Summary: How Christians are supposed to live in submission under the God given governing and workplace authorities.
Since Easter we have been looking at Jesus’ disciple Peter and his first letter. This is a man who walked with Jesus when he was on the earth. He was one of the twelve disciples. His life was transformed by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ and he became one of the leaders of the early Christian church. I think what he has to say to the church is important. Yet his letters are often overlooked. In this short letter, found at the end of our NT, Peter is trying to help the Christians understand how to live out their new life in Christ. Since he has risen from the dead into a new life, Peter says he has given us all new birth and living hope.
Two weeks ago we read in Peter that once we receive Christ by faith we become strangers on this planet. The issue of illegal immigration has been in the news, but for Christians the ironic twist is that we are the foreigners here. This is not our home anymore, we are just passing through this place. Now we are citizens of God’s kingdom, heaven, therefore we live according to a different set of values and guidelines than the rest of the world. As citizens of God’s kingdom we don’t follow popular opinion polls, we follow the King of kings. Yet at the same time we still have to live here and we are still citizens of this nation. How do these two citizenships interact with each other? How do we live as citizens of two worlds?
The Christians in Peter’s day found themselves in a tough predicament because they were trying to live for God in a world run by pagans, non-Christians, whether it was in the political realm or the work realm. Many times the pagan religious life (worship of false gods) intertwined with the political, social, and economic realm, it was hard to get away from it because it was so ingrained in their culture. Interestingly many Christian leaders are saying we are now in a post-Christian culture. It used to be a few short decades ago that even people who were not Christian still had a Biblical worldview, and Christian values. Not so anymore, our culture is becoming more like Peter’s day with a smorgasbord of religions and belief systems. The problem they struggled with and we may be struggling with today is, as a Christian how do we live with those in authority over us when they don’t share our values?
Christians Must Submit to Governing Authorities (Political and Legal Realm)
First, Peter addresses the political and legal realm. Peter begins this passage by saying, “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king (aka Emperor or Caesar), as supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong, and to commend those who do right.”
While we are citizens of God’s kingdom it does not mean we can ignore earthly authorities. We don’t live above the laws of the land. As Christians, we must submit to them just as everyone else does. The Apostle Paul even went one step further, writing in Romans 13:1:
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Both Peter and Paul agree we should submit to our governing authorities because God himself has established these authorities to keep the peace. They punish those who do evil, and reward those who do good. If we do not submit to the authorities of our land we are disrespecting God who established them. Paul continues in Rom. 13:2 “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” We are to submit and not to rebel. What does it mean to submit to those in authority? It means obeying the laws of the land, this particular week we are reminded it also means paying our taxes (Rom 13:6).
When we submit it is actually a step of faith because it is not our natural instinct. Our natural instinct is to dominate. By submitting even to non-Christian authorities acting in unChristlike ways we are trusting in faith that God will correct the situation. We have faith that God will provide justice rather than taking justice into our own hands.
Respect Everyone/Honor the King
But going back to Peter’s letter he goes one step further. In verse 17 he says, “Show proper respect for everyone, love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” It isn’t enough just to live by the rules of the land, out of fear and reverence for God, we must also honor the king. Of course we don’t have a king, we have a president and governor, but the principle applies nonetheless. Think of the President or Governor you have liked the least (please don’t mention any names). Perhaps it’s a person whom you disagreed with their policies and viewpoints, or one you thought had morale character problems, or didn’t provide leadership. When you have talked about that individual with others would you say you honored and respected them in your conversation? You may say, ‘But you don’t understand he or she failed the American people, or the people of Michigan.’ Be very careful what you say because you are treading on dangerous ground.