I’m currently studying the book of 1 Peter with a lovely group of women. The book itself is written by one of Jesus’ closest disciples – Peter, whom Jesus refers to as the rock on which he would build his church. Peter was there to witness Jesus’ ministry first hand, and had great authority when he wrote because he was so close to Jesus himself.
Peter wrote the book of first Peter around A.D. 64 which is a time totally different from today. A lot of the verses in 1 Peter seem counter-cultural to today’s society, and yet the more you study the background and reason for them, the more that they seem beneficial, even now.
That is, until you find something that absolutely makes you uncomfortable.
“Respecting People in Authority
For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.
It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.” – 1 Peter 2:13-17, NLT
Submit to all human authority? Even the King or Head of State? Those are the officials God has appointed, wait – what?!
Rewind almost 2000 years to when Peter wrote these words. Times were a lot different then they are now. First of all, who were these words written for? Peter addressed this letter to the Christian believers who were living in the Roman Provinces of Asia Minor (which is the Northern part of Modern Turkey.) Biblical scholars believe that the intended audience was Christian Gentiles, so in other words non-Jewish people who had given themselves to Christ.
These people faced serious persecution, often dying excruciatingly painful deaths at the hands of their government for their belief in Christ. The Roman Emperor at the time was Nero. Remember the words Peter wrote above, as you learn some facts about Nero:
Nero was adopted by his biological Uncle, who was the Emperor of Rome, and as such he inherited his position as Emperor in A.D. 54 until his own death in A.D. 68. Five years into his reign, he had his own mother murdered. It is alleged that he also murdered his first and second wives too. Many ancient scholars believe that Nero started the great fire in Rome in A.D. 64 (right around the time 1 Peter was written) so that he could rebuild Rome as he wanted it to be. In order to stop the rumour that he had started the fire himself, Nero blamed the Christian community and so began intense persecution leading to the deaths of Christians in many merciless ways including being thrown to wild dogs to be eaten alive, being tarred and burned alive as human torches during the night and many other despicable ways.
When you compare Nero to modern day leaders, suddenly they don’t seem so bad, eh? Justin Trudeau wearing the emoji-last supper sweater and Donald Trump claiming to be Christian suddenly pale in comparison! It doesn’t make the actions of modern day leaders right, but it sure does help us to recognize that we have a lot less to worry about under their watch then Peter did while he wrote those words while living under Nero’s leadership.
So how on earth could Peter write those words when he faced such intensely frightening persecution and a leader who didn’t even remotely have Peter’s best interest in mind?
Just prior to these verses, Peter reminds us that we are temporary residents in this world. Peter walked very closely with Jesus during Jesus’ ministry years. He was one of the three disciples who Jesus really brought into his inner circle. Peter had a true appreciation for the temporary life that we have on earth. He was able to keep his eyes focused on the bigger picture: eternity.
Peter’s entire goal in his writing was to remind us to submit ourselves for the sake of the Lord. When we walk in obedience with scripture, we are trusting that God knows better than we do. We are showing that we hold honour to God and His way even when society thinks we are nuts. We are learning to control ourselves and our own tendencies in faith that God does indeed know what’s best for us!
Submission seems to equal weakness in society’s view, but I would argue it is the exact opposite. It takes true strength to submit!
It takes true strength and faith to submit to a leader when you believe in your own self! When you think that you know what is best for you, that you know how to overcome or do what needs to be done. Learning to submit is a process of really demonstrating true faith to God. Its literally giving Him permission to take the driver’s seat of your life, and that is not easy at all.
I compare it to our call to forgive others. Learning to forgive, to actually truly forgive, enough that I was able to pray for my enemies and literally make an active decision each day to forgive was not easy! Its easy to harbour hate and anger, but I know that God’s plan for forgiveness is for my own benefit because it allows me to stop allowing those who have hurt me to live rent-free in my head, stealing my joy. In trusting God, and letting Him be the ultimate judge, I was able to forgive completely and now my life is not rooted in anger, but rather in God’s joy and peace that passes all understanding.
So, now I have to learn that submission to my leadership in government is what’s best for me too. Even though I didn’t vote for that particular party. Even though I don’t agree with what that particular politician is doing or saying. Even though I don’t agree with some of the laws and bills being brought into place. Even though, even though, even though…
Submitting to my leaders isn’t accepting defeat. It is not laying over and letting our leaders walk all over us. It is not allowing anyone to take our fundamental rights away. It is not ignoring my right to vote, or partake in a democratic society. Our submission does not mean that we change our conscience because even with submitting to leaders, we submit to God first and foremost.
So what does submitting to leadership actually look like? It looks like living a life that God called us too. How can we submit to our leaders in today’s culture?
God calls us to pray for our enemies. If you disagree with your political leaders, pray for them! Allow God to change your heart so that it is not filled with anger and hatred for the choices your governing body is making. Allow God room to give you His grace so that you may see your politicians as human, capable of error just like yourself.
If you don’t agree with policies, laws, legislations, bills or even just the current word usage of politicians, take proactive steps to help. This doesn’t mean heckling, or threatening. It doesn’t mean calling them names that would have warranted your mother threatening to bring out the soap. It means being professional and explaining your position perhaps through written word, or even by reaching out to your local representative respectfully and maybe even vulnerably.
If you feel certain issues need to be dealt with, or aren’t being addressed adequately than educate those with like minds. Help them to know how to take a stand respectfully, instead of simply sharing an article on Facebook declaring the idiocy of our politicians. Spend time fact checking things before you share them, so as to share truths and not slander.
Take time to consider that we will some day answer for our own behaviour. Can you imagine trying to justify the word choices you have used for your leaders to God someday? Regardless of how far apart you are in beliefs with your leaders, they are still children of the Lord in His eyes, whether they are serving Him or not.
My words are not coming with judgement, but rather with personal application. I tend to be like most – angry and disrespectful – when I see a political leader make a decision I disagree with. Now that I have studied and reflected on these verses in depth, I need to put them into application and practice what I preach. For me, this means actively praying for my political leaders. First, for their salvation if it is not yet there, but also for them as individuals. When I began to pray for the strength to forgive my enemies, it didn’t necessarily change my enemies, but it did change me!
So, now I will pray for the same thing to happen regarding my political leaders. I will pray that God will equip me with the strength that I need as a person entitled to free-speech in the 21st century, to submit to my authority figures. I will pray that God will show me how to obey Him first, and how to show respect when my governing body defies the Word of God so that I may defend my rights as a Christian adequately and responsibly.
I will celebrate the victory that the leaders of today can not light me on fire as a human torch for believing what I do. I will take the time to consider that the leaders I may disagree with are there for a reason, with a purpose even if I can’t understand it. I will submit understanding that my God always has my best interest in mind. I will consider the Non-Christian world as they watch me and how I speak about politicians, leadership and authority.
If all of us as Christians dutifully submitted to our leadership and held them up in prayer instead of hate filled comments and Facebook fuelled debates – what could happen? Jesus said mountains could be moved if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, so what could be done if our entire body of Christ prayed dutifully or our leaders?
Ultimately, God establishes all authority. He is sovereign and in control. Our submission ultimately shows our trust in Him, not in our politicians. Our submission does not make us doormats, but rather it makes us respectful and honourable so that we may demonstrate God’s calling on our lives. Our submission allows us to stand out from the crowd, and speak with an ease that other groups may not show. Our submission allows us to not resent the rules and regulations that are designed to keep us safe from chaos and sometimes even danger.
Most importantly, our submission shows honour for the Word of God, and truly that should be our ultimate goal.