Last week we looked at 1 Peter 1:2-10 and discovered that we are God’s chosen people and that salvation comes to us as a living hope. In the midst of all the suffering and persecution God offers us a protection of our faith and the assurance of a heavenly inheritance. In spite of the trials we face Peter exhorts followers of Jesus to walk in holiness and God is holy. This leads us to consider that we are to be a godly people in a broken and suffering world.
Peter tells the church of his day abstain from sinful desires amid their struggles, as aliens and strangers in the world. Even though we live in the world we are not to be engaged in the sinful activities or to come under the control of Satan. Peter actually commands the believers to live such good lives that the non-believers around them will notice and give praise to God. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Pe 2:11–12). This brings us to Peter’s strategy with regards to “How to Live” good lives in broken and suffering times – Submission to authority, masters and in the home.
Submission to Authority
Last week I spoke about the context in which Peter is writing, Nero is the Emperor and Christians are being thrown to the lions and burned at the stake. It seems like an ideal time to fight back, but Peter speaks to these scattered believers about submission telling them to submit to the unjust authorities in leadership. This may seem like foolishness but Peter explains his reasoning behind this radical submission.
Firstly, submission is directly related to the Lord first, not man. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men…” 1 Pe 2:13. In other words, submission to God’s authority requires submission to man’s authority. Just as there is “spiritual” law and order the same is true in a natural sense. The Apostle Paul also speaks of submission to authority in Rom 13:1-2, saying that “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Ro 13:1–2). Submission to authority protects believers from engaging in a rebellious attitude towards God. What does this submission look like for the churches in Peter’s day? They should not be known for complaining, arguing, or starting protests, but by the beauty of this submission. King David is a classic example of submission or “not touching the Lord’s anointed”. David chose to not rebel against God by submitting to King Saul’s authority all the while enduring his assaults and temper tantrums.
Peter carries on to say “it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Pe 2:15). In God’s Kingdom, freedom, respect for everyone, love for the saints, reverence for God and honour to the king are marks of submission.
Submission to Masters
Peter addresses another aspect of submission to the Christians of his day. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Pe 2:18). In the churches of Asia Minor, slaves and servants made up a significant portion of the church. Peter’s direction to slaves, more accurately, household servants, included two reasons why they should patiently undergo personal injustice. First, this found favour with God, and second, it faithfully followed Jesus Christ’s example. It is easy to submit when things are going well. Peter exhorts the believers to passive resistance in the face of injustice reflecting the character of Jesus, who endured the same treatment during his trial and crucifixion. He does not tell them to run away or break free. He says submit to them because it is commendable before God. 1 Peter 2:19 - “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” The word for commend speaks of favour, good will, gift or kindness; this means as believers submit they receive God’s gift of favour and kindness.
These acts of submission were highly evangelistic to their masters. It spoke of a value system that was the antithesis to that of the Roman Empire or Jewish thinking. Submission in the face of suffering opened the door to speak of Jesus Christ who also suffered in his life. Peter wanted believers to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Pe 3:15–16).
Submission at home
The third aspect of godly living is that of submission in the home. Peter expands the principles of respect and submission to authority, from Christian conduct in the world to Christian conduct in the family. He challenged his readers to new behavior as submissive wives (1 Peter 3:1 – “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives”) and considerate husbands (1 Peter 3:7). Ladies first, submissive character was described earlier as living as free people, servant-hearted, respectful, loving, fearing God and honouring the king. These characteristics when enacted upon as a wife has great potential to winning an unbelieving husband to God. Actions speak louder than words. A submissive wife to her husband, not men in general, carries an inner beauty to which God is attracted as well as her husband. Submission to authority always involves a surrendered heart to God.
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers (1 Peter 3:7). In the same way, likewise, similarly to that of submission, husbands are to be considerate and understanding of their wife’s spiritual, mental, emotion needs. And remember this is all in the context of horrible suffering and persecution, families being torn apart, women being raped, children losing parents. With this is mind I believe the “weaker partner” comment has to do with showing respect and protection to one’s wife; in other words, the wife is physically weaker and the husbands must understand this because of persecution.
1 Peter tells believers everywhere that they are chosen by God to be a holy and godly people especially when facing suffering and persecution. Peter highlights three aspects of godliness that all relate to submission; submission to governmental authority, submission to masters/bosses and then submission in the home. Submission is not the same as obedience. A submissive heart to man is the result of a surrendered heart to God. A surrendered heart to God has as its first priority obedience to God before submission to human authority. Peter himself disobeyed the direct commands of the Jewish leaders when they told him not to preach about Jesus (Acts 5:17-29). In the same way Peter was not asking believers to disobey God by submitting human authority and their ungodliness. But he was asking for them to find a way to display “submission” that would win over the lives of unbelievers. Some of us may ask the question: how can God have established all authorities if some are unjust like Emperor Nero or someone like Adolf Hitler? How do we understand this paradox? God understands that even a bad ruler is better than no ruler at all because then there would be total anarchy. Sometimes God may give us the leaders we deserve as a judgment. In the Old Testament, the people had rejected God and asked for a leader just like the other nations and he gave them King Saul who was an oppressive king; this was to humble them and teach them to submit to God.
I have chosen not to address “civil disobedience” in this message. However, there are times when civil disobedience can be seen in the Scriptures as mentioned before with the life of Peter. Suffice it to say, that from a Christian perspective, civil disobedience is never to involve rebellious behaviour, violence, or rioting as examples, but to be expressive of an attitude of submission, all the while understanding that our civil disobedience carries with it the consequences of the Laws and Orders of the land. Why does it seem like submission leads to suffering?
Today, we live in a society where people demand their rights, demonstrate for or against a cause, and can do so with displays of rebellion against authority. The concept of submission is foreign to many and seen as a sign of weakness. We have all experienced struggles and suffering to some degree and in all these times, there is a need for wisdom and discernment as to how to submit in difficult circumstances.
I believe the believer should practice personal submission to authorities and bosses. Sometimes these circumstances can be very difficult but we must avoid personal offense and learn how to turn the other cheek and walk in forgiveness. We must remember that Peter was addressing persecution for one’s faith.
In the case when others are experiencing unfairness for believing in Jesus Christ, I believe that Christians should seek fairness. Christ turned the other cheek when insulted personally but responded with a righteous anger (not violence) when God was dishonored and others were harmed (John 2:13-17). We remember that all authority is established by God, therefore, there are times when we should use these authorities; i.e. the police, talking to leadership, writing our politicians, etc.
Lastly, let’s remember that Peter describes submission as living in godly freedom, being servants of God, respectful and loving, reverent towards God and honouring towards authority.