It’s easy for us, in modern America, to read today’s passage with a sense of gloom. I am quite patriotic, and yet hold a severe distrust for politicians. Yet, this passage holds strong words for God’s Church and how we, as believers, should view and respond to authorities.
God calls believers to “be subject…to every human institution.” The idea is that we are to submit to the authority of these institutions, which God has ordained; and we are to do so, for His sake (see also Romans 13:1–2). God has established these institutions “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” In our submission, “by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
In our respect for, and submission to human authorities, we honor God and silence the non-believers. That’s a powerful idea. Although we often celebrate rebellion, God’s name is magnified through submission. His name is made great through the honor we give to His image bearers—everyone, and especially “the emperor.”
Again, in our modern context, these words can be a hard pill for some people to swallow. The authorities in our life, may not act in the most Christianly way. From political leaders, to our supervisors at work, non-believing authorities are not going to use their authority in a way consistent with our worldview. Does this passage still apply to us when that is the case?
Peter was likely writing this short book from Rome toward the end of his life. He was most likely writing during the reign of the Emperor Nero. Nero was an evil and wicked person. He had a special hatred for Christians. There are numerous stories of torture and execution. Part of the issue was the great fire that destroyed much of Rome. Nero blamed the Christians for starting the fire, whereas many scholars today suggest that Nero, himself, may have been the one to set the city ablaze. It is rumored that he wanted to rebuild Rome in his own glory. The rising antipathy toward Christians was played out in the Coliseum. It was seen in Nero’s extravagant garden parties as Christians were burned on poles to light the garden. As well as in many other acts of persecution.
When it comes to issues of the state, how do you act when the state is trying to kill you? This was not a hypothetical question to Peter’s readers—this was everyday life—”Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Honor doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything a politician does. However, take a moment and read your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media feeds and ask yourself, “Does my words, reposts, retweets, likes, dislikes, etc. bring honor to authorities, or am I trying to shame them?” Some of you might respond, “I don’t do anything political.” But based on this passage, is that an excuse (this is the pot calling the kettle black btw)? This passage doesn’t call for apathy or indifference, it doesn’t call for rebellion, it calls for submission and honor. How will you respond?
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate