The conversation’s beginning to drag. The guests are beginning to look at their watches. The evening is beginning to take on a light shade of boredom and desert has yet to be served. So, what can the host do to liven things up a bit? Here’s a list of words that just may get things stirring again: submit, authority, emperor (right, we don’t have one of those, how about president), freedom, cover-up. I suspect any one or combination of these words has the potential to stoke the dying fire of a dinner party.
Peter is writing to Christians around his world. The conversation is not dragging by any stretch of the imagination; but I promise these same words stirred the emotion of those reading his first letter. Here’s what he wrote: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)
After looking back over this passage, I think reading it would light up the after dinner dialogue. How might one come to that conclusion? Within the words of the apostle are some hot buttons; words that, for many folks, perhaps most, elicit a response. They would have had a similar impact in Peter’s day.
For instance, Peter tells his readers that they are to submit to every human authority. Keep in mind that the apostle was living at a time when the Romans were making Christians’ lives quite difficult. He speaks of their time of grief and trials in the opening of his letter. How can one even begin to submit to a person who is making life miserable? Submit was a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” Here are some additional nuances: to arrange under, to subordinate, to subject, put in subjection, to subject one’s self, obey, to submit to one’s control. Think those ideas might get a conversation going?
Note also to whom Peter says Christians must submit…to every human authority. If there was any confusion about which authorities he was speaking of he lists them from the top to the bottom: the emperor and governors. These were the ones making their lives difficult. And why were Christians to do this? The apostle lists three reasons. First, for the Lord’s sake (v.13). Those early Christians were to submit to the government because of Christ; because He said so. Is any other reason really needed? No, but more are given.
Next, Peter writes that it is God’s will. Why? Because “by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” (v.15) In Peter’s day Christians were maligned, depicted as anti-social, immoral, anti-government people. The anti-government came from the fact that they claimed allegiance to another king and were citizens of another kingdom. The Romans saw this as a threat to the security of the empire. But Jesus told them to obey the rules of the government unless those rules went against God’s law. So in submitting to the empire’s authority Christians would silence those who were looking for a reason to silence them.
Finally, the apostle reminds them that they are servants of God (v.16) and this is what the Master says they are to do. He also says they are free people. Jesus proclaimed, “If the son has set you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36). But they were not to use their freedom in Christ to cover-up wrong doing (v.16).
Peter then summarizes the believer’s motivation behind submitting, writing, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” (v.17) To show proper respect is to put the proper value on all people. To love the family is to unconditional love fellow Christians as God does. And to honor the emperor is to respect and value the emperor. Again remember the day in which Peter is writing and the antagonistic attitude the emperor exhibited toward the Church.
So we’ve looked at the words Peter wrote and as applied to his day. How should we apply them to ours? That’s kind of a silly question isn’t it? What it meant then it means now. Such being the case Christians, for the sake of the Lord, must show respect and submit to the authority of the government of the land. Unless that government is demanding compromise or outright rebellion against God’s law, Christians must set the standard for respect and law-keeping. The words and actions directed toward the president and governor should be such as to honor God. Folks may disagree with policy and actions but must fight the temptation to, as a young person say, dis the person (to show disrespect, insult, malign, or belittle).
What can we do when we see decisions and activities that we know are wrong? First we must pray. Remember God is in control. Second, dialogue respectfully with the person when possible and in a Christ-like manner encourage others to do the same.
Christians, we are living in a day when government appears to be more incompatible with Christian beliefs and values than at any other time in our nation’s history. Chances are, without a spiritual renewal in America, it will get worse. Our day may become more like the day Peter lived. If such does occur, the message does not change. As a matter of fact, it comes even more applicable. Let’s practice now how we will act should a worse day ever come.