The Christian & Government: Part 4–I Peter 2:13

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by [lit. through] him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  – I Peter 2:13, 14 (NASB)

Having begun our study of Christians and Government in our exposition of Romans 13, it is time now to deal with I Peter 2:13. Here is a passage that has led commentators to declare that Paul and Peter are in disagreement. To suggest this as being a fact is to question the integrity of the Scriptures. To question the integrity of Scripture is to question the whole; to question the whole is to question Christianity. Ignorance has always had its place as an enemy of truth. So, in light of the conflict presented by some, let me set forth a principle of interpretation that helps when we come to a passage that seems to contradict another portion of Scripture. Very simply put, it is Scripture interprets Scripture; the clear passages interprets the unusual or difficult. The New Testament interprets the Old. 

Peter says in verses thirteen and fourteen of the first chapter of his epistle, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by [lit. through] him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” (NASB) This command is given to Christians of his day and of ours in light of the fact that the heathen gentiles were slandering Christians as evildoers. This is a common charge which has been made against Christians from the beginning. They have always been troublemakers like their leader, Christ Jesus. But that they are troublemakers because they are clearly not of this world does not in the least mean they are lawbreakers. What Peter is commanding of those to whom he writes is that as much as is possible, they are to be at peace with all men. This is exactly what Paul calls for in Romans 12:18. It is clear that Christians are not going to be friends of worldlings and are subjects of their scorn. This is precisely the distinction  that our Lord makes in John 17:14 between those who follow Him and those who are of the world. There is a natural hatred of the citizens of the world toward Christ and Christians. This should be no surprise to anyone who knows the teachings of the Bible.

The real cause for disagreement is found in the expression of Peter that is translated “…to every human institution.” Paul says, “all authority is from God”, so, it appears that Peter disagrees with Paul as to the source of authority. Not so. What Peter is describing is the form of the government, not it’s source. Ice and water are different forms of the same substance. Both have their origin from God. You will note that in the fourteenth verse that the end of these authorities are exactly the same; they are to punish evil and reward good. Neither evil nor good are to find their definitions from men, but rather from the Word of God, so away with contradictions in the Scriptures. Paul and Peter are in perfect agreement. Paul is more specific regarding responsibilities of both governments and Christians. Peter is dealing with a special issue in which he wants Christians to behave so as “to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” There is honor from God for Christians who suffer unjustly as there was for Christ. But this does not alter the fact that God has ordained that there should be various authorities who are to promote righteousness in their respective realms. The action that Peter calls for here is that of the second mile for the sake of Christ and Christianity. It is to wave natural rights for the sake of a Christian witness. As Paul was willing to forego the eating of meat in order not to offend a weaker brother, so the same principle holds here. However, there is never any hint of Peter to call upon a Christian to be a party to sinful action at the hands of any authority. Neither does he teach absolute submission on the part of Christians to governing authorities.

Both Peter and Paul recognize that no area of delegated authority is absolute. The consequence of such an assumption is seen in the “Legitimists” of the old world. These misguided souls believed in the Divine right of kings. Such a doctrine holds that since the right to govern is from God, not from the people, then the people have no right to select or to change their form of government anymore than a child has the right to change parents. Under this system the people have no God-given rights but are to suffer at the hands of unjust rulers without recourse. God in His providence placed the rulers on the throne. The rule of such rulers was considered absolute. The only rule for the people was passive submission. This system was not to be tolerated by the framers of our Republic. It is nowhere taught in the Bible.

Another lie that Christians have to deal with is the social contract theory of Thomas Hobbes. This atheistic explanation as to the origin of civil government is worse than that above because it completely eliminates God as having any relationship with His creation. Man, therefore, is in no way responsible for the manner of how he lives or governs. All civil rules are man-made. This is very near the present condition of America. There are no natural, God-given rights; government is everything; the people are mere resources for government and to be used to forward the vain desires of such governments. The promotion of civil rights by the present government, at the expense of natural rights, stands squarely in opposition to the Word of God. It also stands contrary to the Constitution. The Constitution is the expressed law that sets the parameters of civil government and the framers recognized the natural rights of man as superseding the civil. This, in harmony with the Word of God, spells happiness for the people. Anything else spells disaster.