1 Peter 2:13-17 (III)


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 third post of five posts 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 purpose of this submission

We read in verse 15: “For this is the will of God”. That is looking back to the preceding verses. It’s saying that it’s God’s will that His people should “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”. Peter then continues by saying: “that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people”.

What does Peter mean by “the ignorance of foolish people”? I think he’s referring back to verse 12 where he mentioned those who “speak against you as evildoers”. In doing so they show themselves to be ignorant and foolish. Believers in Christ are not perfect but we cannot fairly be characterised as “evildoers”. To say so is to display an unreasonable and unwarranted opposition.

We’re to counter that by “doing good”. I’m sure that this “doing good” is meant to be quite comprehensive but, in this context, at the very least, it must mean being “subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”. How does that “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people”? Well, remember the purpose for which the Emperor should send his Governors.

In verse 14 Peter said that it is “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good”. The idea is that our detractors will be put to silence by our doing good because the powers that be will be seen to not be punishing us for doing any evil and perhaps even praise us for the good we do in society.

Back in 1 Peter 2v12 Peter said: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation”. That suggests that through our good deeds our detractors might even come to acknowledge that it is God who is responsible for the good that we do.

Of course, Peter has been presenting the ideal situation. It presupposes that the powers that be are functioning properly. That reasoning breaks down in the case of an oppressive regime but even then it seems that Peter would have us to be submissive.

We’re not to only submit when the powers that be are reasonable and acknowledge that believers in Christ have a positive and wholesome effect on society. That’s tough isn’t? That doesn’t come naturally to us. Our natural instinct is to recoil from that.

~ 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!