THE HARDEST THING TO DO
1 Peter 2:13-25
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 18, 2013
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover- up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
-- 1 Peter 2:13-25, ESV
A hard life is not what most people would prefer to pursue. We’d rather “take it easy” and steer clear of the difficult things in life. Many Christians, especially in modern times, like sit in padded pews and walk the paths of least resistance.
For true followers of Christ, however, who take God’s commandments seriously, easy is not really an option. We signed up for hard. At the outset, Jesus said plainly, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (ref. Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23). Carving out time in our busy schedules to publicly and privately worship God, mustering the courage to invite others to Christ and His church, giving away money for tithes and offerings, and other Christian disciplines can prove to be hard things to do.
But what it the hardest thing? Which commandment in the arsenal of God’s word is the toughest to take? Simon Peter, whose life was anything but easy, tells us in this text.
The Hardest Thing
The hardest thing in life is to “be subject.” We do not naturally like to submit to someone’s authority, to yield our will to another’s, to use our strength for the good and goals of someone else. The fact that it is “for the Lord’s sake” should make it easier to swallow for Christians, but it is still perhaps the most difficult thing to do in this life.
Basic human nature would rather be Invictus, the captain of our own ship, the master of our own fate. Pride makes us believe that we are better than others, so others need not tell us what to do. Sinfulness is essentially selfishness, and it still lurks in the hearts of even the best of born again believers.
At the outset, let us understand that the word Peter chooses to use (two words in English) is the exact same word used in James 4:7, “Be subject to God.” So in reality, when we are able to obey this commandment and submit to the realms of authority a sovereign God has placed over our lives, we are actually submitting, or being subject to, God Himself.
But this text does not stress submission to God directly, but to others, and the realm of others is extreme.
Our subjection and submission as Christians belongs to “every human institution,” “everyone,” and “not only the good and gentle but also the unjust.” To further define the extremity and seemingly unlimited manner in which we should submit, specific persons like the “emperor” and “governor” are used. Please note that the evil, Christ-hater, Christian-killer Nero was the current emperor of Rome when Peter wrote this epistle. And, don’t forget that Jesus Christ was crucified under the authority of a governor named Pilate.
The primary emphasis of the first paragraph seems to be upon government, and human institution ordained by God. Human governments are led by, well, humans, and humans can be corrupt and unfair. Such sin is generally no excuse for a Christian to sin by rebelling against otherwise legitimate government. To push the application farther, spouses (to whom we should be mutually submissive) can be difficult, parents can be wrong, principals and teachers can be unfair, and the policeman may give you a ticket even though you know you were not really speeding.
Does God want us to be wimps? No, He wants us to be witnesses, “to silence the ignorance of foolish people,” which may and sometimes do include that spouse, parent, principal, or policeman. God wants people, especially lost people, to see Christ in us. A Christian is never more like Christ than when he or she graciously submits to someone else, even when that someone else seems unkind or unfair. The text shall elaborate upon this in a moment.
Please allow me to insert one limitation on this otherwise unlimited command. Simon Peter, who wrote this commandment for God, did on occasion fail to submit in the name of God (read Acts 5:29 and the surrounding context). This commandment to submit is suspended only when a Christian is coerced to do something that is plainly and diametrically opposed to the other commandments of God. But be careful with this freedom, and be wary of “using your freedom as a cover-up for evil.”
Its Common Application
Of all the relationships Simon Peter could have used to stress the spiritual disciple of subjection, he chose that of “servants” and “masters.” Slavery was a common reality in the Roman Empire and a cruel part of our own American history. Many slaves became Christians, and this application would serve as an extreme example of the spirit of Christ. It still serves as perhaps the most common example, too.
Today most Christians are slaves only to Christ. But all of us have a vocation, a calling, a job. And virtually no job affords one the opportunity to work for ourselves (even business owners answer to clients and customers). So in this realm, as Dylan wrote, “You gonna have to serve somebody.”
On the job is where we tend to spend the majority of time in our lives and the place where we are the most visible. Even non-workaholics burn more hours on the job than in personal or family recreation. And if you don’t sleep on the job, you spend more time on the job than sleeping. Furthermore, discretionary time and sleep are not generally watched by others, whereas most vocations are employed in an arena viewed by God and man.
Therefore, your good submission and godly attitude at work or school can be your loudest and proudest witness for Christ, especially when we are able to handle adversity or injustice in a gracious way. Contrariwise, a surly, lazy, foul-mouthed worker or student, especially one who claims to be a Christian, drives people in droves away from Christ and His church. So let us work and live before others as if God is watching. For, He is indeed, and His word for us is “be subject for the Lord’s sake.”
Now that we’ve brought the Lord again into the argument, let us look with wonder at the greatest example of submission ever submitted.
The Greatest Example
Simon Peter had his own great moment of obedience and subjection, but he chooses not to use them here. Neither does he cite the great Christian witness and example of his fellow Apostles or choice saints. No, for this difficult commandment and application he appeals to the very top, to God Himself in Jesus Christ. Here we find the chief example and something much more.
In the life of Christ we find a person in whom submission was a way of life. He submitted to His parents, who really didn’t understand him, for three decades before departing to make His own name and fame. In the three years of His public ministry, He roamed the realm of a pagan emperor and eventually suffered under a cowardly governor. “He was reviled” by the most reviling of religious leaders. And ultimately, He was asked by His Heavenly Father to do the absolutely hardest thing.
Sometimes soldiers are given orders which will put them in situations where death is a probability. But in the case of God’s Son, His death, if He submitted fully to the Father’s will, would be an absolute certainty. What if Jesus had been a rebellious teenager, an unwilling worker, a good-for-nothing church member, or even exercised His right not to sacrifice Himself for people who were inherently not worth it? But of course, He submitted Himself, “entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
This is our example to follow. But lest this practical text take a wrong theological turn, Simon Peter closes with a powerful and gospel thought.
More Than An Example
Jesus Christ is our ultimate example for the way to live our lives. Anyone who neglects this fact, or the kindness of Jesus, or the social justice He demonstrated, or the myriad other ways Jesus shows us how to live our lives, is just being negligent of Scripture and an important part of the gospel.
However, the gospel by no means teaches us we become Christians, or that we are saved, by following Christ’s example. The gospel, elaborated upon in verses 24 and 25, teaches us that we are saved not by the mere example, but by the specific death, resurrection, and lordship of Jesus Christ, who “Himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”
Vivid images and words from Isaiah 53 are found in Simon Peter’s words. He understood that Jesus’ fulfillment of this prophecy struck at the heart of the gospel and the Christian life. Jesus Christ is the supreme example of submission and grace under pressure, but He is also much more than an example. He is the Suffering Servant. He is the Savior. He is the great “Shepherd.” He is the great “Overseer” of His body, the church. He is Lord.
Only those who live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ really know what submission is all about. It does not mean it is not hard to bury pride and independence to serve other human beings. But when we do the hard thing, by submitting to others in grace and peace, we find we are really doing the easy thing by submitting to our Lord Jesus Christ, whose yoke is easy and burden is light.
THE HARDEST THING TO DO
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org