Submission – the word inspires varied perceptions amongst people. For some, it represents weakness before a more dominant or confident person. For others, submission is beautiful, a mark of wisdom and strength. The views are contrary but key lies in who, or what we perceive our submission to be to. A coerced submission is oppression, but a submission of love is service. The first comes from injustice, the second is a voluntary act of love. 1 Peter 2:11 gives us, as Christians, a motive for submission –
“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
As followers of Christ, we live lives given fully over to God, as “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” [Romans 12:1] When we submit to God, we submit to His ways so our lives reflect His glory. 1 Peter continues, giving some instruction about submission to God when we submit to those in authority on earth- to government, to masters, in marriage and to one another in love.
Submission to Government
“Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good, you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men – as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honour all people. Honour the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” – [1 Peter 2:13-17]
Looking at this passage, there is a description of the authority we are submit to, a God-ordained purpose for this, and instruction about how to submit in a godly manner
- SUBMIT TO EVERY ORDINANCE OF MAN
- The Hebrew describes submission to every human institution (“hypotagete pase anthropine ktisei”), or to all that belonging to man.
- The passage includes both the king, as supreme ruler, and those to whom he delegates responsibility to judge, punish and reward – governors. For us, this is the law of the country, set by Presidents and Prime Ministers, which also includes submission to others in supervisory positions – policemen, bosses at work, teachers at school or university.
- Romans 13 explains this more in details saying, “Let every soul be subject to governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (v.1) The passage goes on to confirm that God has appointed governing bodies to minister to the good, and to bring justice to the evil, and that we should be subject in following the ordinance of God. Finally, verse 7 concludes, “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.”
- THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD WHICH HAS PURPOSE
- In submitting to the laws of the earth, put in place by King, Presidents, Prime Ministers, we do good in God’s eyes.
- We are free but should use our liberty NOT as an excuse to do wrong, but to honour God by doing His will. “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” [Romans 6:15-16]
- UNDERSTANDING THE PRIORITY
- “Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” [1 Peter 2:17]
- We are first God’s people. We belong to Him and obey His commands.
- We also live on earth, as citizens of various countries and states. In living on earth, we respect and submit to the authority which defend laws on earth. As Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” [Mark 12:17]
- So, we submit to authority on earth but also pray for our leaders, that they would lead in accordance with the will of God. “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplication, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” [1 Timothy 2:1-2]
- At the same time, we uphold what is right in the eyes of God. For example, Hitler’s extermination of the Jews was clearly, and seriously against the will of God. In such circumstances, we oppose the law as declared by a man, but we do this with wisdom, listening carefully to the Lord.
Submission to Masters
“Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.” – [1 Peter 2:18-20]
The issue of slavery in Biblical times can be controversial. Yes, slavery was present in Biblical times, and slaves were considered the property of their masters. I recently read an except by William Barclay about slavery in Peter’s day. Slaves fulfilled all sorts of jobs in the Roman culture. There were musicians, doctors, teachers and stewards along with those who performed menial household chores. The Bible gives instruction to both masters and slaves about how to live, in the setting of a community where slavery was common. However, the Greek word used in this passage is “oiketes”, meaning a “a household servant”. The word is different from the Greek “doulos”, used to describe a slave, or bond-servant who has no rights of their own.
Once again, we have a description of an authority to submit to, a reason for doing so, and instruction on how to submit in a godly way.
- The instruction is to anyone who serves a “master” (Greek: despotés), meaning a person in authority over them – to both the kind, and the harsh.
- Why? It is one thing to suffer rightfully for our wrongs, but to endure suffering for our goodness is commendable, and character-building. It is important to understand the context of this, which Mike Bickle explains well in one of his sermons on Matthew 5:38-42 – “Refusing Retaliation and Defensiveness” He explains what it means when Jesus says, “Do not resist”:
“The Greek verb (anthistimi) heretranslated resist means to oppose or withstand someone or to fight back. In other words, we are not to retaliate or seek to pay back people who do evil against us by insulting us or troubling us in small ways. Jesus was speaking about our attitude toward people who infringe on our personal rights or who cause us inconveniences. Jesus was not teaching against the principle of just retaliation in the legal court system.”
Here are some other verses which speak about enduring in suffering.
“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” [2 Timothy 3:12]
“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” [Romans 5:3-5]
“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” [Matthew 5:39]
- We commit ourselves to God in suffering, Christ having been our example – the spotless Lamb who endured unjust persecution to save us from eternal separation from God.
“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’, who when He was reviled, did not revile in return, when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” [1 Peter 2:21-25]
Wives and Husbands
Both wives and husbands are given instruction about submission to one another in marriage. Wives are encouraged to adorn themselves with a quiet and gentle spirit, and husbands, called to treat their wives with understanding and honour.
1. Let your testimony of living be a witness – respecting your husband, and living in purity
“Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be worn by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.” [11 Peter 3:1-2]
- Greek “phobos”, meaning to respect – so wives are instructed to respect their husbands
- Greek “hagnos”, meaning pure – so wives are instructed to conduct themselves in purity
2. Focus on dressing yourselves with inner beauty of the spirit, rather than outward adornment
“Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” [1 Peter 3:3-4]
- The Greek words translated as a “gentle and quiet spirit” describe being founded on the strength and instruction of God, having a peaceable and meek spirit. This should be our focus, more than outward beauty, as this hidden kind of beauty is incorruptible and eternal.
3. Remember the example of holy women, like Sarah – we too have the reward they received if we adorn themselves with holiness just as they did.
“For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.” [1 Peter 3:5-6]
- We could go into great detail exploring the lives of various women, and the examples in the Bible of when they submitted to their husbands. The point of the matter, however, is that this submission was based on (1) respecting their husbands, and (2) trusting in God, and thus being unafraid. We also use wisdom in submitting to our husbands, for part of our role as wives is also to be a helper to our husbands. There are times when we can help by challenging our husbands in a respectful way. Above all, we trust God who cares for us, and is with us always.
“Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honour to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” [1 Peter 3:7]
- To treat your wife with understanding requires effort and time, growing in your knowledge of your wife. Furthermore, husbands are commanded to honour their wives, and to protect them. Adam was made first, then Eve, but both male and female are heirs together of God’s grace and life in Christ.
- Another controversial statement is made in this passage, the reference to the wife being the “weaker vessel”. I do not think that this implies women to be weaker in terms of faith or intellect, but rather that the wife is put in a vulnerable position since she is subject to a sinful husband. As such, I believe this is a call to husbands to be aware of their role in the household, and to strive towards developing responsible spiritual leadership in the home.
- The passage emphasises the importance of the way a husband treat his wife. If he neglects her, his prayers are hindered as this kind of attitude or behavior towards his wife is unpleasing to God. Here, we see God express the value He gives to His daughters.
Submission to One Another
1 Peter 3:8-12 describes what it looks like to submit to one another in love, living in one mind, in the will of God and remembering God’s blessing to those who give blessing to others. This is the underlying purpose for our submission to various authorities on earth – that we bless others and stand as witnesses of God’s blessings.
“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For
‘He who would love life
And see good days,
Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
And his lips from speaking deceit.
Let him turn away from evil and do good;
Let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”