Resisting authority and finding it difficult to submit is as human as blinking. The Prophet Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). It’s human nature. However, without submission, there is no safety, no security, no protection—and, I would add, there is no harmony.
Let me explain. At a meeting of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Jack Lipton from Union College described to his colleagues a study of how members of a symphony orchestra perceived one another: “Responses had a strong tinge of general negativity, even in the musicians’ descriptions of their own sections … The brass section was described as loud, macho, aggressive and sexy, while the percussionists were described as unintelligent, fun, wild and crazy, and deaf. Woodwind players were described as quiet, meticulous, finicky and intelligent, while the strings were described as frustrated, stuffy, prima donna wimps.”
When you have a group of people with such different personalities and perceptions, how on earth are they going to make music? Only one way: submission. When they subordinate their feelings and their biases to the leadership of one conductor, there’s beautiful harmony among the members of the orchestra and beautiful music for the audience.
Honor in Harmony
In fact, that’s the purpose of submission: harmony through honor. You came to Christ because you recognized your need for Him, your need to surrender to His love and His will. And part of being redeemed by God means that you work to reconcile your relationships with others, to reflect Christ and to share Him with others. One way you do that is to follow Peter’s advice and “submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13).
In other words, you honor God as His earthly representative when you submit to authority and act as a stabilizer and reconciler in your society. That doesn’t mean this is easy to do, but God calls us to do it. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Peter augmented that thought when he reminded us that to submit “is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). In all you do, from driving to paying taxes to speaking of elected officials, you should honor God.
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You don’t have to like everything the government does. Americans have the right to dissent. But God is calling you to a higher cause—His glory—and that is unmistakably seen in your life when you obey and honor the government. Because you’re a believer, people are always looking at you to find the dirt, the reason why they shouldn’t trust in the God you say you believe in. Some of the best witnesses are those who are good citizens because often the way people will view God is by looking at God’s representatives. If you say, “I’m a Christian,” people shouldn’t have to ask, “What about those five traffic tickets in your front seat?” or “How come you’re going to court again over that issue?”
An apologist is a person who presents an argument that defends the Christian faith. One of the most effective ways to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to live a righteous life. The central message of the Gospel is redemption. God can redeem any life, and your life should be an example of that. That sounds straightforward, but check out what Peter said next. Submit yourself “as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice” (1 Peter 2:16). Wait a minute. You submit, but you’re free?
Most people think of freedom and submission as opposites: If you submit, you’re giving up your freedom. But actually, by submitting in order to honor God, you’re gaining a greater freedom. William Barclay said, “Christian freedom does not mean being free to do as we like; it means being free to do as we ought.” In restricting certain freedoms, you gain others. You have the freedom to live your life in the open before others, to let it be on display and let them scrutinize you because you have nothing to be ashamed of; whatever accusations they bring against you won’t stick.
Putting Harmony Into Practice
Peter summarized the practice of submission with four short, simple statements: “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). Together, they form a doctrine of submission.
Start by honoring all people. Every single human being deserves a certain amount of respect. Whether they hate you or your God or they practice a lifestyle that you disagree with, they’re still made in the image of God. Peter wrote this letter against the cultural backdrop of the first century, where a huge portion of Roman society was slaves, considered to be property. They had no rights, and women in general had hardly any. But Peter was saying that Christians aren’t to discriminate against others. Now, that doesn’t mean we are to mindlessly tolerate any behavior that is aberrant and unscriptural and sinful. But every single person deserves to be honored because we are all made in the image of God.
That includes those in the church. When Peter said, “Love the brotherhood,” he meant us. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). We all know that statement, but do we think about what it means? Essentially, Jesus was giving the outside world permission to judge us, to look at our lives and see if the Gospel of love that we preach really works among us.
So, how is loving one another going to silence them as they accuse us? It’s simple, actually. Growing up, I had good parents. They stayed together, and they loved us boys, but we had some difficult times in our family. In some of those really difficult seasons, whenever I was invited over to eat or hang out with families that were stable and filled with love and grace and acceptance, I just wanted to live there. I didn’t want to go home. I thought, I want to be a part of this family. A church should be a family of love so compelling that when people visit, they think, I want to be in that family.
Peter’s third practice was to fear God. He didn’t mean a “Cowardly Lion” kind of fear, as seen in the film Wizard of Oz. No, Peter meant a reverential respect and awe of God that culminates in submissive obedience to the will of God. And part of submitting to His will is obeying intermediate authority. When we honor God and seek harmony with Him and others, that shows we have the fear of God.
The fourth admonition brings Peter’s point full circle. He began by saying to submit to human authority—which involves a responsive action—and ended by saying, “Honor the king,” which requires a right attitude. There’s a difference between obedience and honor.
You can disagree with your governing authorities and dislike them, but whether it’s your president or your governor or the police force, they are to be prayed for and respected. God has allowed them to be in that place of authority, and to honor them is to honor God.
Honoring God becomes a habit that leads to harmony—first with Him, and then with others inside and outside His church. You’ll find that hate cannot well up in the heart that prays a prayer of honor to a loving God. ©2015 Skip Heitzig
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.
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