Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.
When we read these words, we might be tempted to say things like, “their emperor wasn’t like our leader. Peter wouldn’t have asked Christians to respect and honor a person like the one leading now if he had been alive to experience this.” Well, the emperor who Peter told the believers to submit to, respect, and honor was Nero. Yes, Nero the notorious and sadistic emperor who probably took part in the murder of his adopted father, so he could become emperor. He murdered his own mother and had his wife exiled and killed. He was passionate about persecuting Christians. He even blamed them for the infamous 64 A.D. fire which destroyed so much of Rome. His torture of the Christians ranged from having them torn to pieces by dogs to burning them and using the light of their blazing bodies as lamps for his parties. He built a golden palace on land which that fire had cleared. He depleted the Roman treasury building that complex and kept spending on his own desires. He was an egotist who threw extravagant parties where he sang and played instruments. He threw expensive public games to every five years in Rome and, competed in them as a charioteer. These are only a few of the terrible things this narcistic and power-hungry man did before his cowardly suicide in 68 when the Praetorian Guard and Senate pledged allegiance to Galba making Nero an enemy of the people. So, I seriously doubt, that Peter’s words would have changed if he had only known how ‘bad’ we have it. Even as it eventually gets worse before Jesus returns and we are persecuted the way these exiles had been, we will be expected to love and do good and honor God.
Peter exhorted the exiles to do good in order to put the ignorant to silence. He reminded the Christians that they were not truly under Nero’s thumb, nor under the rule of the governors. They were free and should live as free, not to sin, not to break laws, but to serve God, honor Him, shine the light of Jesus, and live out that powerful testimony to the ones living in ignorant darkness. We have the opportunity to do the same. Instead of spewing hate, instead of encouraging the chasm of hatred in our country we can live for the Lord, doing good, loving one another and therefore, glorify God. In this country and even in The Church, we answer accusations in a way that brings division and glorifies us rather than the Lord. We are free, our King is Jesus, our High Priest is Jesus. Our law is the Word of God. We are free to disrespect, and we are free to sin in any other way we choose. We choose not to sin, we choose to submit to one another, not because we are slaves but because we love each other. Galatians 5:13-15 reads,
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
Our choices to hold contempt for anyone, to refuse to love because Nero, the president, governor, police officer, pastor, or neighbor doesn’t deserve our love cannot and does not demonstrate the Gospel. Jesus took on our shame and endured the cross even though we didn’t deserve it. Peter wrote these words to the exiles in verses 19-22.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.20 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. 21 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
If the Christians had actually started the fire in Rome, they would have deserved punishment and though the deaths were horrific and too much, that was still the sentence for the crime. If you commit the crime and do the time, that is right but it’s nothing special. But to suffer when you do not deserve it, to be punished for doing good, following Christ, and ministering His love, that speaks volumes to the world. That is truly following Christ. Peter said it like this in verses 22-25
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 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. 24 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. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Had Jesus deserved the death He received, it would have meant nothing to us nor done us any good. Jesus faced that horrible suffering with joy because He knew what it would mean for us and because He had entrusted Himself to God. Look at how God is described here, him who judges justly. That is Jesus! Jesus entrusted himself to God, not one part of God, not the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit, but all of God. John 5:19-25 says,
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
Jesus entrusted Himself to God, whom He is, the one who judges justly. He entrusted Himself to God as He bore every strike of the whip, every bit of pain, and every insult hurled. He withstood it for us. Jesus suffered the curse of the tree, the curse of our sin, and the curse of terrible torture so that you and I and that person who hates us could be blessed, saved, and sanctified. Jesus told us to love those who hate us and He lived that out when He went through the passion of torture and death of the Crucifixion. In Luke 6:27-36 Jesus said,
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Hebrews 12:1-4 reads,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
So many people are watching us and taking note of how we live. Fellow believers both strong and weak in faith are encouraged when we respond like Jesus. The world is watching. They might believe because Jesus is revealed in our behavior. If you are reading this, you haven’t yet died for your faith, though one day you might. Doing good, answering well, and submitting to authority as Jesus did, well that might get hard, but it is always worth it. Someone will see, someone will take note, and God will be glorified.