Submission is not a dirty word. The Son of God submitted and will submit again in the future (Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:28). When believers submit to human authorities it catches the eye of the watching world. In many ways 1 Peter is about how to live out the grace of God in “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:12, 13).
Our large text is extremely practical. Even the doctrinal excursus about Jesus and his death on the cross (2:21-25) is illustrative of how believers suffer for doing good. (This is similar to how the great doctrinal Christ hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 illustrates unselfish living.) Verses 11 and 12 serve as a heading over the whole “submission” section in 2:13–3:7. Peter acknowledged the Christian exiles as dear friends (beloved). He urged them to refrain from the passions that war against their souls. In fact, the goal would be to live in such a way as to cause the pagans (ethnos here means unbelievers) to witness the good deeds and actually glorify God when he returns in Christ (see Matthew 5:16). Peter then used the vocative to call out how believers, slaves, wives, and husbands all gain a hearing for the gospel by submitting to human authorities.
Submission in the Culture
1 Peter 2:13-17
The imperatives in this section are generically given to all Christians. Submit appears in each of the sections of the text (2:13, 18; 3:1, 7—implied). The word is a military word which means to “line up behind” or “yield.” Obviously there are times when Christians cannot submit to human authority (creation) as Acts 4:19, 20 demonstrates. But most of the time the better witness—even if it leads to suffering—is to submit. This would include the emperor (king), governors (leaders), and lesser officials who punish wrong and commend right.
Verse 15 states the reason that believers are to submit, namely that by doing the good work of submission it will shut up the foolish people. Verses 16 and 17 drill down further into what submission looks like in several other contexts. Live free by being God’s slaves. Show honor to everyone. Love the brotherhood (fellow Christians), fear God, and honor the emperor (mentioned a second time).
Submission in the Workplace
1 Peter 2:18-25
The workplace is not exactly an accurate label. Since slaves were part of the household in the ancient world, the “house rules” section starts in verse 2:18—not 3:1. But for applicational purposes we will separate it out. Slaves (dare we say employees?) are to submit to their masters. If they are good and considerate (gentle) that is great. But submission is most noticed when it is done to those who are harsh. Peter then applied this principle in verses 19 and 20. If slaves who are Christians suffer unjustly under a harsh master, it provides the best witness and is commendable (gracious) before God.
Jesus became the greatest example (writing pattern) of this unjust suffering. [Side bar: slavery of other human beings is deplorable, but notice whom the Son of God identifies with in this text.] Jesus blazed this trail, and we are to follow in his steps (see Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps). Peter camped out on this idea of Christ’s submission. He quoted from Isaiah 53:9 which declared Jesus’ innocence. Jesus just kept giving himself up to God so that he could endure his flogging without retaliation. While yielding to human authorities he redeemed the universe by bearing the world’s sins in his body. This was all done so that people could live for righteousness. The great Shepherd of the sheep and the Overseer of the universe submitted to human authorities. Therefore, Christian slaves (and believers would later help this institution of slavery to die) can submit in the work place.
Submission in the Marriage
1 Peter 3:1-7
Mutual submission is a thing among believers (Ephesians 5:21), and marriages do not work well without it. It may not be expressed in identical ways between husbands and wives, but its presence makes the home richer, deeper, fuller, and sweeter. We could assume—from the space devoted to them—that many of these Christian exiles to whom Peter wrote were slaves or wives whose husbands were not believers.
As was the case in the earlier part of the text, lifestyle is what catches the eye. Behavior, purity, reverence, and a gentle and quiet spirit gain the attention of the unbelieving husbands. Believing wives who put more emphasis on the inner self than the outer decoration, and who look to Sarah as a godly example, are more likely to convert their husbands. Likewise, husbands who learn to be considerate (live according to knowledge) with their wives, all the while recognizing their emotional and physical vulnerabilities, will share this life as an heir in Christ while experiencing a dynamic prayer life. Love may make the world go ’round, but submission makes for a more respectful world.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.