Since the Jewish disciples to whom Peter was writing were living in an era where nationalistic Jews were taking up arms against the Roman state, no better words could have been written to the citizens of God’s spiritual nation than what are inscribed in 1 Peter 2:13-25. This is the Holy Spirit’s instructions concerning our behavior as citizens of any earthly kingdom. Though we understand that our real citizenship is not of any kingdom of this world, we must be subservient to the civil governments of this world. We must rejoice when presidents and kings rule over men in the fear of God. The last words from King David exemplified the blessing of God-fearing rulers:
The God of Israel said. The Rock of Israel spoke to me. “He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he will be as the light of the morning when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds, as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain (2 Sm 23:3,4).
Rulers of governments must remember that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Pv 14:34). Therefore, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord …” (Ps 33:12).
When righteousness is not typical of the king’s house, however, then Christians must remember that their King in heaven is over all kings of this earth (1 Tm 6:15). It is sometimes necessary, therefore, when the earthly rulers work against God, that disciples of King Jesus must take a stand for what is right. It is sometimes as Peter and John said to the religious rulers of Jerusalem: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard” (At 4:19,20).
A. Live as a submitted citizen.
If there is no oppression from the civil government, then Christians, as citizens of a state government, must submit as Jesus to the laws of the land (See Mt 17:24-27; Mk 12:17). Therefore, we will not fail in our responsibilities as Paul wrote to Titus: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” (Ti 3:1). As citizens, we must assume our citizenship responsibilities “to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, forbearing, showing all meekness to all men” (Ti 3:2; see Ep 4:29). We thus obey the laws of the land for the Lord’s sake.2:13 We will always remember Paul’s exhortation to all Christians in reference to our relationship with civil government:
Therefore, I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior (1 Tm 2:1-3).
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake ….”2:13 In order to give glory to the One whom we have submitted ourselves, we must submit to the authority of the state in which we live. We must remember that the authorities of the state have been “sent by Him [God] for the punishment of evildoers.”2:14 And since we seek to live in a civil environment of peace, civil government must exist.
As Peter walks us through these instructions, we must keep in mind that he is teaching that church and state must remain separate. It is not the work of the church to be the state in which both believers and unbelievers reside. It is not the work of the state to determine the moral standards by which the citizens of the kingdom of God must behave themselves. We will not become as a Nazi Germany when a few unbelievers controlled the moral direction of the state.
The Bible is not a constitution for the state, and thus the church must always function in the spiritual and moral environment of the citizens who live under the law of the civil state. The problem comes when either the state takes on the function of the spiritual kingdom of God (the church), or when the church seeks to establish the civil laws for the government. Christianity is not a theocracy. Christians must never find themsleves in a situation where “Christianity” becomes the law of the state, and then Christians use the sword of the state to impose the law of God on the citizens of the state.
Christianity is not like Islam. There is no “Sharia Law” in Christianity that must be imposed on the citizens of the state when Christians are the majority citizenship of the state. If one would choose to be a citizen of the spiritual kingdom of Christ, then he must be called into citizenship through a voluntary submission to King Jesus. One does not become a Christian at the point of a gun, but through the appeal of the gospel.
What happened during the years of the Dark Ages of Europe was the development of an apostate religion. The adherents of this religion (Roman Catholicism) assumed the power of a state in order to intimidate by persecution those who would not submit to the dictates of the state religion, Roman Catholicism. In order to propagate this state religion, and to expand into Palestine, Crusades were organized to make war with Muslims who controlled the “Holy Land.” What transpired during the era of the Crusades, was actually two theocratic states making war with one another. Neither theocracy was from God, and thus, historians make a critical error by assuming that the Crusades were a band of sword-bearing Christians in Europe making war with Muslims in Palestine. The reality of the matter was simply one army of apostates making war with army of those who did not accept Jesus as the Son of God. Christianity had long ceased to exist among the army of apostates who marched in crusades from Europe to Palestine.
We must not forget that every Christian must “be subject to the governing authorities” of the civil state (Rm 13:1). This means that Christianity is not a civil state. The reason for the submission is that “there is no authority except from God. The authorities that exist are ordained by God” (Rm 13:1). The authorities of the state are separate from the Christians who are to submit.
It is not that a specific civil government is directly instituted by God to govern the people. The constitution of a state is not inspired by God. Only Israel of old had such a constitution. Today, the rule of civil government is instituted by God to strike terror in the hearts of evildoers who would introduce social chaos into society (Rm 13:3). Therefore, if one would do evil, he should “be afraid, for the [government] does not bear the sword in vain because he is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath on him who does evil” (Rm 13:4).
Under the law of civil government, Christians can “live as free men.”2:16 There is no freedom without law, and thus, law protects the free from coming into the bondage of tyrants. Not only is this a principle of living under civil government, but it is also a principle of living under the law of Christ. We have gazed “into the perfect law of liberty,” and thus, as James said, continue “to abide in it …” (Js 1:25). However, though we are set free by law, we cannot use our “freedom as a covering for evil” to sin against law.2:16
We live under grace that brings God’s mercy into our imperfect behavior, but our freedom through grace must not be used as an occasion to live contrary to the law of God. Jude said that some “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness,” and thus they “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jd 4). If one would behave sinfully according to the law of God, thinking that the grace of God covers his willful sin, then he has denied that Jesus is the Master and Lord of his behavior. But in living the submitted life to our Lord Jesus, it is only natural to “honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”2:17
B. Live as a servant.
At the time Peter wrote, over half of the population of the Roman Empire was composed of bondservants (slaves). It was among these that the freedom of the gospel spread rapidly throughout the Empire. The bondservants, therefore, needed specific encouragement to emulate in their lives the behavior of a disciple of Jesus. Therefore, Peter instructs the Christian bondservants, “be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.”2:18 He goes to point of stressing that it is commendable to submit even if “one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.”2:19 Here is what he meant: “But if when you do right and suffer, you take it patiently, this is commendable with God.”2:20
It is commendable to suffer even though one is innocent because of what Jesus said to those who drove nails through His innocent hands on the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Such godly suffering was reflected in the last words of Stephen when he was stoned to death: “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge” (At 7:60). What the enemies of all righteousness were doing in stoning Stephen was sin against God, but still he called on God’s grace that they not be charged with this sin. This is the spirit of true discipleship. When we are suffering wrongfully, therefore, it would be good to remember that it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rm 12:19).
(We must not forget what was transpiring in the final days of Rome’s war against nationalistic Jews. Some of the bondservants who were slaves to Romans, were Christians. We can only imagine the dilemma these Christians would be in as Roman’s with Christian slaves persecuted Jewish Christians. This was a moral dilemma that was certainly far beyond any employee submitting to an employer in our modern-day economic culture. Imagine being in the situation that some Christian slaves were in during the war of Rome against national Israel.)
C. Live like Jesus.
Since the Jewish Christians were about to suffer indirectly the punishment that was going to be measured out on the nationalistic Jewish insurrectionists, they needed to remember that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps.”2:21 Jesus could have commanded that we willfully suffer. But His words would have been empty without His voluntary example of suffering for us. In living the life of a disciple, we must never forget that words of instruction alone are not the main thing. Living the life of the words is the unveiling of the power of the words. Someone correctly advised:
When telling your children a story,
And you use yourself as a sample,
Perhaps you should do it as a warning,
And not a shining example.
Peter said “that by doing right you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”2:15 When Jesus “was reviled, He did not revile again. When He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”2:23 When Paul and Barnabas passed through cities where there were Christians who had been such for no longer than a few months, they prepared these new disciples for their future. Luke records that Paul and Barnabas exhorted the new disciples “to continue in the faith, and teaching that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (At 14:22).
We must remember our sins for which Jesus suffered in order to bear “in His own body on the tree.”2:24 We always count our many blessings we have in Christ, but sometimes, we must remember all our sins for which He suffered to bring us into Christ. It was by His wounds that we are made alive. We have heard the voice of Jesus because He laid down His life for us (Jn 10:16,17). And because He laid down His life for us, we were drawn to Him for healing. We must let Him know through our surrendered living that His suffering was not in vain.
Many years ago, there was published in Life Magazine of America an incident that happened after the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. The Lord’s Supper was being served in a church building in Richmond, Virginia when a freed slave walked forward in order to partake of the Supper. The membership began to stir until an old man walked up and kneeled down beside the freed slave. Because of the example of the old man, the entire congregation of defeated slave-owning Southerners eventually followed his example and kneeled with the former slave. The old man was General Robert E. Lee who had led the Confederate Army of the southern states of America against the freedom of the slaves. He had in 1865 surrendered the Confederate Army to the Union Army of the northern states, and then, led an example for his fellow slave owners of the south to surrender themselves to the new social order of life in America.
All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
(Judson W. van de Venter – 1896)
[Next lecture: SURVIVOR FAMILIES: January 20]