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?

7 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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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    • 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.

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