by Jack Wald | February 6th, 2000

I Peter 2:13-25

“Submit” is not a word we like to hear. It carries with it the image of the knights of old battling in their armor and with a sword at your throat, you hear the word, “Yield!” Or fighting as children and with an arm twisted behind your back, being forced to say “uncle”. Or a wife working hard to take care of the house and care for the children and perhaps a job as well, when she ventures to offer an opinion at variance with that of her husband, being told to “submit.”

It is a nasty word. It is having been defeated and being forced to do something we do not want to do.

From childhood on, we have rebelled against this idea of submission. Temper tantrums are nothing more than a child insisting things be done his or her way. Teenage rebellion is the natural process of a child becoming independent. The older we get, the more inclined to be independent we become. We move naturally, without effort, to a state of independence. Given a choice of living with another family or having our own home, we prefer having our own home where we don’t have to submit to the wishes of another family. We grumble about our workplace where someone tells us what to do. We complain about the inefficiency of the bureaucracy and how we could do it better. Life is more complicated when we have to work with and for other people and we much prefer to make our own decisions and chart our own course. We do not like to submit to anyone. If I tell you that because I am your pastor, you have to submit to me, how does that make you feel?

Submit. It is this uncomfortable word that is the centerpin of today’s text. The good deeds we talked about last week from the verses just preceding today’s text, the good deeds that will cause non-Christians to turn and become believers themselves, all focus on this word, “submit”.

Let me summarize last week’s sermon.

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits.

Peter’s thought process in these two verses is:
1. The non-Christians slander us as evil doers.
2. Our good deeds prove their slander a lie.
3. Our good lives convict them of their sin and slander.
4. The non-Christians become converted.

The good deeds that prove the slander of non-Christians a lie, are what Peter goes on to talk about in verse 13 and into chapter 3. Peter strongly urges us to live good lives so our good deeds will cause non-believers to turn to Christ and the illustration of this point that Peter makes centers on what we naturally resist doing, submitting.

Peter says we are to “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.” And he lists some of these, kings, governors, household slaves, husbands and wives. But these are only examples Peter felt were appropriate to mention. Remember, Peter knows the people he is writing to and he knows the situation in which they live. He knows their needs. So he illustrates his point that we are to submit with examples that relate to the situation of his readers. But the concept of submission goes far beyond rulers and masters and husbands. We are to submit to every area where authority has been placed. This extends beyond Peter’s examples to: the parent/child relationship, employee/employer relationship, church leader/church member relationship.

If you begin to feel oppressed by all these relationships in which you are called to submit, it gets worse. The word translated “authority” literally means “creature”. The literal meaning of this text is that we are to “submit to every human creature”. We are to submit to every person. Every person? That’s what Peter writes. Why submit to every person? Because God created every person and when we submit to another person, we submit to God.

What this means is that obedience to what God is saying in this passage does not entail keeping a list of relationships where you are in authority over others and a second list of relationships where you are called to submit. Peter is talking about a lifestyle, a way of living, in which every person we meet is someone we serve. We’ll come back to this radical call to live a life of submission.

It is important to read these sections on submission to kings and governors, masters and husbands and wives under the general call to submission. Each of these are examples of submission, not isolated rules for relationships.

Verse 13: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.” Verse 17: “Show proper respect to everyone.” This is Peter’s point, stated in these two verses. All the illustrations that follow refer back to these verses.  These illustrations are the good deeds that will cause non-Christians to be convicted and turn to Christ. To take any of these illustrations of Peter’s point out of this context is to destroy the point Peter wants to make.

Before we go to these specifics, what does it mean to submit?

The word translated “submit” was originally a Greek military term meaning “to arrange troop divisions in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.

The key word in understanding the concept of submission is “voluntary”.  Every time this word is used in the New Testament, it is voluntary in nature. It is always, “submit yourself”. It is never “submit to me.” It is never, forced on a person. It is always a person’s choice to submit. This is key to our understanding of this passage and will be important when we talk next week about wives and husbands.

Someone can tell you that you have to submit, but when Peter or any of the other New Testament writers urge us to submit, it is up to us to do so. It is our choice.

Let’s begin with submission to the king. Peter says that we are to submit to the king and governors. That doesn’t sound too bad. In church prayer meetings, we often pray for King Mohammed. We support him and submitting to him does not sound terribly difficult. But who is the king that Peter is referring to when he writes this? It is Nero. Nero ruled from AD 54-68. He was considered the supreme authority by his subjects, even worshiped by them.  Nero was accused of setting fire to Rome in 64AD in order to divert attention from himself, but this has never been proven with certainty. The Christians, however, were made the scapegoats for this arson and many of his cruelties stem from this time. This is probably when Peter and Paul were martyred. Peter say to submit to Nero who is persecuting the Christians.

So Peter says we are to submit to the king which doesn’t sound too difficult, but we are to submit even when the king is trying to kill us. Even when the king is using Christians as human torches to light his garden at night as Nero did.

After this discussion about kings and governors, Peter goes on to talk about slaves and says that slaves are to submit to their masters, even if the masters are cruel and beat them.

This is not pleasant and easy reading. I read this and shrink back in revulsion. If someone is trying to exterminate Christians, I want to organize a resistance. If I am a slave and someone is beating me, submission is the last thought that comes to my mind. What comes to mind is grabbing hold of the whip and striking back, organizing the other slaves to revolt, not submission.

Does this mean that we should not resist evil? Was it wrong for the UN to send troops into Indonesia? Was it wrong to resist leaders like Pol Pot, Hitler and Stalin, who exterminated millions of people? If a civil war breaks out in Nigeria and the predominantly Muslim north attacks the predominantly Christian south, should Christians in the south submit?

I have struggled with this text for the last couple weeks and I don’t pretend to have resolved my struggles. I am not a pacifist. If someone attacked my wife and daughters, I would easily pick up a gun to defend them.

But this text is very clear. Peter writes to Christians who are facing persecution and he tells them to submit to the king and governors who are the persecutors.

Remember the context for these illustrations. These relationships where we are called to submit are illustrations of the good deeds Peter says will cause non-Christians to turn and follow Christ.

Why does Peter urge us to choose to submit to kings and governors, masters and every living creature? Because he wants to see the king and governors, masters and every living creature turn to follow God, to share in the fellowship of Christians.

Peter’s perspective throughout this letter is that eternal realities are far more important than earthly realities. Peter consistently say we are to give up the earthly rewards for eternal rewards.

How does submission to kings and governors cause non-Christians to turn to follow Christ? Let me illustrate that with a story of one person who was martyred for her faith here in North Africa. There were Christians in North Africa almost immediately after Pentecost and Christian Churches were established as far west as Morocco by the third century.

Christians in North Africa, like others in the Roman Empire, faced periodic persecution until Constantine made Christianity a state religion early in the fourth century. These early Christians refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman emperor and at times of persecution, were killed for their refusal.

Listen to excerpts from the account of Perpetua, a young woman who was martyred in Carthage – in what is today part of Tunisia in the year 203AD.

Born into a good family, Vivia Perpetua had spent the long, sunny days of her happy childhood in the lovely seaside city of Carthage on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. Lacking no comfort or privilege, she had enjoyed an education available to few girls of her day. Now she was no longer a child but a young married woman twenty-two years of age, and the security of her early years had given way to stresses which quite shook her family. Arrested and imprisoned, she was accused of a serious crime: she had confessed to being a Christian.

Perpetua and her friends had been singled out from among the Christians of Carthage. The authorities wished to make a public example of them. And now the whole city waited to see whether they would sacrifice to the idols and deny Christ. The governor hoped they would – then perhaps others would become discouraged or fearful and do the same. But he underestimated the determination of Perpetua and her friends, and he knew nothing of the grace of God which would sustain them in their hour of trial. If they were to made an example, they were determined to be a worthy and honorable one – to shine with the love of God on the stage prepared for them.

Perpetua’s brother, also a Christian, as was her mother, visited her in prison and encourage her to ask God to reveal what would happen. She did and the answer was a dream of what awaited her in heaven. This and other dreams brought great comfort to Perpetua and her friends, and gave them courage and strength to meet their discomforts with joy, and to face the future without fear. They knew that the visions were from God, and would be fulfilled. They felt sure that the shepherd in their dream was their Savior Jesus Christ, and that soon he would welcome them to that beautiful meadow; there they would taste the sweetness of God’s love.

They were not at all like the ordinary prisoners, who generally caused trouble and make life difficult for the guards. They were patient and thoughtful, and filled with quiet confidence. Perpetua’s diary tells us that one of the soldiers superintending the prison “began to regard us in great esteem, perceiving that the might power of God was in us.” His name was Pudens and he later turned to Christ.

On the day of the trial Perpetua writes in her diary, “We were just having our midday meal when we were suddenly hurried off to be questioned, and we came to the market place. Immediately, the news ran all though the market and a vast crowd began to gather. We climbed up onto the platform. The others, when they were questioned, confessed their faith boldly. And so it came to my turn.” Her father crept as close as he could, holding out her child to her. He cried out, “Take pity on your baby!” The judge could not help being moved at this sight, and urged her to draw back before it was too late. “Spare your father’s white hairs,” he said, “Spare the tender years of your child. Just offer a sacrifice for the well-being of the emperor and go free.” “I cannot,” she replied. “Are you a Christian?” he asked. “I am,” she said firmly.

They were taken into the arena where they were torn by leopards and bears. In the midst of this, she and her friends were singing psalms of joy and faith in God. Severely injured, she was attended to by her brother and a friend named Rusticus. She seemed in a trance, despite her wounds, as though she felt nothing, asking when the beasts were to come. “Stay firm in the faith,” she urged them, “and love one another, and may our martyrdom not be for all of you a cause of shame!”

This is a powerful story and it is one of many in the history of the church. Enemies of Christians determine to wipe them out and instead of success, their efforts are met with increased strength in the church and conversions of the persecutors. The submission to the authorities demonstrated by Perpetua and her friends resulted in a stronger church, a more committed church, and new believers in the church who came to faith by witnessing the faith of those who died.

There is power in voluntary submission. The history of persecution of the church is not one of the church dying off and disappearing. But wherever the church is persecuted, it becomes stronger. The Roman governors wrote to one another, trying to get advice for how to handle this problem. The emperor’s edicts did not seem to solve the problem. The church became stronger, not weaker.

I believe what I have said is true, but I am uneasy. How would I handle persecution? Preparing this sermon has been a most uncomfortable experience for me. It has pushed me where I do not want to go, where I am afraid I would not be able to go.

The account of Perpetua sounds much like the account of Paul and Silas in prison with their feet in stocks, having been severely flogged, and they are singing hymns when they were miraculously freed. Just in the last year, a woman whose husband and sons were killed by a Hindu mob in India demonstrated the faith of Perpetua by forgiving those who murdered her husband and sons and continuing her husband’s work.

From the New Testament, through church history and into today, submission to every human creature, even when that human creature is trying to kill you, and even when that human creature does kill you, has resulted in growth in the church. Growth in strength and numbers.

May God spare us from this kind of persecution. But if we face this ultimate test of martyrdom, God will supply us with the strength and courage to face this trial, to be a witness to him.

We read about this in the Gospel lesson. Jesus is talking to Peter, James and John about the end days and he tells them “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.  10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.  11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”

If we are obedient and stand with God in the face of persecution, he will enable us to honor him. But in the event we do not face such a severe trial, we are left with Peter’s call for us to submit to every creature, to live a life in which every person we meet is treated with respect and honored.

Here’s the question, which is this the easier way? Is it easier to face your executioner and for one brief moment in time, a few days, be brave and true to your Lord? or to live each day, day after day, in an attitude of humility, serving those with whom you come in contact?

I can’t compel you to submit, to serve those around you. This calling has to come to you from God. We will be imperfect in our serving, in our submission. But each day we are called to live as servants in submission to every human creature – because God is their creator and when we serve them, we serve God.

I hope you are not finding the sermons from I Peter repetitious. But Peter is offering advice to those facing persecution, to those who face difficult times. And that advice is repetitive. He calls us to remember the hope and promise we have for the future and on that basis, make costly sacrifices for one another in the Body of Christ, to love one another deeply from the heart. He calls us to submit to every living creature, even those who do not have our best interest at heart.

Nowhere do I read in I Peter that the way to deal with persecution, difficult times, is to establish your rights, to protect your ground, to asset yourself. I had a friend, a big, tall and strong athlete. He told me once that the Bible says to turn the other cheek when someone hits you. “But,” he said, “after that I’ve run out of cheeks.” After that, my friend was ready to defend himself, take matters into his own hand. This is how we tend to handle the Scriptural call to submit. We go along with the program, but only so far. We draw the line and when someone crosses the line, when it gets too difficult to submit, we begin to assert ourselves. This is, however, not what I read in I Peter.

As much as I fear that I would not be able to face a martyr’s death with bravery and courage, so do I fear that I will not be able to live a live in submission to every human creature. I know myself too well. I know how I react when I am annoyed at the behavior of another person. I know how easy it is for me to assert myself, to claim my rights.

The stories of martyrs in the church all talk about a strong sense of God’s presence. And time after time, the testimony of those dying was that they were so filled with God’s love and presence that they did not feel the flames licking at their bodies or the beasts tearing them apart. They did not face torture and death on their own strength.

I need to remember this and call out to God for help in my daily living. I cannot live a live of submission to others on my own strength.

You may be listening to this sermon and thinking it is all pie in the sky, naivete, idealistic, not practical, not suited for the real world.

Well, this is the struggle. We have our feet firmly planted in this world with our faith pulling us toward the next world. With our feet planted firmly in the mud of this earth, what I’ve said does sound idealistic and naive. But you can count on this, take this to the bank – an American expression. When you are on the verge of going from this world to the next, when your feet are not so deeply mired in the mud of this world, you will look back and berate yourself for the foolishness of having worked so hard and worried so much about earthly treasure and comfort.

We celebrate the sacrament of communion this morning. As we remember our Lord’s death in the breaking of the bread and the drinking from the cup, let us ask for God’s help in following our Lord’s example, to live our lives in submission to every human creature, for the Lord’s sake.

Philippians 2 “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,   10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.