There was Jesus on the worst night of his life, knowing that horror was just hours away. He is kneeling, praying to God, experiencing human pain and anxiety, wishing like we all do that there might be another way, some escape from suffering. What do you when you don’t want to do what God wants you to do?
You do what Jesus did. That’s what Peter teaches next. What did Jesus do? Let’s find out. Peter’s third and final illustration of the principle “submit to human created authorities, for God’s sake” is found in in verses 21-25 of 1 Peter 2.
He starts by saying: “To this you were called.” Called to what? “Followers of Jesus,” Peter has been declaring through his letter, “you have been saved, you have been reborn into his family. You citizens of a new nation, God’s nation. You are his holy, royal priests. You have a totally new identity and responsibility. To this you were called!”
That means Christians will live in a way that is different. Christians submit to and respect human authorities, even when those authorities mistreat you.
And look at who Peter brings up as the epitome of this. Jesus. That’s what the rest of the chapter is all about. From the rest of verse 21 through verse 25, Peter is glorying in Jesus. He says Jesus is our example, and we should follow in his steps! We can submit our lives for the cause of Christ, because Jesus submitted his life for us. When faced with the darkest day of his life, though he looked for a way out, he still said to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
So I urge you, submit yourselves to God first. Make that your daily priority the moment you wake. Pray: “Lord, I submit my life to you today. I want to live every waking moment for your sake, for your cause, for your mission, so that as many people as possible that you bring across my path today, even if I am struggling hard, will be pointed to you by my respectful, loving attitude and actions.”
And then every moment throughout the day, live that kind of life, for God’s sake. Throughout each day, who knows what we will be faced with? Meanness? Unkindness? Difficult situations? How will we react? Will we take up arms and try to maim and injure and hurt back? Will we take to social media and try to destroy? Will we unleash venom from our tongues?
Peter says, “Live good lives. Be respectful.” The way of the world is to erupt and rage and react with vengeance. Peter says that is unbecoming of a follower of Jesus.
Stay focused on Jesus, our example. In the face of intense persecution at his arrest and crucifixion he did not retaliate. Peter was there! He saw how Jesus handled it.
Of all people, Jesus had the right to retaliate and call down fire from heaven. But he did not.
Yes, this is hard teaching to swallow. Is Peter saying that we should just take abuse if we are being abused? No! You have to remember that it was a different cultural situation. Peter was talking to slaves who were Christians. Peter was talking to Christians who were being persecuted. Facing severe bodily mistreatment was a real possibility in their daily lives. Peter wasn’t saying that the abuse was okay or justified. Peter was simply speaking to a situation that was their daily reality.
You and I don’t live in that situation. In our culture, abuse is illegal and wrong, as it should be. We have legal recourse and means to deal with abuse. First, get away from it. Second, take appropriate legal action. But in the midst of our response to abuse, we can still apply the principle: be respectful and considerate for God’s sake.
Make the mission of the God your priority, even when you are being abused.
This passage also applies in many situations in our daily life when, maybe we are not being abused, but we are being overlooked or treated unkind or unfair. And in some cases we try to take appropriate measures to address the situation, politely pointing out to a boss, for example, that we have not received a raise, while others have. What if the boss still denies us the raise? Peter would say, “handle that situation with the cause of Christ as your guide. Be respectful.” Peter isn’t saying, “Stay at that job and be mistreated.” Peter isn’t saying, “Be a doormat for Jesus.” He is saying, “Handle yourself with kindness and gentleness. You represent Christ first and foremost, so represent him well, and it will be especially noticeable how you handle yourself under the pressure of mistreatment. People will notice!”
But how do we know if we Christians should stop respecting and obeying our government? What would we do, for example, if America outlawed evangelism like they did in Nepal last year? What will our Nepalese sister churches do?
I will tell you what we will do, and what our sister churches have already started doing. We’ll do what Peter said to do: “Obey God rather than men.” I pray we never have to make that choice. But there are plenty of places around the world, like Nepal, where this is an issue. That’s why there are underground churches all around this world.
So while we praise God we are living in a country where we are free to worship and to speak our opinions, let’s communicate in respectful, God honoring ways. As Peter reminds us, we Christians are not really free to do as we please. We are, like Jesus, bound to the mission of God. As much as possible, we submit ourselves, we bind ourselves to obey and respect all authority, so that the cause of Christ might advance.
Are you facing a situation where you are being mistreated? How will you respond with respect to that authority, for God’s sake?