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TEXT: I Peter 2:13-25
SUBJECT: I Peter #7: Submission is Good, Part I
What kind of life should the Christian live?
If you read I Peter all the way through, you'd find several ways to answer the question. Peter wants us to live in love, to live obediently, faithfully, zealously, bravely, patiently, and in the fear of God. All of these qualities are right on the surface of his First Epistle, and ought to be taken to heart by everyone who reads it.
As important as these qualities are to living the Christian life, his key word may well be something else. In the middle part of his book, 2:13-3:8 (and in 5:5) , Peter emphasizes another Christian virtue, a way of life no easier to live back then than it is now. The word I'm thinking of is...
In 2:14, he tells us to submit ourselves to the rulers of our government; in 2:18, he orders servants to be submissive to their own masters; in 3:1, he urges wives to submit to their husbands; in 5:5, he counsels younger people to submit to their elders.
The word, submit, does not appear in 3:7,8, but I very much agree with the commentator, Ed Clowney, who says it is implied in both, meaning that--in a sense--husbands are to be submissive to their wives and every Christian, as far as he can, is to submit to every other.
Submissiveness is central, therefore, to Peter's view of living godly lives in this present evil age. Seeing this is what Peter--and Jesus--taught, German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, called Christianity--
'A religion of slaves'.
...too eager to please, a craven and unmanly way to live. Was he right? Peter doesn't think so; at the end of chapter 2, he points to the manliest man, Jesus Christ, who was also the most submissive of men, a man's man if there ever was one, also willing to suffer the slings and arrows--and worse--of lesser men.
Peter wants us to be submissive people, and not just in one or two areas of life, but in all of them. We'll explore two of the areas today, and some others next week, DV.
The best place to start on the passage is with its first word, therefore. This connects what Peter is about to say with what he's already said. What's that? Back in vv.11-12, he's told us what we are and how we're to live.
We are three things, he says, in v.11a--
Beloved sojourners and pilgrims.
Because of who we are, we ought to do two things, vv.11b-12--
Abstain from fleshly lusts and have your conduct honorable among the Gentiles.
These are Peter's big ideas for living the Christian life, his general principles, of which the following duties are but examples. There's more to living a godly life than what he says here--but never less! Godly living always includes a submissive attitude, and, whenever possible, submissive actions. In society, at work, in the home, at church--everywhere!
When we're not submissive--Peter says--we are giving in to fleshly lusts and making God look bad in the world.
SUBMIT YOURSELVES TO EVERY ORDINANCE OF MAN...
What does it mean to submit yourselves? The word itself means 'to come under', or better perhaps, 'to put yourself under' an authority. In terms of attitude, it means 'to respect' ( Peter calls it honor in v.17). As for actions, it cannot mean 'blind obedience'. Peter himself did not offer this to the rulers of his time, neither did Daniel or Moses or other Old Testament heroes, and, most importantly, our Lord Jesus Christ did not do that!
Obedience to human authority is always trumped by obedience to God. Most of the time, we can honor both God and human leaders, but when we cannot, as Peter himself said--
We ought to obey God rather than man.
But, note carefully he didn't say, 'We ought to honor God rather than man'. These duties never contradict each other. We can both fear God and respect our leaders--no matter how corrupt and evil and stupid they are!
Peter lived in the Roman Empire, a political system built on the divinity of Caesar. When commanded to say 'Caesar is Lord' or else--Christians chose 'or else'. But until the Roman government required them to sin, the Early Church submitted itself to their civil leaders, none (or few) of whom were Christians, and most of them scoundrels.
This is what Peter wants us to do. Being a devout Jew, he must have been thinking, first, of other sojourners and pilgrims. At one time in its history Israel was at home in the land that God gave them. When there, they resisted foreign powers, throwing back and even wiping out whole nations. As citizens of that Kingdom, they had every right to do this, and some of them, like the Judges and David, did it well.
But for the last six hundred years, Judah had been in exile; the Jews were, once again out of their land--
Pilgrims of the Dispersion, scattered.
What exiles are praised in the Old Testament? The men who plotted against the heathen rulers? The people who griped about the idolatry and immorality all around them?
No. The Old Testament heroes in exile were people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, Abed-nego, Esther, Mordecai, and Nehemiah. They saw the exile as God's will for Israel for the time being, that God--not they--would set things right when and how He wanted to.
Jeremiah ministered at the time of the Babylonian invasion and captivity of Judah, and what was his advice to the captives? 29:7 tells us--
Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.
Was Jeremiah a naive man? Did he think Nebuchadnezzar was basically a good man, doing his best to promote the general welfare? He knew better than that, and he prophesied that the Lord would one day avenge Himself on the wicked king. But in the meantime, His people were to--
Submit themselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake.
FOR THE LORD'S SAKE...FOR BY THIS...
The key words here are--
For the Lord's sake.
We don't submit to our leaders because we voted for them, because they belong to our party, because we agree with them on every issue, or even because we think they're good men or women. Like every Christian in our country--and many decent unbelievers--I was deeply disappointed when our president came out in support of 'Same Sex Marriage'; forty years ago, many were stunned when the Supreme Court ruled that women could abort their babies for no medical reason at all. And the follies of the congress are like the devils in the Gadarene--
But for all their corruption and folly, the men and women who rule over us in Washington, Sacramento, and other places, were put there by--
The only wise God our Savior.
The doctrinal reason we're to respect our leaders is because 'God put them there'. Then Peter adds a practical reason for doing the same, v.15--
By doing good, you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Because Christians would not say, 'Caesar is Lord', the pagans often thought of them as unpatriotic, as traitors to the Empire. Peter knows this is nonsense, but he wants the Christians to prove it to their unbelieving critics.
He wants the world to know that Christianity promotes good citizenship. It doesn't make you a rebel, a subversive, a troublemaker, or even an old crank, but on the contrary, it makes you a better Roman, and I might add, a better American.
Does this mean we have to agree with everything our government does and cheer on our leaders whatever they advocate? Of course not! But it does mean we're to show respect to our leaders and discuss politics with civility. Just the opposite of what you typically hear on partisan radio shows or read on Facebook!
For the Christian citizen, there's no place for name calling, for believing every bad thing you hear about the leaders you disagree with, or general murmuring about the fools and criminals holding high office in our country.
In light of the words of our text and the context in which they were written, I cannot draw any other conclusion. The Lord does not want us to be blind to our leaders' faults, but, seeing how bad they are, He also wants us to respect them and obey them as far as we can.
SERVANTS AND MASTERS
Having called us to submit to political rulers, Peter brings the duty closer to home by saying, 'And to rulers at work, too', You can well imagine people sighing when this part of the Letter was read in church. Most had nothing to do with politics, but everyone worked for a living and many of them the same kind of boss you do--unreasonable, mean, partial, lazy, stupid, and so on.
What does discipleship look like at work? It looks submissive, v.18--
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.
Submissive here does not mean 'craven' any more than it does a few verses before. But it does mean 'respectful' and 'obedient'. Peter seems to underline the respectful part, explaining submission as offered in--
Peter uses the usual word for 'fear', and can mean anything from terror to respect to reverence. In context, it plainly means the middle one, 'respect'.
As disciples of Christ, we ought to think highly of our bosses--even the ones who are hateful and cruel. When we're disrespectful of them--Peter implies--they're likely to recognize it and punish us. And--he goes on to say--the penalty is just, even if the boss is a jerk! There is no good in suffering because you're mouthing off at the boss or doing as little as you can to keep your job. If he demotes you or humiliates you or fires you for that kind of conduct, you had it coming. You're suffering as a bad employee not as a good Christian!
But, if you respect and obey a bad boss--and he still mistreats you, v.20--
This is commendable before God.
How does Peter know that? Because he remembers that this is how our Lord suffered at the hands of evil authorities. He wasn't crucified because He as a false Messiah, but because He is the True Messiah! Not because He lied and misled the people, but because He bore witness to the truth and would have led them to God if they had followed Him. Pontius Pilate was no friend of the truth, but even he stumbled into it once in a while--
I find no fault in this Man.
What kind of servant was Jesus of Nazareth? The kind who--
When reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, did not threaten.
This is the negative aspect of His life, what He didn't do, but the last part of v.23 tells us what He did do, and why He could live such a humble and submissive life--
He committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.
He could submit Himself to imperfect parents, crooked judges, and perverted rulers because He was satisfied with God's evaluation of Him!
He knew who He was and what God thought of Him, and so it didn't matter if the rulers in Jerusalem or Rome favored Him or not. All that mattered to Jesus was His Father's judgment.
This is where we go wrong. We expect the government to favor us because we're Christians--or, if not because we're Christians, because we're good citizens and hard working, honest employees. They often don't see things this way and look at our faith and way of living as bad things--intolerant, for example, or 'goody goody'.
Why should we expect this? We should be thankful when the government leaves us alone and the boss gives us a raise, but we should expect the opposite. Like Christ, we have been called to suffer in this life--and only reign in the life to come.
We can live this way with contentment and joy. For God's judgment of us will a positive one. Knowing how foolish and sinful we are, how can we hold on to the hope of vindication? Peter tells us in vvs.24-25--
Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls.
Without Christ, our lives are as despicable as everyone else's. But we are not 'without Christ'; He went to the cross for us, and because of what He did we are justified by God right now--and in the end the verdict passed on Christ will be ours to share.
If you submit yourselves to the government, people in the other party will call you a dupe, a fool, a sellout, or some other bad name. If you respect and cooperate with a rotten boss, you'll be called a bootlicker or something worse than that.
This is the judgment of the world. But the word's judgment was exposed at the Cross and Empty Tomb. There, the values of Heaven were revealed on earth.
The world's judgment of Christ was overturned by in Court of Heaven. The world took Him for a weak fool, but Heaven called Him--
The power of God and the wisdom of God.
Let us, therefore, claim our claim our Christian liberty and live as Jesus did, the servant of all.
Amen. Praise the Lord.
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