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. (1 Peter 2:13-16; ESV)
Peter’s command is for the Christian to be in subjection to every human institution. It does not matter what that institution is, we are to yield to it. Peter goes even further to make sure that we understand that he means every human institution by adding, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors sent by the emperor. Whoever is in charge, that is who we are to yield to. We are to yield to any authority.
Christians seem to have been forgetting this charge. We are not called to be zealots who riot or picket against the government. We have seen one extreme in religion where people refuse to pay taxes because of their faith. We see people unwilling to state their allegiance to this country. But we are subject to the laws of this nation and we live in this nation. We are told to respect that and honor that. “Honor the emperor” is part of this instruction in verse 18. But we must watch that we are not at the other side of the coin. We think that everything about this country is what matters. So we become activists trying to overthrow various laws and systems. The point Peter is making is that Christians are to keep to themselves and obey the laws. We are to conduct ourselves honorably. I think we can see the damage that is done by those who refuse to obey these rules. The “religious right” has probably done more damage than good for the cause of Jesus. This radicalism is only another reason for the world to discredit God. We must be careful in our blending of politics with Christianity. While we certainly should use our freedom to advance the kingdom of God, we must be careful that we are not in the process hurting the influence of the kingdom of God. God’s will is that we do good, silencing the criticism by our good works, not discrediting God by our works.
Why do we submit to every human authority? We submit for the sake of the Lord. We are doing this for the cause of Christ. This is God’s will. We are only going to bring change for the kingdom by working to change the hearts of the individuals in this country. Trying to change laws will not fix the problem. Just as prohibition taught us that people will be immoral regardless of the government’s laws, we also learned that it is the changing of the people’s hearts that will really bring change. If we do not like the direction of our country, I do not believe the answer is to become more politically active and raise our voices in shouting about the government and its laws. We are to show subjection to the government and not look like religious extremists. If we do not like the direction of our country, I believe the answer is to become more evangelistic with the gospel. If we want to change things, then we need to change the hearts of the people.
Consider Jesus as our example. When he came to this world to establish his kingdom, how did he go about establishing it? Did he overthrow the Jewish government? Did he try to change Roman laws? No, Jesus submitted to the laws. Jesus established his kingdom by preaching the gospel to every person. One person at a time, the gospel spread from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth. That must be our focus – change the hearts one person at a time with the gospel, not through political zealotry.
Further, in verse 16 Peter tells us to live as people who are free. We are to be using our freedom to live as God’s servants. That is what we are to do with our freedom. We are not to use our freedom as a cover to commit evil. Just because our government is lax on laws does not give us authority to break God’s laws. Just because divorce and remarriage is okay by our government does not make it acceptable to God. Just because our government says abortion is okay does not mean we have the freedom to do. Yield to the government. Obey the laws of God. Do not use your freedom to commit evil. Live as exiles, knowing that the kingdom of God is what comes first.