Submit to the Government? – 1 Peter 2:11-17

Donald Trump AntichristStrangers are not always welcome. Imagine this scene: you are traveling in England, and in some small village you have some car trouble so you stop at the local pub with a colorful name like “the Prancing Pony” or “The Drunken Duck” or my personal favorite, “The Skiving Scholar” (which is in Plymouth). As you walk up to the door, you can hear people talking, laughing, etc. But when you open the door and step inside, everyone goes silent and looks at you: you are different. You are an outsider and no good can come from an outsider (especially an American). Maybe you hear some muttering in the background about “tourists” as people just glare at you, waiting to hear what you want.

In the first part of 1 Peter 2, Peter has described the People of God as stones in a Living Temple of God. If we really do have this kind of status in the world, and we really do function in some ways like a “royal priesthood” to the nations, then there are some practical applications for Peter’s readers.  He has described them as strangers and aliens, living as foreigners in a strange land. Whatever they do, the people of God will be watched with a suspicious eye since they are “different.”

Hillary Clinton AntichristThe first application he develops is the relationship of the believer to the government. This is a particularly difficult problem since Rome ruled Asia Minor, and most of Asia Minor encouraged the worship of the Empire and the Emperor as a show of loyalty.

When this letter was written, the Emperor was Nero. If the book of 1 Peter is dated to about A.D. 64, then Nero is just beginning his spiral into insanity that will result in his suicide in June of 68. In July of 64, Nero appears to have secretly ordered the burning of some buildings in Rome in order to build a new Palace dedicated to himself (an area of up to 300 acres!), but the fire got out of hand and burned for five days, destroying three districts in Rome and damaging seven others. Looking to shift blame, Nero blamed the Christians (those strange outsiders) and began a persecution that (at least according to tradition) killed both Peter and Paul.

Bernie Sanders AntichristIt is unlikely that this persecution reached beyond the city of Rome, but the Greco-Roman world always looked at Jews with suspicion, and even more so the growing sect of Christians. If Karen Jobes is right and the letter of 1 Peter is written to Jewish Christians expelled from Rome by Claudius, then they are literally “strangers and aliens,” exiles from their home.

It is therefore remarkable that Peter does not command his readers to rebel against Rome or form some sort of underground opposition party. Nor are the Christians to work to undermine the foundations of the Empire. In fact, he tells his readers to “Submit to every human authority” (v. 13). But can Peter really mean every human authority?

What sort of application might this have to contemporary Church-State conversations? I think that this would look different in American than most of the rest of the world – how do people living outside the democratic west handle this teaching?

11 thoughts on “Submit to the Government? – 1 Peter 2:11-17

  1. Both cultures in the roman times were deep into respecting one another and honor that which the other finds of value unless it is strictly against what they believe in or the Empire or Emperor.(Jobes) But the being held accountable to God and to other Christians was important at the time too to keep you honest.
    Peter calls us to live for God and to help those in need which includes following the law and authorities that have power over you. You must not let yourself do something the pagans can view as wrong. 1 Peter 2:12 “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (ESV)
    So now presently I believe the biggest issue people would have with what he says involves respect. Not only does today’s American culture not understand or have the same respect for one another but they have a wrapped view of what it actually means as well. Respect they have turned into a self issue, have respect for me, earn respect from me, ect…
    Titus 2:7-8 “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”
    That is what is a big issue, because when the bible declares you to have respect for others, you are doing it because you not only respect God’s authority but because you love him and want to do it for him. Respect is something you give and if someone loses it with you, you still treat them respectfully because you have no right to be disrespectful of someone else.
    Plus, Respect is what we are called to do without question, we are suppose to give respect and follow what authority says, unless, and this is the one stipulation. Unless, you are being asked or told to go against God’s will and his authority and law. With that you can not follow what they tell you to do, but you are also told to be respectful even when explain that to them and allowing them to punish you.
    Todays, culture would have a tough time submitting to God’s will fully in that aspect because they believe you have to earn it by doing things for them. Whereas respect is suppose to be given and it is not you who needs others to earn it for you but you need to earn it from them. They have it backwards from my experiences.
    Romans 3:17 “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”(ESV) The bible calls us to respect in order that we may gain respect not that we should have others earn respect for us.
    Romans13:1-5 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.”
    These verses call upon us to respect authority because God placed them there and if you are not doing as he commands than you are disrespecting him. Jobes talks about how Peter says that they are foreigners and aliens in the land and that they have the least amount of respect upon them. And that they would do well to do there best for the authority so that none may have anything bad to say about them. Also, that on that day of judgment that they will speak of only good things you have done.

  2. This has many implications for contemporary church-state conversations. As of June 26th, 2015, gay rights became valid all throughout the united states. This passage can help people work through their actions in terms of this event. Especially in verse 17 from this passage when it says to “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” I find it interesting by a few key words fear and honor. The emperor is to be given honor which is to be held at high regard, but the world fear for God is the beginning of knowing God (Proverbs 1:7). God’s relationship is much higher than the Emperor, but since he is chosen we need to still honor him or her. This includes things that we may have a strong opposing views on.
    Not that long ago, Romania had some struggles with country after country owning them. Jenn Schroeder mentioned how the secret police at one point came along and would send spies into the churches in order to see the counter. The churches was censored on what information they were allowed to preach. The difference between American and other countries in that situation is that Romania did it peacefully while Americans would be quick to aggression. I think the countries more west would find more comfort in this passage than in America. I feel like Western cultures would complain if the government is doing something wrong while in America, we do that, but we carry on complaining especially if we do not like the government even if it is benefiting the country. We need to be praying for the government, not tearing it down.

  3. Jobes brings up the idea that Peter was speaking in terms of having a good relationship with the government of the time rather than complete submission…however, this is an important topic for debate in terms of what exactly this means. In our current times, we are dealing with a government in which fewer and fewer people respect, due to the “memes” of the internet and the perceived incompetence of the government and president in the eyes of the public. Are we still to respect a government that is incompetent as opposed to the oppressive government of Rome?

    Peter specifically mentions to “honor the emperor” and to “show proper respect to everyone” (Peter 2: 13-17 NIV). While honoring the government could be placed in respect to the contextual government, the term of respect used is far too broad to be put purely on a contextual level. Based on Peter’s perspective, respect should be given to all: even to those who do not deserve it.

  4. When submitting to governing authoriites, this question has always come to my mind: Is what they are requesting against Christianity directly? To answer the question of whether or not we are to submit to all authorities, I would say no. Looking at Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they were commanded to worship the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar or face death. They did not obey his command and thus were commanded to be executed. This is because it is against God’s authority and commandments. Jobes writes that Christians were seen as “Haters of mankind” simply because they lived differently than the surrounding culture. (Pg. 336) Because of this countercultural way of life, it became easy for Nero to shift the blame from himself to a “suspect minority”. (Pg. 336) This may be the reason why Peter encourages his readers to submit to the rulers and to do good deeds in order that they “should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:15) In verse 12, Peter writes that Christians should do good deeds in order that the surrounding culture sees them and gives glory to God because of them. (2:12) This is very similar to Jesus’ teaching that commands believers to do good in order that God is glorified by unbelievers. (Matt. 5:16) This comes directly after telling His listeners to be unhidden cities on a hill. (5:14) As Christians, we are supposed to respect others, submit to authorities and show grace in order that people may come to know Christ through our deeds and our sufferings.

    • I think that is a good question to ask ourselves when it comes to the different things that those in authority implement. I think that as Christians we do need to follow and obey the government and those in authority above us. However, I think that if they put something into practices that goes against what the Bible teaches that we should no longer follow that law and resist if need be. The example that you use of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is a great example of how those in authority have implemented something that went against their beliefs and what God had told them. Instead of following they resisted and were thrown into the fire. I think that if something goes against what God has put in HIs Word we resist. How much we resist I think depends on our absolute truths that we have for ourselves; the things we are willing to die for versus the small things that we can let go of.

  5. Submission to the governing authority was a subject that many of the books of the New Testament mention. Peter in addressing a Jewish Christian audience is explaining that even though they were being faced with a great deal of persecution, it was also necessary to be in submission to that very same governing body that was responsible for the persecution. This is not to say that the submission should disregard what Scripture teaches, but rather live in a way that honors the government and obeys the law which does not go against the Bible. Jobes mentions the fact that Peter wanted the readers of his letter to “conduct themselves honorably” (Jobes, 333). The mere challenge that is given by Peter is not one of ease, especially considering the circumstances they are being faced with, but it is a matter of importance to the testimony of the readers then, and all believers now. Obedience to the governing body’s authority is one of the ways believers can have a good testimony to those who look upon us and wonder why our lives are different than those who do not have Christ.
    Jobes examines how the readers were considered “foreigners”, “exiles” and “resident aliens” (Jobes, 334-335). These words clearly show that the readers were not from where the letter was written to. Since the letter was written to Jewish Christians, and the word pagan is used twice in this passage, it shows that clearly there was difficulty in being someone considered a “foreigner”, even if their family had been there for generations. This, along with the fact that the readers were Christians, shows that there their actions and obedience to the government would have an effect on how those around them viewed them.
    In the midst of the current situation obedience to the government can be frustrating, especially when the reaction or the lack thereof to circumstances is not always to our liking. This frustrating can be increased from the input of the media, friends, family, and those we work with. It is our job as believers to submit to this authority, even in spite of our potential disagreement with the decision that was made. This is not just for our sake, but more importantly to show the Gospel to those who do not know Christ.

  6. When reading verses 11 and 12 of this section, I think of the term “to be above reproach”. He tells them to abstain from fleshly desires so that when the Gentiles accuse them of evil, their good deeds speak for themselves. Then in the following verses we see the discussion on government, honoring everyone, and submitting to authority. The context in which we face this verse is far different than the context it was written in. Christians had no voice; Jews had no voice. Their actions were the things that could truly speak for them. We live in a free country. A country that has given us the freedom to vote, to speak, among many other things. The way in which we do good though does not change. Our standard of living may have influence in society, but our guide is in Christ and in the way he lived his life. For that there may be social ostracism, teasing, or harassment (Jobes, 288). In verse 17 it says, “Fear God”. We don’t fear anyone else; we respect them and honor them, but fear is reserved for the Lord only. I may be a citizen of America, but I know that my identity is first as a child of God and that should influence how I make political decisions, live my life, and treat others. The Roman world was filled with temptations and fleshly evils and Christians, even if they were Roman citizens were called to be set apart. Jobes calls them foreigners in their own land (288). They lived as the others did but their values and standards were from Christ. This is something that can be translated across all cultures.

  7. Christians are called to stand out among the world. 1 Peter 2:11-17 is an example of God’s calling Christians to be separate. Almost everyone has been in a situation where he or she has felt like they did not belong. Professor Long uses a good analogy of this concept in his introduction to this passage. This passage clearly defines a believer’s position to government. Christians are to live in submission to government. As Professor Long points out, most of Asia Minor actually worshipped the Empire and the Emperor. However, Peter is not encouraging believers to submit to the empire and not worship it. For believers, at that time, it probably was difficult for believers to accept this declaration from Peter. The reason being is that during the time period that their emperor was Nero who was notorious for persecuting the Christians. In the same way, Christians today should submit to authority as long as it does not go against God’s Word. Peter also reminds the believers that they are free. Earlier in 1 Peter, Peter reminds believers that they are free, free from the Law. Yet that freedom does not give believers the right to sin. In the same way, 1 Peter 2:16 states that they should not use their freedom to cover evil deeds. Instead, they should their freedom should be used to show their devotion to God. In this case, a believers’ devotion can be seen in how they submit to authority.

  8. P. Long’s blog post on 1 Peter 2:11-17 and being strangers in a foreign land is helpful in understand Peter’s intention in writing this passage and is thought provoking in the aspect of what does that mean for Christians today.

    For Christians within the western world I think this an extremely unique time period where we do have restricting commands from the government to not, specifically, gather as the church. Throughout the news stations there have been several stories on pastors disobeying the state government stay at home orders and even being put into jail for gathering their congregations. I wonder what those pastors would say to me if I showed them 1 Peter 2:11-17. What a poor representation of God and His people.

    Outside the western world of America, I think it looks more similar to being a Christ follower within the Roman empire than anything else. In China, Christianity is thriving but it is all thriving under ground and Christians meet in small gatherings mostly in homes. Perhaps this is really the first time the Church in America can relate more with the rest of The Church throughout the world that experience more oppressive governments. But either way, Peter’s writings in 1 Peter 2:11-17 which is ultimately God’s Word, still stands and we should be careful to align ourselves with what God commands.

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