Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
- We are to submit to every human institution.
- We are to submit to human institutions for the Lord’s sake.
- We are to be subject to all government leaders.
- Government leaders are to punish evil and praise those who do good.
- God’s will is that we are subject to human institutions.
- It is good to be subject to human institutions.
- We are to do good to silence the ignorant and foolish.
- We are to live as free people.
- We are not to use our freedom as an excuse to do evil.
- We are to live as God’s servants.
- We are to honor everyone.
- We are to love the brotherhood.
- We are to fear God.
- We are to honor head of government.
- Servants are to be subject to their masters.
- Servants are to give all respect to their masters.
- Rather the master is good and gentle or unjust we are to give them all respect.
- It is good when we endure sorrows and suffer unjustly with God in mind.
- We do not receive any credit if we endure punishment for sin.
- God considers it a gracious thing when we endure suffering as a result of doing good.
- We have been called to suffer.
- Christ suffered for us.
- Christ is an example for us.
- We are to follow Christ’s example.
- Christ did not commit any sin.
- Christ was not deceitful.
- Even though Christ was sinless he was criticized in an abusive, angry and insulting manner.
- Christ did not return the insults and abusive he suffered.
- Christ did not threaten those who unjustly punished him.
- Christ entrusted Himself to the Father
- The Father judges justly.
- Christ bore our sins in His body.
- Christ bore our sins when He was on the cross.
- Christ bore our sins so we could die to sin and live righteously
- We have been healed by Christ’s wounds.
- We were straying like sheep.
- We have now returned to the Christ.
- Christ is over sees our souls.
If we use our freedom to ignore the earthly authorities, that would be cause for the world to despise us. Peter is writing to Christians who are also Jews. In fact, the Jews were infamous in the first century for opposing Roman authority. They regarded their standing with God to mean that Gentiles had no authority over them. Because of that, they were regarded as ungovernable. So those who were peaceable dreaded them like that plague. That is the context where Peter gives these commands.
Peter seem however to get a little jab in to the Roman Empire. The word the ESV translates as “emperor,” βασιλεύς (basileus) , is translated “king” by the New King James Version, King James Version, New American Standard Bible, the New English Translation and Strong’s Greek Dictionary. Therefore “king” may be a better translation. Why is this interesting? The Romans extremely hated the term, “king.” Even so it was used by the Greeks. I find it funny that even while telling his readers to submit to Roman authorities Peter takes a jab at Rome while showing no disrespect.
Peter tells these Christian Jews that they are to be subject to the governmental authorities. But wait a minute; are we not free in Christ? Are we not heirs of this world? Why should we, who have been freed by the King of kings, be subject to sinful men? Doesn’t that put us right back into slavery to sin? In fact, the authorities Peter is telling the first century Christians to submit to are the very ones who are persecuting them for simply being Christian. The authorities were actually adversaries of God. You can see the questions and confusion these Christian would have with this apostolic commandment. In fact, we do not need to live in the first century to have this be a question or concern. What about living today in an unjust evil government? How do we respond? Peter’s answer to that question is hard to accept. These rulers have not been placed in their position by not chance but by God’s providence. God governs through magistrates. Yes even the unjust ones.
The reason for submitting to authorities is simply a restatement of verse 12. It is so that God may be glorified. Our behavior is to be so good, so obedient, so above reproach that when we are accused of doing evil shame comes to our slanders. We are not to act to defend ourselves; rather we are to reflect God’s grace. The only difference between verse 12 and 15 is here in 15, Peter refers to the evil rulers as foolish people, another jab at Rome.
Peter now backs up to the unspoken questions. What about our freedom and liberty in Christ? Freedom is not a covering for evil. There is no such thing as a true libertarian freedom. Those who are free serve God. And God’s will is to obey the authorities. In short our freedom is a serving freedom.
Peter summarizes everything he has said when he says, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (king).” Even while Peter take another small jab at Rome, the words Peter uses means exactly what they say, honor everyone. He shows no disrespect in the way he says it. However, Peter does make special reference to the brotherhood and contrasts the love of the brotherhood with honor for everyone. Peter reminds us that even though there is a special bond with other believers and we are to show special regard for them, this does not prevent us from that love being extended to the whole human race. Honoring everyone even the evil does is a result of our fear of God.
We are not only to be subject to the governmental authorities, we are to be subject to all those God has placed over us. It does not matter rather they are good, just or unjust.
Peter now broadens the idea of being subject to authority; servants are to be subject to their masters. The word used for servant is not douloi, slaves, but oiketai, domestics. By this we can understand Peter is referring to the free as well as the bond servants or slave. Peter uses Christ as our example. Suffering is part of our calling as Christians. Paul says the same thing “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Christians are united with Christ in His sufferings as well as his resurrection. Again Peter is not alone in this teaching. Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 2:5 and Philippians 3:10. Christ gives us a pattern to follow in His suffering. We are to imitate Christ even by calmly bearing wrongs and not seeking vengeance.
There are those in the liberal wing who claim that Christ was simply an example for us to follow. Yes Christ was an example for us. Peter says as much. But Peter also says Christ was much more. If all Christ’s death was, was an example on how to bear injustice and suffering. It would have been pretty feeble. But Peter points out three things about Christ’s death. First, Christ’s death was an example of patience. Second, Christ restored life to us through His death. Therefore, we are bound to Him and we ought to cheerfully follow His example. Third, Peter refers to the general purpose of Christ’s death, that we are now dead to sin we ought to live to righteously.
This is a difficult passage for me. If I there was one passage in scripture I would like to see changed, this is it. It is in this passage we learn that we are to submit to authority even when that authority is unjust. I could accept the idea of submitting to a just authority. But submitting to an unjust authority is hard to accept. We are to obey them too. We are to submit to them. However, I think there is something we do not want to ignore about how Peter gives the command. The frequent jabs at Rome Peter makes by referring to Caesar as King serve as a solid example of how we are to behave towards our governments. We are to submit to their authority, but we are also to speak out when they do evil. Yes, they will attempt to silence us. Yes, we will suffer for speaking out. But as Peter has already said we are a royal priesthood. That is our job as followers of Christ.