1 Peter 2 v13 – 2 v25
If Peter’s readers forget who they are, they will fail to live as they ought – and be holy. He has been reminding them who they are, now he turns to spell out more what it means to live as they ought – how to “live such good lives among the pagans” (2:12), ie in the world. That is the focus in this passage. It is unlikely to be the first thing we would mention, but the particular attitude he says that characterises the “good life” is submission: submission that is not simply dutiful subservience, but is profoundly and distinctively Christian.
Submission implies more than just obedience. One can obey through gritted teeth, grudgingly, resentfully. Submission is an attitude of mind that is worked out in our actions. We submit – not because the State demands it, or deserves it, but “for the Lord’s sake”. We are “free men”, yet “God’s slaves” (v.16), and it is out of a concern to please Him that we submit to those in authority over us.
All those in authority (from government authorities to traffic wardens etc) are God’s servants doing God’s work (described in v.14). They may not necessarily be good servants but I am still to respect their God-given authority. Submission need not imply blind obedience (sometimes it is right to disobey – think of the Israelite midwives ordered to murder each baby boy, or Daniel and his friends, or Peter and John in Acts 4:19,20), nor passive acquiescence for our situation is unlike Peter’s readers in that we live in a democracy with the responsibility inherent in that.
Verse 17 is an important summary. “Show proper respect” translates the same word as “honour”, strikingly – we honour the king as we should honour all people, for all are equally made in the image of God, irrespective of status. But there is a special bond we have with other Christians – hence “love the brotherhood” – and it is God alone we should fear (cf. 1:17).
Granted there are important differences between being a slave and being an employee, yet these verses do apply to our working lives. Fear of God is again what should motivate our behaviour in the workplace(v.18). We are to show respect not only to bosses who earn our respect (“good and considerate”), but even to those who would seem to deserve little respect. In fact our submission is proved not in submitting to a great boss, but when we submit to a bad boss. When treated harshly or unfairly it is not that we simply put up with it, because the boss is the boss and we just have to lump it. The distinctively Christian response is to bear with it because we are “conscious of God” (v.19); we submit for His sake.
Following Christ means following “in His steps” (v.21). He suffered unjustly, for “he committed no sin” (v.22), and how he responded is be the example we follow. Not promising to get even, or trading insult for insult, but entrusting himself to God – leaving justice in His hands. He’s our example, but Peter can’t stop there: he is also our Saviour. He wasn’t suffering for any wrong-doing of his own, but for our sin, bearing God’s curse (NB the word the new NIV translates as “cross” is more literally “tree”, an allusion to Deut.21:23) that we might be free not only from the penalty of sin, but from its grip and power (we’ve died to sin). We are free at last to “live for righteousness”, under the care and following the lead of our Shepherd.
Used with the permission of St Ebbe’s, Oxford