Live as free people – live as God’s slaves.
Peter has intended this letter of 1 Peter to travel abroad to all Christians scattered across what is modern Turkey (then Asia Minor). He explains to all who come to Christ in faith that they are the people of God! They must not find their identity in the passing things of this world but on the truth that gives eternal life. Christians are born again into a family where God is their Father who has given Jesus as the sacrifice for their sins. The truth to live by is that Christians are given and eternal hope and destiny that will never perish or fade.
He has already warned his readers to not gloat over their position but to live out their time in this world as strangers – not identifying primarily as a citizen of this world – and in reverent fear of a Father who judges justly. We are to be holy as God our Father is holy. We are to rid ourselves of all kinds of evil. And now, Peter continues his exhortation on what type of people God’s people ought to be.
- 13-17 As free people – live in rightful respect and submission
- 18-20 Respond to your boss as God’s slave
- 21-25 Follow Christ’s lead in this.
13-17 As free people – live in rightful respect and submission
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake” The word ‘submission’ seems like an anti-equality phrase in our present age. But the word really refers to identifying ones role in a relationship. Those in authority really have a responsibility of care for those they have authority over. Those willing to submit ought to recognise the purpose and reason for others to be in the position of authority. All things being equal, those submitting ought to enjoy that role and those in authority ought to govern with great care and love.
In Peter’s context, he refers to citizens of this world submitting to their governments. In verses 18-25, he will stand by his command to submit, even to governments who mistreat their people.
He does not mention wives here but he will in the next section and the bible elsewhere does teach wives to submit to husbands (Ephesians 5). So, briefly, wives are instructed to choose to submit to their husbands who are instructed to love their wives sacrificially. This is a beautiful relationship. Never are husbands instructed to demand submission. Never is submission a forced position. Always, husbands are to lay down their lives for their wives. Even here, in 1 Peter 2:13, Christians are taught to submit themselves to human authority.
Tricky examples will always be brought up where authorities ask people to do or comply with immoral laws. A broader study of the bible is required to examine each ethical dilemma on this. But here, as a general rule, Christians are advised to wilfully submit to authorities. A good guide on tricky issues is to start with what is instructed and err toward compliance. Where immorality or force is present, then love of God and neighbour will help find a solution.
“…to every human authority…who are sent by [the Lord]” This phrase teaches us that all authorities are put in place by the sovereign hand of God. We are not to distinguish some who are placed there by God and those who are not and therefore not to be submitted to. Even harsh governments are in place because the Lord wills it. Their evil deeds are not committed at God’s command but they are allowed to do evil and even their actions will bring about God’s will. But Peter gives an optimistic view of government and shows that human authorities act as tools of God for maintaining peace and order in this fallen world. Judgement and reward are common tools in every society for keeping peace and order. Surely this is a small clue that humans all come from the common mind of God – we bear his image – even though it is a fallen and damaged mirror!
“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” Is this passive aggression (lol)? Quarrelling and strife is not the way that God desires his scattered people to win over this world. In society, we are to be good. Pay tax. All of it. Drive safely. Show respect and honour to the police. Don’t sledge the government. Keep your property tidy. Dispose of rubbish properly.
But what is the ignorant talk of foolish people? Peter used the word ‘ignorance’ earlier when he refers to those who have not come to Christ – even Christians once lived in ignorance. They do not recognise a God who is sovereign over all! A just judge! A mighty saviour! These truths will change the way that we think of the society we live in. We don’t need to fight over silly disputes which the world will demand to win – since we live as those who have the hope of eternal life! When we seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6), we don’t fight tooth and nail to get what we probably even deserve in this life. Let those still living in ignorance worry about silly things. Let’s obey God by doing good. See 1 Corinthians 9:19.
“Live as free people…but…live as God’s slaves.” We are not bound to the things of this world. Free yourself of all the fighting and ambition and lust and sinful cravings of this world – but beware that you are bound to one authority and that is God. He is our Master. ‘As a cover-up for evil’ is an interesting phrase which is expanded on in verse 17. Christians may find their minds settled on God as their authority and that they no longer belong to this world and so therefore are free BUT we must still show respect, love and honour to people both inside the church as well as outside. Do not let your Christian identity disrespect the authorities that God has put in place for the benefit of the world.
18-20 Respond to your boss as God’s slave
“Slaves” Peter gives specific advice to one category of people: slaves. This word can also be translated ‘servants’ and must be understood in its historic context. True, slavery is not condemned in the bible. In fact, we are to regard ourselves as slaves to God! But this is not the same as the barbaric slave trading era with regards to African-Americans. Servants worked for their employer to serve as their boss instructed them to. The master was in a financial position to employ servants and the servant was living through their means of serving a master. We make ourselves ‘slaves’ when we agree to work for an employer. It is a choice but we agree to work under them in return for pay. Now, slavery in the bible is not exalted as a neutral life decision – it is always better to be a free person! See Leviticus 25:39-46; Numbers 16:14.
“…in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters.” The point here is whom you are to respond in fear to. Do not act out of fear of your earthly master but be motivated by your reverent fear of God (1 Peter 1:17). Christians are free from all human boundaries and yet we are motivated to live good lives amongst the pagans because of our fear of our true Master – God the Father.
“…not only to those who are good and considerate…” The principal here is that Christians are not rebels or anti-authoritarian. In general, we are to practice submission even when things don’t seem fair. However, if we are able to be released from authority, we should seek it (1 Corinthians 7:21).
“For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering…” This is self-explanatory however I need to put in writing that nobody is required to remain in a position of unjust suffering if they are able to gain their freedom. This applies to both slavery and domestic violence.
The principle Peter is laying out in this passage is an awareness of our eternal freedom from this world while persevering under both good and bad authority – conscious of God in every circumstances. God has not given us new birth in order to play the rebel in this world. We will be doing God’s will when we submit to authority regardless of its quality. Peter goes on from verse 21 to remind us of how Christ demonstrated this principle.
21-25 Follow Christ’s lead in this.
“…Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” When Christ suffered, not only on the cross, but in becoming human, he certainly did leave us an example to follow. Some Christians believe and teach that this is all Christ did for us – give us an example to follow and that following him we show ourselves to be Christian. This is only part of the truth though. We only need to read a few more verses to see more of the picture: he bore our sins in his body on the cross. Let us not escape the lesson though, that Christ is our example through suffering. He did not demand his rights! Peter goes on to remind us of what Jesus did.
“He committed no sin…he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Verses 22 and 23 are a profound rebuke to all of us who desire justice here and now. Whenever anything unfair happens, who of us gets angry, bitter and resentful? Jesus did not retaliate. Jesus did not make threats. What did he do? He entrusted himself to the One who always judges justly. Our motivation is not only to follow the example of Jesus but also to understand his rationale: God the Father is the just Judge who will not allow anyone to get away with evil. We don’t need to grasp for justice now because justice has already been promised for us. Our mission in this world is not to ensure justice is served here and now, but to plead with people to be reconciled to God for their sin before they must face him and be judged (Hebrews 9:27).
“…you were like sheep…but now you have returned…” Again, Peter contrasts the prior way of life of all before coming to Christ. Like sheep going astray, the people of this world seek vengeance and retribution – that is their ignorance speaking. But we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. Leave the future to him. It is His body that has bore our sins. It was his wounds which healed us. We did not achieve this and no amount of fighting in this world will improve our already excellent standing before God! Let him also be the judge of this world. By grace we are made righteous and by grace we are freed from the daily insults, deceit and injustice of this world.
“Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” As a shepherd takes care of his sheep, so too, and overseer ‘over sees’ those he is in charge of. God has shown how sacrificial he is to keep our souls protected. He gave his own life and suffered so that our souls would be sin-free, righteous and healed.
Some more observations:
Notice the reasons given for all of Peter’s instructions: “For the Lord’s sake” (v12); “For it is God’s will” (v15); “as God’s salves” (v16); “fear God” (v17); “in reverent fear of God” (v18); “because they are conscious of God” (v19); “this is commendable before God” (v20); “you were called” (v21).
Notice also the free choice of responding to God’s call as well as our free choice to submit to authorities. In both senses, we have freedom! It is our freedom to choose life and come to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.
In Christ we have been adopted into the family of God and so free from the impact of this passing world. God calls us, however, to live conscious of Him, the righteous judge, the redeemer of souls, and the perfect example of a Master. Let us live in peace with earthly authorities because we answer ultimately to our Lord, our Shepherd and protector.
- Topic A – Who has authority over you in at this present stage? List them all, from the Queen down, and discuss how you go at submitting to them as Peter has instructed.
- Topic B – Responding to injustice. You or your group may have some stories to share of injustice in this world. If you are able to share them with objective restraint, can you discuss how Peter is teaching us to respond as people of God? What would happen if you took up Peter’s challenge?
- Topic C – Conscious of God. Ignorance or short-sightedness will influence our responses to people and events in this world. We are likely to fight for justice, to deceive ourselves or others about who or what is right and true, and to create unjust situations so that we come out on top. But when we live conscious of God, his just judgement, his sacrifice for sin and his invitation to be his children, our responses in this world ought to be affected tremendously. We are much more likely to live good lives to silence the ignorant talk of foolish people because we are not seeking our own ‘cred’ or justice but leaving it to God. Discuss.
Prayer of the Week
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever. Psalm 23