How to Respond to Civil Authorities

How do you talk about political leaders with your friends? On breaks do you bash your boss with other employees? Do you pick apart your pastor after the church service? Your answers may reveal that you have issues authority.

When it comes down to it, God created authority. It is part of his design. He himself is the ultimate authority and in charge of everyone and everything. All authority comes from God, established by God, and used by God for his purposes (vs. 13-15a; cf. Romans 13:1-7). God puts people in authority over us to help us to learn and grow. The way we respond to authority can have a good affect on those ruling over us (v.15b).

“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.” – 1 Peter 2:13-17, ESV

While we may not agree with our president, police, pastor, or parents, we have a obligation to submit to their authority and live as servants. Servants differ from slaves in that they are free and do what they do out of humility. When we buck against earthly authority we really also buck against God’s authority. We have a higher calling to live as servants of God under his authority (vs.16-18). When we humble ourselves to God we will also honor other authorities trusting God is working through them even if they are disrespectful, unlikable, abusive, unfair or ungodly.

Our obedience to earthly authority ought to reflect our obedience to Jesus. We do not seek to get away with as much as we can with Jesus—we seek to do all that He wants and commands—even when those commands run against the grain of our comfort or abilities. An important characteristic of a follower of Jesus is submission to authority. First, to God, then to others.


Questions for Reflection:

  • How is God the ultimate authority? How does this help us to think about other authorities, even evil ones?
  • What human authorities has God put in authority over you? What is your attitude towards them?
  • What is the place for government and civil authority in the story of God? What expectations do you have for governing authorities? How are God’s people to live with our civil authorities?
  • Why is it important to guard the way we talk to or about authorities? What does this teach to people around us when we can graciously disagree and humbly submit? How does submission silence ignorance and foolishness? What is the result of doing good and submitting to authorities? When is it okay to disobey authorities?
  • How does our response to authority reflect on our faith? (see 1 Timothy 2:1-2; Proverbs 21:1) How does Peter’s challenge to submit to authorities challenge you?
  • How is God the ultimate authority? How does this text show that God is over rulers, authorities, even emperors?
  • Why is the example of a servant a fitting example of submission? How is Jesus a great example of a servant? (see Mark 10:42-45; Phil. 2:5-11) How are servants free? What are Christians free from or free to? How are you expected to use your freedom? How does God want you to serve?

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