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How to Treat the Authorities in Your Life
1 Peter 2:13-17–part 2
Turn to the book of Esther, chapter 2–King Ahasuerus finds himself without a queen. He had sacked Queen Vashti in a rage because she had refused to entertain him and his guests with her beauty, thereby encouraging uppityness in all the women of the kingdom. That could not be allowed, so she was dumped immediately. But a king needs a queen, so where does one even begin?
His advisors came up with a doozy of an idea in Esther 2:3ff, “Let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom that they may gather every beautiful young virgin to the citadel of Susa, to the harem, into the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; . . . then let the young lady who pleases the king be queen in place of Vashti.” And the matter pleased the king, and he did accordingly.
You bet the king was pleased. But can you imagine what this did to the women and their families? How about all the suitors and the communities in which they lived? What about all the beauties who didn’t want to go, but just marry Bob the farmer? It says all the beautiful young virgins. How many is that?
Ahasuerus ruled 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. That’s a lot of ladies being yanked from their homes to parade before the king. By anyone’s measurement, it is overkill. It’s an abuse of power, and a major waste of resources. It’s an enforced beauty contest, and would you agree that it is and was bad government policy? And yet, get this, God used this poor government decision in order to save His people, Israel.
One truth you can gain from the book of Esther is that God can make excessive government intervention and very bad legislation serve His purposes and expand His kingdom. And God can use even bad government policy today to accomplish His plan and bring things to His designed conclusion.
That’s why Peter teaches Christians to submit to their government in 1 Peter 2:13-17—open your Bible as we focus on verses 16 and 17. This passage is built around five commands, one in verse 13 and four commands found in verse 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.”
Rome was often an oppressive government. Most believe the recipients of the letter of 1 Peter were actually kicked out of the city of Rome and sent to this frontier region of the empire for no other reason than that they were Christians. Imagine being forced to live in Hemet because you’re a Christian. As a result, the locals in Asia Minor don’t trust Christians. And as believers gather in churches, it makes the locals nervous.
Under the perverted demagogue Nero, as Rome’s Caesar, the empire continues to grow more hostile toward believers. We have not reached full-blown persecution as Peter writes these words, yet everyone knows harassment is on the horizon.
In spite of this growing threat, the first thing Peter commands these Christians to do in verse 13 is to submit, which is a military term, meaning to rank oneself under the authority of another. You say, “Yes, Sir!” to your authorities.
Uniquely, the command to submit is in the passive voice giving it this sense: allow yourself to be submitted by authority, literally allow government to submit you. How do you like that? Oh, you don’t? No, we don’t like submission in America. We like rebellion. Conflict sells in our culture, but not humility, nor submission.
Most of you know what submission means in the MMA–mixed martial arts competition. When they have you in an arm bar, triangle or a Kimura, you’re going to have to tap out–surrender–or you’re going to get your arm broken, or socket popped, or pass out!
Now, let me help you understand the difficulty of submission. Apart from a command to sin, Christians are called to tap out to our authorities. That’s right. You tap out, come under and submit. Now can you feel the sinful rebel in you? We are a rebellious race.
Our God loves submission. God Himself submits in the Trinity. Three totally equal persons, each fully God, yet One–and Christ submits to the Father. Submission is God’s character.
The New Testament teaches Christians to submit to God, to government, for slaves to submit to masters in verse 18ff, for us to submit to suffering like Christ did in verses 21-25, and for wives to submit to their husbands (even the unfair-unsaved ones, in chapter 3:1ff), and for church members to submit to their elders.
And get this–there is no condition here, there is no, “Yeah, but . . . .” You are to submit whether you trust them or don’t trust them. You are to submit whether you like them or not. You are to submit whether they are fair or not. You are to submit whether you agree with their policies or not. You are to submit, even if you disagree with their decisions.
We discovered last week, the only time you do not submit is when an authority commands you to sin. Then, like the prophet Daniel, with grace and humility, you submit as far as you can. But like Peter said to the religious leaders in Acts 4:19, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge.” When they command you to worship a false God, not to witness, or to lie, then you obey God rather than man. But in all other cases, you submit. You rank yourself under, children to parents, wives to husbands, Christians to elders, and believers to government–this is how you treat your authorities. You don’t fight them, you don’t struggle against them, you don’t make it difficult for them to lead, but you actually tap out.
Why? Look at verse 13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake.” Why submit? For Jesus’ sake–that’s the reason. On account of Him who submitted to the worst injustice this planet has ever seen. God Himself, our Creator, full of perfect glory and holiness, was tortured like a criminal, was crucified on a cross, then had all the wrath for your sin poured out upon Him as He took your place. The only innocent human who ever existed was tortured for you. And He submitted to that process, out of love for you. That puts other claims we might make in perspective, doesn’t it?
But my husband is unfair, my parents are demanding, our elders are not affectionate enough, my teacher is mean, my boss is a pig. Yeah, but unless they order you to sin, submit for Jesus’ sake.
Who in the government does Peter say to submit to? Verse 13-14, “To every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him” the supreme authority Caesar, and all the under-authorities; but all God-appointed authority. Did God actually appoint our current Government, our president, our senators and those leaders we really struggle with? Yes.
Romans 13:1-3 says, “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.”
Why did God appoint government? There are more reasons, but two of the purposes for government are found at the end of verse 14 in 1 Peter 2: 1) for the punishment of evildoers, and 2) the praise of those who do right.
To take vengeance on those who harm others, to deal out justice, and to affirm and applaud, give medals to those who do good. Why? Verse 15 says, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Literally, this is what God wants (His will)–God wants you to do so much right and so much good in your dealings with the lost that they cannot find something bad to say about you. By doing right, we actually muzzle what ignorant fools might say.
That is what we studied last week–right now, write the names of all your authorities . . . husband, parent, employer, government leader, teacher, elders, policeman . . . all you can think of. Make it personal.
The command, motive, blessings, and reason for submission:
#1 Obey the command of submission in verse 13a, “Submit yourselves”
#2 Cultivate the motive of submission in verse 13b, “For the Lord’s sake”
#3 Support the extent of submission in verses 13c-14a, “To every human institution”
#4 Rejoice in the blessings of submission in verse 14b, “For the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right”
#5 Follow the reason for submission in verse 15, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men”
But now in verses 16 and 17, Peter goes right after the heart:
#6 Adopt the attitude of submission
I know what you are thinking–submission is restrictive. Submission is a loss of freedom . . . it is tyrannical . . . it isn’t fun. A lot of us feel like submission to authority is harsh. Peter realizes that people who suffer oppression and persecution long for freedom. So Peter tells them to, “Be free.”
And today, you’re thinking the same thing Peter’s readers are. So in anticipation of our questions, Peter tells us that true freedom is consistent with obedience to God’s will; true freedom is in harmony with “tap out” submission. True freedom comes as we follow God’s will in God’s Word.
Read verse 16, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” This verse can be misleading. The verb “act”, in “act as free men”; or even more misleading is the ESV, “live as people who are free.” Neither verb is in the Greek text–there is no verb “act” or “live”.
Verse 16 begins with, “as free men,” and this verse is connected to the main verb in verse 13, “to submit”. So Peter is literally saying here, “submit as free men.” Submit as people who are free–yes you are free, but submit. In other words, as free men, give up your freedom and submit.
First Submit as a free person
Verse 16 says, “Act as free men.” Every real believer in this room is genuinely free. In fact, Christians are the only truly free people. Everyone else is a slave.
This is what Jesus said in John 8:31-35, “Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, “You will become free”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’”
Paul affirms this in Romans 6:6, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”
Think about what you have been freed from. You’re free from the impossible obligation of earning your salvation and from trying to please God through perfect obedience; you are now free from guilt, and free from the power of sin. Non-Christians, especially the religious, have not been freed–they are still slaves of sin. Not only are they under condemnation before God, but they are still shackled by their sin. But as a true Christian, you have not only been freed from the punishment for sin, you have also been freed from sins power, because you have been made new. And through the Holy Spirit, you can be freed from the hold sin has on your life.
You can do all things through Christ. You can flee sin and pursue righteousness. You can run to win. You can be freed from anger or lust, men–you can be freed from fear or worry, ladies–you can be freed from a focus on self, students–you can be freed from your addiction to porno, video games, material possessions, the fear of man, and more.
You are free–you have the ability to obey God, to worship Him, enjoy Him, serve Him, to give to Him and be pleasing to Him. And Peter says you are free to submit to His appointed authorities. The one who is a slave is always a slave, but the one who is free can limit His freedom. So Peter says, limit your freedom by coming under God’s appointed authorities in your life.
Your freedom was meant for you to follow Christ, which is the place of greatest blessing. Your freedom was given to you to obey God’s Word, which is the place of greatest joy. Your freedom was granted to you in order to glorify God, not to do what you want. Therefore, Christian, you do not have the freedom to do wrong. Though freer in a greater way than anyone apart from Christ can ever be, you are still a slave of God, because you owe Him your entire existence and your life now and eternal life with Him in heaven.
True freedom–the true ability to choose and do what one really wants to do, comes paradoxically with your entire submission to God as His obedient slave. This is what Paul meant in Romans 6:16-18, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”
You, Christian, are a slave of righteousness because you want to be, and made new in order to do right. You’ve been made free to please and obey God. Freed from sin and free to do righteousness. Following sin is slavery, following Christ is freedom. You are now free to follow Christ, not follow sin.
So when it comes to your authority, mom and dad, husband, elders, teacher, coach, employer, governor or president, then verse 16, “Act [or better, submit] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”
Second Freedom was not intended for you to rebel–“do not use your freedom”
As a free servant of God, Christian, you should not use your freedom in Christ as a cover-up for evil, or to hide wrongdoing–freedom in Christ must result in the great joy of doing right. The word covering describes placing a mask or a veil over something; it is hiding something under a cloak–it has the idea of concealing something. You say you are submissive, but you hide your rebellion to accomplish evil–evil means baseness, a wickedness of heart, a desire to make trouble or seek revenge.
This is the student waiting for his tough coach to mess up so he can get back at him. This is the child who waits for the parent to goof to get his own way. It’s the wife who keeps a list of wrongs done by a husband, waiting to bring it out at their next argument. It is church member looking for faults in the leaders, excusing themselves for their own issues. And it is the Christian citizen who disobeys their government because they have been treated unfairly.
So Peter warns you who are free in Christ not to use spiritual freedom as a covering for evil by not submitting to the authorities God has placed over you. Any great Christian truth can be perverted into an excuse for evil. The doctrine of grace can be perverted into an excuse for sinning any way you want if you say, “Hey, God will forgive me.” The doctrine of the love of God can be sentimentalized into an excuse for breaking God’s law. “God is a God of love, I don’t feel love for my spouse anymore, but I do feel love for this person.” As singles, “We love each other, so how could sex be wrong?” The doctrine of the life to come can be perverted into an excuse for neglecting our life and witness in this world.
And there is no doctrine easier to pervert than Christian freedom. But freedom from the condemnation of sin is not the freedom to sin. Freedom from the eternal consequences of our sin in heaven is not the freedom from the everyday consequences of our sin on earth. There are hints in the New Testament that freedom was frequently perverted. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
So the New Testament teaches, Christian freedom is always conditioned by Christian responsibility. Christian responsibility is always conditioned by Christian love. Christian love is the reflection of God’s love. And God’s love is always according to God’s Word. You are free, Christian, because you are the slave of God. Christian freedom does not mean being free to do as you like–it means being free to do as you ought.
The great reformer Martin Luther explained freedom this way: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
The Christian is not free from enslavement in order to promote evil or to advance your own cause; instead, a believer uses his freedom to serve his God and to serve his fellow man.
Third Submit as a slave of God
The very last phrase of verse 16 is, “to use your freedom as bondslaves of God.” We are freed from slavery to sin, to be the slave of God. When people look at your lifestyle, is it obvious you are seen as a slave of God? How about today, would there be any indicator of you being a servant here at church? The apostles called themselves servants of Christ–could that be a title people extend to you?
The greatest person among us here is the servant. Do you serve, do you serve when not asked, are you faithful to your ministry service? Are you a servant?
Every elders’ meeting of late, we have gone through a section of the directory to carefully talk about and pray for you. We usually hit four letters of the alphabet by last name. At the last meeting, almost all the wives in each family unit were serving, but not one of the fathers, husbands or single men were serving in any way–it was heartbreaking. Some had served in the past, but are not now. Others have never served in any way, in any form. Yet spiritually, the greatest man here is the servant. And Peter says, your freedom is not to do what you want, but what Christ wants. And Christ not only wants you to submit to your authorities, but Christ wants you to serve. Once again, verse 16 says, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” Finally . . .
#7 Employ the summary application of submission
Peter summarizes our duty in society with five commands. The first was to submit in verse 13, and now four more commands follow in verse 17—“Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”
Peter is saying to these oppressed believers and to us today–here are your orders from your commander-in-chief while you remain an alien soldier on this foreign turf–this is what I want you to be about, to be known for, to not miss while on earth. This is the summary of submission to authority.
There was a lot of exegetical discussion on the relationship of these four commands–is the first command a summary? Are the commands interconnected? And the answers are yes and no. Not grammatically, for they stand independent–but they all address your attitude in this world–what should that be?
First Honor all people
Peter, do you mean even those liberal politicians who are into graft? What about those entertainers who live horribly immoral lives? Are you talking about my neighbor who is on drugs? Do you mean those students who continually cheat and slander me? Do you mean despotic and perverted leaders like Nero, or Roman officials who kick us out of Rome and send us to a foreign land? Answer? Yes, honor all people. Why? Because every person on this planet was created in the image of God, and therefore is due some degree of respect.
Do you remember what James said about the tongue? Look at James 3:8-9, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.”
God is telling us this should not be–blessing God and cursing men from the same tongue, because it is hypocrisy, since those men are made in God’s image. In Genesis 1:26 “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .’” Sadly, because of what our news media has done, because of the acceptance of political mudslinging, because of talk radio which makes it acceptable to destroy others we disagree with, we have forgotten how to honor all people. We actually feel justified in trashing people in our day.
But Peter says honor all people–not all men, but honor all. This means Christian and non-Christian–honor all. The verb tense gives the idea of begin doing this. Those readers had not been honoring all, as many of us have not been honoring all. Honor means to esteem and respect–to treat someone as a person of worth, as if they were a valued person to you, to treat others with dignity, as God’s special creation. It doesn’t mean you agree with all they do, but valuing them as someone made in the image of the God you love. Though marred by sin, there is still some of God’s person manifest in them, and for that they are treated with some respect.
Back in the first century, most people viewed the 60 million slaves which were a part of the Roman Empire as non-persons with no rights. But Peter is telling his readers they were not to treat anyone that way. Do you think of anyone as a non-person? All true Christians are not to discriminate against any class of people because of race, nationality, dress or economic status. Take it a step further–when you regard anyone as existing solely for your benefit, to provide your comfort or further your plans, then you’re using them as a thing and not honoring them as a person.
Even more dangerous is when those dearest to you–a spouse, a parent, relative or friend–are used as existing for your convenience. Is there someone–particularly a non-believer, in your nation, job, church, your school or your home–that you have failed to honor? What person have you mocked, slandered, disdained, treated as a thing, not a person, and as a result failed to respect as a person? Peter is not talking about ignoring levels of authority, or engaging in mindless tolerance of sinful conduct, but commands us to honor all made in the image of God.
I have prescription sunglasses and regular glasses—they’re trifocals. I almost always put my sunglasses on when out in the world. Some of you need a new pair of glasses to look at people in the world, and they need to be tinted thick with honor.
Second Love the brotherhood
Literally, keep on loving your bros. As we are out and about in this fallen foreign world, as we seek to honor all men, those who are without Christ should sense from us a passionate love for our fellow-believers. There should always be something special about the way we treat one another as a church–always by truth, always with grace.
It amazes me here, Peter doesn’t say love your immediate family, love your sport, love your X-box, love your friends, love your school, your club, your body or your favorite meal. That would fit the thinking of our day, but that’s not what he says. God says through Peter, love your fellow-Christians, love your local church. This is not primarily a command for us to love one another within the church, but as we are out and about in the unsaved world, that we would communicate and demonstrate a love for Christians.
Brotherhood is exclusively used by Peter here and in chapter 5. Speaking of the devil and suffering, Peter 5:9 says, “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” Brotherhood is Peter’s way of referring to the Church, and the emphasis is not for you to love a few select individual believers who are your friends, or the crew in your ministry, but the focus here is for you to keep on loving the entire church. Want to live in this world in a Christ-pleasing way? Then love the Church of Christ–every genuine Christian. No one who truly loves Christ does not love His bride.
If you said to me, “I love you, Chris, but not Jean.” (By the way, it is most often the reverse–people love Jean but not Chris.) But if you said I love you, not Jean, I would struggle with you. Christ struggles with any believer who doesn’t love His bride. How can you tell if you love the brotherhood? Five simple ways . . .
1) How you talk about the Church to Christians and non-Christians
2) How you are relationally bound, and pray for, the Church family
3) How you actually build relationship with new Christian friends
4) How you faithfully serve in the Church body
5) How you give to the ministry of the Church family…
Do you love the brotherhood?
Third Fear God
Literally, continue to fear God. Peter says, don’t fear the king–honor the king, but fear God. Why? Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Ecclesiastes 12:13, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.”
Peter already called us in 1 Peter 1:17 to fear God, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.” But here, as you live in a hostile society, you are tempted to excuse your sin, or not submit to authority. So Peter says fear God–meaning trust Him in difficult circumstances, knowing that He is in sovereign control, even over Nero.
Fear God means submitting to all earthly authorities, because you have the highest respect for God who appoints all those authorities and is the One who commands you to submit. Fearing God means He’s the one you are accountable to, He’s the One you will answer to, He’s the One who put that leader in charge. Therefore, He’s the One you are submitting to or rebelling against, when you fail to submit to your authorities in this life.
Yes, God forgives all your sin in Christ, yet God also spanks all who are His true children, and He is not going to let you get away with rebellion and secret sin. (Confession and repentance do not stop all spankings.) You will never honor men or submit to authority, until you fear God. And finally back to the main focus . . .
Fourth Honor the king
Even though you are a freed citizen of heaven, you are still to respect and honor the king, whether Nero or Obama. They are to be shown respect as the supreme representative of civic authority. Obey the laws of the land, pay your taxes, and pray for your leaders. Honor them. The New Testament teaches that authorities are sent by God to preserve order among men, and that they must be respected, even when the leader is a Nero. So how do you treat your authorities?
1) Submission to authorities is to be with humility.
When you submit, you don’t remind those in authority that you are submitting. Nor do you make them pay for your submission with a bad attitude, critical lip, or stomping feet. You submit to authorities as if it were Christ, with a “Yes, Lord” heart.
Ask yourself in your heart, first, are you fully tapping out in submission, and second, are you making it easy for authorities to lead. Hebrews says it this way about elders, but this goes for all authority, in 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
2) Failure to submit to authorities is disobedience to Christ
Paul made this clear in Romans 13 concerning government, verse 1-2, “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.”
God put your employer over you, that husband, your parents, that teacher, those elders, and this government–God appointed them, selected them and gave them authority. Your job is to submit, it is God’s job to make them change their mind, change directions, change their policies, or to be replaced. As the Bible says in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” God changes the authority, you submit to the authority and pray for God to change them.
3) Giving honor to authorities pleases Christ
Romans 13:7, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” The Bible is full of commands to honor others.
Exodus 20:12 Honor your father and your mother
Leviticus 19:32 Honor the aged
1 Timothy 5:17 Elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor
1 Timothy 6:1 Slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor
1 Peter 3:7 You husbands …show her [your wife] honor
1 Peter 2:17 Honor all people, …honor the king.
Honor those in authority for what they do–a note, a card, a gift, a word of encouragement, a word of thanks . . . husbands/ seniors/ parents. Make a practice of honoring them regularly and faithfully. Stop saying, “I don’t want to make you proud.” They are proud. It’s not your job to stop their pride, it is your job to honor them. And since the weight of leadership and authority is heavy in our anti-leadership culture, encourage them as God’s appointed leaders and those God commands you to honor.
4) Those who submit to Christ as Lord will submit to authorities
Only when you have seen yourself as a rebel before God, going your own way, doing your own thing, full of sin and selfishness . . .
Only when you recognize that even the best you do is tainted with sin, self, pride, and personal gain . . .
Only when you embrace that Christ alone has died on the cross for your sins and risen from the dead to give you new life forever . . .
Only when you have abandoned any possible way of you being right with God on your own and you depend fully on Christ by faith and turn from your sin to follow Him in repentance can you be saved, forgiven, made right and made able to obey and submit.
When you have submitted to the Lord, you will then submit to those He has appointed as little lords over you. Do you have a new heart in Christ?