives examples such as the king or emperor. Peter
does not give us a different set of principles to follow if we are under
different forms of government, for the same applies to all forms. If
the established authority is a dictator, a Christian has the same
obligation of submission. If a dictator lays down the law that
everyone turn out their lights at 10 o'clock, every Christian home
should be dark at 10. Maybe there is no valid reason, and maybe it
is a foolish whim, but as long as it does not violate God's law, we are
to submit. There are many things that Christians despise about
living under a dictator, but his commands are to be obeyed in order
to maintain order in the land.
Remember, Nero was the ruler when Peter wrote this. If Peter can urge
submission to him, then no one can be an exception as long