Honor all people, Love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Section 3.2 of 1 Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17)
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God.
Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Continuing from the first sub-section of the third section of the First Letter of Peter, Peter begins to provides examples of what he meant by “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles…” (1 Peter 2:12). The first example he gives is of importance given the context of the overall situation of the intended recipients. It is possible they are Jews who had been banished from Rome, finding resting places with the local congregations in Asia Minor. While in these areas, it is likely that the persecution of Christians was coming more from the population than the government, however, we do not know with certainty. The fact that Peter makes this point should not stand out to us as something unusual or requiring special attention. When this is placed within its context of providing general guidance as to how to behave given different scenarios, we can see that this is a common subject being discussed among the people.
There are many in our modern environment who take issue with this particular passage. The religious zealots take issue with being subject to governments that promote things which go against the teachings of the Bible, and rightfully so. However, this does not mean we disobey the legitimate laws in defiance, or that we go around promoting violence and upheaval to overthrow the powers that be. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…” The underlined section is often overlooked by these types. We are submit ourselves for the sake of our Lord. Whether it be to the king as an authority, or to those sent to punish evildoers and praise the righteous, we are to submit to them appropriately. But why is this? Well, Peter gives us the answer:
“For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. “
If we submit ourselves to human institutions of law and order, and obey the laws made in general, then we will stand as being in the right. However, if we attempt to openly defy laws made by men, we will be viewed as evildoers and this will place a scare on the face of Christ’s people. As with everything in the Bible, we must always place it within the context of the historical period it was written. Christians are being persecuted as people viewed them as a secret society. There were a variety of rumors about what they did together in their “secret” gatherings, and many who sought to slander the early church would say all sorts of horrible things about them. However, here we see Peter giving guidance to these early congregations to openly obey and promote obedience to the law and order established by the human institutions of the day. Much of the rumors and slander going out about Christians was that they were attempting to subvert or rebel against the emperor. Just as is it is today, if we openly come out in support of the authority of the human institutions, and prove ourselves to be “model citizens,” then these people, ignorant of what we really stand for, will be put to shame.
“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God.” This seems odd to many today, given that Peter just told them to be obedient to the human institutions, but now it says to act as free men? How does that work? I can’t both be obedient to the powers that be and remain free! Well, in the eyes of a person who absolutizes human autonomy over all else, we can see the cause of confusion. Not Peter’s words, but the individual’s wrongful placement of freedom on a pedestal that he or she worships. To “act as free men” in the context of the times was to behave in a manner that demonstrates self-control, that shows no dependence upon a superior for life and well-being. Free men lived within the protection of the laws of Rome, and for Peter to mention this in the context of “do not use your freedom as a covering for evil…” is of importance.
Here, Peter is contrasting what was likely a rising opinion among early converts. If we are now a part of the greater kingdom of God, then what meaning or purpose does the laws of man have? It is important that we understand that man’s laws mean nothing before God’s truths. However, there are many who may speak such truths in environments where to do so may be viewed as seditious and rebellious. While Peter is telling the believers to live as free men do, he is also telling them to now attempt to use their freedom to cover acts of evil in defiance of human institutions. Though we are free from the control of other men, we are still the bond-slaves of God. We have our freedom from man because we voluntarily submit ourselves to God. This does not revoke our responsibility to be upstanding citizens within the context of human institutions.
He completes this sub-section, before moving on to the next contextual example, with “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” Here we can see some additional ‘contrasting’ going on. While we are God’s elect, there is no justification for acting as though we are somehow above or superior to those who are not believers. As Peter has already admonished and uplifted these congregations through reminding them of their duties as a Holy Nation, as God’s own possession, we now see Peter bringing them back down to earth. It is because you are God’s own possession that you are to honor all people. While we live as free men because of our faith in God, we are free from our sins and death, but we are still in service to God. As God’s people, we are to be a light in this world, we are to be the new holy temple to which all mankind may come to make holy and pure sacrifices to God (to use similar figurative language to Peter in section two).
While we are to honor all people, we are to love the brotherhood all the same. We are to fear God, but we are to honor the king as well. All of this is to be done for the sake of the Lord. We are free men, we are made free by Christ’s sacrifice, and we are representatives of Christ, no longer of our own image, but accepting that we are of God’s image. This is an eternal truth regarding the way Christians are to behave in the context of human institutions. It is always to be done in light of our servanthood to God. We do not worship men as God’s, we are free. However, those laws that exist we are to submit ourselves to. This is given in the context of a time where Christians are being persecuted for who they are in the eyes of others. Peter is calling these congregations to step out into the light and openly speak to the people who they are and demonstrate openly before them that they are Free men, who willingly submit themselves to the institutions of man. We do not do this because these human laws are somehow superior to us, or that there is something about those laws that makes us subservient to them. Instead, we choose to submit ourselves to the human institutions. They have no authority over us, but we are obedient for the Lord’s sake, to do right by the one to whom we give all authority. That being God and God alone.
As we live our Christian life in the United States today, we must know that there are no laws that we are to follow that conflict with God’s ultimate truths. We can live our lives as Christians within our own communities and not break any laws while being fully obedient to God. (however, there are some areas where this is starting to disappear, something to be concerned about, for certain). We are to be obedient to the human institutions, not to our detriment, not to the point of sacrificing our God given freedom, but only in as much as we may not be slandered by those around us. In a world where the government seeks to force us all to have the same opinions, the same views of others, to force us to have a fabricated morality, we must be willing to submit ourselves to these human institutions for the sake of the Lord. But there is more to it than that.
We must love all of humanity, and seek only to please God, not men. While this letter is written within the context of an empire ruled by a tyrant of an emperor, it is still applicable today. However, we now live within a republic, where the people are supposed to be in control of the government. The human institution is designed to be obedient to the people’s wishes. If we are to submit ourselves to the human institution that was intended by our founders, we would be actively seeking to bring it to fruition. At present, the efforts of our government are outside of the restrictions placed upon it by the human institution that is supposed to be regulating it. This presents us with the need to understand that we have a place and a responsibility to actively seek to bring the government back into the control of the human institution we are to be submitting ourselves to.
If the humans that comprise the governmental entity formed by our Constitution were obeying this Biblical guidance, they would be keeping their power and authority within the restrictions set by the Constitution (the human institution). However, we do not see that happening today. So, what does this call us to do? We are to honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Within the context of the rest of the Bible, this suggests that we are to hold our representatives to account to this same principle. If they fail to uphold themselves to the human institution we created, then we are to cast them out. Fortunately, our founders established a means for us to do so peaceably, as they were guided by Biblical principles in their formation of our republic. We must be active in human institutions, and make every effort to ensure that as bond-servants of God, we may live as free men wherever we may be. While there are some who believe this passage is contrary to the cause for freedom, they are wrong. It is a call to be free men, obedient to God, choosing to submit to the human institutions we form not through force, but through the free choice we have in Christ. In context of our current predicament, it is a call to ensure the freedom of all humanity. Perhaps going further on this subject will be for another series…