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Stuart Chase - 24 July 2022

Freely Subjected (1 Peter 2:13–17)

Clear-thinking Christians are united in their agreement that Christ, not Caesar, is our ultimate authority. Clear-thinking Christians are also united in their agreement that Christians owe some form of respect to human government. But there is a diversity of opinion on what that submission looks like. Does the Bible have any guidance for us in this regard? As we continue to work our way through 1 Peter, we come to a text that tackles head on the Christian response to human government. We consider 2:13–17 under the following headings: 1. The Expectation of Submission (v. 13a) 2. The Specification of Submission (vv. 13b–14) 3. The Motivation for Submission (v. 15) 4. The Disposition of Submission (v. 16) 5. The Qualification of Submission (v. 17)

Scripture References: 1 Peter 2:13-17

From Series: "1 Peter Exposition"

An exposition, by the elders of Brackenhurst Baptist Church, of the first epistle of Peter.

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Gorgias is a fourth-century philosophical dialogue written by Plato. In it, Socrates hosts a fictional dinner gathering at which he and a handful of other real-life philosophers discuss the meaning of rhetoric. At one point in the dialogue, Socrates argues for the necessity of people being temperate and ruling their passions and desires. Callicles, who is presented as the most pragmatic of the dinner guests, mockingly replies, “Quite so, Socrates, and they are really fools, for how can a man be happy who is the servant of anything?”

Far from ruling his desires, Callicles argues that “he who would truly live ought to allow his desires to wax to the uttermost, and not to chastise them; but when they have grown to their greatest he should have courage and intelligence to minister to them and to satisfy all his longings. And this I affirm to be natural justice and nobility.”

Callicles has a very pragmatic approach to life: Do whatever you need to get whatever you want. This is precisely the attitude that Peter attacks in the section before us. He shows that true, godly fulfilment—at least when it comes to government—is found in free subjection.

One of the greatest challenges that churches faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and its mandated lockdowns and restrictions was trying to navigate obedience to God and submission to government. Unfortunately, this became a contentious issue in and between churches, particularly in democratic societies, because Christians feel very strongly about a Christian response to government.

Clear-thinking Christians are united in their agreement that Christ, not Caesar, is our ultimate authority. Clear-thinking Christians are also united in their agreement that Christians owe some form of respect to human government. But there is a diversity of opinion as to what that submission looks like.

Some Christians insist that the Christian aim is to establish some form of Christian theocracy. Others seem to aim for patriotic, nationalistic fervour as they promote political systems as the answer to every social ill. Still others suggest that Christians should be conscientious objectors, separating from all forms of worldly government and refusing to take part in any political system. Others seem to feel that our responsibility is simply to complain about government and the poor job it is doing.

But does the Bible have any guidance for us in this regard? As we continue to work our way through 1 Peter, we come to a text that tackles head on the Christian response to human government. In 1 Peter 2:13–17, Peter directly addresses the matter of Christian submission to government. It is not the only text in the Bible that does so, and the socio-political circumstances in first-century Asia Minor do not exactly parallel those in 21st-century South Africa. Nevertheless, this text has a great deal to teach us today.

To Christians who say that Christianity should have nothing to do with politics, this study will disappoint you. This text directly addresses Christian political engagement and so, as we consider it, we cannot avoid politics.

Before we get into the text itself, we must remember that this text comes in a particular context. As we considered previously, vv. 11–12 sets the basic imperative from which the applications of 2:13–3:12 flow. Peter urges his readers in vv. 11–12 to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” and to instead “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable.” They should do this as they understand and embrace their identity as “sojourners and exiles.”

Because their citizenship is in heaven, Peter wants his readers to respond to opposition as citizens of heaven. The “passions of the flesh” would tempt them to respond to opposition in a very fleshly way, but they should remember that, because they are sojourners and exiles—because their citizenship is in heaven—they have a higher calling. As citizens of heaven, they are ambassadors for the kingdom of God and must behave accordingly—and the right way to respond is as Christ did (vv. 21–25).

The structure of this section of 1 Peter is interesting. Peter offers four examples, each in the context of hostility, to show what heavenly living looks like. He shows how citizens of Christ’s kingdom should respond to hostile governments (2:13–17), to hostile employers (2:18–20), to hostile spouses (3:1–7), and to hostile church members (3:8–12). In the middle of these four examples—standing as the central thrust of the section—he shows how Christ served as our example in responding to hostility (2:21–25).

In the text before us, we consider the first example of a Christlike response to hostility: how Christians respond to unjust governments. This will not be an exhaustive study on everything the Bible teaches about submission to government. We will focus on what Peter says about this subject. There is much more to say, and I do not intend to let everything I say die the death of a thousand qualifications. I trust, however, that we will approach this text with humility and teachability. As we do so, we will consider five aspects of the submission here required.

The Expectation of Submission

We begin by observing the expectation of submission in the opening words of v. 13: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (v. 13a).

Tom Schreiner notes that the Greek word translated “be subject” is in a Greek voice that emphasises voluntary action. Christians do not submit because they are forced to. They do not submit out of a sense of mere obligation. They willinglysubmit to the authorities God ordains, and they do so “for the Lord’s sake.”

“For the Lord’s sake” hearkens back to v. 12, where the motivation for honourable conduct was “so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” In other words, our submission must flow from a desire to see people glorify God because of our witness.

The central imperative in this section is the term “be subject.” The word speaks of properly arranging oneself under authority. It is necessary to reflect on this command because there are many who try to evade the plain exhortation here to submission. Consider some of the attempts that have been made to evade this plain command.

First, some interpreters have argued that the words “be subject” speak of deference or respect rather than obedience. For them, there is no command to submit to governing authorities, only to respect them. You can disobey, so long as you do so respectfully. Not only is this a difficult case to make from a dictionary definition of the word itself, but Peter elsewhere closely ties the word to obedience. In 3:5, he describes “the holy women who hoped in God” and speaks of how they “used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands.” He further defines this submission in 3:6: “as Sarah obeyed Abraham.” For Peter, submission and obedience were inseparable.

Second, some have argued that the submission here envisioned is a mutual submission. Spencer, for example, describes the submission, not as being under another’s authority, but as “respectful cooperation with others.” This, however, is a complete redefinition of the word, which means to arrange or rank oneself under the authority of another.

Third, some have argued that the term cannot refer to submission because submission implies absolute, unquestioning obedience, regardless of the command given. This argument, however, ignores context. In a dictionary definition, “submission” may be absolute and unquestioning, but we cannot determine how far-reaching the submission Peter requires is by a dictionary definition alone. We must consider the context in which the word is used. As we will see, Peter limits the authority of governing authorities and the extent of the submission he requires.

Fourth, some have insisted that Peter does not have governing authorities in mind at all. They argue that the phrase translated “human institution” literally means “human creature.” The word translated “institution” is the same word used in Mark 16:15 to describe the church’s command to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” It is used again in Romans 1:25 to speak of those who “worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Properly speaking, then, the term “human institution” refers broadly to human beings rather than specifically to governing authorities.

However, the context of the passage must be brought to bear here. Peter goes on to describe the “human creatures” of which he writes as “the emperor” and “governors” (vv. 13–14). Clearly, then, the “human creatures” he has in mind are those who have been appointed to lead governmentally. He perhaps uses the term he uses to highlight that the powers that be are merely human and do not warrant the divine respect that they often demanded. Nero, in particular, was known to claim divinity and to expect to be worshipped as divine, but Peter reminds his readers from the outset that all human authorities are only human authorities.

I belabour the point simply to show that we cannot worm our way out of the fact that the text commands submission or obedience to governing authorities. And the whole context of the passage hostility. The illustrations Peter offers serve examples of how to respond “when they speak against you as evildoers” (v. 12). The initial audience, of course, lived under a patently unjust government, which was growing increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. Given the unjust hostility they faced, his readers might be tempted to respond in “the passions of the flesh”—that is, by fighting and resisting, as we saw previously—but he enjoins them to instead “abstain” from those passions and to instead “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable.”

We noted above that we do not live in the same social climate as Peter’s original readers. It may be helpful for us to consider some of those differences as we seek to bring this command into our own world.

When we think of a worldly response to government in our context, we are perhaps prone to think of the world’s tendency to disregard governmental authority. We therefore apply this imperative by noting that Christians are called to a higherstandard than the world. Where the world disregards governmental authority, Christians obey.

In the first-century world of Peter’s readers, things were not quite the same. There may have been some who wanted to disregard governing authorities (like the Jewish Zealots), but unbelievers in that culture may have been more inclined toworship government than to ignore it. The call to Christians, in a sense, was a call to a lower standard: to respect and obeygovernment, but without worshipping it.

As we think about what this command means today, let us recognise that application may look different in different contexts. Christians in a country like North Korea, for example, might be called to a lower standard than the unbelieving society, which pretty much worships its government. In many more democratic societies, Christians might be called to a higher standard than the unbelieving world, which disregards governmental authority.

But, of course, our goal is not simply to look different to the world. Our goal is to do what God requires of us. And the basic principle, as we will see, is that we should respectfully obey governing authorities while maintaining absolute allegiance to Christ. But more about that below.

The Specification of Submission

We have seen that Peter commands submission, and that he does so “to every human [creature].” In vv. 13b–14, specifies the human creatures to whom this submission must be directed: “whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (vv. 13b–14).

We learn here that the “human creatures” that Peter has in mind are those humans who are appointed to positions of governing authority. He instructs submission both to the “supreme” authority in the land (the emperor) as well as “governors” subordinate to the supreme authority. “Governors” is used here generically of anyone sent under the supreme authority of the emperor. Submission is commanded, in other words, to anyone who bears official governing authority. In a South African context, the “supreme” authority is the constitution, while the “governors” would be all the authorities appointed to rule under the constitution.

Lest we think that submission requires absolute, unquestioning submission, Peter goes on to explain the God-given role of government (“to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good”). He thereby implies that God requires Christ-honouring submission to governments intent on doing what God requires. When government contradicts God’s design by praising evil and punishing good, God does not require submission.

As I say that, I need to pause to unpack some important implications of this principle and to clarify what I am and am not saying.

The broad principle is this: Christians are called to submit to government when government acts in its God-given capacity.Submission to government is not absolute. God has given human government a specific sphere of authority and Christians are called to submit within that sphere of authority.

Broadly speaking, God’s ordained role for government is the safety and security of its citizens. Therefore, when government requires something that is in keeping with that role, we should submit—whether we agree or disagree with the specific policy. For example, there are road traffic laws that are in place for the safety of road users. Christians should submit. You may not like the fact that the maximum speed limit on the freeway is 120km/h, but that’s the law put in place by appointed authorities to protect road users and we are called to submit. That was our rationale as a church for adhering to early COVID-19 restrictions.

When a government speaks outside its God-given sphere of authority, however, Christians are not bound to submit. For example, government has no legitimate, God-given authority to tell parents how to educate or discipline their children. When government tries to interfere, Christian parents are not bound to submit. Government has no God-given authority to tell churches how to conduct worship services or whether or not they may evangelise. Christians are not bound to obey overreaching governments.

That sounds very simple, but it is not always so. Life in a fallen world is often more complicated than we would like it to be. For example, while government has no right to tell the church how to order its worship, a church gathering is a public gathering of citizens of a country and government does have legitimate concern for public safety at a public gathering. A church should, therefore, submit to laws designed for the safety of public gatherings: fire codes, electrical compliance, health and safety regulations, etc. But requiring electrical compliance in the interests of public safety is very different than telling a church what it can preach or how often it can celebrate Communion. While government cannot tell parents how to discipline their children, government can and should step in when parents are abusing their children. Nuance is called for.

In short, as I have said, the broad principle is submission to government that acts within its God-given sphere of authority. But I want to issue one further caution and clarification of what I am and am not saying.

I am not saying that if we determine our government has failed in one area, we write it off as a godless government that does not warrant our submission. A prolife Christian does not get to write off the government completely because the government is pro-abortion. A Christian who values honesty does not get to write off the government entirely because disaster relief funds went missing under governmental oversight.

I am also not suggesting that we need to buy wholeheartedly into whatever political system we happen to support and pledge our ultimate allegiance to it. You don’t have to support every policy promoted by the party you voted for, nor do you have to agree with every policy a party promotes before you vote for it. Every political system is a mixture of good and bad, and Christians need to approach the broad topic of politics and governmental submission with thoughtful, biblical nuance. This means that we may need to think carefully about individual policies to determine whether we submit or resist.

For example, Christians should, broadly speaking, pay taxes, even if you know that those taxes will, in part, be put toward things you don’t support. However, if government decides to implement a special tax to support Marie Stopes Clinics in providing abortions, Christians have every right to resist that particular tax. We really need to think carefully about our political engagement in light of the various biblical texts.

The Motivation for Submission

Verse 15 begins with the word “for,” which serves, in this context, as a conjunction: It connects what follows to what comes before and allows what follows to explain what comes before: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (v. 15).

We might substitute the English word “for” with “because.” In other words, Christians should willingly submit to governing authorities because it is God’s will for the Christian’s good behaviour to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Early Christians were sometimes accused of anarchy—from the Jews because they would not submit to Jewish law; and from the Romans because they would not proclaim Caesar as lord. They were viewed as law-breakers, which invited hostility. Peter urges his readers, in light of this inherent hostility, to respectfully submit to legitimate authority because that submission will invalidate the accusations and opposition of “foolish people.”

We should briefly note two things here.

First, Peter ties “ignorance” to “foolish people” to show that the hostility of the church’s opponents is culpable, not innocent. Throughout Scripture, foolishness is primarily an ethical category. The foolish are those who say no to God (Psalm 14:1). While “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). The opponents here are not ignorant people who know no better but hostile witnesses who oppose Christians because they reject God’s authority.

Second, Peter is offering a general principle rather than an absolute promise. Voluntary submission to legitimate authority will remove any legitimate ground for accusations of anarchy. But this is no guarantee that hostility will abate. Indeed, while “doing good” (which is God’s will) will here silence opponents, “doing good” (which is God’s will) will invite suffering in 3:17. Different people will respond differently to our “doing good.” Scot McKnight captures it well:

While it is naive to think that Christians will always be saved from social pressure or outright persecution just because they live holy lives, it is not naive to think that such behavior will sometimes have the desired affect on their opponents so that they will back off their foolish accusations and baseless persecutions.

We cannot control how people will respond to our godly behaviour, but it is God’s will that we respond to hostility in such a way that we give no cause for opponents of the gospel to blame us. Unsurprisingly, Jesus Christ serves as an example here. Christ was not only godly in his behaviour but sinlessly godly. He never responded according to the passions of the flesh. He always fully obeyed everything that his Father expected of him. And yet he faced accusation. While he was not guilty, he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. At the same time, his godly behaviour and wisdom often silenced the accusations of his opponents.

Godly behaviour does not guarantee freedom from opposition—and, indeed, it sometimes invites hostility—but we must be careful of assuming that opposition is a badge of honour. It is God’s will that our good behaviour should silence the ignorance of foolish people.

The Disposition of Submission

Verse 16 speaks of the disposition with which we should submit to governing authorities: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (v. 16).

The word “live” is supplied here by the translators. There is no verb in the Greek. A verb is required (what are we supposed to do as those who are free? what are we supposed to do not using our freedom as a cover-up for evil? what are we supposed to do living as servants of God?) but the reader is meant to determine from the context what the required verb is. In the context, the closest antecedent verb is “be subject” in v. 13. Some translations—correctly, I think—supply “submit” rather than “live.” Submit as those who are free. Submit without using your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Submit living as servants of God. Verse 16, then, gives three ways in which we should submit to governing authorities—a threefold disposition of submission.

First, we are to submit “as people who are free.” What does it mean that we are “free”? You will remember previously that Peter urged his readers to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (v. 11). The freedom spoken of here describes freedom from bondage to “the passions of the flesh.” We don’t have to respond according to the passions of the flesh because we “were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1:18–19). Jesus Christ, through the gospel, sets us free from bondage to the passions of the flesh. Christians are no longer slaves to sin but are now slaves to Christ, which means that they can choose to not respond to hostility in a fleshly way. When an unjust government opposes Christians, the temptation is to respond in the flesh—either by worshipping or by disregarding the government—but, as those who have been set free in Christ, we can choose instead to do what is honourable in God’s sight. This hearkens back to the voluntary submission implied in v. 13.

Second, we are to submit, “not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” Schreiner writes, “Genuine freedom liberates believers to do what is good. Those who use freedom as license for evil reveal that they are not truly free since a life of wickedness is the definition of slavery.” The “evil” here envisioned stands in direct opposition to the submission that Peter commands. We do “evil” when we either thoughtlessly pledge our ultimate allegiance to a political system rather than Christ or thoughtlessly disregard legitimate authority and pursue anarchy and insubordination. These wrong dispositions will only hurt the church and give persecuting powers further justification to threaten believers.

Third, we are to submit “living as servants of God.” Our freedom is not freedom to do as we please. It is not freedom to pursue our own desires at all costs. It is freedom to obey God, which, in part, means to submit to authorities that God has placed over us. Submission to human authorities, in other words, displays submission to God.

The Qualification for Submission

At this point, some might accuse Peter of naïve optimism. It’s one thing to willingly submit to a government that is working hard “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (v. 14). But what do we do when we live under a government that is not committed to God’s design for human authority? Verse 17 answers that question: “Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor” (v. 17).

It may not be immediately evident that Peter is working here to offer a qualification for his command to submit but I think that is, in fact, the case. Let me explain.

In this verse, Peter offers four imperatives. The last of those imperatives is a reiteration to honour the emperor. But that reiteration comes in the context of the preceding imperatives.

First, Peter urges his readers to “honour everyone.” He does this, I believe, to show that we do not honour the emperor to the detriment of our neighbour (“everyone”). In other words, Christians are concerned about everyone’s good as they willingly and respectfully submit to government. Christians do not show radical, unquestioning allegiance to any specific political ideology, regardless of the cost to society in general. Christians consider others in their political engagement.

Skye Jethani has written a short book called The Voting Booth, which seeks to offer “a new vision for Christian engagement in a post-Christian culture.” Styled as a fictional dialogue between Christian (a confused voter) and three spirits of cultural engagement (Exodus, Exile, and Incarnation), the narrative seeks to help Christians think about the challenges they face in contemporary political engagement.

In the end, Christian casts his vote and then walks away from the polling station. As he does so, a young woman with a clipboard approaches him and tells him that she is part of a team conducting exit polling for a local newspaper. “Can you tell me who you chose today?” she asks. Pointing to the line of people in the queue, Christian simply replies, “Yes. I chose them.” In other words, he voted with the interests of his neighbour in mind.

Peter’s readers lived in a political environment that demanded unquestioning allegiance. Peter tells his readers that, while they should respect government, their political engagement should be far broader than that. They should consider the interests of their neighbour in their political engagement. And in New Testament terms, of course, your neighbour is everyone—particularly those most different from you.

We can be tempted in our political engagement to think only of ourselves and those most like us. We may want to create a society where everyone thinks and looks and talks like us. Peter urges us to think more broadly than that. “Honour everyone”—perhaps especially those who are most different. In your political engagement, do you think about those of a different ethnicity, language, and socioeconomic standing? Are you prepared to resist policies that negatively affect them, even if those policies do not negatively affect you in the same way?

Second, Peter urges his readers to “love the brotherhood.” While we must “honour everyone” in our political engagement, we must particularly think about the good of our Christian neighbour. There is a sense in which this was particularly true of Peter’s audience. They lived in a culture in which Christians were increasingly sidelined and mistreated and they needed to ensure that their political engagement didn’t add fuel to the fire. We don’t necessarily live in exactly the same sort of society. Nonetheless, this is a helpful principle for us.

We want to think carefully, as we engage politically, that our engagement doesn’t somehow work to the detriment of Christians and Christian churches. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when churches across the democratic world were taking governments to court for the right to gather unmasked and unrestricted, a Christian lawyer contributed an article to the Gospel Coalition pleading with Christians to stop making everything a “religious freedom” issue. His concern was that a time would come when there would be a genuine religious freedom threat that needed to be handled by the court, but if churches become known for making everything a religious freedom issue, nothing is a religious freedom issue. Rather than helping, overzealous Christians may end up making things worse for the church.

Third, Peter urges his readers to “fear God.” This is the most important consideration in the entire paragraph. Honour the emperor but fear God. As citizens of heaven’s kingdom, our ultimate allegiance is to God, not to the emperor or any political system. No human authority has a right to contradict God and our political engagement must always be undertaken through the lens of fearing God.

When political authorities disobey God or ask us to disobey God, it’s a no brainer. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The principle seems easy enough, but it’s proven quite contentious over the years because there often appears to be debate over whether or not we are being asked to disobey God. In a South African context, we probably face very few, if any, legitimate Christ-or-Caesar decisions, though it should not surprise us if we do. We should be prepared to stand when the time comes that we will have to make that decision.

At the same time, we shouldn’t create a bogeyman where none exists. The text closes with the reiteration to “honour the emperor.” As Christians, our default position should be honour, with resistance exercised only when it is absolutely necessary. As Wolfgang Shrage observes, Christians “are free with respect to the authorities, and normally this freedom manifests itself in respect and loyalty, submission and honor.”

The Application of Submission

Having considered the text before us, let me draw our time together to a close with four pertinent applications that arise from the text.

First, this text calls Christians to be involved in society rather than pietistically withdrawing from society. While some Christians think that Christianity should have nothing to do with politics, it is impossible to live truly apolitically as a believer in Christ. At its core, politics describes activities or decisions made in groups. Anything done for the good of one’s neighbour is, by definition, political. And every Christians is, of course, called to love his or her neighbour.

Karl Barth said that the church “cannot have an inner life without having at the same time a life which expresses itself outwardly as well. She cannot hear her Lord and not hear the groaning of the Creation.” The call to love one’s neighbour is a call to do what is in the best interests of one’s neighbour.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the only one who showed genuine neighbour love was the Samaritan. His love was displayed in actions. Where the priest and the Levite passed by the beaten and bleeding man, the Samaritan entered into the man’s world. He cleaned and dressed his wounds. He provided him with shelter. He covered his expenses. He realised that his love needed to be displayed in actions. So should ours.

Second, this text calls for Christians to be known more for respectful and honourable submission than stoic resistance. Peter plainly says that it is God’s will that our submission should silence the ignorance of foolish people. If Christians are known only for what they oppose, it will do little quell the opposition of unbelievers. Yes, we should speak prophetically against injustice and unrighteousness. Yes, we should hold government accountable to fulfil its God-given role. But our default position should be to support government unless it is impossible to do so with Christlike conviction.

Too often in political discussions, Christians jump immediately to the exceptions. Too often, we immediately want to qualify the biblical call to submission. But while Peter offers biblical qualification in this text, he begins and ends with the call for his readers to submit to and honour the emperor. The text calls us to do our best to freely subject ourselves to the authorities that God has put in place. As Sproul observes, “our basic posture toward government, according to the New Testament, is to be submissive and obedient citizens of the state.”

Third, this text calls for godly wisdom and courage to know when reverence for God requires resistance to unjust laws. We shouldn’t immediately assume that we must resist everything that government requires. At the same time, we should be wise to recognise that there may be times when allegiance to Christ requires us to resist unjust laws. But, because our hearts are fallen and selfish, it takes wisdom to know when resistance is warranted.

When government policies praise those who do evil and punish those who do good, Christians should resist. When government policies hurt our neighbour, do damage to the church, or blatantly undermine God’s authority, Christians should resist. But there is a difference between a policy that undermines God’s authority and a policy that makes you personally uncomfortable. We need wisdom to know the difference.

Fourth, the general tenor of this text reminds us that our ultimate enemy is not physical, military, or political. Our ultimate enemy is spiritual. The great enemy in this text is not the emperor or his governors but “the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (v. 11). And we cannot fight that enemy by political means. We fight that enemy in the power of Christ and his gospel. We fight the passions of our flesh by submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord.

When we are tempted to give into the passions of the flesh and approach government with an ungodly fighting spirit, we must remember that we have been called to follow the example of Christ. And what example did Christ leave us?

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

(1 Peter 2:22–25)

It is only by the power of Christ’s death that we can put to death the passions of the flesh. It is only by the power of his resurrection that we can live to righteousness. We are called to bring our sins to the foot of the cross and trust him to enable us to live righteously.


Callicles asked, “How can a man be happy who is the servant of anything?” Peter answers that those who are interested in obeying God will freely subject themselves “for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” How should a Christian respond? “Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.”