Christian Submission

When I started studying for this lesson, my first thought was, “ooh, I’m not going to like this one.” Then it was sort of a frustration, like God is picking on me and giving me a lesson that probes specifically at my weakness. Of course, it also brings a smile; I know that God is working on me. It’s always a good thing when you realize when God is at work, even when it’s a bit uncomfortable.

Today we learn about submission, whether you want to or not. Do you hear me? “It’s a free country! You can’t tell me what to do! You’re not the boss of me!” When I hear the word submission, my first reaction isn’t good. I don’t like other people telling me what to do. So before we get in too deep into the book of Peter, let’s define what we mean by submission. What do you think it means?

Submission is Opposite of submission Too much submission is
Acceptance Arrogance Wimpy
Willing Resistance Cowardly
Humble Pride Spinelessness
Respect Conceit Slavery

The Greek word used here in the book of Peter is “hupotasso” and is a military term meaning “to arrange in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” When used non-militarily, it meant “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” What is your normal reaction to yielding to somebody else’s authority?

In America, we value our freedom. Nobody tells me what to do. It’s a free country. And freedom is a good thing, of course, but used improperly, total freedom can be destructive. Teens that want total freedom from their parents rebel against rules and can wreck their lives. Husbands and wives can alienate each other by pursuing self-fulfillment. Workers lose jobs because they don’t like the idea of obeying the boss or being told what to do. Many people nearing retirement are looking at meager years because they spent their money in search of freedom in their younger years.

Freedom can be misused to the point of harming ourselves or harming others. God’s plan is that as Christians, we are to lead lives of submission in service to one another. Our submission first is to God and to God’s Word. But when we think about submission, it can make use feel uncomfortable because we are voluntarily surrendering authority to somebody else. We’re agreeing to let somebody else tell us what to do. I think part of that reason is we’re afraid to surrender, to give up control of our lives, but that’s exactly what Christ calls us to do when we follow him.

Does submission mean we become second class citizens? Not at all; the bible is clear that whoever would be first will be last; whoever would be last will be first. Submission is far more challenging than anger or rebellion or arrogance. The natural reaction is to rebel; the Christ-like example is to serve. Rebelling is simply reaction; submitting is a conscious decision not to rebel. We are called not to be a slave to sin, not to be a slave to our rebellious nature.

Our scripture today is 1 Peter 2:13-25. It’s only 12 sentences long, but they’re powerful sentences, so we’re going to step through them one at a time.

Peter is living as a subject of the Roman Empire. The Romans at this time were not especially kind to Christians; Christians who confessed Christ as their Lord were often punished or killed for treason for not obeying the Roman Emperor. The Romans were suspicious of early Christians, suspecting them of insurrection and planning to overthrow the empire. So in a brutal repressive society, how do you reconcile that with the Christian teachings of freedom in Christ? Did this freedom allow rebellion? What about slaves who worked for cruel masters? What about Christian wives who were married to harsh, unbelieving husbands? Peter points to the Lord Jesus Christ to see how we are to live.

Let’s start with verse 13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” I told you I wasn’t going to like this. Studying this week as focused my attention on my rebellion and how I rebel in a hundred little ways, my natural tendency toward passive aggressiveness. Here are ten simple words that we all might want to rebel against, but what does Peter call us to do? Submit ourselves. Why? “For the Lord’s sake.” Not because those in authority can crush us, but because it is the Lord’s will (and we’ll get to more of this in a moment). To who do we submit ourselves? To every human authority. The context here is that of governmental authority, that God calls us to voluntarily and cheerfully submit to legal authorities. We are to obey the law and to be good citizens. And we do this, not because the government is a huge bureaucracy that can throw us into jail, but because we are to be obedient to Christ.

Let’s continue with the rest of verse 13 and 14, “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.” It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the President of the United States, or the local policeman, we are called to submit to every human institution, and we obey the state and the laws out of our obedience to Christ.

The Roman emperor at this time was Nero; Nero was capable of rewarding obedient citizens and punishing rebels. Even though Nero was a pagan emperor, Christians were still called to be good citizens. God creates governments to accomplish His will, whether that government is aware of it or not. Government over us keeps us out of anarchy. In Romans 13:1-7, Paul tells us:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Peter is teaching us to submit to the government because the government is teaching us right from wrong. Submission to authority, cheerfully and willingly. Being good subjects of the Roman Empire. That doesn’t mean we can’t use legal, peaceful means of bringing change in our government. Certainly as good Christian witnessed we should seek to change those government laws that violate God’s laws; our Christian duty is to be agents of change in this world, but we are to do it within the framework of existing governmental laws.

Are there any exceptions to this rule? Absolutely. We must be careful to set aside our personal desires and goals; those goals are subject to government. But God’s goals supercedes those of government. Peter, who wrote our scripture today, was faced with this exact circumstance in Acts 4:18-20. The Jewish leaders were disturbed that Peter and John were spreading the message of Christ and ordered them to stop, but Peter chose to obey God instead of man:

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

So we are called to follow authority and show respect, but not at the expense of following God’s will.

A moment ago in Romans we learned that a government agent is an angel of wrath, to enforce right and wrong. When we submit to authority, Peter tells us in verse 15 why God wants us to do this. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” When we’re argumentative and rebellious, we are poor examples of Christ. The Romans distrusted the Christians because they openly declared Jesus as their Lord. Jesus was their king, a king that was crucified on the charge of rebellion against Caesar. Word about town is that those Christians are dangerous; they’re planning to overthrow the government. In order to silence rumors and ignorant talk, Christians are to lead a law-abiding life of respect to the government.

Verse 16, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” Jesus came to set His followers free, but this is not a freedom to do evil. In order to be free of sin, we voluntarily become slaves of God. Using our freedom to conceal evil actions is hypocritical. The world only grudgingly gives respect to Christians, and quickly condemns us when our hypocrisy shows. Expressing our freedom from sin means we obey every legal authority and not our own selfish, rebellious heart. We are to lead holy lives, set apart lives, and law abiding lives.

Verse 17, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” I find these distinctions interesting. We are to show “proper” respect to everyone, but that proper respect isn’t equal. We show respect to everyone – after all, everyone is created in God’s image.

To our brotherhood of believers, though, we show more than respect. We show love, the same kind of love Christ showed for us. The word used is “agapao” or agape love, and it means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly, to be well pleased, to be content with. Christ showed agape love to us to model, and we are to show this agape love to our brothers and sisters. Submission in the church, submission within this bible class leads to the purest kind of love, where we are genuinely concerned about each other and set aside our own vain attitudes. We are not in competition with each other about who can be the best Christian. Or the worst Christian, for that matter.

And to God, we show fear – not scared fear, but reverence and worship. The word used here is “phobeo” – our God created the heavens and the earth and if He so wished He could smite us so hard we’d be smitten. We are thankful for the grace He shows us through Jesus that we don’t get the punishment we deserve; Jesus has already taken our place.

We are to show honor to the king and to people in authority. The word “timao” is used here; it means to estimate or to set a value, to respect and honor. Note that it says we are to fear the Lord but give honor to the king. Jesus made the same distinction in Matthew 22:21 when the Pharisees asked Him if it was right to pay taxes. Jesus replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” We give our authorities respect and obedience, but to God we give reverence and worship.

Next, in verse 18, Peter addresses a particularly difficult subject, slavery. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” Where’s that freedom Christ promised? Many early believers were slaves. Educated slaves, sometimes, but still slaves. They served as teachers, doctors, administrators, musicians, craftsmen. Over the centuries, Christian influence about our equal worth as God’s children eventually led to the abolition of slavery, but opposition to the slavery during the time of the Roman Empire would be seen as an insurrection and would certainly bring the wrath of Rome, crushing the early Christian movement.

Peter’s not justifying slavery here in any circumstances; but if a Christian is in slavery, the Christian is to submit, to obey their master. I think we have an innate repulsion to this idea, that slavery is wrong and we should oppose it. And while that is true, slavery shows us an extreme example of how we are to behave as Christians. We are to submit and show respect. Not grudgingly and with an attitude, but respectfully and willingly. And while there are no Christian slaves today, we can extend this instruction to our workplace, to our bosses who are in authority over us. We are to obey our bosses, be a good example of Christ within us. The natural tendency of the unsaved person is to gripe, to badmouth, to fight back. As a spirit-filled Christian, we learn to submit and let God fight our battles for us.

Verse 19 tells us suffering in slavery or suffering in our job in obedience to Christ brings favor with God. “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” The word is “charis” and can be translated commendable, finds favor, a reward, good will, but also means grace. As a slave to God, we submit unconditionally, we love unconditionally, we obey unconditionally. How can we do otherwise? How can we set rules for when and how God shows us grace? We can’t of course; as we learn to submit unconditionally, we learn how God’s grace is provided to us. Jesus submitted unconditionally; through His submission, God brought salvation to all humanity. Jesus certainly had the power to resist, to punish the men responsible, but instead Jesus submitted to authority and at the same time showed us how to forgive those who oppress us.

Verse 20 also gives us another reason to submit. “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” If we do wrong and we’re punished, well, we deserve it. If I go out to the parking lot and spray paint a bunch of cars and get caught, will anybody respect me for the way I bravely take my punishment? No, they will say I deserved it. But if I am innocent and I’m punished, by freely submitting to those in authority, God will find favor in me. If we spend all day at work surfing ESPN for the latest basketball scores and our boss comes in and gives us a dressing-down, well, we deserved it. But if we are innocent in these things and our boss treats us harshly, we are to endure it patiently. We show respect because this brings glory to God. This is a true test of our faith. Being a good example when things are going well is easy. God’s not impressed. Being a good example when under stress or persecution – God will find favor in us.

We are called to do this as Christians. Verse 21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” Christ suffered unjustly for us. When we think about our suffering, think about the suffering of Jesus. The Romans punished Jesus, flogged Him, and crucified Him to die a slow death on the cross. What did Jesus do to deserve it? When our boss tells us to work late, compare that to the suffering of Jesus. Why do we grumble over minor afflictions when Jesus submitted willingly to crucifixion? Think about your job for a second. Think about those things that irritate you the most. Coworkers? Bosses? Clients? Customers? That’s your suffering. Compare it to the suffering of Jesus. Who suffered more? Who complains more? Yet verse 21 tells us to follow in His steps. Here’s how Jesus set an example for us when He suffered –

Verse 22, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” Jesus suffered and died without a grumble, without a complaint and without a sin. Because Jesus was innocent, He can take the blame for us. If Jesus was a sinner, the punishment He received would be His own. But Jesus is sinless and can offer to take our punishment for us. Because He can do that, He is our savior. When we suffer, when we are punished unjustly, Jesus is also our role model, our example. No deceit in our mouth, we hold our tongue and do not condemn.

Verse 23, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” As the son of God, Jesus could threaten to destroy His oppressors. He could have said, “I’ll get you my pretty… and your little dog, too.” Instead, Jesus left us an example – he committed himself to trusting God to judge. Jesus showed us that a person can be in the will of God, be loved by God, and still suffer unfairly. Don’t fall for that “feel good” brand of Christianity that says trust in God and you will never suffer. It’s not biblical; it doesn’t reflect the life that Jesus gave for us. Instead, unjust suffering – at work, at home, in pain or poor health, in loss of a loved one – unjust suffering gives us an opportunity to showcase the Holy Spirit within us. No threats, no insults, no retaliation, no harsh words. We trust God will right all wrongs at the Day of Judgment. By the time Peter wrote this book, Peter had been preaching the gospel for 30 years and the Holy Spirit has made him into a true man of God – where once Peter took up a sword to defend Jesus, now Peter preaches submission to authorities. This is how we lead as Christians; we lead by submission.

The last two verses, Peter reminds us why Jesus is our example. It’s because Jesus is more than just an example. Jesus is the savior we all need. In verse 24, Peter reminds us what Jesus did for us and why Jesus could no what none of us can. Jesus is more than “just a good man.” “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Jesus did not die as a martyr; Jesus died as a savior. He took the punishment for the sins we commit. Christ was wounded so we might be healed. Christ died so that we might live. Our sinful lives died with the crucifixion of Christ; we are no longer slaves to sin, but willing and righteous slaves to God. One day we will have glorified bodies, but right now, even some of God’s most favored servants suffer physically. By the wounds of Jesus, we will be healed of this physical suffering.

And in verse 25, Peter says, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Every lost sinner is ignorant, lost, foolish, wandering, in danger, and unable to help ourselves. We have wandered into the wilderness without a Shepherd to protect us. Before we accept Christ, we have a mistaken belief that we can save ourselves, that we are all we need, yet we spend our entire lives trying to figure out why that hole in our soul won’t fill up with toys, entertainment, knowledge, service. It’s only when we recognize that we cannot do it on our own and accept Jesus that we truly begin to live in Him. Jesus is our good shepherd; Jesus watches over us and protects us, and nobody can snatch us out of His all-powerful, ever-loving arms.

After studying for this lesson this week, I’m convicted of some growth in Christ that I have to do. Not to gripe about what minor hardships I have at my job, but to respect my boss. And while I will continue to speak out against what I believe is bad legislation that goes against the will of God, I will remember that God expects me to submit to governmental authorities and to obey the rules willingly, respectfully, and without complaint. And to show love to my brothers and sisters, respect and honor to those who fulfill God’s plan of government that keeps us out of anarchy, and to remember the example Christ set for us as one who suffered unjustly.

April 15th is approaching. So who’s going to cheat on their taxes this year?

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3 thoughts on “Christian Submission

  1. many great Bible Study posts where we are dealing with Scripture and what it means. First the Evangelical Ecologist looks at an issue that came up in Bible Study with his son in Death of the Firstborn Camel. Then Chasing the Wind looks at I Peter with Christian Submission. God’s plan is that as Christians, we are to lead lives of submission in service to one another. Our submission first is to God and to God’s Word. But when we think about submission to others, it can make use feel uncomfortable because we are

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