1 Peter 2:13-17 New International Version (NIV)
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
I often wondered why God tells us so much to obey the local authorities. I can find at least four more instances, in addition to 1 Peter above, in Scripture, where we are instructed to respect those in authority over us or those who treat us harshly. Two times from Paul in Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-25. And a couple times by Jesus in Matthew 5:46 and Luke 6:32-36. To be clear, God never asks us to violate our consciences. In Acts 5:29, we are implored that “we must obey God rather than men”. But legal authorities and other people in powerful positions, He wants us to love and treat kindly despite persecution.
But how are we doing this “for the Lord’s sake” (v. 13):
- He benefits somehow from our obedience?
- Or do we benefit?
- Does the church?
Does God benefit from our obedience to earthly laws?
Well, God doesn’t benefit from any of our actions because He is immutable, unchanging. Nothing can be added or subtracted to or from Him. We can find Old Testament and New Testament passages to support this:
“They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:26-27).
“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6).
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
“He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end’” (Hebrews 1:10-12).
So the first option is quickly out.
Does our response to earthly laws benefit us?
I think that it can be found throughout the Bible that our obedience benefits us. In the sense that such actions help us mature spiritually. It calibrates our objectives, our goals. We become more godly as we do as Christ did, carrying our respective crosses imperfectly, but carrying them nonetheless. In this exposure to people who treat us harshly or immorally, without provocation, grace and forgiveness must become a habit.
If we consistently render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, or become more heavenly-minded, this is a good thing. A tremendous thing. The more we act on the truth that this world is not our home, the better. But this cannot be something we do “for the Lord’s sake”.
Does our response to earthly authorities benefit the Church?
Yes. I believe it benefits the Church (capital C) by moving along our Good Good Father’s plan for His followers to be Christ-like and attractive to those who do not believe. Our behavior “controls the narrative”, to use modern political phrasing. If we are obedient to the government, like Nero, in the time of Paul and Peter, obedient to rulers, bosses, authorities of man, what can be negatively said of us by unbelievers? Certainly nothing about our behavior, right? They must deal with our beliefs if we do not give them more reason or justification to silence us for something else. In verse 15 of 1 Peter 2, it says “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” So controlling the narrative within our culture. In other words, if we are to be persecuted, let it be for our behavior in Christ, not deeds done in anger or fear or sin. One verse later, verse 16 challenges us to “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
To cite a recent hot button topic, the media or political commentators will bring up attacks on abortion providers, like bombings. These horrible events, committed by extremists, only served to move the narrative from the issue, the dismantling of life within the womb, and place it firmly on the terribly misguided beliefs of the perpetrators, which were then painted as mainstream Christian beliefs. Pro-Life protesters, going forward, could not “silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” So the movement suffers and children, sadly, continue to die at the hands of people who know better. The truth was hurt by folks, sympathetic to the cause, acting in evil.
Be Obedient, Like Christ
So obeying the authorities puts the believer on Christ’s path. He committed no crimes. Not against Roman law nor the Law of the Torah. Anything bad said about Him were lies. And His executioners knew it. The goodness of Jesus convicted the world. So must our goodness shine a light on a better way. The only Lord that saves.
May this, increasingly, become our calling.