13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
15 For such is the will of God that by doing right, you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.
17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle but also to those who are unreasonable.
19 For this finds favor if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.
20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if you do what is right and suffer for it, you patiently endure it; this finds favor with God.
21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps,
22 who did not sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth;
23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;
24 and He bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds, you were healed.
25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.
The governments mentioned here are ordained and appointed by God for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. There have been governments that weren’t in that category. Peter and John encountered one in Acts 4. Having been arrested for ministry and the preaching of the Gospel, they made a strong defense of their actions.
They were ultimately commanded to stop. In Acts 4:19 Peter and John answered and said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It seems that their answer reflected the submission in attitude that Peter teaches here, even though they took the course of what has come to be called civil disobedience. The United States of America would not exist had the colonists not stood up to Great Britain. So this is a difficult area of life to discern. Maybe it’s a matter of conscience, and every believer has to decide case by case. If a person determines that some level of resistance to government is appropriate, that person will certainly have to accept the ensuing conflict or penalty. But submission to a Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and the like seems out of the boundary of this text.
The section that begins in verse 18 addresses works relationships. The emphasis is on dealing with unkind employers who are unreasonable, and Peter recommends submission in all cases. He indicates that a submissive attitude, especially in the face of suffering, will ultimately prove your strength and find favor with God. The treatment is unjust, and therefore you go a long way in demonstrating your faith if you bear up under it. Maybe the outrageous governments are to be obeyed as well . . .
Well, the conclusion of the matter begins in verse 21 where Peter points to Jesus as the example of unjust treatment and personal response. He points out that the suffering Jesus endured was partly to set an example for us to follow in His steps. Jesus did or said nothing to come against His unrighteous tormentors. He calmly took what they dished out, and He did it by constantly entrusting Himself to the Father who judges righteously.
Furthermore, He was bearing OUR sins in the process, and that was hostility toward Him on our part. But He did it so that we could die to sin and live to righteousness and be healed by the wounds He received. Read about the outcome in Philippians 2 where God highly exalted Jesus and gave Him the uniquely supreme Name of King of kings and Lord of lords. Thus the text teaches that following Jesus is done by submitting to some pretty ugly stuff, but in the end, God will make it all right.