Unashamed of the Gospel in a Morally Shameless Society
1 Peter 2:13-3:7
Be subject for the Lord’s sake.
Remember the general thesis of our study of 1 Peter. The exiled, dispersed Christians lived in a place and age of varying degrees of intolerance regarding their faith. It was not just that Christians were looked upon as odd, or that they were ignored. 1 Peter 2:12 (the verse that precedes the text of this particular lesson) notes that the secular world would “speak against you as evildoers.” Christians were viewed as detriments to and in opposition of the society in which they lived. They were greatly misunderstood and mischaracterized.
1 Peter 2:13-3:7 addresses the subjects of politics, of a master/slave economy, and of the submissiveness of wives to the authority of their husbands. This section of scripture and others like it are often met with disdain by 21st century American culture. Given poor interpretation and application, today’s Christians may have their own issues of embarrassment surrounding biblical instruction on these issues.
There are four areas of subjection, submission, and service addressed in this text:
Be subject to governmental authority.
2:18 Servants be subject to masters.
Wives be subject to your husbands.
3:7 Likewise, husbands honor your wives.
First century Christians, in their commitment to monotheism, were at odds with the religious structure of their communities. If crops in the area failed, the community might place blame on Christians who did not sacrifice to the agriculture god. As the supposed deification of the empire’s Caesars increased, Christians suffered persecution, being perceived as subversive to governmental authorities.
Peter reminded Christians that they were to be good citizens. Christians benefit social structures. “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” These admonitions, if followed, resulted in Christians being good neighbors and good citizens. These admonitions also called Christians to not be ashamed of God or the church.
Christians are also called to be good workers within the economic structure. Peter acknowledges that some authorities and even an entire social construct may be unjust. The epistle reminds Christians that our Lord suffered unjust treatment at the hand of authorities and powers. His response was “he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten.” A good work ethic is never bad..
Wives are included in the call to the practice of submission. Sara is noted as an example of a wife who followed the lead of her husband. Part of the equation in this text is the recognition that some Christian women may find themselves wed to men who were not of faith. The advice on winning their husbands to salvation was to be a good wife.
Just as each section above began with the instruction to “be subject” or “be in submission”, so this verse addressed to husbands begins with a “likewise.” Husbands are to honor their wives.
Although all of these relationships – citizen to government, servant to master, wives to husbands, and husbands to wives – have many complicated layers, the focus of the teaching in this apostolic letter to Christians who live in unchristian circumstances is that disrespect will not earn respect.
There is one more consideration for practicing submission, stated in two different ways as this passage begins: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (2:13). and “For this is the will of God that by doing good, you should silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (2:15).
For enlightenment and discussion:
Are you ever in situations in which you know being identified as a Christian or a Bible-believer will cause you social embarrassment?
How has Jesus prepared his followers to suffer?
Is quiet submission to unjust treatment always the best answer?
In our current society and culture, is Christianity perceived as subversive, uncooperative, or even evil?
What opportunities to glorify God are afforded us as national citizens, employees, and spouses?
A recurring word in 1 Peter is the word “precious.” What are Peter’s precious things? 1:7, 19; 2:4, 6; 3:4.