How should we as Christians react to human governments. Peter mentions that we should submit to them for the Lord’s sake. The reference is to Jesus, which means that submission to human governments is part of one’s discipleship. Jesus had instructed that those who follow him should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matt. 22:21). Further, they are to submit to them because, in doing so, they are imitating the example of the Lord who submitted to various authorities when their requirements did not cause him to disobey God.
Peter makes it clear that a God-glorifying response to human governments is an important aspect of Christian witness because ‘by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.’ The apostle has in mind accusations that may be made against the church. In his day, they were accused of being anti-social because they did not take part in religious activities, of cannibalism because they had a meeting where they ate the body and blood of their leader, of affecting the economic prosperity of a region because they did not purchase items connected to false religions. How were they to answer such charges? Peter’s response is that they should obey the authorities whenever they could. They had to prove by their way of life that they were good citizens.
Peter highlights a possible danger – they are not to use their freedom as a cover-up for evil. His words are a reminder to Christians that they are still sinners and capable of sinful actions, indeed capable of using their divinely-given blessings as avenues to sin. The best known way of doing this is what is called antinomianism, which is connected to those who assume that they are not under the law and have therefore engaged in all kinds of sinful practices. Another way of using freedom as a cover-up for evil is to engage in hypocrisy, of living a life of pretence in which we give the impression that we are not in bondage to our sins.
John Brown, in his commentary on 1 Peter, points out that the service of God is reasonable, pleasant, honourable and advantageous. It is reasonable because he made us to serve him – the reason why we have all our abilities is that God gave them to us so that we would serve him. It is pleasant because, as Jesus said, the yoke is easy and the burden is light., and those who bow to him discover that this is indeed so (Brown admits it is impossible to tell a person who has not tried it that this is the case). It is honourable because it is a position of great dignity, far higher than the service of an earthly ruler. It is advantageous because God has promised to give a great reward to those who serve him.