Bible Class Notes on 1 Peter 2:13-16 | Notes on the Petrine Epistles
Peter here begins a section in which he outlines the “good deeds” Gentiles are to see. Christians are to be subject to the government. Servants are to be subject to their masters. Wives are to be subject to their husbands, while their husbands “live considerately with” them. Christians are to be united.
Christians are to be subject to every human institution. Subjection here refers to obedience and honor.
Christians are to obey government. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1). “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities” (Tit 3:1).
Christians are to honor those in authority. “Honor the emperor” (1 Pet 2:17). “Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due” (Rom 13:7). “Paul said, ‘I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people”’” (Acts 23:5).
Christians are to be subject “to every” human institution. There is no authority left out. Peter is going to elaborate that point when he speaks about the emperor and the governors sent by him.
These are “human” institutions, i.e., they are overseen by men and govern men.
Christians are to be subject “for the Lord’s sake.” Those who resist the government resist what God has established (Rom 13:2). Because we are servants of Christ, we must be servants of the government.
Of course, we cannot be subject to the laws of the government when those laws conflict with God’s law. Daniel prayed to God even though Darius had given a decree that no one could petition a man or god save Darius (Dan 6:10). “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29).
Christians are to be subject to the emperor and his governors. Christians must submit to the emperor. The term for “emperor” in the Revised Standard Version is literally “king,” yet the term obviously applies to the Roman emperor.
Christians are to submit to the emperor “as supreme.” The idea of “supreme” literally carries the meaning of “rising above something, surpassing, excelling.” The meaning here obviously is that the emperor had the chief authority in the empire. The emperor’s having chief authority is shown by the fact that he sends the governors.
Christians are to submit to the governors who are sent by the emperor. “Governors” would refer to those who oversaw Roman provinces. These governors were sent by the emperor—they were appointed by him and carried his authority.
The governors were sent to “punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.” This would give us at least part of the purpose of government. The governors should punish those who did wrong. Scripture presents the government as having the authority to punish wrongdoers. “He does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:4).
These governors would also praise those who did “right.” In light of verse 15, “right” seems to have a broader idea that merely keeping the law. The idea seems to be that which is morally right. We have no exact parallel to “emperor” and “governor;” the best parallel seems to be between federal and state and local governments.
Christians are to do right and silence the ignorance of foolish men. This is God’s will—God has designed this and wants this for his people. By doing right, Christians can silence the ignorance of foolish men. Christians are to do right. Doing right does seem to stand for more than merely obeying the laws; “right” seems to have a moral connotation. This idea seems to be rooted in other Scriptures (Ps 34:15-17; Lk 6:35).
In doing right, Christians will silence foolish men. What needs to be silence is the evil speaking mentioned in verse 12. “Ignorance” stands here as moral and religious ignorance—these foolish men are ignorant of God’s religion. These folks are foolish in that they do not obey God.
These Christians are to live as free men. In light of what Peter has written, some of his readers may have objected by saying, “We are free in Christ; we don’t need to obey the government.” Peter answered that we are free; indeed, we need to live as free men. But that freedom does not mean that we can live as we choose. The freedom we have in Christ is the freedom from the Law, freedom from sin, freedom from the fear of death, etc.
Even though we are free, Christians cannot use their freedom as a pretext to live however they choose. Using their freedom as a pretext for evil would involve saying that Christians could live however they chose; therefore, they wouldn’t obey the government.
Peter refutes that whole idea. Throughout church history there have been attempts by some to use Christian freedom to live however they chose. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth” (1 Jn 1:6).
We are to live as servants of God. Here’s the reason Christians can’t live however they choose—we have become servants of God himself. Submitting to God mean submitting to government.