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What to do when Government is Unfair
1 Peter 2:13-17–part 1
Ever bought a lemon? Not the fruit, but a used car that just keeps breaking down. Ever dropped 12 bucks to see a movie that made your family vacation video look like The Sound of Music? Who hasn’t been hoodwinked by a smooth-talking salesman with styled hair, tailored suit and patent leather shoes? Who hasn’t been burned by a slick ad campaign that promised more than it delivered? We all have.
But rip-offs like those are relatively easy to recover from. What is more difficult to endure is when the suffering gets a little more personal–when someone slanders your reputation, pulls the economic rug out from under you, or threatens to sue you or even worse, threatens your life. If you’ve ever been treated like that, you’re in good company. David was ripped off by Saul, Esau by Jacob, Joseph by his brothers. But although misery may love company, company doesn’t alleviate the pain of unfair treatment.
Kids, when you get blamed for something you didn’t do . . . students, when a teacher plays favorites . . . men, when the boss gives credit for your work to another. When we’re treated unfairly, three common knee jerk responses float to the surface . . .
First There is the aggressive response, to place the blame on others
This reaction not only focuses on the person who ripped us off, and keeps a running tally of wrongs done against us, but it also engineers ways to get back and get even. It starts seminally with a seed of resentment, germinates into revenge, and grows a deep root of bitterness that tenaciously wraps around our hearts.
Second There is the passive response–to feel sorry for ourselves
We throw a pity party, whining and complaining to whomever will lend a sympathetic ear. But if we wallow in that slough of despondency too long, we will become distressed and immobile. Like quicksand, feeling sorry for ourselves will suck us under.
Third There is the postponed response–to delay our feelings
This is the Scarlett O’Hara syndrome: “Fiddly dee, I just think about that tomorrow, tomorrow is a better day.” Every boiling issue is left to simmer by placing it on the back burner over a low flame. On the surface everything seems calm, but underneath our feelings seethe. This failure to deal with the problem forthrightly only leads to doubt and disillusionment.
All three are natural responses–so what’s the supernatural response? Pressed between the pages of 1 Peter is a rose-like reminder that fragrantly informs us how to press on, even when we’ve been ripped off–even when we’ve been betrayed–even when it still hurts. But as you open to 1 Peter 2:13-15, don’t expect to find any of the three responses we’ve just described. Expect instead an alternative reaction to unfair treatment–the supernatural response that comes from Christ and glorifies Him.
We live in a time when our government is turning from its roots. Increasingly, normal citizens, hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying, non-Christians will find certain policies unfair. Many genuine believers are finding that the expectations of our government: its laws, its taxation, and its morality are increasingly hostile to our most cherished beliefs found solely in the Word of God.
There is a normal drift every nation goes through. All great human civilizations have lasted about 200 years, and each of them have gone through the same cycle–what is it? See if you can discover where we are on this cycle. The people go . . .
From slavery to spiritual faith . . . From spiritual faith to courage
From courage to liberty . . . From liberty to abundance
From abundance to selfishness . . . From selfishness to apathy
From apathy to dependence . . . From dependence back to slavery
The implications of that reality are sobering to say the least. But no matter where we are nationally, how does God want us to respond when we’re ripped off, treated unfairly, even persecuted by our government? Look at 1 Peter 2:13-17, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”
In order to grab the full impact of God’s Word here, you have to clearly see the historical setting of this command to submit. As far as we can tell, the readers of 1 Peter were cast out of Rome to a frontier region below the Black Sea in modern day Turkey. Just because they were Christians, they were viewed as troublemakers by the people of that region, since they’d been kicked out of the capital city by the Roman government. Not only was this exile unfair, but the Roman government continued to increase in its hostility toward all Christians. And Rome was not a benevolent monarchy. Rome was a dictatorship ruled by an insane, perverted demagogue named Nero.
Their situation was unfair. Don’t name your children or dog Nero–name your cat Nero, because this Caesar was notorious for his wickedness and his cruelty to Christians.
When Nero wanted to rebuild part of Rome, he set it on fire, then blamed the Christians for it. Later, he would order captured Christians, to be covered with pitch, then stuck up on poles around his private chariot race course and lit them on fire to use as lighting when he would race at night. This was not a fair man.
So here was the problem for Christians back then and today–should Christians resist a government with such a leader at its helm? Answer? Peter says no. Nowhere in Scripture is anarchy promoted. The believer was not put on the earth to overthrow governments, but to establish in the human heart a kingdom not of this world. This doesn’t mean we knuckle under by compromising our absolute Biblical convictions, or renouncing our faith. It does mean we render unto Caesar the coin of civil obedience. It does mean we not only pray for those in authority, but live honorably under their domain. That’s what the New Testament teaches.
1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity pray.”
Romans 13:1-3, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.”
Now what a minute, you and I as believers are citizens of heaven–our first allegiance is not to the flag, but to our Father in heaven. Our first loyalty is not to our country, but to Christ. Since this world is not our home and we are citizens of heaven, Christians submit wholly to divine authority from the Word of God alone. Our tension comes with the misapplication of that truth.
Our temptation toward unfair or unrighteous government is to become indifferent or even disdainful, and the result is a poor witness and bad testimony. So what does Peter say for us to do?
#1 Obey the command of submission
Verse 13, “Submit yourselves”–literally, you all be submitted to. God commands us to submit to our government here. The way to live honorably, and the behavior that will actually be a positive witness for Christ, is to submit. Hupotasso is a military term that means to fall in rank under an authority. It’s composed of two words, tasso meaning to appoint, order or arrange, and hupo meaning to place under or to subordinate.
You’ve been appointed as a Christian and Church to be under our current leaders. Here submission conveys the idea of placing oneself under another. You obey orders–that’s right, submission implies obedience to authority. This same term submit was used for Jesus as He submitted to His earthly parents in Luke 2:51, “And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
Look at this same term submit as Peter continues:
1 Peter 2:18, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.”
1 Peter 3:1, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.”
1 Peter 3:22, “Speaking of the heavenly host and Jesus who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.”
Submission implies obedience–we obey our government, even when that same government is unfair. So what’s the exception? Not when it’s a president you don’t like, or a policy you hate. The only exception is when our government commands us to sin. When the government commands us not to obey what God commands, or commands us to do what God forbids–then we must graciously, kindly, firmly submit to God and not the government.
Like when Pharaoh commanded all the babies be killed, or when Nebuchadnezzar demanded worship and the three wouldn’t bow, or when Belshazzar forbade prayer, forcing Daniel in the lion’s den, or when the religious leaders attempted to silence the apostles, forbidding them to share the Gospel of Christ in Acts 4. Only when we are commanded to sin, even then our disobedience is to express a humble heart of cooperation, as far as we can.
Another struggle we have in America is our independent attitude, our “we have no Sovereign here” attitude–our defiant attitude. Submission is not a valued quality in America–can you think of one secular song or movie or book that extols submission? I can think of thirty that extol defiance, but not one praising submission.
Yet as a genuine Christian who loves God’s Word, you know submission is found in every area of life–children to parents, students to teacher, men to employer, wives to husbands, members to elders, Christian to Christ and citizen to government.
“But Chris, the government is getting so bad today”–true, but not as bad as it was when God gave this command through Peter. Peter lived in an openly sinful, decadent empire–a society infamous for evil, rampant homosexuality, infanticide, corruption, abuse of women, immorality and extreme violence. Yet no New Testament writer ever offered any exemption by which believers were free to defy civil authority.
Jesus Himself commanded in Matthew 22:21,“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” But why do we submit, Peter?
#2 Cultivate the motive of submission
Verse 13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake.” Literally, on account of the Lord. We’re not to bring dishonor on Christ’s name, nor cause persecution to increase because of our defiance or unwillingness to submit where we can. Don’t get sucked into political defiance and protest.
The phrase “for the Lord’s sake” gives the theological basis of submission–our submission imitates Christ, and anything and everything that is just like Christ and empowered by the Spirit, always glorifies God. You submit to your authorities because Jesus did submit and would submit.
What is worse to you, 1) paying taxes, some of which is used to pay for things that are morally evil? or 2) having fifteen men surround your family and beat them until they were so bloody and torn up, you could no longer recognize them? Which is worse, paying tax or a family beating?
Peter continues in chapter 2 telling slaves to submit, then at the end of chapter 2 Peter uses Christ as our example–and it is shocking. Christ submitted to his suffering and beatings, and He is listed here as an example for us to follow. 1 Peter 2:23, “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
Christ lived under the unjust and unrighteous rule of the Jewish Leaders and the Roman authorities, yet He never opposed their right to rule. Yes, He denounced the sins of the Jewish leaders, but He never sought to overturn their authority. Jesus never led demonstrations against Roman slavery or Roman abuse of justice. Christ never engaged in any act of civil disobedience. He did not even object when those authorities unjustly tried, beat and crucified Him.
What is wrong with us? Instead of being preoccupied with political and social reform, Christ always focused on matters pertaining to His kingdom and the Gospel going forth. God is pleased when unsaved people actually associate Christians with spiritual virtue, love, righteousness, humility and the good news of the cross, as opposed to protests against human institutions.
FBC, we need to become more like Christ and more like Paul and more like Peter, singleminded, undivided–to live is Christ. Better government does not make better people–better people make better government, and only Christ makes people better, and only the Gospel transforms people to want to follow Christ. Do you give more time to your government or to your Gospel? But how far does this submission go, Peter?
#3 Support the extent of submission
Verse13-14, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him.” Peter is describing the various levels of authority in society, and he states it in a way that tells Christians then and today to submit to whatever form of civil government that may exist.
The Bible is relevant in any context . . . “to every human institution” also tells us, Peter intended a broader application than to merely civil government. We know this because Peter goes on in chapter 2 to apply the term submission to slaves and wives and more. To disobey the government is the same as a slave disobeying his master, or a wife defying her husband. And notice the word “every” in verse 13–it also makes it clear Peter was applying this to other legitimate human authority . . . children to parents, Church members to elders, wives to husbands, students to teacher, even your boss at work, and the coach of your team.
God has established human authority for the healthy function of human life and the orderly function of society. And your submission to a husband, parent, teacher, eldership, employer and government official both pleases and honors Christ.
I caught you–some of you right now are thinking, “Yes Chris, God says I need to submit because being disobedient and un-submissive is sin. It is, but there is more to this, friends. God loves submission, because submission saturates heaven, and submission is found in God Himself. Submission is one of God’s perfect awesome attributes. You bring God glory when you are submissive, because submission is just like Him. He is submissive. One of God’s divine qualities is submission.
Satan is defiant. Satan is accusatory. Satan is rebellious. Satan says, “Yeah, but.” But the Holy Spirit and Christ submit. Just as loving others reflects God’s character, so does submission. Just as being gracious shows off God, so does submission. Just as being kind points to God’s person, so does your submission.
Three times Revelation says, when Jesus returns He will rule with a rod of iron–that’s authority and submission. In the future, glorified saints will rule with Christ, having authority over cities. I believe there is authority and submission in the angelic realm, and the Bible clearly tells us there is authority and submission in the three persons of the Trinity–God is submissive.
1 Corinthians 11:3 “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:28 “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” These verses and the New Testament teach us all three persons of the godhead are equal, yet the Spirit and Son submit to the Father. Submission is not merely avoiding disobedience or a grinding task–it is imitating God and honoring heaven itself.
The words in verse 13, “to every human institution”–human has to do with belonging to man, designed by people. Institution means creature or created thing, and in the New Testament, institution always refers to God’s creative activities. God is the One who has created all the foundations of human society: work, family and government. So we are to submit to every human authority, because every one of them is God-designed, set up and approved.
In this context, it is clear Peter is not saying for you and me to submit to every human being, but every created authority. The historian Josephus used the same word “institution” to refer to settlements, and here Peter is telling his readers to submit to the authorities who have been set up in each human settlement.
Who does that include? Peter says in the rest of verse 13, whether to a king as the one in authority, the king here is the one who is the supreme authority. Authority is literally the one who is excelling, surpassing, above all. The word king is the leader above all, and here is referring to Nero, the current Caesar who reigned from 54 to 68 AD. Think about it, my friends–feel the weight of this. It would be Nero who would put Peter to death. Yet Peter himself says (thus God says) for every single Christian, and every true Church, to submit to human authority–even those who are neither believers nor morally upright.
Now take it a step further. The command to submit does not exclude authorities who make bad decisions, have unjust policies, or authorities who kill you. Okay, you say, I’ll obey the king. But what about those little Napoleons who despotically order me around cause it’s their little kingdom, and they like to rule–the lunch lady, the guard at the mall, the crabby teacher at school, the angry middle manager and more. So Peter adds in verse 14, “or to governors as sent by him.” These are the officials at subordinate levels of government as sent by Him–it means they carry the authority of the chief of state. With Peter, it meant Roman governors over Roman provinces.
So submit to Pontius Pilot who had Jesus unjustly murdered. Yes, because this was the plan of God. In Acts 2:23, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Every time you submit, you’re affirming your belief in God’s sovereign control. Every time you rebel, you’re affirming your disbelief in God’s sovereignty. These governors are sent by Caesar, literally dispatched like an agent or sent like an apostle, to represent the authority of Caesar to every citizen and every realm under Rome’s authority. So submit to them as well.
And I love the fact the phrase “as sent by him” is better translated “as sent through him.” Peter is telling us, we submit to them who have been sent by God through the emperor to accomplish the purposes of government–what are those?
#4 Rejoice in the blessings of submission
Verse 13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” Peter says God’s design for government is to restrain evil and to reward good behavior. Those of you who love justice will enjoy this.
“For the punishment of evildoers” has a connotation of taking vengeance, making a wrong doer pay a penalty for the wrong done. The word “evildoers” are people who hurt other people; the injurious. They are the bullies of society, the mean, cruel and un-submissive.
Our society says reforming a criminal by locking them away in order to protect society is the only form of legitimate punishment. But God says something totally different–He affirms retribution. The word punishment is the inflicting of a just desert on the one who has harmed others. If they stole, they have to pay it back. If they take a life, their life is forfeit, or they become the slave of the family who lost a son or daughter–a life for a life.
Again, this is not what we do, but punishment is what government was designed to do–and if government fails to punish wrongdoers, it’s failing to fulfill its God-designed purpose as a government. This does not happen perfectly in our culture, but it does happen.
Commit a felony today, and you will lose your right to vote, own a gun, or run for office. Plus you lose your chance to be a licensed doctor, dentist, and many other careers. You will never work where you have to be bonded or licensed, you can’t work for the city, state or federal government, nor be admitted to West Point, Annapolis or the Air Force Academy, apart from fines and jail time.
We are appalled when government doesn’t punish the criminal, but when the system works, many are punished in many ways. But even when the government fails, we must not take up the role of punisher.
I know Peter remembered what Jesus said to Him in the garden when Peter tried to cut off Malchus’s head, and we need to hear His words too, in Matthew 26:50-53, “Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?’”
Jesus was affirming the Roman government’s right to use the sword against Peter, if he used it on anyone. Only the government has been given the right to bear the sword to punish lawbreakers, therefore believers must never engage in acts of vigilante justice. Put your Batman outfit away, park the Bat-mobile and trust God. But not only is the government to punish evildoers, they are also to . . .
Verse 14 says, “the praise of those who do right.” Praise literally means applause, also approval or recognition. The government is to reward those who do right, those who do good works, and those who perform virtuous acts. Giving to someone who is desperate, serving a widow, rescuing those in trouble and helping the injured. You’ve seen government do this.
The phrase “do right” in verse 14 is moral behavior we all recognize. Doing right is not referring to economic status or political favoritism, but genuine good deeds toward the hurting, needy or in crisis. This is simple and straight forward–the blessings of a good government means creating fear that restrains evil, punishing those who do wrong, and protecting and rewarding those who do right. But why are you telling us all this Peter?
#5 Follow the reason for submission
Verse 15, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Peter wants to make it really clear here, that it is God’s will you believers are not to rebel against authority, but to submit to it. God’s will is what God wants. And you find it not by trusting your feelings, but only by obediently following God’s Word from a dependent heart, willing to do anything and everything God wants.
You will never know God’s will while you are living in disobedience to His Word, and not living dependently upon His Spirit. You cannot know if you should marry, if you’re having sex with your potential mate. You cannot know God’s will directly for your life, if you continue to ignore His command to serve or to love. God’s will is revealed to you when you follow His Word in humble dependence. Through that process, God does not give you what you want, but He changes your desires to want what He wants. And God’s will, what God wants, is for you to submit to the government. For such is the will of God.
And what good will submission do? How important is submission and attractive good deeds in our society? It creates a heart of trust and not one of suspicion. That is why verse 15 says it silence’s the ignorance of foolish men. When unbelievers falsely accuse you of wrong doing, such slander is irrational, because it springs from ignorance of those who think they are wise, but are actually foolish. But to be ignorant and foolish is more than to lack knowledge and act goofy. To be ignorant here is the willful, hostile rejection of the truth. And to be foolish is demonstrating a lack of spiritual perception.
They’re blind to spiritual truth, but non-Christians are not dumb. They know when you’re faking it and when submission is from the heart. Therefore, never give the lost the impression you are in any way rebellious, accusatory, factious, or insurrectionist–never.
But what if they slander you anyway? What are you to do? Verse 15 says God’s way is for you to live such exemplary conduct, be so humbly submissive, and do such amazing good deeds, that you actually muzzle the unbeliever. The word silence is to tie shut–make speechless. It’s to gag someone’s mouth, so as to render that person incapable of response.
I run with my Cali dog, and we pass other lesser, inferior dogs who are muzzled so they can’t bite, and some can’t even bark. Our behavior is to keep non-believers from biting or barking.
Loose-jawed rumors about Christians gossiped their way through the Roman Empire about their secret meetings, their subversive ideologies, their loyalty to another kingdom, their plans to infiltrate, indoctrinate and lead an insurrection. To muzzle those rumors, Peter commanded them and us to submit to authorities. Submit to all human authorities, except when commanded to sin. Why?
1) All rebellion is like Satan, and submission is like Christ. Submission is not popular, but it is powerful. Submission is not cultural, but it is like Christ. Remember our enemy is an accuser, a critic, a rebel–disobedient and un-submissive. Do not be like him. Be like Christ, who was humble, gracious, a servant and submissive to authority.
2) Trust the Lord when life turns unfair. Are you feeling the splinters of some cross of unjust suffering? Has a friend betrayed you? Has an employer impaled you? Has a disaster been dropped on your life that’s almost too great to bear? If so, don’t fight back–find your way back to the Good Shepherd, who endured the cross and laid down His life for you.
3) All the genuinely saved want to submit and do good deeds. Check your heart today. If you are currently fooling people by talking about your walk with God without really having one . . . if you are pretending to want to submit, but always fighting, undermining, resisting, and challenging, then you have to ask yourself whether you genuinely have a saved heart that has been born again. You won’t submit perfectly, but you will submit and you will want to, because submission is what Christ wants, and submission is what Christ does.
Questions to ask yourself:
In what areas, and in what ways, does God want you to submit?
Why is submission so important to God Himself? Why is submission not valued in our society?
Talk to your family or friends about an area where you find it difficult to submit, or an area where you are failing to submit?
Ask for strong accountability to dependently change and be more submissive this week.