Submission to Government

Text: I Peter 2:13-17

Study Questions:

  1. Why are we to submit to the national government?
  2. Why are we to submit to the local government?
  3. Why does God want us to submit to human governments?
  4. If we are under a government, does that mean we are not free?
  5. Why is “honor” repeated in I Peter 2:17?
  6. Why do we fear God but not the king?

Defining Submission

The Greek word for “submission” is hupotasso, which means to place or rank under, to be subject, to obey. The word is used in both voluntary and involuntary situations.

It is amazing the number of misconceptions that exist about what submission is and how it is practiced. It is not for lack of Scriptures -- Peter and Paul both use a great deal of space teaching the concept.

Submission is not a degradation, but a choice to follow authority. We are commanded to submit to our government (Romans 13:1), but that doesn't make us dirt. It doesn't even make a citizen inferior to the government.

Submit for the Lord’s Sake

Submission to the government is an involuntary action. Most of us do not have opportunities to choose which government we wish to live under. Even with choice, we will always be under some government. A Christian’s submission to rulers is not optional (Titus 3:1-2).

Even though governments are created by men and the laws they enforce are also man-made, the governments’ authority is derived from God (Romans 13:1). Even though a person might be appointed to his position to administer by other men, he is still in a position of authority. This rule is not limited to just the person at the top of a government. Ultimately, it is God who decides who rules a nation and how well they can rule (Daniel 2:21; 4:32). Therefore, regardless of whether you think the current government is in place by honest or dishonest means, it is the government for the moment. God has reasons for His choice. Therefore we treat God's choice in leadership with respect and politeness because of our respect for God (I Timothy 2:1-2).

Governments Serve a Purpose

Governments are not independent. They are subject to God, from whom they derive their authority (Romans 13:1-7). Their duties include punishing evil and promoting righteousness. Laws exist to tell the wicked what they should not do (I Timothy 1:9). Because men are involved, governments often fail in their duties, but their purpose for existing remains. We never follow a leader into doing evil because we are doing this for the Lord’s sake (Ecclesiastes 8:3).

Notice that Peter said to submit to every human institution. The government Paul and Peter lived under persecuted Christians, murdering them for their faith. Yet no Christian led an armed rebellion against their government. They allowed themselves to be mistreated. They remained in submission.

Silencing the Foolish

Our submission to the government reflects upon God and His word. Those who lash out at Christians, due to their ignorance or foolishness, do not need additional ammunition against us (Titus 2:6-8; I Timothy 5:14). One of the best ways to handle those flailing against us is to live a life of integrity.

Act as Free Men

The best example is Daniel. From a Jewish point of view, the Babylonian government was illegal. They took things that did not belong to them -- whole countries! Their only law was themselves. They didn't answer to anyone else. They were violent and destructive. They believed that might made them right (Habakkuk 1:6-11). And yet Daniel served in this nation's government and the empire that conquered it. He was the lone example of an incorruptible official (Daniel 6:4-5). His integrity put him at odds with his fellow bureaucrats. Daniel submitted to the government, but he never compromised his moral or religious beliefs. It was through his service to God and the king that Daniel won the respect of the king (Daniel 6:19-27). When Daniel was asked to read the message from God for Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, who was a foolish party animal, Daniel was polite yet at the same time, he didn't soften his message (Daniel 5:17-28).

Submission doesn’t mean agreeing with everything the government does. We state the truth without attempting to change the truth, whether we admire the current leadership or think they are fools. When something immoral is done, we speak out against it -- politely but firmly (Mark 6:18-20). When laws are made contrary to the Laws of God, we ignore the laws of men and continue serving God (Acts 5:29). In doing so, we are being submissive to the king’s King.

Do I have to obey if I disagree with a law? We, of course, obey God first over the governments of men, but as long as the government is not violating a law of God, we are expected to submit to the government (Romans 13:2). You can always work within the government’s rules to request changes to the law. However, we have to keep in mind that we are not in control. An example of this is when Esther worked to get the Medo-Persian laws modified to save her people from annihilation.

Our freedom as Christians does not mean we can do whatever we desire. As Christians, we are free (John 8:32,36; Galatians 5:1), but it is freedom from the Old Law and worldliness. Paul takes the same idea further when he said not to use our liberty in Christ as an excuse to serve worldly desires (Galatians 5:13). The reality is that when we serve sin, we are no longer free (II Peter 2:18-19). We are always under the laws of God regardless of who is running our government.

We need to remember that we aren't in control. We might see that the current leadership is poor and making horrible decisions, but we usually aren't in a position to do anything about it (Ecclesiastes 8:8). What we can count on is that evil is self-destructive. "Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God" (Ecclesiastes 8:11-12). Therefore, we stay the course of righteousness regardless of who is in power. The evil will fail and the righteous will be around to pick up the pieces.

Honor All People

We need to treat all people with respect - this is a general principle (Acts 10:28). With brethren, we go a step further to treat them with love (I Peter 1:22). And with God, we go further to treat Him with fear. Kings, however, get the same respectful treatment that we give everyone else.
By ending with honoring the king, a bookend is created around this topic that started back in I Peter 2:13, bringing it to a close.

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