1 Peter 2:13-17 (II)


Submission and freedom

Peter's first letter

1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover- up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor
(1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV)


This is the second post of five on this section that we’re looking at in 1 Peter 2v13-17. Before we continue let us remind ourselves of the preceding context so that we can see how it follows on from what Peter had just been saying.


Since we are God’s people, how does He want us to relate to a world in which we’re strangers and to a world that opposes us and even persecutes us?” We saw last time that Peter went on to say: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” but what does that actually involve?

Peter begins to address that question in verses 13 to 17 where we’ve seen that Peter has already given a whole string of imperatives or commands for the Christian life and his teaching in these verses begins with another command. In verse 13, according to the ESV, he says “Be subject” or, as the NIV puts it, “Submit yourselves”. The word in the Greek text is actually a compound of two words. One is hypo and that means “under”. The other is tasso and that means “to order” or “to place”. So, the literal meaning is to “order under” or to “place under”. The two English expressions that we find in the ESV and NIV capture the sense of the Greek and might seem to be quite similar to one another but there is a significant difference between them. “Be subject” is passive. It suggests lamely accepting subjugation. “Submit yourselves” is active. It suggests deliberately determining to submit.

Which of those two senses does Peter have in mind here? Well, as we go on to consider the following verses I think we’ll see that Peter has the latter sense in mind. He was not calling his readers to be mere doormats. He wasn’t calling them to a blind, fatalistic acceptance. Rather, he was calling them to purposely, thoughtfully and deliberately place themselves under authority. Believers in Christ are to be characterised by a deliberate submissiveness in every area of life. In verse 18 he’ll talk about the submission of slaves to their masters. Then, at the beginning of chapter 3 he’ll speak about the submission of wives to their husbands but today we’re going to look at verses 13 to 17 and we’ll consider the deliberate submission that we find under the following five headings:

The scope of this submission
The motive for this submission
The purpose of this submission
The nature of this submission
The perspective for this submission

Let us now consider:

The motive for this submission

Peter, Paul and Jesus might all want us to submit to “the powers that be” but why should we? What is the motive behind such submission?

You might think that one possible motive could simply be fear of the consequences of disobedience. In Peter’s day and in some parts of the world in our day that might seem to be a very powerful motive for submitting to “the powers that be”. But it is not fear of men that is to motivate believers in Christ. We read in Matthew 10v28 that Jesus said: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell”. Then we read in Hebrews 13:5-6: “for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me””.

If the motive is not fear is it perhaps simply the desire for a quiet life?

There is actually an element of truth in that. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2v1-4: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”.

You see, Paul urges us to pray for Kings and those in authority. Now you can’t do that sincerely if you’re rebelling against them and seeking to overthrow them. Why does Paul urge us to pray for them? He says that it’s in order that we might “lead a peaceful and quiet life”. However, notice that that is not an end in itself. We’re to want that “peaceful and quiet life” so that we can be ”godly and dignified in every way”. Why do we want to be ”godly and dignified in every way”? It’s because that is “good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior”.

So, we’re not to seek a “peaceful and quiet life” simply to make life easy for ourselves but in order to be pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul then goes on to say that Jesus “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. So, there’s the suggestion that there’s a link between our godly living and people being saved. Such godly living that is “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” involves showing and declaring the truth of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, what does Peter give as the motive for submitting “to the emperor as supreme” and the “governors as sent by him”? He says: “for the Lord’s sake”. That is for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. That pretty much summarises what we’ve just been seeing from Paul isn’t it?

This expression, “for the Lord’s sake” in verse 13, is vitally important.

It really sets the tone for the passage and provides the key for understanding it and we find that the place of the Lord is re-emphasised throughout the passage. So, in verse 14 Peter says: “For this is the will of God”. In verse 15 he speaks of: “living as servants of God”. In verse 16 he concludes by saying: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor”. In short, our attitude to “the powers that be” is to be utterly God centred and motivated by the desire to glorify Him.

Of course, “for the Lord’s sake”, is to be the motive for everything we do as believers in Christ. Everything we do should be to please Him, to promote Him, to honour Him. Our work life, our family life, our church life is all to be for His glory. The point that’s being made in our passage is that we mustn’t overlook our political and social life. “For the Lord’s sake” is also to be the motive behind submitting to “the powers that be”.

Having recognised that we should also realise that it is possible to be submissive to “the powers that be” and not be keeping Peter’s command. His command isn’t to be submissive out of fear, or apathy, or indifference or even because we have a genuine admiration for our leaders or confidence in them. No, come what may, whatever the situation, it is to be specifically “for the Lord’s sake”. You might be a model citizen but, as a believer in Christ, you need to be sure that you are being a model citizen “for the Lord’s sake”.

~ Steve

Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!