Our Perfect God Works Through Imperfect Authority

1 Peter 2:13-21 – 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. 

Sometimes, when we read the Bible we can easily misread it for the simple reason that we are a few thousand years removed and in a different cultural context. Christians in the first century lived in a national environment that was a bit like North Korea today. There was no separation between church and state, there was no law that protected religious freedoms, and the emperor ruled as a god and the people worshipped him as “Lord”. The nation was a demonic counterfeit of God’s Kingdom as religion, politics, economics, and culture were all ruled by one man who was considered to be a god.

Christians were an outcast minority group. They did not have the military might, financial wealth, or political power to bring about any real change.  Today, the persecuted Church in China, or living under strict Islamic Sharia law, are in a similar struggle. To make matters worse, persecution was rising against Christians at the time that Peter wrote about the “various trials” and “fiery trials”.

To subvert the empire, Peter gives instructions on how to honor “every human institution” which would include parents and children, coaches and players, police and citizens, pastors and churches, teachers and students, employers and employees, etc. If we think we’ve got it rough, consider that their “emperors” were Claudius and then Nero, who was a murderous madman, and “governors” that included Pilate who handed over Jesus and Felix who abused Paul. Despite all of this, Peter says seven things about honoring authority:

  1. Do good to silence the ignorant and foolish. Today we would call this non-violent resistance.
  2. Live free, but don’t cover up evil. When they do evil, if we do evil in return then all we are doing is multiplying evil which is a problem and not progress.
  3. Serve God. Our loyalty needs to be to God above every and any other loyalty and our problem with them is ultimately their problem with Him.
  4. Honor everyone. We do not need to agree or enable. But we disagree in a way that gives dignity and respect.
  5. Love the brotherhood. For the Christian, amidst cultural upheaval, we need to remember that God’s people are family and we need to care for all people, starting with spiritual brothers and sisters.
  6. Fear God. This is how we appeal to the highest authority over all other authorities, the authority of God.
  7. Honor the emperor. The emperor wanted to be worshipped, and God’s people could not do that, but they could respectfully honor the evil dictator who made their life misery.

When those in authority act ungodly, our first instinct can be to remove all authority, which only brings anarchy and not a healthy environment for human flourishing. So, what Peter is advocating is living under God’s authority, and appealing to God’s authority over all other authorities. This is because only when godly authority under God’s authority is ruling are people able to receive justice and live free lives.

To download the free e-book ODD LIFE: Good God which is a study in 1 Peter for individuals, groups, and families from Pastor Mark click HERE. To listen to Pastor Mark’s 9 sermons on 1 Peter preached in the summer of 2020, click HERE. These and other resources are made possible by our ministry partners who support Real Faith as a Bible teaching ministry of Mark Driscoll Ministries to whom we say THANK YOU! 

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