The first feature of fitting behaviour enjoined on the believer is dignified subjection in three spheres of life, (a) civil, (b) social, and (c) domestic, 1 Pet. 2. 13;3. 7. Peter’s exhortations guide attitudes (a) as subjects in human government, (fe) as servants in working relationships, and (c) as spouses at home. In each of the spheres described, there may be strong incentives to rebellion; in each, provocative influences. We shall have occasion to mark not only the measure and manner of, but motives and incentives to subjection. It is not, as we have already seen, a matter of facing the inevitable with resignation, nor the inimical with resolution, certainly not of meeting injustice with retaliation, but of nobler reactions with the higher aims of securing the glory of God, the best for men, and for the believer’s own spiritual well-being.
The first typical sphere in which the grace of subjection is to be practised is civil life, 2. 13-17. The passage highlights
The Measure of Subjection, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man”, v. 13. It is without distinction as to nature—it is to “every ordinance”. To the Romans Paul lays emphasis on “every soul”, Rom. 13. 1, as befits a cosmopolitan society in a close-knit community, where the administration of the law would be compact, though the background and culture of the inhabitants might be varied. Jewish believers were there, as well as Greek, Asian and Roman—all were exhorted to be subject to “the powers that be”. We know that those powers, so strong for law and order, became capricious, but that did not alter the principle. Peter, on the other hand, lays emphasis on “every ordinance”. He was writing largely to Jewish believers of similar background and culture, scattered in regions at the outer edge of the vast Roman empire, where the administration of the law of Imperial Rome was in the hands of governors—like Pilate, Felix, Festus—so far removed from the centre of things, so as to be, to some extent, their own interpreters and arbiters of those laws. It is conceivable that, from province to province, this Roman rule was varied, arbitrary and capricious, and certainly the contextual analogy (servants and masters, wives and husbands) suggests that it was betimes harsh and irksome. In such variable conditions, Peter speaks of every human ordinance.
Then subjection was rendered without distinction as to level. It was “to the king … or unto governors … sent by him”. We may, and should, pray for the queen and her ministers, but we must not forget to include local authorities as part of the system of the government of the realm. “Familiarity breeds contempt”, but it behoves us to remember that those from our own communities who serve in government, national or local, are to be treated with honour and respect. It is helpful to keep in mind that “the king” could be such as Nero, and an example of “them that are sent by him” was Pilate. Their character or behaviour did not modify the exhortation in any way. But the passage highlights, too, The Motives to Subjection. Bearing in mind the unpropitious circumstances of these believers, this exhortation was onerous and wanted motives. These are given.
It was “for the Lord’s sake”. His character is His own and is inviolable, but what men think of Him may be conditioned by the behaviour of those who profess His Name. They are exhorted to “submit… for the Lord’s sake”. “Lest we should offend them … that take … for me and thee”, Matt. 17. 27, said the Lord Jesus to Peter, including Himself with His disciple in that twofold way. It may be that the present exhortation was prompted by that incident. What an incentive it is that, when we have to do something so patently against the grain, we do it for His sake.
It was the “will of God”. Said the Lord Jesus, when facing the dark future, “not what I will, but what thou wilt”, expressing what ought to be the rule of every redeemed life. The idea is often more painful than pleasing, but always it is profitable; often it is the forerunner and pre-requisite of blessing, Heb. 10. 36; 1 Pet. 3. 17; 4. 19; 1 John 2. 17. Here it is one of the grounds upon which His people may take their stand in well-doing, so that they may “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men”. It matters not that the stand may be irksome; rather it is how God achieves His objective, and this ought to sweeten even a bitter task. The passage says quite a lot about
The Manner of Subjection. It is a matter of Behaviour, “with well doing”. In the context, well doing equates to subjection. It involves the fulfilling of duties like paying taxes (and surely no believer would consciously avoid that plain duty); obeying laws (or where those laws conflict with God’s will, accepting the alternative); supporting authority (the believer could not be a man of protest); above all, praying (taking to himself the exhortation to Israel in captivity in Babylon, “seek the peace of that city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace”, Jer. 29. 7.)
Birth, “as free”. In the end, the believer answers to His God. The will of God is paramount. He is “free” to do God’s will, and no law of man can force him to do otherwise. The Bible abounds in examples of that principle: the Hebrew midwives, Exod. 1. 17; the parents of Moses, Heb. 11. 23; the Hebrew children, Dan. 3. 18; the disciples, Acts 4. 19. In every case, God overruled, though the process of deliverance was sometimes a trial. But this liberty is never an excuse to avoid our legitimate duty, nor licence to do simply as we wish. It is always governed; in 1 Corinthians 10. 29 by the conscience of others; in John 14. 23 by love for the Lord Jesus; in this passage by the interests of God. It has higher motives than mere compulsion. The wish to do what pleases God is more compelling by far than a sense of duty. It is a matter of
Blamelessness, “not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness”. For the believer, there can be no question of being against the government; his Christian liberty will never lead him to do anything malicious. The principle, “We ought to obey God rather than men” should never be used as an excuse to avoid a duty which does not conflict with the will of God. It is also a matter of
Bondage, “as the servants of God”. This is the factor again which sweetens the bitter and makes duty a delight. “With eye-service, as men-pleasers” is not the Christian way, but rather the believer in his secular life commends himself “in everything” as the minister of God, 2 Cor. 6. 4. Malice would be unworthy were he serving only an earthly master, and he is doing infinitely more than that. Men might not see the true motives and movements of servants, but the believer’s Master does. It is also a matter of
Balance, “Honour all men”, etc. This verse contains four exhortations referring on the one hand to merely human contacts and on the other to spiritual. “Esteem all men” but “love the brotherhood”; “fear God” and “honour the king”. It is certainly not Christian to love the brotherhood and despise men. While our prayers and our alms have especially in view the people of God, it would not be fitting were it exclusively so. Neither is it Christian, nor consistent, to fear God and despise the king.
The verbs used should be noted. “Esteem” and “love” do not carry the same weight; nor do “fear” and “honour”. But even the lesser verbs put upon the believer a responsibility to treat even his human contacts with due respect.
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