The Chain of Command: Submission to Government

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

At age 17 he became the Emperor of Rome and was dubbed Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus commonly known as Nero. He ruled from 54-68AD, and his rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance. He is known for a number of brutal executions, including those of his mother and adopted brother. It was during his reign, in 64AD, that the great fire of Rome destroyed four of the 14 districts of Rome.

It was widely rumored that while the fire was blazing, Nero played his lyre and sang the song, ‘Sack of Ilium’ earning him the sobriquet as the emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned.”

Many speculated that it was Nero himself who started the fire. Naturally he took a hit in the opinion polls, and since he craved approval he searched for a scapegoat. Tacitus said:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians. … Accordingly, an immense multitude was convicted…Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs… or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames…to serve as a nightly illumination.

The epistle of 1 Peter was written between 62 and 67AD, which means that Peter’s reference to government applied to Christians who were under the authority of Nero.

With that in mind …we turn to 1 Peter 2:13-15 .

3 Links in the Chain of Command

1. Source of the Command

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution (1 Peter 2:13)

The term “be subject”, is a military command to arrange yourself under a commanding officer. When a centurion barked that order, his 100 soldiers dropped what they were doing and arranged themselves speedily in formation.

Peter uses the term to teach Christians that every link in the chain of command leads ultimately to the Lord’s hand.

The thread of God’s delegated authority runs through every fibre of society.

  • Marriage. Ephesians 5: 22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
  • Family. Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
  • Church. Hebrews 13: 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.
  • Heaven. Ephesians 3:10 [angels are]…rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

All authority is delegated from God. Submission to delegated authority is the way God keeps order in the world, and the channel through which he guides and protects his children.

2. Extent of the Command

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13–14)

So this submission is not just to the government, but to every human institution, every time you find yourself under authority, you must submit to it as ordained by God.

And “every human institution” includes those who are evil.

John MacArthur points out:

Although Peter and Paul both lived in the openly sinful, decadent Roman Empire—a society infamous for evil (homosexuality, infanticide, government corruption, abuse of women, immorality, violence), neither apostle offered any exemption by which believers were free to defy civil authority…’

Does this include submission to Nero? Yes, God put him there and God will judge him for his evil.

So, if the school tells you to cut your hair, you cut your hair willingly; if the flight attendant tells you to turn off your phone, you turn your phone off joyfully; if the government tells you to wear a mask in public, you comply enthusiastically; if (when) your husband makes a foolish decision, talk to him about it, but submit whole-heartedly. And you do this for the Lord’s sake.

It is all about the heart, and every opportunity you are given should be seized to learn submission as Christ did. Peter tells us a few verses later:

When he [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23 )

To have a submissive attitude is to reflect the nature of Christ in your life.

3. Result of the Command

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (1 Peter 2:13–15)

What will be the result of Christians being the one group of people who obey every road sign they see, who submit to every request made by anyone in authority?

People who don’t know Jesus will be perplexed. ‘Your behaviour doesn’t make sense. Everyone rebels, cuts corners, and grumbles about authority. Why don’t you? It’s almost as if you believe that God is in control.’

Submitting to authority for the sake of God tells others that you trust him and his sovereignty.

Footnote

What if an authority tells us to sin?

If there is a lawful channel for us to protest, we can use that. Submission doesn’t mean agreeing with authority, just respecting it. You can appeal without breaking the law. But if there is no way to change the instruction, and obeying man’s law would cause you to sin against God, then you need to break the manmade law and accept the consequences joyfully, knowing that God will make things right on judgment day. (See Acts 5:17-42.)

Conclusion

Submit to every human institution for the Lord’s sake. This is a dazzling witness and it is pure worship. When you submit to the authority over you, you are acknowledging that God placed them there, trusting God to do his will for you, through them, and trusting God to be good to you and to bring his justice in the end.

Clint Archer bio


Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.

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