Everything we do should be for the glory of the Master Jesus and the good of His reign [kingdom]! Peter was careful to point out that Christians in society are representatives of Jesus the Messiah. It is our responsibility to “advertise God’s virtues”. This is especially true when it comes to our relationship to government and people in authority.
- 1 Peter 2:13–14 — 13 Submit yourselves for the Master’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
- Romans 13:1 — 1 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.
- Ecclesiastes 8:2 — 2 I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God.
- Matthew 22:17–21 — 17 “Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 “Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
- Romans 13:5–7 — 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 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.
- Titus 3:1 — Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed,
As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we should submit to the authority vested in human government. The word translated “ordinance” in the Authorized Version simply means “creation or institution.” It does not refer to each individual law, but to the institutions that make and enforce the laws. It is possible to submit to the institutions and still disobey the laws.
When Daniel and his three friends refused to obey the king’s dietary regulations, they disobeyed the law; but the way that they did it proved that they honored the king and respected the authorities (Dan. 1). They were not rebels; they were careful not to embarrass the official in charge or get him into trouble; and yet they stood their ground. They glorified God and, at the same time, honored the authority of the king.
Peter and the other Apostles faced a similar challenge shortly after Pentecost. The Jewish council commanded them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, but Peter and his associates refused to obey. They did not cause a rebellion or in any way question or deny the authority of the council. They submitted to the institution but they refused to stop preaching. They showed respect to their leaders even though these men were opposed to the Gospel.
It is important that we respect the office even though we cannot respect the man or woman in the office. As much as possible, we should seek to cooperate with the government and obey the law; but we must never allow the law to make us violate our conscience or disobey God’s Word. Unfortunately, some zealous but ignorant Christians use these differences as opportunities for conflict and loud sermons about “freedom” and “separation of church and state.”
When a local church constructs and furnishes a building, there is a local code that must be obeyed. The government has no right to control the pulpit or the business meeting, but it has every right to control matters that relate to safety and operation. If the law requires a certain number of exits, or fire extinguishers, or emergency lights, the church must comply. The state is not persecuting when it sets up the code, nor is the church compromising when it obeys the code. But I know some overly zealous saints who have disgraced the name of the Master Jesus by their attitudes and actions relating to these matters.
Peter named the offices we are to respect. “The king” meant “the emperor.” In democratic nations, we have a president or premier. Peter did not criticize the Roman government or suggest that it be overthrown. God’s church has been able to live and grow in all kinds of political systems. The “governors” are those under the supreme authority who administer the laws and execute justice. Ideally, they should punish those who do evil and praise those who do good. This ideal was not always reached in Peter’s day, nor is it reached in our own. Again, we must remind ourselves to respect the office even if we cannot respect the officer.
Two phrases are important: “the will of God” (1 Peter 2:15) and “the servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). When we do something in the will of God and as the servants of God, then we are doing it “for the Lord’s sake.” God has willed that we silence the critics by doing good, not by opposing the authority. The word “silence” in 1 Peter 2:15 is literally “muzzle,” as though the pagan critics were like a pack of yelping, snapping dogs!
Someone may argue, “But, as disciples of Jesus, are we not free?” Yes, we are free in the Messiah Jesus; but we must never use our freedom for ourselves. We must always use it for others. Sad to say, there are “religious racketeers” who prey on ignorant people and use “religion” to veil their evil actions. A true disciple submits himself to authority because he is first of all submitted to the Messiah. He uses his freedom as a tool to build with and not as a weapon to fight with. A good example of this attitude is Nehemiah, who willingly gave up his own rights that he might help his people and restore the walls of Jerusalem.
If we are sincerely submitted to authority “for the Master’s sake,” then we will show honor to all who deserve it. We may not agree with their politics or their practices, but we must respect their position (see Rom. 13). We will also “love the brotherhood,” meaning, of course, the people of God in the church. This is a recurring theme in this letter. One way we show love to the brethren is by submitting to the authority of the “powers that be,” for we are bound together with one another in our Christian witness.