Peter’s not a hypocrite.
At least, that’s what I tried to show in Sunday’s sermon (6/14/15). The text, 1 Peter 2:13-17 calls for submission, for the Lord’s sake, to human authorities – and yet Peter himself had defied the Sanhedrin some 25-30 years earlier (Acts 4:1-22).
The question of submission gets our attention (and raises our ire?). The Church has at times misapplied or abused the notion; the culture has dragged it through the mud. What IS Biblical submission?
The question and the context here relates to a Christian’s relationship with ruling structures of culture and government. Can we obey this text AND stand against government in civil disobedience? The sermon itself will provide wider context – but see below for more detail on one illustration in particular – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s letter from a Birmingham jail.
52 years ago this spring, Dr. King, along with other leaders from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, campaigned heavily for desegregation in businesses in downtown Birmingham, AL. Toward this end, they had organized boycotts and sit-ins of segregated, white-owned businesses, along with peaceful marches and pickets. They had endured violence and mocking and brutality.
After one gathering, Dr. King was arrested. And as he sat in solitary confinement in a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King dreamed and prayed and thought deeply through an impassioned defense of nonviolent resistance for clergymen who were urging him to wait, to slow down, to negotiate more. The letter he wrote stands the test of time and speaks to the tension of this passage. (read it in it’s entirety here or as a photoed archive here). I’d encourage you who have the stamina and interest to read the entire thing!
Here’s one quote that speaks to our relevant text:
One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
A law-breaker with the highest regard for the law is One who has his heart submitted to the author of all JUST law.
Dr. King was a prisoner for doing what was good, for his submitted heart to God. I believe the best parts of non-violent civil-disobedience, like that led by Dr. King and others who loved Jesus, capture the heart of 1 Peter 2:13-17 and do not give an exception to the rule. They were Seeking to do what is good, seeking justice through just means. They were living as free people, not as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves.