In my last post, I discussed our interaction as believers with other Christians, pointing out that Christ-like love is the one defining mark that should characterize those relationships. But what about those relationships that are not necessarily directly affected by whether both parties are Christians? For example, what does the Bible say about our interactions with parents, the government, and to employers? Do any of these really matter?
While we do have a higher compulsion to obey and submit to those around us who are Christians, the Lord does call each of us to submit to the three groups I specifically named above. Interestingly, the reason behind all three is the same. Look at these verses–
“Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the Lord your God.”
1 Timothy 6:1
“All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.”
1 Peter 2:13, 14
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”
Did you notice what was the common theme in all three of these passages? God does not tell us to submit to those in authority (parents, employers, government) because it is the right thing to do, or even simply because it is the natural pattern we ought to follow. Instead, the reason we are to willingly submit ourselves is for His sake.
In Leviticus 19, the Lord is speaking of His holiness, and the two commands He singles out are “reverence” for parents and honoring the Sabbath, and the reason for both is that He alone is the Lord. We are to treat our bosses with the utmost respect, not because they are good people necessarily, but so that no charge will be brought against the name of our God. And finally, we are to humbly obey the government for Christ’s sake. We do it all for Him.
This submission, this coming under the authority of those whom God has placed over us has nothing to do with what we feel, how we view those over us, or any other thing upon this earth. We are to do so for the sake of the Lord.
Think about this: Paul and Peter wrote their instructions when it would have been very easy for them to make qualifying statements to these commandments. Paul told slaves to “in all things obey your masters,” even though these people were bound in slavery and withheld rights of citizenship (Col. 3:22). When Peter told Christians to submit to the Kings, the Roman emperors were in power. Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified at their hands, yet still they call us to honor them by obeying their laws (Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:13). It was not that the human leaders were worthy of special devotion because of their own upright lives, but they were to be honored because doing so honored the Lord.
And that is what this all comes down to, giving honor to Him. This submission to in glorifying God goes far beyond simple outward obedience. God commanded every person to “reverence” their parents, not merely obey (Lev. 29:3; Eph. 6:1-3). Paul called slaves to obey their masters from the heart sincerely, not merely outwardly (col. 3:22-24). And then he reminds all of us that to resist the government is to resist God Himself (Rom. 13:1-7). It goes beyond simply not transgressing laws or rules.
Now granted, this obedience is regulated by whether these authorities try to force us to disobey the Word of God. Whenever that happens, we must answer like the apostles did: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). What I have mentioned above is under normal circumstances. When the governing authorities commanded the apostles to stop preaching the Gospel, they disobeyed—but only because they were commanded to preach from a Higher Authority.
Yet as they did so they did not go around bad-mouthing the ruling body of the Jews to everyone who would listen. No, they were still respectful to them. This is the only type of civil disobedience the Lord approves of. Yet as I said, this is the exception. Apart from this extreme set of circumstances, we are to submit to those in all forms of authority over us from a pure heart.
It is not easy. We all have had our run-ins with our parents, had bosses that drove us nuts, and lived under political leaders we simply could not stand. However, none of these excuses are any reason for us to not give honor to those in authority, for the reverence and obedience we are to render has little to do with the actual people they are directed towards. We submit with a right attitude because we are doing so “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Pet. 2:13). When we cannot find something good to say about those over us, we should say nothing at all. I know the political climate today is fraught with tension and high-strung opinions, but we are still called to honor God in all things related to those in authority.
What it all boils down to is that God has set certain individuals over us, and we are to obey them as a way to honor Him and to honor His Name in the eyes of the world. When the world sees us not participating in the accusations and hate-speech against political candidates, refusing to bad-mouth our employers, and shunning any rebellious attitude towards our parents (Even after we have moved out), it will cause them to recognize that there is something different about us. The lack of that difference is the main reason many reject the Gospel.
So when we are faced with having to submit to those in authority, especially those we have an aversion for, let us remember that respectfully submitting to them is not just what we are commanded to do—it is actually an act of submission to the Lord and brings Him glory. Even beyond that, it is a testimony to the world. The immediate context of 1 Peter 2:13-14 is silencing the accusations of unbelievers by our excellent behavior (1 Pet. 2:11, 12). It is a high calling, but He gives us grace to do it as He works through us (Phil. 2:12, 13). Let us honor the Lord in this way.