“Your Witness Under Authority” (I Peter 2:13-20 sermon)

When General Douglas MacArthur was stationed in the Philippines, he was given an order to survey the whole area of Bataan, the jungly, mountainous peninsula at the mouth of Manila Bay. Another officer on his staff saw the order and said: “Why, that’s a job for a young engineer officer and not for a brigadier general; What are you going to do about it?” MacArthur replied, “Obey it, of course. It’s an order. What else can I do?” And he left his headquarters and personally mapped forty square miles of that malaria-infested terrain. (William Manchester, American Caesar, p. 132)
When he did that, MacArthur showed his men the kind of obedience he wanted from THEM as he led them, and he also demonstrated his character, in being willing to submit to authority.

Last week we ended the message by saying that God wants His disciples to SHOW the world by their good behavior that the accusations people make against us are false, and to be a good witness for Him. Now he follows that up with some specific applications: Just what are we to do, specifically, to be good witnesses? It’s interesting that the very first thing he talks about is the way we are to witness through our submission to the authorities in our lives:

 
I. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE: SUBMIT TO AUTHORITY
:13 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”

This is the very first application he makes regarding how we are to be witnesses in the world, and he begins by giving the general principle of submitting to authority. Some try to make the word “submit” here mean something other than it does, perhaps because they don’t want to DO it — but the Bible word here (hupotasso) literally means “under” (hupo) “to arrange,” (tasso). So it means “to arrange” yourself, “under” someone’s authority — just like soldiers arrange themselves for battle under the command of their leaders. (And in fact this word was indeed used in Greek writings to describe soldiers submitting to the leadership of their officers.)

So God says in that same way, I want you to “submit,” to “arrange yourself under,” the authorities He has placed over you in each area of your life. He wants us to do this VOLUNTARILY — he says in :16 that you are “free men.” But as free men and women in Jesus Christ, God wants us to voluntarily submit to authorities “for the Lord’s sake.” “For the Lord’s sake” means at least two things:

 

A. Our submission to authority is “for the Lord’s sake” because GOD is the One who established authorities and placed each one where they are. Romans 13 teaches this. It says “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

This is a basic and foundational teaching: GOD HIMSELF is THE “capital A” authority in the universe. Psalm 103 says “His sovereignty rules over all.” Everything that exists, exists by His will. Ephesians 1 says “He works all things after the counsel of His will.” God is THE “capital A” authority of the universe.
If you are a Christian, that means you recognize God as the authority of your life. That’s what being a Christian is all about. God is on the throne of the universe, but we all sinned against His sovereignty, and chose to be masters of our own lives instead. Mercifully God still loved us and sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for our sins, to give us an opportunity to turn BACK from our rebellion and put ourselves under His Lordship again. When you become a Christian, you are basically saying, I am not directing my life any more; Jesus is my Lord — that means Master; “boss,” authority. To “repent” and become a Christian means you are turning back from leading your own life, to follow Jesus. Being a Christian means more than just “praying a prayer” or filling out a card. It means that God, through the Lord Jesus, is now the Authority of your life.

And God who is the “capital A” authority, has given us a number of “little a” authorities in various areas of our lives, for His purposes and for our good. He has given us parents, and employers, and governments, and so on — all these different authorities — to protect us, and to discipline us in various ways. We need to realize, as Romans 13 says, the authorities which exist in our lives are “established by God.” GOD put them where they are, so as we respect the different authorities in our lives, we are ultimately respecting the God whom we believe put them there.

— Why do we have the parents that we do? God gave them to us.
— Why do we have the teacher that we do this year at school? God strategically planted them in that classroom.
— Why do we have the boss that we do? God put him there!
— Why do we have the President that we do? Because God put him there.
And God has purposes for every one of these authorities in our lives. If we believe that, then we need to respect these authorities.

Respect for authority is one of THE foundational lessons that every person must learn in life. It affects almost every area of our existence: it begins by respecting our parents; then by respecting our teachers and principals and school authorities; then police officers and government authorities, and authorities on the job, and so on in every area of life. Every one of us has to deal with authorities in various areas; therefore one of the most important lessons you can teach your child is to respect authority. A child who does not learn to respect authority will face difficulty all through his life, and will face a lifetime of heartache.

I once heard the testimony of a man who had been incarcerated in prison, as he spoke to a group of students at a school in our town. He told the students how important it was to learn to obey, and to respect authority. He said if you don’t learn to obey your parents; if you don’t learn to obey your teacher; if you don’t learn to obey the laws and respect the police — then you are going to end up where I am, learning to obey authority the HARD way in prison!

Parents, one of the most important lessons you can teach your child is to respect and obey authorities. Teach your child from its earliest days that there are lines they are not to cross, and if they cross those lines, there will be consequences. That is one of the most fundamental lessons your child must learn. If you will teach them to obey and to respect authority at an early age, then you will have prepared them for a lifetime of successful work and personal relationships. But if you do NOT teach them from their very first days to respect and obey authority, then you have set them up for a lifetime of failure, and broken relationships, and misery.

Teach your children to respect authority: at home, in the community, and at school. This is a good word for many of us as we start back to school this week: teach your kids to respect their teachers and principals at school. And YOU model it for them: YOU respect the teacher; YOU respect the authorities at school, and do NOT undermine their authority before your children. Don’t cut them down in front of your child. You respect them, and teach your child to respect them. And if your child is disciplined at school, do NOT assume that “your precious baby” couldn’t have possibly done anything wrong, and run up to school and attack the teacher. NO; you support the teacher and assist in the discipline of the child. Our family’s rule was: if our child got in trouble at school, then they got more in trouble from us at home. We always supported our teachers. One of our biggest problems in our society today is that we have not taught our children to respect authority in school, and so when they leave school they don’t respect authority in the community, and on the job, and it has led to all kinds of destructive behavior because many children have never learned this basic life principle of submitting to authority.

There is so much to say here … but God says submit to authority, because He is the ultimate authority, and He has put our authorities where they are, so we are submit to them “for the Lord’s sake.”

 

B. Our submission to authority is “for the Lord’s sake” because when we do submit to authority, it is a WITNESS for the Lord.
This is a key: this whole section in I Peter 2 & 3 is about the way we are to live as a good witness to those around us like we talked about last week. The Christians in Peter’s time were being accused of some false things (like many Christians are today). So he was telling them here to submit to authority “for the Lord’s sake”: be a good witness and “SHOW THEM” like we talked about last week what a Christian is really all about.

So we submit to our government because we want to be good witnesses in our community; we submit to our employer because we want to be a good witness on the job; we submit to our lost husband because we want to be a good witness to him through our life. This whole section of I Peter is about being a witness by the way we live. That’s a key to help us understand it. Just like General MacArthur was a witness to his men about how a person should obey authority, when we show respect for our authorities, we are being a good witness for the Lord. That’s the general principle here, of being a witness as we submit to authority. Now we’ll look at a couple of examples of how we are to do this in specific areas of our lives:

 
II. TWO SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS:
Peter follows this general command to submit to authority with two specific applications: submission to government, and in the workplace.

 

A. THE GOVERNMENT
:13b+ “… whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”

He commands us here to submit to government authority: “kings” or “governors.” This is significant, because the first Christians could have had the idea that since God was their Lord, that they didn’t need to respect earthly government; after all, their King is in heaven! But God makes it very clear all through His word that this is NOT the case; that His people are to respect the governments that He has placed over us:
— when Jesus was asked if they should pay taxes, He gave His famous response: “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Pay that tax.
— Paul wrote in Romans 13 that “those (authorities) which exist are established by God.” He said in :2 “therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God. He said in :4-5 that governmental “is a minister of God to you for good … therefore it is necessary to be in subjection.” He said in :7 “render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due, custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”
So Jesus, Peter, and Paul, all make it very clear in God’s word that we are to submit to the legitimate governing authorities that God has placed in our lives.

Now, the reason why Peter was addressing this here, is that Christians in the first century were falsely accused of being rebellious against the government, because they didn’t worship Caesar, and the customary idols. In the first century, it was common for everyone to worship all the Greek and Roman gods in the temples, and the Roman Emperor was also considered to be a god. They had inscriptions which said things like: “Emperor [Augustus] Caesar, god and lord” and “Nero, the lord of the whole world.” And as an act of loyalty to the Empire, every Roman citizen was to take bit of incense and burn it as an offering to the Emperor and say, “Kurios Kaiseros;” or “Caesar is Lord.” But the Christians would not do this. They said, NO, “Christos Kurios; JESUS is Lord”, and they would not worship the Emperor like the other Roman citizens would.

So you can see how this could be interpreted as an act of rebellion by the Romans. These Christians won’t worship the Emperor; they are rebels; subversives, against our Roman government. This was a false claim as far as rebellion goes; the Christians DID believe that Jesus was the ultimate God, not Caesar; but they also believed that in every other way, they were commanded by God to respect and obey their government.

So as we saw last week, Peter is saying to the Christians, “SHOW THEM!” Show these people by your obedience to the government and to the officials in every other way, that you are not subversive or trying to overthrow the government. SHOW THEM in every way you conscientiously can (and we’ll talk about that in a minute) that you DO submit to your government and respect them — as a witness for the Lord.

And this applies to us today as well: in every way that we conscientiously can, God says, we are to respect our governmental authorities:
— pay every tax you are obligated to pay “tax to whom tax is due”
— obey every law you can conscientiously obey.
— be respectful to every government leader. He says “honor the king.” That means we are to be respectful of our governmental leaders. That means there is no place for a Christian to disrespect of the office of President or other government leaders. Now someone may say, “Well, they didn’t have so-and-so in office when they wrote that in the Bible.” No they didn’t. They had NERO CAESAR in office, who almost bankrupted Rome with his spending, who was immoral, who murdered his own mother, and is reputed to have personally kicked his pregnant wife to death; who burned down a whole section of the city of Rome so he could do a major construction project, and blamed it on the Christians! It THAT Caesar who was in office when the Bible commanded us, to “Honor the king”!

That should tell us something about how God wants us to respect our officials today. Listen: I do not agree with everything that President Donald Trump says and does, but God has allowed this man to become the President of the United States, and he should be treated by us with the respect that is due to that office. Those who show disrespect to our President, and say they will only honor those they agree with and voted for, are sowing seeds of anarchy that will eventually lead to the destruction of our society as we know it! We are to respect the office.

AND: this not only applies to President Trump, but to every President who comes to office. I will be honest: I was greatly saddened and dismayed at many of the policies and decisions that President Obama implemented during his 8-year term as President: it seemed he did everything he could to advance the cause of homosexual perversion and abortion in our country. But that did not mean that I was free to join others in calling him many of the derogatory names I heard Christian people call him. He was still the President of the United States, and as such I am to afford him the courtesy and respect that is due to that office. And we are to do the same with every office holder we know.

God says HE has placed our governmental authorities where they are; so as His people we are to be respectful of these authorities, both as an honor to our Lord, and as a witness to the watching world.

 

B. THE WORKPLACE
:18 “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.”

Now, Peter was specifically addressing the attitude of slaves towards their masters — and we do not have institutionalized slavery in the United States — but the principle here still very much applies to our workplaces: God’s people are to be respectful to those we work for: our supervisors, business owners, foremen; whoever is in authority. This can be hard. But notice that it even says: “not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” This is for two reasons: 1) because we can learn humility and obedience as we do, and 2) because we are a witness to people as we respond to our authorities with obedience and respect.

Ruth Graham in her book It’s My Turn writes of how her son Franklin was, for many of his growing up years, a rebel against both the Lord and his parents. But she tells about a very interesting incident that touched her son’s life when he was a young adult. She wrote: “At one conference, (Franklin) watched a difficult Christian leader repeatedly rebuke, correct, and embarrass an older Christian who happened to be working under him. … Day after day, Franklin quietly watched and listened, unable to intervene. Not once did the older man show anything but Christian graciousness and humility. Never once did he get angry and complain. Not once did he strike back. … Neither the ‘horrible example’ nor the gentle saint was aware that he was being observed (by Franklin). Neither knew the scales in (Franklin’s) heart were being tilted inevitably toward the Savior because of an older man’s close resemblance to Him when under attack.” (Ruth Bell Graham, It’s My Turn, p. 144)

This is just what we were talking about last week: you may not realize it, but people are always watching you. And the way that you respond to authority — especially on the job — can be one of your best witnesses to people who are watching. Now, “being a witness to the world” may “sound good” to us in church on Sunday morning, but it gets really hard on Monday morning if you’re the one who has to deal with the ugly supervisor! But Peter says this is what God is calling us to do. Submit to authority “for the Lord’s sake,” not only because He is building Christlike character in YOU in that situation; but also for the witness you will be as an example to others. That Christlike older man may have never known how powerfully his example spoke to Franklin Graham — but he did! And now Franklin Graham is out changing the world — because of the example of man who lived out his faith in the workplace. And God wants to use YOU in the same way. If you will live out your faith in your workplace, your witness WILL be seen; and lives WILL be touched for the Lord. Listen: the greatest ministry that many of us will have is not anything we do in this church building: but the way that you will live out your faith in your workplace. And the way you respond to authority on the job is a big part of that witness.

 
III. THE EXCEPTIONS:
Now I can just picture someone objecting: “So you’re saying we’re to submit to authority no matter what they do?” Let me make it clear: I am NOT saying that, and the Bible is not saying that, either.

Notice the phrase in the last part of :14 where it is talking about governmental authorities, and it says that government is: “FOR the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” God is saying, THIS is the legitimate function of government: to punish evildoers and to reward those who do right.
Romans 13:3-4 says basically the same thing: “Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” Here again, God says the purpose of government is to praise the one who does good, and to give “the sword” to those who practice evil. That is the legitimate function of government, and we are to freely submit to that kind of government.

But: when authority FAILS to do these God-given things, then we are not under obligation to continue to obey them — especially when government commands us to do something contrary to the word of God. We see this in scripture:
— In Daniel Chapter 1, Daniel was taken into government service, and commanded to eat food that was contrary to God’s Old Testament dietary laws. But :8 says “Daniel made up his mind that he would NOT defile himself with the king’s choice food or the wine which he drank …”. His authorities wanted him to eat their food, but he said, I am not going to disobey God, in order to please my authorities.
— Another great example is found in Acts 5, where Peter and the apostles were arrested for preaching and teaching in Jesus’ name, which they had been commanded by the Jewish authorities not to do. They said, “We gave you strict orders” not to do this! But in :29 Peter and the apostles said: “We must obey God rather than men.” The authorities told them NOT to preach and teach about Jesus, but the Christians did not submit to that command. They said, we are going to obey God, not you, and keep on sharing Jesus. And they were right to disobey in that case.

So we this shows us there is a place to disobey authority when it commands us to do something contrary to the word of God:
— Those early Christians were commanded to worship Caesar, but they refused: they said, Caesar is not Lord; Jesus is Lord! And they disobeyed.
— When the American colonies were oppressed by the British government, they said this kidnapping of our men to serve in the navy, and taxation without representation, and unjust treatment, is not right, and there was a time to rebel against unjust government,

So there is a time disobey authority — and especially when they contradict the word of God. But in everything, we need to be careful to maintain our witness. Even when we feel like we must disobey, we should do it respectfully; with a sweet spirit; AND: don’t let there be any other area of disobedience that they can point to, that would discredit your witness for the Lord.

Jaelene Hinckle is an American soccer player, who all her life had dreamed of playing on the U.S. National Team and the World Cup. But the U.S. team announced that they going to wear “gay pride” jerseys, and Jaelene, a strong Christian, said she couldn’t do it; it was against her Biblical faith. She dropped out of the U.S. team, ending a life-long dream, and missed the World Cup. Now she is playing for the North Carolina Courage in the National Women’s Soccer League. Because of the controversy, the Washington Post went to the team and asked teammates about Hinckle. They found good reports. One said, “She is high on her faith, and in my honest [opinion] that’s absolutely incredible … at the end of the day, I’m still going to be friends with her. We have no problems with each other. She’s never said anything bad about me. She never said anything bad about anybody … It hasn’t affected our team at all.”

See, this is the key; this is what Peter is talking about. He says be submissive to authority, and do it as a good witness. Even in those rare times when you DO need to contradict authority, let your life be so above reproach, that they have nothing to “point the finger at” in your life. Jaelene took that stand against the “gay pride” jersey, but her teammate in North Carolina was able to say that there was nothing else in her life that was a bad witness: she wasn’t causing problems with anyone on the team; she has never said anything bad about the person they interviewed, or anyone else on the team. She kept a good attitude, and her life was above reproach in every other way. THAT is a good witness for the Lord, even when we have to disobey.

That’s our goal. As a Christian, the most important thing about anything we do, is to maintain our witness for the Lord. Before we do anything, or say anything, we need to ask ourselves: “How is this going to reflect on my witness for the Lord?” And Peter tells us here that one of the most important ways we can witness with our life, is to respect and obey authority: “Submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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