Submission and freedom
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 last post of five on this section that we’re looking at in 1 Peter 2v13-17. Before we continue let us once again 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 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. Today we’re going to look once again at verses 13 to 17 to 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 our last point:
The perspective for this submission
We see this in verse 17 where we read: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor”. At first sight, that verse simply reads as a series of snappy, punchy bullet points. However, those points follow an important pattern that provides a proper perspective for what Peter has been saying about our submission to “the powers that be” here on Earth.
The series begins with: “Honor everyone”.
The word translated as “honour” there means “show respect” or “treat with dignity”. That is how believers in Christ are to relate to “everyone”. That is how believers in Christ are to relate to all manner of people, irrespective of nationality, class, financial status or anything else. That’s not how it usually is in the world where the rich and the powerful look down on the poor and the weak and take advantage of them and the poor and the weak in turn are envious of the rich and powerful and show them resentment and contempt.
As believers in Christ we are to recognise that all people have been made by God and in the image of God and so we’re to show them all equal honour – even those who speak evil of us or persecute us.
Next, Peter says: “Love the brotherhood”. He’s narrowed it down from “everyone” to “the brotherhood” – that is, our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. The way in which we are to relate to “the brotherhood” goes beyond the “honour” that we’re to show to “everyone”. We have a higher obligation to our fellow believers. We are to “Love the brotherhood”. The word for “love” there is “agapae” so Peter is speaking of a special, sacrificial, family love.
Next, Peter says: “Fear God”. He’s now narrowed it down from “everyone” to “the brotherhood” to “God” and our obligation to Him is higher still. Yes, we’re to honour Him and love Him but we’re also to fear Him. That’s beyond honour and love. It’s a deep reverence that is exclusively for God. It’s something that only He deserves because He alone is so glorious.
Peter then continues by mentioning “the emperor” – the one he’s commanded us to submit to and the one that the Romans claimed to be divine. Following the trajectory of the series of points in verse 17 so far you might expect that Peter would say that we should at least “fear the emperor”. If possible, you might expect that something beyond fear or even greater than worship might be required. What Peter actually says is: “Honor the emperor”.
Having scaled the dizzy heights of the glory of God we’re back to Earth with a bump. We’re back to the ordinary dignity and respect that he said we’re to show “everyone”. The point is that, although we’re to submit to the Emperor because God has put him in a position of authority, he is, nonetheless, just an ordinary man. That’s the proper perspective that we’re to always keep in mind.
So, be subject to the Emperor or whoever exercises temporal power. Do so “for the Lord’s sake” but don’t put your trust in the powers that be. They’re ordinary men with feet of clay. At best they make mistakes; at worst they work out their own sinful agendas. Whatever, be subject to them, treat them with respect but put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our hope is not in earthly princes but in the Prince of Peace. Our hope is not in earthly kings but in the one who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
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!