1 Peter 2:13-25

1 Peter 2:13-25

SERIES: Faith Under Fire

The Godly Reaction to Unfairness: Submission  

Introduction: Today and next Sunday we are going to be dealing with topics in 1 Peter 2 & 3 that I think are increasingly difficult for Americans to look at objectively.  All of them have to do with authority–

the authority of government over its citizens, 

the authority of management over labor, 

and the authority of husbands over their wives.  

Fortunately, that third one won’t come up for another week and the Lord may return by then.  Seriously, these are tough issues, and there are strong elements in American society that are challenging what the Bible says in all three areas.  This morning I want us to jump boldly into the first two, so let’s begin with the fact that 

The Christian has the responsibility to submit to authority in government.

Please turn to 1 Peter 2:13‑17:

 “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.”

Now some people’s initial reaction to hearing that may be, “Honor the king?  Sure, when the king or President or Prime Minister is honorable.  I could honor Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, or Maggie Thatcher, but Obama, Putin, or Trump?  God would hardly be asking for that!”  Time out!  When Peter wrote this, the head of state was not some kind, benevolent, moral man who could feel your pain; in fact, he was usually the one inflicting it.  His name was Nero.  He burned Christians on poles as street lamps.  His entertainment was to dress them in animal skins and then watch as savage beasts ripped them apart.  Still Peter’s exhortation is to submit.

Now the first thing that impresses me about Peter’s instructions is that …

This requirement to submit to authority in government is broad, but not absolute.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.”  Peter is clearly addressing the same people as in the previous passage–the living stones that make up the Church–and this exhortation apparently applies to all of them–rich or poor, slave or free.  Furthermore, it apparently applies to every kind of government–whether democracy, dictatorship, oligarchy or republic, whether socialist, communist, fascist or capitalist.  Still further, it applies not only to the supreme authority himself (or herself) but also extends to those with delegated authority.  It won’t do to say, “I honor the President, but the IRS bureaucrats can go suck an egg.”  

Romans 13 is a parallel passage which deals in more detail with the question of the believer and government, and there we find explicit the basic rationale for this broad requirement of submission; it is that all authority is from God.  Paul says, “For there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God.  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”  God Himself sets up rulers and takes them down, and sometimes, for His own good purposes, He sets up rulers who are ungodly, immoral, and even cruel.  But their authority, nevertheless, finds its source in God.  

But there is a second rationale for submission, found here in verse 14, namely that government is essentially a servant of God to punish evil and reward good.  It is here that we may be tempted to raise our eyebrows a bit.  After all, there seem to be a lot of governments in which good behavior is punished rather than rewarded and where government is a minister of evil, not good.  Even in our own nation, a democracy (which Churchill described as the worst possible form of government, except for all the others that have been tried), we sometimes wonder if corruption isn’t endemic, and it often appears that crooks, creeps and rip-off artists are rewarded, while the righteous end up with the short end of the stick. 

Clearly I think Peter is trying to establish a general principle here, not a categorical rule.  In almost every governmen, the general goal is to keep order, sanctioning those who disobey the law and making life more pleasant for those who obey it, 

who mind their own business, and who tend to their own families.  While the exceptions get a lot of attention, they are usually exceptions. 

We as Americans are so used to our political and personal freedoms that we have a tendency to think of them as the norm and to consider any government with less freedom than we have as somehow illegitimate.  Actually the degree of freedom we enjoy is virtually unique in the history of the world, and we need to be cautious about assuming that a capitalistic democracy is the one true biblical form of government.  The Bible doesn’t prescribe any particular form of government; it prescribes a way of life that is designed to work under any form of government. 

I am personally extremely grateful for the privilege of living here in the land of the free, and I am committed to trying to preserve those freedoms, but I think it’s important to note that when Peter wrote this, there was no such thing as a democracy.  His goal was to help his listeners survive, thrive as believers, and impact the lost world for Christ.

Would Peter say the same thing if he were writing to us today?  I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised, because, as we’re going to see before we’re through this morning, his basic message is “Live like Jesus lived, no matter what government you live under.”  

But please remember that this first point was stated as follows:  This requirement to submit to authority in government is broad, but not absolute.  The authority of government is limited by one important and fundamental fact:  when there is conflict between God and government, the principle to follow is, “We ought to obey God rather than man.”  When government contradicts God we are permitted, perhaps even required to engage in civil disobedience.  

While Peter doesn’t deal with any exceptions to obedience to government here in 1 Peter, they are well established in a number of other biblical passages.  For example, in the 15th century B.C. the Egyptians Pharaoh commanded that all the Hebrew male infants be put to death.  But God had said, “You shall not murder.”  So the Hebrew midwives refused to kill the babies.  And Moses’ parents, in direct violation of Pharaoh’s orders, hid the Prince of Egypt in the bulrushes.  

Shadrach, Meshach and Obednego were three young Hebrew men, taken into captivity by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar in 605B.C.  Later he ordered them to bow down to a gold image he had made, but God had said, “You shall have no other gods before me” and later, “you shall not make idols, worship them, or serve them.”  So they refused to obey their government’s leader. 

Daniel was ordered not to pray to anyone except King Darius, or he would be thrown into a den of lions.  But God had commanded His people to pray, so Daniel prayed.

Peter himself committed civil disobedience early in his ministry.  In Acts 5 the high priest and the Sadducees, who had de facto political authority, as well as religious authority, told the Apostles to quit preaching.  God, on the other hand, had told them to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.  So they preached.  In fact, it was Peter who stated our principle:  “We ought to obey God rather than man.”  

Now as we look at these four examples and every other example in Scripture where civil disobedience is commended, we notice one common factor: in every case the governmental authorities were requiring something that directly contradicted a clear command of God.  There are a lot of times when government may do something we don’t like, or even something that is downright wrong, but the only time disobedience is clearly justified is when government asks us to violate a clear command of God. 

Years ago there was an article in the paper about a church in Tampa that was fined $6.4 million by the courts because they wouldn’t stop what the government considered a fraudulent investment scheme.  The pastor of Greater Ministries International Church said he wouldn’t pay the fine because that would place the state above God, “thus violating the biblical admonition to render unto God what is God’s.”  It seems to me he is interpreting Jesus’ words very loosely; I don’t think his disobedience is justified.  

On the other hand, when a government forbids Christian worship services, as has happened in many countries of the world, the believing citizens have the right, even the obligation, to disobey and to have services anyway, for God says, “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together.”  The services may not be able to be held in a church building, and perhaps they cannot be held at 11:00 am, but they can and must be held when and where the believers are able.

But there is one more important caution that must be added:  when civil disobedience is necessary, it must be non-violent, and the government’s sanctions or punishment must be accepted.  Looking back at the biblical examples we saw earlier, we find no rebellion by God’s people and no violence in response to the ungodly actions of government.  And when civil disobedience was practiced, the punishment was accepted.

Moses’ parents accepted the pain of having their son reared by Pharaoh’s daughter, who found him in the bulrushes.  Shadrach, Meshach and Obednego took their stand, placed themselves in God’s hands, and calmly accepted their punishment for disobeying the king–being thrown into a fiery furnace.  I love the courage of these men, who after being threatened with being burned alive by a man fully capable of doing just that, said, 

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he willrescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”                     

Daniel likewise disobeyed and went submissively to the lion’s den.  Peter and the apostles were imprisoned, then released by an angel, but re-arrested.  We read about the actions of the Jewish Sanhedrin in Acts 5:40:

“They called the apostles in and had them flogged.  Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 

The Apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (i.e. the name of Jesus).  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

So much for the general rule and the limitations.  But I don’t want to leave the subject without a quick look at a side benefit for submission to government.  Verse 15:  “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”  The verb “to silence” here literally means “to close the mouth with a muzzle.” 

In Peter’s day Christians were accused of all sorts of evil.  They were accused of cannibalismbecause they claimed to eat the Lord’s Body and drink His blood in their communion services.  They were accused of immorality because they had love feasts, purposefully misinterpreted by their enemies as orgies.  They were accused of turning children against their parents, when in fact it was the parents that rejected children who converted to Christianity.  They were accused of disloyalty to Caesar because they wouldn’t declare that he was Lord.

These were false accusations, and some people may have thought the best way to defend themselves was armed insurgency; others may have considered civil disobedience; still others may have tried in-your-face political activism.  But Peter’s advice to his fellow believers was that the best way to muzzle these rumors is to go the extra mile in being loyal and submissive to the government.  And it worked.  The faith spread like wildfire because of the lifestyle the believers lived before a watching world.

Friends, even today, though we live in a society with far more freedoms and far more options than first-century slaves enjoyed, we would do well to consider Peter’s advice.  We Christians are increasingly being accused of mischief (you know, we’re always reading about the radical religious right but never about the radical irreligious left), but the very best means of defense is doing good, righteous living, behavior that is above reproach.  There are certainly times when civil disobedience and political activism are appropriate, but unless they are accompanied by “doing good,” they will probably not succeed.

A second aspect of submission to governmental authority is the whole issue of freedom.  The Apostle tells us in verse 16 that …

Freedom is a precious commodity, but it must not be misused.  “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”  The Bible is a book of freedom.  But freedom can very quickly become a cover for evil.  Time and time again the Scriptures warn us against allowing freedom to do that to us.  

In 1 Cor. 6 the Apostle Paul quotes a common claim he was hearing, “I’m free to do what I want because I am free in Christ.”  He doesn’t deny the claim, but he does qualify it:  “‘Everything is permissible for me’–but not everything is beneficial.  ‘Everything is permissible for me’–but I will not be mastered by anything.”  In Galatians 5:13, he says, “You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”  

I think what the Bible is saying is that freedom is a cherished value, but there are values even more important than freedom, like character, integrity, and holiness.   The true expression of freedom is obedience, not lawlessness; submission, not rebellion.  God wants us to be free so we can serve Him with our whole heart.

And finally, Peter concludes this section on submission to government with one further principle, namely:

         The believer’s submission is lived out in different ways with different groups.  Look at it again in verse 17:  “Show proper respect to everyone:  Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”  First, he says we have a responsibility to everyone, and that is to respect them.  In James 3:9 the Bible tells us that every human being is worthy of respect because every human beingis created in the image and likeness of God; therefore we shouldn’t call one another names or degrade one another.  Second, our responsibility to the brotherhood of believers is to love them, and again he uses the term agape, which, as we saw last Sunday, refers to divine love.  Third, our responsibility to God is to fear Him.  And finally, our responsibility to the head of our government is to honor him.  The natural inclination is probably to honor God and fear the king, but Peter says, “No, the king can’t do anything to you that God doesn’t allow, so fear God, and honor the king.”

In the next three verses in our text we find Peter exhorting slaves in a somewhat parallel manner to what he has already exhorted citizens.  Here we learn that

The Christian has the responsibility to submit to authority at work.  (18-20)

 Let’s read verses 18-20: 

“Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. {19} For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. {20} But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”

Clearly Peter is talking to those who lived under far different circumstances than we are used to.   Slaves were the engine that drove the Roman economy.  Listen to William Barclay’s description:

In the Roman Empire there were as many as 60,000,000 slaves . . .

It was by no means only menial tasks which were performed by slaves.  Doctors, teachers, musicians, actors, secretaries, stewards were slaves.  In fact, all the work of Rome was done by slaves.  Roman attitude was that there was no point in being master of the world and doing one’s own work.  Let the slaves do that and let the citizens live in pampered idleness.  The supply of slaves would never run out. . .

It would be wrong to think that the lot of slaves was always wretched and unhappy, and that they were always treated with cruelty.  Many slaves were loved and trusted members of the family; but one great inescapable fact dominated the whole situation.  In Roman law a slave was not a person but a thing; and he had absolutely no legal rights whatsoever.  For that reason there could be no such thing as justice where a slave was concerned.  Aristotle writes, “ . . . a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.” . . . In regard to a slave, his master’s will, and even his master’s caprice, was the only law.

Now we react in horror to this sad state of affairs, and rightly so.  But once again we must remember that the absence of slavery is a relatively recent development in western civilization, and it is still practiced widely in the Third World.  When Peter was writing, a slave-free economy had hardly even been imagined.  There was no possibility that the Christian faith could immediately overturn the economic engine of the empire, but it could impact the religious systems that held it in bondage, and over time even slavery would fall under the influence of Christianity.  Frankly I think the principles offered here are also applicable, not only to slavery, but to any labor/management relationship.  

Now please note that …

The requirement to submit to authority at work is also broad, but not absolute, just as was the requirement to submit to government.  Once again, this requirement is offered to all Christians, even though Peter is well aware the number of Christian slaves exceeded the number of Christian masters by a good bit.  Furthermore, he specifically states that it applies both to slaves whose masters are good and considerate, and to those whose masters are harsh.  The word for “harsh” in verse 18 is the Greek word skolios, from which we get our word, “skoliosis.”  He’s talking about masters or bosses who have spiritual scoliosis, i.e. are twisted, crooked, perverted, and unjust.

Peter even goes so far as to say that unfair suffering has a higher value than fair suffering.  That’s exactly the opposite of the way we normally think.  Most of us would not like it a bit if we received a ticket for speeding just 5 miles per hour above the legal limit.  We might go and pay the ticket, but we would probably feel like a martyr.  But if we were ticketed without exceeding the speed limit at all, just because we were from out of town or because we belonged to a racial minority, then we would be incensed and would be ready to fight back.  

Peter offers another option.  He says there is no credit due for enduring suffering when we have done wrong–no basis for feeling like a martyr, no reason to be angry. On the other hand, unfair sufferingearns God’s commendation.  I think he is probably referring primarily to unfair suffering that is related to our faith, not our driving habits, but the key in all cases is to recognize that God is still in control; He has not forgotten our plight; in fact, He commends those who suffer unfairly.

However, we cannot go so far as to suggest that management’s authority over labor is absolute.  In every relationship in life, submission is tempered by a higher priority, namely obedience to God.  We must obey God rather than man.  And if an employer asks a worker to lie or steal or cheat or sell an inferior product, or if the employer practices sexual harassment or racial discrimination, then the employee not only has the right, but perhaps even the obligation to object and refuse.  

Do you recall several decades ago a large publishing company in Iowa took on printing work for several pornographic magazines.  Some of the Christian employees, who had been there for 30 years or more, objected, saying they couldn’t in good conscience work with that material because it was impossible to look at such stuff without violating God’s commands regarding lust.  They asked for transfers, but instead they were fired, yet they accepted that as preferable to violating their consciences.  

Of course, employees today have constitutional rights and legal recourse that a slave never had, and it’s not wrong to use such things.  Still further, employees today always have the right to quit and find different employment, an option a slave never had.  I do not believe Peter’s words should be interpreted as demanding complete passivism for believers in the work place.  

But even in our rights-oriented society, I think Peter would urge us to let God have the opportunity to resolve issues before taking legal action.  Some Christians know their lawyer’s phone numbersbetter than they know verses of Scripture on self-restraint.  Don’t go to a lawyer first; go to God first.  Try Peacemakers.  God would even rather have us accept unfair treatment than turn to the courts against a brother.  Friends, like it or not, …

Enduring unfairness is actually part of the believer’s calling.  Peter has just talked about those who endure unjust suffering, and then he says, “To this you were called. . .”  As much as we might wish it were different, that’s the name of the game, and it will ever be thus.  Because we are strangers and ex-patriots in this world, we are going to be the victims of injustice more often than not, for every nation in the world treats its citizens better than they treat aliens.  You realize that as soon as you land on foreign soil.  As you’re going through customs, there are plenty of agents to help the citizens of that country through customs, but the foreigners stand in long lines.  When I was in Russia a train ride from Moscow to Kursk was $7 for a Russian, $23 for a foreigner.  The Pushkin Museum was 8 cents for a Russian, $2.50 for a foreigner.  

But the inequity of this state of affairs is temporary.  When we arrive home it will all be different, and frankly, the injustice of this world is one of the things that God uses to remind us we’re not home yet.  Meanwhile unjust suffering shouldn’t shock us.  Why?  

The Christian has an example par excellence who always modeled a godly reaction to unfairness.  (21-25)

(1 Peter 2:21‑23)  “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. {22} 

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  {23} When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

If you want to know how best to respond to injustice, you can look at Gandhi, you can look at Martin Luther King, you can look at Alexander Solzhenitsyn; they handled it well.  But it would be even better to look at Jesus Christ.  Besides, where do you think those human heroes got the fundamental principles they practiced?  What we learn from Christ is that

He refused to fight for fairness in inappropriate and unproductive ways.  Some of the ways we fight unfairness are sinful.  We try deceit, retaliation, and threats.  One pastor wrote regarding this very passage,

“The other day I had an appointment with the owner of a local business.  I felt I had been ripped-off at one of his stores.  I was prepared to threaten him by going to the BBB if he didn’t make the matter right, but unfortunately I was studying 1 Peter 2, so I decided to just show him the evidence and accept his judgment on the case.  As it turned out, he explained the situation satisfactorily to me and then offered me some free merchandise to keep me as a customer.”

But you have to do something with genuine injustice, don’t you?  You can’t just ignore it!  That’s true.  Look at what Jesus did:  “Instead, he entrusted Himself to him who judges justly.”  In other words,

He committed all the inequities in His life to the only One who can make them right.  He appealed everything straight to the Supreme Court–not the one in Washington, but the one in Heaven.  He bypassed the lawyers, the lower courts and the courts of appeal.  He was absolutely convinced that all accounts will someday be evened out, and He was willing to wait.  That’s a good thing for us to practice daily.  “Lord, this is a hard moment for me.  I’m having a tough time today. Here I am again, dealing with this unreasonable person, this person who is treating me unfairly.  Lord, help me.  I entrust myself to You.  I give you my struggle. Protect me.  Provide the wisdom and self-control I need.  Help me do the right thing.”[i]  

Now in the last two verses, it’s as though Peter says to himself, “I’ve told them Jesus is their example and they must walk in his steps, but He is so much more than an example.  I must tell them that too.”  So listen to his concluding words: 

(1 Peter 2:24‑25)  “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. {25} For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

I would summarize Peter’s point this way:

Jesus made it possible for us to return home.  He bore our sins on the cross so that we might live.  We found spiritual healing through the wounds He suffered, resulting in His death. Once we were like sheep going astray, but when we received Him as our Savior, we were able to turn toward Home, to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.  

Conclusion:  About a century after Peter wrote these difficult words, an unknown author penned a wonderful document about the lives of second-century Christians.  I close with this:

The Christians . . . present a wonderful and confessedly paradoxical conduct.

They dwell in their own native lands, but as strangers.  They take part in all things, as citizens; and they suffer all things, as foreigners.  Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every native land is foreign.  They marry, like all others; they have children; but they do not cast away their offspring.  They have the table in common, but not wives.  They live upon the earth, but are citizens of heaven.

They obey the existing laws, and excel the laws by their lives.  They love all, and are persecuted by all.  They are unknown, and yet they are condemned.  They receive scorn, and they give honor.  They do good, and are punished as evil-doers.  When punished, they rejoice, as being made alive.”[ii]

May that be our legacy, for that was the legacy of our Savior!  

Prayer:       Lord Jesus,

You know we are citizens of two countries, and we serve two bosses.

Conflicting voices call for our allegiance,

but yours is the one we choose to obey.

Help us to please you today by 

upholding your standards,

resisting temptation,

and faithfully representing you

in all we do.

We claim the promise of your presence this day

as we go about our lives as citizens, and as we go about our work.

And thank you for sending Jesus to save us from sin and to one day 

welcome us home. 

DATE:  November 19, 2017





Civil disobedience





[i] Charles Swindoll, Hope Again, 92.

[ii]Brian Morgan, Peninsula Bible Church, catalog No. 768, p. 4.