Practice Christian Submission

Explore the Bible Series

March 25, 2007

 

Background Passage: I Peter 2:13-25

Lesson Passage: I Peter 2:13-25

 

Introduction: As we observed in the previous lesson, I Peter 2:11-12 serves as a transition from the preceding section to the paragraph for our study this week.  The current lesson builds on the analogies we studied last week.  Indeed, this week’s material centers on the command in the first phrase of the paragraph, “Therefore, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” Having, therefore, laid aside the filthy garments of he world, Christians must behave in certain ways.  This conduct, of course, relates to every area of life, including the various cultural institutions that every human encounters: the government, employer/employee dynamics, and family relations (as we shall study next week).

 

Every generation of Christians struggles with the issue of its relationship to human institutions.  Some, like many of the Anabaptist groups, have refused to allow government officials to join their churches or for church members to swear alliance to their country. Others, such as the Seventeenth-Century Puritans, engaged deeply in the social order.  Contemporary evangelicals seem torn between political activism and social separatism.   Governments often do not serve the cause of righteous very well, and believers must determine how to relate to secular authorities.  The issues of war, public education, and questionable legal precedent (as well as host of other concerns) may cause a great deal of confusion and conscience searching.  The author of this lesson outline claims no great wisdom in these complex matters, but our text gives helpful guidelines for godly conduct in regard to compliance with human institutions.

 

Personal note: I have given a great deal of thought, in recent years, to the very issues addressed in this lesson.  Surely we would all agree that Christians must strike a wise, careful balance in these matters.  Several important thinkers have written on the “marriage” between American evangelicalism and the Political Right, and, like them, I have some concerns about the wisdom of interweaving Christianity and the Republican Party (or the Democrats, for that matter).  Personally, I do not agree completely with people like Cal Thomas and Randall Balmer, but I think they give helpful insights into the dangers of identifying Christianity with any political agenda. We need the wisdom the Scriptures on this matter, and this text proves invaluable in thinking through these thorny issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   The Believer’s Relation to the State (2:13-17)

A.    a general principle stated, “Therefore, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” (v. 13): Peter began this paragraph with a general admonition that controls the rest of the text. The grammar and vocabulary of this verse seem unmistakable. Peter enjoined his readers to yield to various cultural institutions, and the text seems to demand universal obedience (note the word “all”).  The context defines these institutions as those established by legitimate civil governments.  This directive, of course, is not absolute because Peter observed that this submission occurs “…for the sake of the Lord.”

B.     Parameters of this obedience (vv. 13b-14): Peter identified the “king” as the object of this obedience. Of course, the Roman Empire did not have a king, as such, but Peter used this term to describe any supreme civil government leader.  Some might argue that believers only owe allegiance to good rulers, but we must recall that Nero governed Rome at this time, and Peter clearly understood the difficulties that attend governance by an ungodly ruler.  Then, the apostle expanded the application of his command to include secondary leaders like governors.  These rulers, according to peter, are appointed by God for the preservation of social order through the punishment of evildoers and the reward of the righteous.

C.     The aim of this obedience (vv. 15-16): Peter affirmed Christian liberty, but he placed certain boundaries on the expression of this freedom.  Verse Fifteen points out that the Christian’s submission will silence the foolish accusations of wicked.  In the First Century ungodly men charged believers with disloyalty to the empire.  The claim surfaced that Christians were not good citizens; rather, they posed a grave threat to the security Rome.  Clearly, Peter wanted his brothers and sisters to enjoy a sterling reputation among the ungodly, and one way to promote a good report centered on careful obedience to the civil authorities. This, Peter observed, was the will of God. 

D.    Four imperatives (v. 17):

1.      “honor all”: This imperative is striking.  The ancient Mediterranean world did not value certain segments of society: women, slaves, peasants etc.: nevertheless, Peter commanded his readers to treat all kinds of people with honor.

2.      “love the brotherhood”: In this phrase, Peter intensified his holy demands.  Christians must respect all people, but they must love their brothers and sisters in Christ.

3.      “fear God”: The apostle, this imperative, returned a theme he sounded in Chapter One: fear the Lord.  As we discovered in an earlier study, this fear involves a profound reverence for God.

4.      “honor the king”: Peter concluded his list of imperatives with a brief restatement of his central theme in this paragraph: honor the king.

II.                The Believer’s Work Relationships (2:18-25): This is a thorny section of the epistle.  For generations Christians wrestled with the Bible’s teaching on slavery, and passages like this swirled at the vortex of the disputes.  Frankly, this passage doesn’t address the validity of slavery at all; instead, it deals with the real-life, practical concerns of Christians who labored in the extensive slavery system of the Roman empire.  Over thirty percent of the Mediterranean population lived in servitude, and, of course, they faced unique hardships because of their social status as slaves.  What these people needed, therefore, was practical counsel to help them cope with those hardships.  Western Civilization has long sense settled the debate about one person owning another; so, what application does this text have for contemporary readers?  Well, the application is not universal, but some of these principles may prove helpful in employer/employee relations.

A.    Submit to masters, the just and the unjust (v. 18): At first reading, this counsel seems startling, but Peter, in the following verses, explained his reasons for this command.

B.     Reasons for submission to masters (v. 19-25)

1.      this submission is commendable before God (v. 19): Of course, the passage does not claim that suffering, in and of itself, has any intrinsic value; instead, suffering for the sake of conscience is a commendable thing. 

2.      patient endurance, in the face of suffering, is a commendable thing (v. 20): Longsuffering honors God and builds Christian character.

3.      suffering Christians follow the example of Christ (vv. 21-25): God has called his people to follow the pattern of Christ’s suffering, refusing to revile or threaten his oppressors. The believers suffering, needless to say, do not have the redemptive implications of Christ’s passions, but the Lord Jesus demonstrated his trust in the father by submitting to hardship according to the will of God. 

4.      Christ is guardian and shepherd for his people (v. 25): Once, the Lord’s people were a scattered, lost strays from the fold; now, wherever, Christ has gathered his sheep.  They enjoy, even in the face of grave danger, the protective care of the Good Sherherd.