“Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.”
Now Peter comes to the hard part. He tells us we are to submit to every human authority. He mentions the emperor as the supreme authority and the governors as those sent out. But what if we don’t like who’s in charge? What if we don’t like their politics? It does not matter! We are to do this, Peter writes, ‘because of the Lord.’ When Peter wrote this letter, Nero was the emperor. David Guzik writes in his commentary, “Peter wrote this in the days of the Roman Empire, which was not a democracy and no special friend to Christians. Yet he still recognized the legitimate authority of the Roman government.” A quick Google search on Nero reveals these facts. He killed his stepbrother, his wife, and his mother. He set Rome on fire and placed the blame on Christians. He then persecuted the Christians by nailing them to crosses or setting them on fire. Peter himself was crucified under the emperor Nero.
The key phrase is ‘because of the Lord.’ Paul reminds us in the letter to Titus, “Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work… (3:1). And in Romans 13:1, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” Paul reminds us that there is no authority except from God. All authorities that exist are instituted by God. How often we forget this! We still need to do our job and vote, and godly people need to be involved in politics, but ultimately God is in control!
We are to submit to the laws of our government, and we are to pay our taxes. We are to submit to every authority. Wayne Grudem writes, “God has established such patterns of authority for the orderly functioning of human life, and it both pleases and honors him when we subject ourselves to them. Nor should we think that the need for authority is only due to sin, for there is authority among sinless angels (I Thess. 4:16; Jude 9), the redeemed in heaven (Luke 19:17,19; cf. I Cor 6:3), and even the members of the Trinity for all eternity (I Cor 11:3; 15:28).” We live in a culture where people do not want to respect authority, whether it is our president, the police, teachers, etcetera. Sometimes it is hard to respect the person because of their actions. At that point, we can respect the office, and pray for the person. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”
Is there ever a time when we should disobey the government? There are several times recorded in scripture where people had disobeyed a human government and been approved by God. In Exodus 1, the midwives disobeyed pharaoh by not killing the male children (and thus saving Moses). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to fall down and worship Nebuchadnezzar and were thrown into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). Daniel continued to pray to God, even against king Darius’ edict and was thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6). And Peter and John continued to teach about Jesus after they were forbidden to do so (Acts 4 & 5). The principle we learn is that we are to obey government unless it goes against God’s law. The other principle is that in all these cases the people involved were not unruly, disrespectful, or unworthy ambassadors of God.
Peter writes that the purpose of the governors is to punish those who do evil and praise those who do what is good. This is the purpose of the government. Romans 13:3-4 says, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the one in authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.” It is the government’s job to punish wrongdoers. David Guzik writes in his commentary, “God uses governing authorities as a check upon man’s sinful desires and tendencies. Governments are a useful tool in resisting the effects of man’s fallen nature. Based also on what Paul wrote in Romans 13, we can say that the greatest offense government can make is to fail to punish evil doers or to reward even evil doers through corruption.” Governments that fail to punish wrongdoers disobey God’s purpose for them. But we are not to individually seek retribution for wrong done to us. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5:38-48 in his Sermon on the Mount. He starts with this in verses 38 and 39. “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” And Paul writes in Romans 12:19-21, “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”
Peter also writes that it is the government’s job to praise those who do what is good. People should be praised for their moral behavior, not on economic status or political favoritism. Unfortunately, we are not at this place today (nor were they in Peter’s day) but we are to pray for that. Again, we are to pray for governments to work according to God’s will (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4).
We do all of this because it is God’s will that we silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. When we submit to the governing authorities, when we rid ourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander (v.1), when we abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul (v.11) and conduct ourselves honorably among others (v.12), then we silence the ignorance of foolish people. We want to win people over by our actions as well as our words. We need to be living out our Christian lives. Edmund Clowney writes this in The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross. “When Peter tells his hearers to live good lives, he uses a word that can also mean ‘beautiful’ or ‘attractive’. The high holiness of fellowship with God must also produce observable conduct, admirable in its consistency and integrity. This theme of luminous goodness runs like a thread through all of Peter’s exhortations. It reflects the word of Jesus ‘Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’”
Grace be with you!