Last week we looked at the identity and mission Christians should have in their relationship with God to the world. One particular command the Apostle Peter gave was for these suffering Christians to keep their conduct among unbelievers honorable so that they will come to know and glorify God (2:12). Peter does not leave this thought there, however. Peter goes beyond generalities and gets specific on how these Christians can live out such honorable lives. The first place he starts is with authority. Peter says, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, 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” (2:13). In other words, Peter is telling these followers of Christ to submit to governmental authority. As we look out and see the moral decay in our land and as we are engaged in another election cycle with knowledge of the likely presidential candidates, it would be easy to object to Peter’s command. However, Peter is speaking in a time when Nero was Emperor. While physical persecution had probably not begun, there was no doubt Christians were being ostracized and criticized for their faith. And, yet, Peter calls for Christians to be obedient to authority. But what if government is not doing its duty to punish the evil and to praise the good? The general guideline to give here is that we must obey the authority God has given to our leaders but when these leaders clearly contradict Scripture and demand we follow, we must say with Peter as did the other apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Our ultimate authority is God but we must understand He has put people in authority too. Government is one arena of that. Notice, then, this obedience to government authority is not without purpose. Peter continues, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (2:15-16). In the context of suffering and ridicule, we obey authority so that our honorable lives may be a witness to the world about Christ. Our freedom does not give us a license to sin but gives us the opportunity to do good and to live as servants of God. How do we live as good and honorable Christian servants before a hostile culture? First, we honor everyone. We must not forget every man and woman has been made in the image of God. Secondly, we love the brotherhood. The world will know we are Christ’s disciples by our love for brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:34-35). Thirdly, we live good and honorable lives by fearing our ultimate authority while honoring the human authority He places over us. Only God is worthy of our awe. Only God is worthy of our worship. We worship Him through our obedience to Him and that includes honoring the human authority he places over us. When we live such honorable lives before others, we point them to the One who is Lord and who, by His grace, saves them as they respond in repentance of sins and placing their faith in Him.
- How often do you consider how you can honor and pray for governmental leaders as opposed to complaining about them?
- How can you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, work out 1 Peter 2:17 in your own life?