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Weekly Word

Entries in Virtues (1)

Tuesday
Nov062012

The Virtue of Submission

Today we will be looking at 1 Peter 2:13-17.  In this section Peter goes on to instruct believers in the virtue of submission; especially in light of the previous point that we need to live honorably among unbelievers.  Now any virtue has its proper boundaries and priorities among other virtues.  Thus submission as a virtue is often rejected in the modern era because of evils done in its name.  Some Muslims will kill those who do not accept Islam out of submission to Allah.  There are Christians who have followed pastors into suicidal situations out of submission to the “man of God.”  Submission has also been used as a stick against women to endure physical and emotional abuse.  Thus for many it is a code word for unquestioning obedience.  When they hear the word they immediately shut down and reject whatever follows.

The meaning of submission is literally to take your proper place under an authority.  It is the opposite of rebellion.  With any virtue, it has its place and sometimes runs into conflict with other virtues.  Thus any virtue requires us to think.  We will do best when we think with the mind of Christ and according to the Scriptures because it will save us from the self-justification that is so prevalent with our own thinking.

Submit To Human Government

Because of the false accusations against Christians mentioned in verse 12, Peter goes on to teach believers to take their proper place under human government.  Some of these false accusations were that Christians believed that Jesus was king and were a rebel group against Rome.  There were other accusations as well, which is why Peter is telling them to live in such a way that those false claims will be counteracted.  Our representation of God and Jesus Christ calls for us to have an above board approach to how we live in this life.

Next he gives the scope of “every ordinance” or every human institution and at every level (King to governor).  Governments have laws and delegate authority out to different levels.  The king was the highest authority.  In light of other passages it is clear that "every" here does not exclude exceptions.  However it does apply to every kind of government humans design.  Within godly reason we are to submit to every human government that we find ourselves living under.  So our starting place is simply doing our part to cooperate with the government and obey its laws.

Peter mentions the legitimate function of governments and that is to restrain evil through punishment and encourage good through protection.  The Bible is clear that God allows governments to rise and at his timing causes them to fall.  Believers are to live with a baseline of submission to the human governments not out of agreement with all their actions, or belief that they are good.  Rather, to keep from giving the impression that God’s people are rebels.  God has not told us to take over the kingdoms of this world.  He has told us that he would do that and then hand the kingdom over to the saints.

In verse 16 Peter mentions that they should submit, but as free people.  What does he mean?  True submission should flow from freedom.  Submission is not about slavery.  If we turn it into slavery then we have prostituted what the virtue is meant to be.  Christians have been set free.  However, we are not set free to do evil.  Freedom must never be used to either openly pursue evil things, or secretly pursue them.  Thus believers freely choose to serve the interests of God rather than their own.  Is it not true that our actions sometimes have caused people to say that God is evil?  This is what Peter seeks to avoid.  God, who is the highest authority, asks us to serve these lower authorities as righteously as we can out of respect for how we represent him.

Perhaps it is time to deal with the obvious question, “Is there ever a time not to submit?”  The simple answer is yes.  However, our flesh can abuse the idea that there are exceptions.  When we look to the Bible there are two obvious exceptions that we should mention.  When Israel was in slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh had commanded the Hebrew midwives to kill any Hebrew boys who were born.  These women pretended like they were trying to do the job, but told Pharaoh that the Hebrew women kept having the babies before they could get there to help.  Here we see how virtues can conflict.  Submission is good but killing a baby regardless of its gender is worse.  Even the lie that they tell Pharaoh would be recognized as a lower priority.  This is not situational ethics.  Rather it is recognition that virtues have boundaries.  These ladies properly drew the boundary at taking the life of another or infanticide.  Another situation is found in the book of Acts with Peter and John.  They had been taken by the authorities and commanded to quit teaching and promoting Jesus.  They respond that it is better for them to obey God than men.  Here they have been given a direct command from Jesus.  Go into all the world and make disciples of Jesus.  They would have to disobey God in order to obey their “proper” human authorities.  Thus they refused to comply.  However, notice that they always submitted to the punishment.  Instead of stirring up a revolt against the Jewish leaders or Ceasar they stood and spoke firmly on Jesus and accepted whatever punishments they were given.  Thus submission requires us to think and have a clear understanding of what God wants from us.  It is not unquestioning obedience to human authorities.

Peter goes on in verse 17 to give a series of commands.  Honor all people.  Love fellow believers.  Fear God.  Honor the king.  Notice that honor begins the list and ends it.  Also that honor is directed towards “all people” and also “the king.”  Just because people are lost and do not know God does not mean that we are free to de-value them.  Honor basically means to value them.  We honor or value those in the world with two motivations.  Our actions can adversely affect our fellow Christians.  Love cautions us to not act in a way that would foolishly bring harm and hurt to our fellow brothers.  Thus we should be motivated by love.  However, we should also fear God.  God has often used evil governments or even evil people to chastise those whom he loves.  We are not above doing wrong and when we do God is not always going to use a Christian to rebuke you.  If we fear God then we will honor any authority that we are under knowing that we too need restrained from evil.  It is recognition that I am a sinner saved by the grace of God and that there is value even in fallen people and corrupted institutions.

Further Thoughts

Rebellion must never be romanticized.  There are some who are unable to take their place under any authority.  Their over-powering need to have no authority over them brings pain, suffering, and hurt to themselves and others.

Submission alone must never be the greatest priority.  In our own country men like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that we can properly refuse authorities for the right reasons.  They rejected violent methods often in the face of violent authorities.  By doing so they gave a clear public testimony that they were doing good.  Even in their “disobedience” they were submitted to the overall rule of law and authority.

Regardless what governance we live under we are to do our best to obey its laws without disobeying God.  We are in a better situation compared to many.  We have precious little excuse.

Lastly, we must beware self-justification.  Our justification must truly be from God himself.  We must operate with the mind of Christ and the direction of God’s Word.  Only then can we properly represent Him to this world.  Pick up your cross and follow Jesus!

Virtue of Submission Audio