13 ¶ Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. 18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. 25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
Christians are to be law-abiding and peaceful citizens of any country in which they live. We are not to be brigands and violent revolutionaries attempting to operate outside of lawful means to effect change. Of course there are two principles to keep in mind here. One, that civil government has a specific sanction from God, that is to punish evildoers, criminals. Government should be our collective to protect the common man and woman from predation by criminals. Paul made this point in Romans.
Romans 13:1 ¶ Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 ¶ Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
However, we must not obey government when it requires us to go against God.
Acts 5:26 ¶ Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, 28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. 29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
By doing the right thing we are not using our liberty as God’s people as a cloak for malicious and violent behavior. But as servants of God we can silence the foolish detractors who insist we are against social order and good sense. And by refusing to disobey God in this we are showing our trust in God’s hand in the affairs of man. Government, though, the civil magistrate, has no right to say anything about our duty to God or our expression of religious faith as long as we are not acting in a criminal manner. There is the balance in being a Christian and it is a fine line we walk in an increasingly oppressive atmosphere where government intrudes on every aspect of our lives, no matter how personal.
Unfortunately, many of the depredations made by government are our own fault. For instance, it would seem to be inconsistent to protest gay marriage when Christians gave government the right to define marriage in the first place by giving them the right to license it when Christianity was dominant in American life. A Christian marriage before God has nothing to do with the marriage in which you accept a license from the state nor should Christians even participate in that oppression by requesting a license.
Peter tells Christians to honor all men. Be polite and respectful. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Fear God, understanding that He is the source of all physical reality, even the stuff that is unpleasant as there is nothing that will happen that He doesn’t either directly cause or permit to happen. Honor your rulers, remembering that they were all pagan and possibly hostile to the faith when this was first written.
Servants, and we can extend this to employers today, are to be honored, and not just the good ones but the bad ones as well. You should be thankful that you can move from one job to another if the conditions are unbearable now and that employers are under specific regulations that protect you from the most egregious behavior. It was not so at the time this was written. A servant or a slave was not free to quit their job and go somewhere else, making these admonitions even more difficult.
There is a great deal of approval before God if you suffer for the evil of other people and not for your own, suffering patiently wrongs done to you due to the wickedness of a person in authority. God will avenge. We don’t like these statements because we are proud and don’t really trust God. Often, the Christian who wants the people under his authority to follow these commands will not follow them himself when applied to governmental authority. We say we are obedient to God and then deny that obedience in our speech and behavior when we refer to the government that is supposed to represent the people.
Our example is Christ. He did not sin and was not clever or deceitful in His speech. He did not revile when reviled, nor did He threaten when forced to suffer. He submitted to God the Father’s judgment for sins He Himself did not commit. He died for us so that we being dead to sin could live righteously. We have all strayed from God but it is not too late to return to the Shepherd and Bishop (what we call today a Pastor) of our souls, Jesus Christ.
Peter seems to be telling these Jewish Christians to repent and turn fully to Christ, following His example of suffering and humility avoiding sin, to live a life in Christ. This is very difficult for the proud American believer today in whose hands the church has become nothing more than a conservative or liberal social club with no spiritual power. We are proud, demanding our ‘rahts’ (rights), as the Laodicean church, lao-dicea, or the people judge or the people’s rights.