DAILY DEVOTION - MAY 20
Listen to excerpts from today's daily devotion on this video.
This Daily Devotion is from A Living Hope, by Sarah Viggiano Wright, published by Bible Study Media, and made available to us through Presbyterian Women.
“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.”
1 Peter 2:13-15
What are your identities? What roles do you play? Spouse? Parent? Child? Worker? Neighbor? Christian?
My identities are Christian, wife, mother, Italian, speaker, singer, and student. I ask because the identities we wear inform how we interact with the world—how we see ourselves affects what we do and believe. If you are a parent, you may think, “I should be nurturing;” if a doctor, “I need to be attentive;” if a student, “I should be inquisitive and teachable.” If you’re like me, there are some aspects of your identity you may hold too tightly and others you’re not so willing to embrace.
As Christians, we are who God says we are, and we need to act how God says we should act. In 1 Peter, God says our identity is “chosen and precious,” “a royal priesthood,” and a “special people” (2:4, 9, various versions). God also says that here on earth we are “sojourners and exiles” (2:11). Thus, Peter is including the positive and negative aspects of his readers’ identities. Peter’s audience is loved and chosen by God, yet they are in exile; they are treasured, yet they have lost their earthly land, homes, and livelihoods; they are royal, yet they are sojourners in a land with no earthly security.
Peter reminds them they no longer belong to this world! Though they were once citizens of the kingdom of darkness, they now belong to the kingdom of God. They will never be fully at home here. He calls them to endure suffering without separating from or synchronizing with the world. They must sojourn in the world while remaining true to their primary citizenship. God’s kingdom requires them to live according to a higher set of standards and maintain allegiance to no other power but their Heavenly King.
Peter believes an understanding of their true citizenship will help these struggling believers navigate the hardships they experience on earth. It will also enable them to live out a life that is an example to non-Christians and that glorifies God.
Peter is now going to use verses 2:13—4:11 to point his hearers to Christ as their ultimate example in life and in death. Peter is going to explicitly discuss how they are to navigate life in the public arena. His instruction can be summarized by a word that has become taboo in our society: submit.
In verse 13, “be subject” comes from the Greek root hupotássō, literally “under-arrangement,” meaning to place oneself under, to submit to, or to be subject to someone. Thus, Peter is saying that we are called to submit to every human authority—meaning government officials, as Peter mentions emperors and governors.
Why? And does God really mean all of us and to every authority?
Yes, God wants every person to honor all human authorities, ordinances, or offices that have rightful jurisdiction over them—every president, governor, or official—“for the Lord’s sake.” We are to submit not only to the ones we deem worthy of our allegiance, but to all governing authorities because they have been established by God (see Romans 13:1), reflecting his rule and order.
Ideally, human authorities exist to punish and push against evil; promote goodness and prosperity; protect people; and provide humanity with structure, order, justice, and peace (v. 14). Since punishment, protection, and provision are to be functions of our government, God is telling his citizens to respect human ordinances even if they have no regard for them. We honor our true King when we follow his earthly order. Even an atheistic official can enforce law, order, and peace—principles that come from a good God. And, we can honor the office even if the person occupying it is less than honorable. So, willingly place yourself under government officials as an act of ultimate obedience and honor to God.
It is important to note that submit and obey are two different things. “Arranging one’s life under” (submitting to) an authority still allows for freedom in how we follow and adhere to their orders. However “carrying out the will of ” (obeying) is a deeper form of allegiance.
This is where the exception to Peter’s directions comes in. We must never obey (carry out the will of ) a human official or ordinance if it is in conflict with obeying all that the Lord instructs. This principle is clear in Acts 5 when the apostles, having just been sprung from jail by an angel, are dragged before the Sanhedrin for again teaching publicly about Jesus. The high priest rebukes them: “‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name’...Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!’” (Acts 5:28–29, NIV). Notice who is mentioned by name—Peter! This means Peter himself not only believed in this exception but practiced it. So, if ever the paths diverge between human commands and God’s, we, like the apostles, must obey God rather than human beings. However, our prayer should be that the paths diverge as infrequently as possible.
To summarize Peter’s teaching, to rebel against legitimate governance is to be a “hell-raiser,” but to refuse to obey laws contrary to the will of God is to be a “heaven-raiser!” The same is true of working to change or subvert unjust institutions. But we must remember that when we need to cry out against unjust governance, we need to do so in a way that reverently honors God and preserves the dignity of everyone (v. 17), just and unjust.
Peter knows this isn’t easy! His readers are being persecuted by Nero, and yet Peter is calling them to submit willingly to Roman institutions, not because Nero is good, but because Christians are to be known by their love for God, including respect for the institutions he’s set in authority for the time being. Furthermore, should there be any slander against Christians, Peter says, their good behavior ought to “silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (v. 15). Obedience to God is beautiful, and it speaks volumes to a world plagued with chaos and injustice.
We are all in subordinate relationships (children to parents, students to teachers, citizens to officials). Everyone submits—everyone. We are called to honor those in authority over us and to be honorable toward those we have authority over. We are to promote justice and peace always. We are to pray for all officers in their jobs as they punish what is evil and praise what is good (v. 14). In our culture, we also have the privilege of working to select officials who reflect the mission of God. All these actions are part of the good, special, chosen family work we are to do as we “proclaim the excellencies” of Jesus (v. 9).
Our royal priesthood does not exempt us from submission. Rather, service to our Heavenly King allows us the freedom to willingly submit to earthly order and promote human dignity for his sake. We are free from self-interest and from fighting our own battles, as our great Ruler and Defender is the One who fights for us, giving us the freedom to love the brotherhood and honor everyone, with ultimate allegiance to God alone.