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What Does it Mean to Honor the King?

Peter makes a difficult statement to the scattered Christians living in Asia Minor. Those believers were often living in areas that were foriegn to their history and culture, and under authority structures that might not be completely fair to their foreignness. He tells them that they are to submit to every human authority, whether it be to the emperor, or to his governors who he uses to administrate and mete out his power (1 Peter 2:13-14). Paul makes a very similar and equally difficult statement in Romans 13:1-7. In his statement, he goes so far as to argue that whoever resists the government resists God. These commands are difficult because we all know stories in which the authorities have been corrupt, evil, or incompetent. But their statements become even more problematic when we consider that both Paul and Peter wrote these commands while subject to the authority of the Roman government during a time when it could be particularly brutal.

But don’t pass over Peter’s reasoning for his command. He doesn’t say submit to those authorities because they are good, or because they are competent, or because they aren’t evil. He tells us to submit to them for the sake of the Lord. He contends that governments are instituted for the general purpose of rewarding good and punishing evil. They exist to promote and keep order so that people can live quiet and peaceful lives. In general, if you are doing good, and obeying the authorities then you will be a beacon of peace to those around you, and they will recognize your goodness. This goodness, Peter says, is God’s will for your life so that foolish people who lie about or misrepresent your Christianity can be silenced by your obedience to the authorities and the laws that govern them (1 Peter 2:15). When you obey the laws, the accusations of foolish people that you don’t respect the laws lose their power.

Peter ends his passage by reinforcing that even though we are free as Christians, we shouldn’t use our freedom for evil or to cause trouble. He reminds us to respect the authorities, to love our faith community, and to honor everyone (1 Peter 2:16-17).

Finally, Peter doesn’t mean that we always obey human authorities. When they are in conflict with God’s commands, we must obey God (Acts 5:28-29).

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