“Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
These two verses conclude Peter’s instructions on how we are to conduct ourselves among our fellow citizens. As a reminder of the verses before, we do these things because of the Lord, because it is his will.
Peter starts by saying submit as free people. But then he says not to use that freedom as a cover up for evil, but that we are God’s slaves. What does he mean by that? Let’s look at some verses. The first verse that I thought of was 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.” God paid for us with his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul writes in Romans 6: 22-23, “But now, since you have been set free from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the outcome is eternal life! For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We will be enslaved to something, either sin or God. I choose God! Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Here Paul is talking about freedom from the Law. He goes on in verses 13-14, “For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s quite a paradox, isn’t it? We are free, but we are slaves to God. Wayne Grudem explains in his commentary that the great freedoms of the Christian life are the freedoms from the impossible obligation to earn merit before God by perfect obedience, freedom from being ruled by sin, and freedom from guilt. We are not, however, free to do wrong. He goes on to say, “Though free in a greater way than anyone apart from Christ can ever be, Christians are still in another sense servants of God or ‘slaves of God,’ for they owe him their lives and entire beings.”
I want to take a step back for a moment to the first word ‘submit.’ It is used three times in this chapter alone and Peter uses it again later in his letter. This is a word that most of us do not like. We do not want to submit our wills or desires to someone else. We live in a society that places such importance on self. But that is not what the Bible teaches. Jesus taught his disciples that in his Kingdom, the last are first and the first are last. “Jesus called them over and said to them, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” Edmund Clowney writes in The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, “We submit ourselves for the world’s sake so that our good deeds may be a witness to them or a testimony against them. We submit ourselves for our fellow-Christians’ sake out of sacrificial love for them. We submit ourselves for God’s sake because we honor his image in our fellow-creatures, and because we respect his ordering of our lives, but especially because we gratefully seek to take up our cross and follow Jesus Christ.”
Peter ends with, “Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” We will start with the first one. He uses the word honor for all people. We should be courteous and respectful of all people. Every person is made in the image of God and is therefore deserving of respect. I think sometimes we forget that, especially in today’s anonymous world of the Internet. It is so easy to forget that there is a person behind that screen name. It is easy to get sarcastic and mean spirited when responding to someone you don’t agree with. This verse tells us we are to honor everyone. We don’t get to decide who we want to honor and who we don’t.
The next phrase is ‘Love the brothers and sisters.’ We have a higher obligation to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is important to do community outreach, but we first need to make sure the needs of our own brothers and sisters in the Lord are met. Paul writes in Romans 12:10-13, “Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality.” He writes in Ephesians 4:1-3, “Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, he praises them in this way. “We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are to love each other fervently.
‘Fear God’ comes next. This is an even higher obligation. We are to love and honor God, but we are to also fear him. This fear is an awe and reverence which leads to obedience. One of the first things the Israelites were taught was to fear the Lord. Deuteronomy 10:12 says, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul?” In the New Testament, Paul writes this in 2 Corinthians 7:1. “So then, dear friends, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” And in Revelation 14:7, it says, “He spoke with a loud voice: ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’”
Lastly, Peter writes ‘Honor the emperor.’ Notice that he drops back down to the word honor. We are to be courteous and respect our leaders. Peter has already covered this earlier in the letter. Wayne Grudem has an interesting point about Peter’s use of the word honor here. “While positively affirming the obligation to honor the emperor (consistent with vv. 13-15), he also subtly implies that, contrary to the claims of Roman emperors to be divine, the emperor was by no means equal to God or worthy of the fear due to God alone.” I will end here. We need to remember that governments are ordained by God. We are told that we need to honor all people, including the ones that are in leadership positions. Are you praying for our president? For our country? For the leaders of your state? This is something we should all be doing.
Grace be with you!