The Pilgrims’ Guidebook: The principle of submission (1)

I Peter 2:13-17

Even though we are first and foremost citizens of heaven, we are still living on earth – and so we also have earthly duties and obligations to fulfil. So, like the Jews exiled in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7), Christians must seek the good and obey the laws of the land in which they live (Proverbs 24:21). We do not submit to human authorities because we approve of them (necessarily), or because they will favour us if we do (or punish us if we do not) – and certainly not because they claim divine authority for themselves. We submit to them because God tells us to; we honour Him by serving them. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” (verse 13) Human government is not godly, but it plays a vital (and God-ordained) role in restraining human wickedness and maintaining a peaceful, ordered society. Insofar as it punishes offenders and encourages good conduct, it does God’s will. And in the exercise of these functions, even ‘bad’ governments should have the full support of their Christian subjects.

Submission is also in our own best interests. To have a reputation for integrity and law-abiding behaviour helps to counteract slander and false propaganda (Titus 2:7,8). And by treating others with courtesy and respect we can win a hearing for the Gospel. Sadly, the actions of some church members (and even leaders) all too often give our opponents ammunition to use against us. Our Christian liberty is a wonderful privilege – but we must not abuse it. We are not free to do absolutely anything we like, but free to live in obedience to God, as His servants.

Even though we have a natural dislike for authority (because we are rebels by nature), we should freely choose to fulfil all the demands that society makes on us. We should give all people their due respect; but towards our fellow-Christians we have a special obligation of love. Even as we obey those who rule over us, we must never forget that our first loyalty is to God (Mark 12:17).

Nobody can pretend that this will be easy. Peter will go on to apply the principle of submission to Christians in two particularly difficult first-century situations: slaves and wives.

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