“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. – 1 Peter 2:13-15
Calvin connects the imperative “Submit” and its object, “every authority instituted among men” directly to the previous verse’s exposition of the Christian’s duty to let the war against personal sin be seen in good deeds in the public realm. He says,
…as obedience with regard to magistrates is a part of honest or good conversation, he draws this inference as to their duty, “Submit yourselves,” or Be ye subject; for by refusing the yoke of government, they would have given to the Gentiles no small occasion for reproaching them.1Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles: The First Epistle of Peter, trans. the Rev. John Owen (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1999), pp. 79-80.
Fascinatingly, he then contrasts Peter’s injunction to Christians with the typical behavior of the Jews toward external political authority:
And indeed, the Jews were especially hated and counted infamous for this reason, because they were regarded on account of their perverseness as ungovernable. And as the commotions which they raised up in the provinces, were the causes of great calamities, so that every one of a quiet and peaceable disposition dreaded them as the plague – this was the reason that induced Peter to speak so strongly on subjection. Besides, many thought the gospel was a proclamation of such liberty, that every one might deem himself as free from servitude.2Ibid., p. 80.
- The Gospel does not free us from the duty of obedience to secular government, even if it is ungodly.
- For the Christian to refuse to be governed by secular authorities is merely to give unbelievers occasion for attacking them. (Is it wise to bring persecution upon ourselves, to be the agents of our own repression?)
- Are ungovernable Christians, like ungovernable Jews, little better for a civil order than a plague?