1 Peter 2:13-17

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood.
Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17
It was our first adoption trip to China. The SARS outbreak had just been contained, and H1N1 was in full force. We packed a pharmacy of medicines, travel-sized toiletries, electrical converters, comfortable shoes, drinking water, and clothes for multiple climates, including our best guess at what size our new son would wear. We chose backpacks light enough for our children to carry but heavy enough to keep them entertained through 13-hour flights.
 
The packing list for papers overwhelmed us. We needed six sets of airline tickets and itineraries, passports and visas, birth certificates, and proof of immunizations. We assembled a stack of USCIS forms, medical reports, and a thick home study in English and Mandarin translations.
 
Curious friends and family wanted to know: would bibles make our packing list?
 
The Chinese government allows individual bibles for personal use, but not more than three, and not for distributing or evangelizing. To assure that nothing would jeopardize the completion of families’ adoptions, our agency advised against bringing them.
 
I can’t remember what we decided, but we held bits of God’s word preserved in our hearts, verses and stories we’ve collected over the years in a blend of translations. Though a hazy, jet-lagged, new-parent fog blurs many details of those two weeks in my memory, I’ll never forget the words my husband James shared before we left.
 
James gathered us in the family room, reminded our feisty American-grown kids the importance of respecting their elders and obeying government officials, and read Galatians 5:22-23.
 
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’
 
Against such things there is no law.
 
Laws may govern our travel visas, determine adoption timelines, or limit the number of bibles we can bring into China. Laws may inconvenience us or upset us, may be unfair or unjust; but there is no law against peace, no limit to kindness. The fruit of the Spirit cannot be bound by human law.
 
Peter’s words in this passage remind us that we are sojourners and exiles on this planet, citizens of heaven, free and living servants of God alone. We do not need to fear emperors or governors, but out of our deep reverence and fear of God, we subject ourselves to human institutions. We honor our leaders and everyone. We do good, and in doing good, we ‘silence those who foolishly condemn the gospel’ (verse 15, TLB).
 
Jesus did this, subjected himself to our human institutions, became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). In our wandering as sojourners, we are called to take on the mind of Christ. We submit ourselves to human authorities, but we place our hope in Jesus’ authority, sovereign and eternal over parties and powers and conquering death itself.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Use biblegateway.com to explore 1 Peter 2:13-17 in several translations—New International Version, The Living Bible, The Message. What additional insight or understanding do you gain?
  2. Heading into an election during a season of unrest, what do you learn from Peter about how to live in our current political climate?
Rebecca Janni | Author

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