The Believer and Civil Authority

12 Dec

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At the top of Peter’s list of how believers should behave we find submission to the political authorities. We in modern America tend to object to the kind of submission both Peter and Paul hoped believers would embrace. To actually endure wrongful treatment without objection seems absurd in our society (cf. 1Corinthians 6:7). Yet, the context of Peter telling his readers to submit to the civil authorities (1Peter 2:13-14) comes at a time when some great trial (1Peter 1:7; 2:20; 3:14, 17) enveloped the whole of five Roman provinces in Asia Minor (1Peter 1:1). Such a trial almost always includes at least the assent, if not the assistance, of civil authorities.

All authority, political or otherwise, exists according to the prearrangement of God. Civil authority exercises it power over people by the decree of God (Romans 13:1). According to Peter (1Peter 2:14), civil authority exists to punish those who do evil and to praise or honor those who do well. Ah! One might say, but doesn’t Peter contradict his own behavior of civil disobedience in Acts 4:19-20? Not at all! There is no contradiction here. It stands to reason that the supreme authority is the one that gives authority to the others. God has given authority to men to govern themselves (Genesis 9:6; cf. Romans 13:1-2). If man seeks to prevent people from obeying God, civil disobedience becomes obedience to God, but even then one must accept the consequences of disobeying civil authority. Rebellion is not the answer when one suffers wrongfully.

The point is, as long as civil authority does not **prevent** one from obeying God, obedience to civil institutions is expected. Civil authority may even **permit** disobedience to God without incurring the believer’s own disobedience to that civil authority. However, civil authorities may not seek to **prevent** the believer from personally obeying God. Moreover, it needs to be kept in mind that Peter’s emphasis is upon submission to authority not the ‘exception’ to the rule.

Peter claims submission to civil authority is necessary, even when such submission is rendered while under persecution (1Peter 2:15). In other words, it is the will or plan of God that good behavior should overcome ignorance. That is, foolishness is silenced by honorable conduct.

In the context of Peter’s letter, the phrase, the ignorance of foolish men, concerns the behavior of men toward the children of God during the current trial of believers in Asia Minor. It seems that men were spying on the brethren, under the guise of friendship and brotherhood, they pretended to think well of them, while in reality bearing the brethren ill will and speaking evil of them to others (1Peter 2:1), perhaps to civil authorities (cf. Acts 13:50; 17:13).

Peter intends that the believer’s obedience to civil authority should be rendered out of his freedom (1Peter 2:16). Obedience isn’t to be rendered slavishly, as though one felt forced to do so, but freely as though the authority was the authority of God. On the other hand, believers must not use such freedom to cloak his own plot of retaliation (cf. 1Peter 2:1).

Peter summarizes the details concerning the believer’s submission to civil authority by saying one ought to honor the authority of every civil institution with his respect, but at the same time love the institution of God, namely, the brotherhood (Church) out of reverence for God, Moreover, also at the same time one needs to esteem the king very highly (1Peter 2:17). We may believe a parent deserves our respect when that parent is cruel and irresponsible concerning his family, but God expects us to honor our parents with our respect whether or not they are deserving. Earning respect is the responsibility of the one in authority, but expressing honor for that authority is the responsibility of the one who is under authority.

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Posted by on December 12, 2016 in Epistles of Peter, Gospel of Luke


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