1 Peter 2:13-17
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;…
We might regard vers. 11 and 12 as the text of which the rest of the Epistle is the sermon. The apostle first writes at length on their possession of personal redemption, and then says, "Now for the life that becomes it." And he begins with that citizenship which becomes the Christian. Very striking is it that the heavenly and the earthly citizenship should be brought here into such close connection; it is when the apostle has the highest conception of our relation to the spiritual kingdom (as in vers. 9, 10.) that he proceeds to speak of the lofty position we are to take as citizens of earth. Probably there was special reason for emphasis on this; he was writing to Jews, who had rather lax ideas of their obligations to human institutions in the Gentile world, and were charged by the empire with being "bad subjects;" that, for example, was the ostensible reason for the persecution by Nero. The subject is timely. Christians are often in doubt as to the Dart they should take in public affairs. Here we have Divine teaching respecting this.
I. THE DUTY OF CHRISTIAN CITIZENSHIP, "Submit yourselves to every human institution... whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well " - that includes all human institutions for the well-being of the nation at large, whether in the wider circle of imperial, or the narrower circle of local, matters, and, says the apostle, "Submit yourselves to that."
1. What, then, is the submission which the Christian owes to the state? The only submission possible to those to whom Peter wrote was that of tribute and obedience; under the despotic policy of the empire they could do no more; they had no power to ameliorate the laws nor to choose their rulers. With us it is not so. If we only pay the taxes and obey the authorities, we do not submit ourselves. "Submit yourselves unto God" means "give yourselves." So read the word "submit" here. The Christian is bound to give not only his substance and doings to these, but himself. As Christians, nothing ought to be alien to us which concerns the world our Lord loved and died for.
2. What are the limits of this submission? We must read this with the limitation everywhere implied. "Fearing God" comes before "honoring the king." Peter was himself an illustration of that, when he told the rulers "We must obey God rather than man." But the text refers to submission of ourselves; we must do that as far as we are to do all else that is right - that is, as far as our opportunities and talents permit. Opportunity and talent are the limit of duty. Health, home-claims, higher claims, natural aptitude, etc., these show us where and how far we may go. God's barriers are always plain to him who fears God.
3. What, then, is the objection to this submission? We are told that Christians are citizens of another world, and should have no part in this. But it is mean to get all the good out of the world we can, and refuse to do it all the good we can. We are told that Christ lived in the midst of political corruption, and did not raise his voice against it. But he was ever propagating those principles which undermine corruption, and his healing miracles show that his heart was set on ameliorating physical woe. We are told that we should come out of the world, and be separate. But that cannot mean that the Christian - the Christian physician, say - is to refuse to help the world. If the world chooses to help me to do a good work, I know no command which, because of their co-operation, bids me stand aloof.
II. THE LOFTY PRINCIPLES ON WHICH THIS DUTY IS TO BE FULFILLED. What is wanted is, not so much that Christians should take these things up, as that they should do so from sacred conviction, and "as becomes the gospel of Christ."
1. This must be done "for the Lord's sake. The earth is the Lord's... the world and they that dwell therein." How much does he care for men, who for them became incarnate, and endured the death of the cross! Then everything that tends to their development and enfranchisement is dear to him.
2. This must be done that "with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. If the world come to regard Christianity as having to do mostly with beliefs and emotions, they will look upon it as unreal and worthless. It is not by fighting more or less extinct Satans" that we secure the world's respect for Christ, but by earnestly grappling, for his sake, with the real evils of the day.
3. This must be done "as servants of God. This duty is not without peril to personal spiritual life; it often calls the Christian to associate with those who have no fear of God, and work accordingly, and exposes him to the danger of falling to their level. The political atmosphere is often morally deadening Our safety is in going into this deliberately as God's servants, to do his will, and that at any cost, wearing heaven's livery, and making heavenly influences tell upon our fellows.
III. THE DIVINE WARNING AGAINST THE DANGER IN THE FULFILLMENT OF THIS DUTY. As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of evil [κακία, equivalent to 'evil of any kind']." The Christian public man needs anxiously to look beneath his activity, and see if any evil thing is concealed and fostered there.
1. There is the evil of self-seeking. Of doing this unconsciously, not for Christ, but for personal ends.
2. And there is the evil of love of the world. Public life has a terrible tendency to foster a spirit of worldliness, and to counteract this we need plenty of heart and closet work. There is no peril in this if we put "fear of God ' before the "honor of the king" - if, whilst we "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's," we "render to God the things that are God's;" if, whilst submitting ourselves "to every human institution," etc., we maintain the lofty feeling and character of "the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the people peculiarly God's own." - C.N.
Parallel VersesKJV: Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;