For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right.
1 Peter 2:13-14
Many of the Scripture passages from this year’s Lenten blog have addressed the responsibility of those at the center of a society towards those at the margins. Here we have an example of a counsel directed toward the exile himself. 1 Peter is addressed to Jewish followers of Christ living in exile in Asia Minor. Peter writes throughout the letter of the need for continued obedience to Christ in the midst of the various trials that this community was suffering. If the letter was written in the mid-60s, then the emperor referred to would have been Nero—no friend to people of faith. So we have God’s people living as refugees in a land that had been conquered by a foreign power that was ruled by a tyrannical king—the last thing we might expect Peter to say to this persecuted community of believers is for them to submit to this authority that had been imposed over them. Indeed, as Calvin writes of verse 13, “It seemed an unworthy thing that God’s children should be servants, and that the heirs of the world should not have a free possession, no, not even of their own bodies.” So why would Peter, then, include this counterintuitive advice? One reason is that he views the witness of this community to be more important than their rights and their freedom to do as they please. As we saw in the previous verse (2:12), the conduct of this community is to be such that their Gentile neighbors (even their oppressors!) might be moved to give glory to God.
How should we receive this message—we, who (while “exiles” in a theological sense) are mostly pretty secure in our societal position? How might Peter have framed this message for us, being as we are in a radically different social context than his diasporic readers? One key theme that I believe would predominate is the importance of living in such a way that those who don’t know Christ are moved to glorify him—and to prioritize this over our instinct to protect our own rights and freedoms. When God’s people were the exiles, this meant submitting to the authority of those exercising dominion over them; when the Christ-followers are the ones in the position of cultural dominance, might this mean willingly submitting ourselves to the needs of the exiles among us?
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