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Godly Submission to Civil Authority

1 Peter: A Living Hope for Holy Living in a Hostile World  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  46:46
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Godly Submission to Civil Authority - 1 Peter 2:13-17

Volunteer: (with an Ozark drawl) Mornin’. I’m Billy the Hillbilly, and this here’s my turf. Before the preecher man gits up here, I gotta couple-a big questions fer you’uns to chew on today…
How’s a fella s’posed to act toward a crooked gov’t that won’t even treat Christians fair… not even as fair as other religions?
And why do we need gov-ern-ments anyways?
That’s all.
Ok, preecher, take over.
Now clearly Billy must’ve read ahead in our biblical text for today, because the questions Billy raised are real ones that we face today and that followers of Christ have faced throughout the centuries.
So let’s talk politics.... No, not really, let’s talk about the biblical text from 1 Peter 2 that gives Christians clear direction in how they ought to handle relating to civil authority. Keep in mind that this is indeed secular civil authority, and that Peter is talking to a group of people living under Roman rule, many of whom don’t even have the full rights of citizens. Most importantly, they (Christians) get a bad rap for not doing stuff like other people… they don’t participate in the emperor cult of the day (treating Emperor Nero like a god)… and they’re just generally looked on with suspicion because they’re “like some weird sect” of a recognized religion, Judaism.
In the context of his instruction in vv. 11-12 of chapter 2, Peter now calls on his readers to live as good citizens, godly citizens, of the societies in which they live by submitting to governing authority.
1 Peter 2:11–17 ESV
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 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.
PRAY: Lord, we need you this morning to show us more of yourself so that our hearts will be rightly motivated to submit to your authority and therefore that we will have the same attitude as Christ in submitting to others that you place in authority over us. May it be our aim to glorify you in our submissive hearts, Amen.
Christians wisely and rightly submit to civil authorities in any way we can (without contradicting the express command of God) because our submission honors the Lord and reflects a right spirit that draws attention to the excellencies of God.

Peter tells believers how to relate to civil authority: SUBMIT

Submission is an attitude of willingly subordinating oneself to the authority/leadership of another, resulting in obedient behavior (to their direction).
Submission is an attitude that leads to obedience. - The crux of the issue really is about attitude. So how do we keep a good attitude of submission to respect and obey an authority that isn’t really “earning” said respect by his or her character or wise leading? - The key seems to be to not lose sight of the goal. When we hear Peter give us hard instruction like “submit,” let’s not lose sight of the purpose for changing our attitude and behavior: in order to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (v. 9), in order to maintain such good conduct that some unbelieving leaders, coworkers, friends, family, etc. may see the good we do and perhaps come to saving faith themselves and glorify God! (v. 12) - We’ll come back to this again momentarily in answering the question form the text: Why are we submitting?
But first Peter instructs us to whom we are expected to submit…

To whom are we submitting? - Human Authorities

(instituted by God)
Notice Peter doesn’t qualify this with “IF the person is a godly leader behaving wisely according to biblical standards.” This makes submission doubly hard for us. On the one hand, our sinful inclination is to NOT submit but to rebel, and on the other hand, we often live and serve in subordination to others with whom we might disagree or even flat out know they’re wrong!
Now we know the current context in the immediate verses is in fact to civil authority because Peter explains…
Namely: to the King and to Governors sent by him
(Emperor - highest human authority)… (regional authorities, governing bodies)
This applies to…
All authorities God allows to be placed over us in civil and societal order, and the corresponding laws and directives. - Christians ought to be the best at paying their taxes, the best at using the crosswalks, the best at driving safely for the sake of others (road laws as well as not TEXTING :-)), the best at participating in using our vote in a democratic society to promote what is good according to God’s definition. We ought to be the best at honoring our civil servants, the best at speaking highly of our bosses and governing bodies, the best at encouraging others to do the same. We must NOT get caught up in slandering officials and complaining about laws and taxes and the like. We must NOT be using our Christian liberty as an excuse to be rebellious toward God-given human authority.
The only scenario for disobedience to human authority is when they are directly asking you to disobey God. The ONLY reason to disobey the God-given authority structure placed over you is when that authority is asking you to directly disobey God. (Again) The only reason to disobey a human authority is when they are directing you to disobey God. - NOT because you don’t approve that they are infringing on your religious liberty…
This is also NOT to say that we shouldn’t be active in civil society to do our part to help our governments rule in such a way that pleases God! - In other words, if Christians don’t do their part as good citizens to be the voice (in our culture - the vote) for God’s standard, then who will?
Whenever possible, submit. Whenever it’s right, submit. - Whenever it’s possible to submit to earthly authority and still be pleasing to God, do so. - This ties into our next point.

Why are we submitting? - For the Lord

I already began explaining that the crux of the issue is our attitude, and the crux of our attitude is our motivation.
A rebellious spirit is a fleshly passion from which we need to abstain (v. 11).
A submissive spirit is a Christ-like attitude that leads to good deeds which glorify God (v. 12).
Because the civil authority exists to punish evil and praise good
It makes me laugh when some in our society suggest that the government should not legislate morality. That’s precisely what the Bible says their primary purpose is!
As believers, our motivation isn’t really to merely avoid punishment but…
Because it’s God’s will
What more do we need than this?

To honor God who ordained human government, Christians are to observe man-made laws carefully as long as those laws do not conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture (cf. Acts 4:19).

Because it silences ignorant, foolish slander
With consistency of good conduct, when people slander you as being raucous, rebellious citizens, over time (and with any careful inspection from authority) their ignorance and foolishness becomes plain. We have only to continue to live right and do good and leave the rest in the hands of a God who judges justly. See v. 23.
An important point to remember here that is if we are forced to disobey the law of the land or of a specific leader because the command is contrary to the command of God, to whom is our first allegiance, we must also prepare ourselves to suffer the earthly consequences for said obedience to God rather than man.
Consider Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, young Jewish men taken into captivity in Babylon, along with Daniel, and trained as servants in the king’s court (their given names... changed to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) - First Daniel (in chapter one of the book of Daniel in your Bible) got permission for them to not eat the king’s food (some of which was against Jewish law and practice) - The chief of the eunuchs had compassion and gave them a trial period to prove that their eating vegetables would prove better in a 10-day period. And it did.
Now in chapter three, when Nebuchadnezzar sets up a golden image and tells them to bow down and worship it, something expressly prohibited by the law of their God, we don’t know where Daniel was, but his three companions respectfully refuse to bow to an idol.
King Neb in his anger: Dan 3:15b But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Their reply: Daniel 3:17-18
Daniel 3:17–18 ESV
If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Their deliverance resulted in praise for the Most High God.
Ultimately, these men proved themselves to in fact be King Nebuchadnezzar’s best citizens! Suffering while doing good silences slander.

How are we supposed to do this, knowing that we are citizens of heaven?

Live as free servants of God
Choosing submission to human authority does not negate our Christian liberty. Rather, it is proof of it. - Those who are spiritually free now see themselves as willing bondservants of God, and therefore it is in fact our willing submission to human authority for God’s sake that is winsome.
And NOT using our freedom as a veil for evil. (a covering - using the fact that you are a citizen of heaven as a cover, a pretext for rebelling against the civil authorities God has placed over you in the land in which you live) Peter seems to be saying, don’t pretend that your lack of submission (rebelliousness) is righteousness.
Can I give you a really practical example of not letting your Christian liberty (and the amazing freedoms of the government under which we live in this land) as an excuse to angrily or unwisely spout harsh opinions? Beloved Christians, especially those with whom I share this church family, please don’t drive a wedge between yourself and others (especially unbelievers) by mistakenly thinking that social media is a wise platform to promote your political platform. (It seems to only breed vitriol and widen the gap between opposing sides. It does not build bridges of mutual concern or promote national camaraderie or a Christlike spirit of expressing love in both grace and truth! - Before you post or even speak, ask the Holy Spirit to search our motive and to guide you in wisdom.
Being spiritually free makes us different. Listen up, please. The bottom line is this: We must BE different. We must live differently from all the rest. - Use your freedom as slaves of God to promote his excellencies at every turn!
Let’s finish with Peter’s summary:
Summary: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Honor everyone. (but) Love the brotherhood.
The Bible teaches us to treat people with respect and courtesy because they have been made in the image of God. Right, they have not all been re-born by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, but you once were completely dead in your sins as well. And don’t treat people like you’re better than them now because you didn’t merit your salvation! Christ is looking down on them with caring compassion, so why are you looking down on them with sanctimonious disdain? - Let me ask, which is better? To be silent or to stand up for justice in a rude manner? (The Bible teaches that the wise will be silent. Because then he will have time to think, the check his motive, to calm himself and perhaps at the right time and in the right way to defend the helpless and the hurting.) - So, honor everyone with respect and kindness. Value them in the way that God values them, and see them in the way that Christ seems them—the way he looked on YOU with compassion.
There is a special bond between us. There is a spiritual transformation in us and a love of Christ that binds our hearts together. With said unity of spirit, we ought to have particular care among God’s people to self-sacrificially do what is for the highest good of the others. That’s our mark, to love like Jesus.
Fear God. (but) Honor the emperor.
As we have previously discussed, “The verb “fear” (phobeisthe) here does not mean to be in terror, but awe and reverence that leads to obedience” Roger M. Raymer, “1 Peter,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 847.
Notice that with all Peter has said about submitting to authority, we are here reminded that even the King is brought back down to the stature of everyone else. We must treat said leaders with the kind of honor that all human beings deserve. - Let me tell you too that this is a reminder to not elevate a leader to some heights he doesn’t deserve.
Psalm 56:4 ESV
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?
1 Peter 4:19 ESV
Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
After all, what will crumble and fall and what stands forever?
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