In our previous post in this series, we said that God calls us to submit to every lawful human institution—whether a school, government, or church. And we said that God calls us to obey institutional authorities as long as they act within their jurisdiction and do not order us to disobey God.
In this post, we are going to explore why God commands us to “be subject to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13). Why is it considered fundamentally good to be submissive to institutions that are fallible and so often corrupt? In short, we are to be subject to human institutions for the honor of God’s name, the good of the community, winning unbelievers to Christ, and our eternal benefit.
Peter writes, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13, emphasis added). Here’s another way to say that: live so that the world will thank God for the church, without the “thank you” being sarcastic. When God’s people don’t act godly, God’s name gets a bad rap. When they act godly, God’s name gets a good rap (generally speaking). Rightly or wrongly, God is associated with the behavior of His people. God’s name will be dishonored if Christians are known for being unruly citizens, employees, and spouses. As you know, if you’ve ever had bad service, the behavior of one person can reflect poorly on a whole organization.
God’s reputation should be enhanced, not diminished, by His representatives. If “there is no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1), and we are God’s people, then the world should be able to look at us and see how God intends for society to function in relation to institutional authorities. Christians should make for the best citizens, employees, spouses, etc., because everything we do is to be done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and the love of our neighbor (Mark 12:31).
The Common Good?
In addition to submitting for the glory of God, we are to submit to institutional authorities for “the welfare of the city” in which we live (Jeremiah 29:7). The common good is hindered if our conduct among our unbelieving neighbors is dishonorable and disorderly (1 Peter 2:12-14). The common good is helped if, even when we suffer for it, our conduct is good and orderly (1 Peter 2:20-21). Like a classroom, a city can’t function well if its “students” are unsubmissive to authorities.
God’s children, like God, are to be agents of order, not chaos and disruption (we could all probably benefit from remembering that next time we are on the highway). Christians are to help preserve civil society, not contribute to its deterioration (Matthew 5:13). We should be those who help bring harmony, not dissonance, to the functioning of society. As Paul instructs Christians regarding worship services: “All things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Why? Because the proper function and flourishing of every human institution depends on it (1 Corinthians 12:7-26).