The Virtue of Submission in I Peter

I don’t know what that had to do with beer.  So I hope you’ll forgive me for showing a beer commercial in church.  But I bet we can all relate with that naval captain.  We know what he was feeling when he thought some other ship captain was telling him what to do and expected him to comply.  We know the irritation, the anger, the desire to fight, to “put someone in their place”, when someone wants to assert their will on us, especially when they don’t have authority over us.

So there’s a good chance you’re not going to like my lesson much.  At least not at first.  Maybe as we get a little further into it and see more of the rationale for the instruction, you may be more approving.  But I’d like to talk to you about what I’m going to call the virtue of submission; how God calls us as His people in the world to be submissive in a number of relationships and departments of life.


The NT term for submission in the original language is hupotasso.  It’s a compound word.  Hupo means under or beneath.  Tasso means to place or arrange.  So it is to place or rank yourself underneath another.  It’s to be yielding, cooperative, compliant, supportive, curbing your will to another’s, seeking to please them, doing what is good in their sight (even when it may not seem like the best way to do something).  It doesn’t mean not to offer advice or correction, it doesn’t mean not to discuss anything or ask them to do anything.  It means you allow them to decide and you comply and support their decision.

It’s one of the most unappealing words to our culture.

The other day there was a really dumb show playing on the TV in my house.  I didn’t have control of the remote.  I was submitting to a TV preference of another.  But anyway, the show was called “90 Day Finance”.  You don’t know what that is because you don’t watch garbage at your house, I’m sure.  It’s about these couples that have formed a long distance relationship with each other over the internet.  One is an American and the other is from a different country.  And the one from another country gets a visa to the US for 90 days to be with the one they’ve met online, and they have to decide within 90 days if they’re going to marry or if that person is going back home.  And you can’t help but think that some of these people are just looking for a way to move out of their country into the US.  Well, for the minute or two I watched this show the other day, an American girl in one of these relationships sat down at lunch with her friends and they asked her how things were going with this foreign guy she was engaged to.  She said, “It’s going okay, except where he’s from wives are expected to submit to their husbands.”  Immediately all her friends around the table had this disgusted look on their faces, rolled their eyes, and talked about how ridiculous that idea is (that wives should be submissive).

I’ve been asked to do some weddings where the bride or her mother has told me, “We don’t want to hear the word obey or submit anywhere in the ceremony.”  A submissive wife is becoming rare in our culture.

So there were these three guys hanging out together at a bar and two of them were boasting about the amount of control they had over their wives.  One guy said, “My wife never says no to me.”  The second guy said, “Well, my wife always says yes to me.”  And then they both turned to the third guy and said, “Well, what about you?  What kind of control do you have over your wife?”  And he said, “Well, just the other night my wife came to me on her hands and knees.”  At first the guys were amazed, and they said, “And then what happened?”  He said, “Then she said, ‘Get out from under that bed and fight like a man!”…  That sounds more normal in our culture.

It’s not just submitting to husbands and peers that people tend to have a problem with, but for some, the thought of submission to police or submission to Trump or just the government in general is very unappealing.  The youth of today are gaining a reputation of insubordination to parents and teachers.  I have heard a few of you who own your own businesses talk about how hard it is to find dependable compliant employees who will just do the simple things you ask them: show up on time, be sober, don’t steal things, be honest on the time card.  And these are just simple things, they’re not even asking them to work hard or please them as a boss.  You find a lot of people who just want to do the minimum to get their pay check.  They’re not interested in any serving or submission beyond what’s necessary to get the pay check.

Why can submission be so unappealing or difficult?

Well, sometimes it’s just pride, selfishness that steers us away from submission.  We want what pleases us, what’s best for us, and we don’t really care much about the feelings and interests of the other.

But sometimes, the problem we have with submission is maybe not so much selfishness.  Sometimes, submission may seem foolish to us, because it may seem like we’d be letting a less competent person be in charge of things, and the results would be worse if we let them run things rather than taking charge ourselves.  But we’re going to see in some passages that in a lot cases where we’re called to submit, there’s much bigger concerns that God wants us to have in mind over just the earthly matters we might have a disagreement about.  There’s the concern for that person’s soul and for your relationship with that person.  There’s the need to show unselfishness or credibility and have an influence.  And those are much bigger concerns than what color of paint we’re going to use or what route we take on the trip or whatever we may have a conflict of wills about.

Sometimes submission may seem to encourage the other person to continue to boss us around in the future.  You might think it may turn your husband into a tyrant even more.  Or if you let your boss have his way in a matter, you might think he’ll then want to take advantage of you more in the future.  And I guess if it’s an extremely evil callous person then that might happen.  But you know, God’s in control and He is able to deliver and reward you and punish that person.  But I think usually the people we’re called to submit to, have enough decency in them that they don’t want to take advantage of people who have been very good to them.  I know when my wife has done things I’ve ask of her that I know she didn’t want to do, it endeared her to me and made me really want to do something kind for her.  It didn’t at all encourage me to boss her around more.

And then sometimes we might think submission will make us look weak or timid, like either we’re afraid to have any conflict with that person or that we’re acknowledging they’re smarter (they know better, so then that’s why we comply).  And you may not want them, or anyone else, thinking that they know better than you.  But I’ve found, people can often tell in your eyes or other ways, whether you’re really doing something out of fear, or a sense of inferiority, or if you’re doing it out of love and a concern for bigger matters.  We’ll see in some Scriptures about submission, that we can expect those we submit to, not to think less of us at all, but rather to admire us and for us to be endeared to them..

And maybe you’ve noticed something I’ve noticed about submission: sometimes it can be rather liberating and relaxing.  Or maybe that sounds strange to you.  But I find it sometimes much less nerve-racking to let someone else be in change, making the decisions, leaving us to just follow and help and support them in what they think should be done.

On Friday morning, I was working with Zechariah over at the fairgrounds to help prepare the market that Vanessa and others put on.  And we had just moved some tables and chairs to a certain area because Vanessa told us to.  We didn’t really know what they were for.  We were just following orders.  And as we were standing there, awaiting new orders, while Vanessa and Katie and others were discussing how to arrange things and the best way to do this or that, Zechariah said something like, “I like to stay out of the decision making around here.”  And I said, “I know what you mean.  Then if it all goes to pot, it’s on them not you.  You don’t have to stress about it.  You can just mentally relax and do the jobs you’re given.”  And I think that’s an important thing to realize in the areas where God calls us to submit to another.  In those areas, God doesn’t hold us so much responsible for things going the best way.  That’s on them.  We don’t need to worry about that.  God just holds us responsible for doing as He told us and being cooperative and supportive.

If you have a Bible I invite you to turn with me to I Peter and we’re going to look at five areas in which God calls us to submission.  And we won’t look at all the details of these texts, but just notice some of the reasoning given for God’s instruction.

To civil government

1 Peter 2:13, “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.”

Peter’s assuming we know that this doesn’t apply to situations where the government would have us disobey a command of God.  The same Peter was told by the Jewish authorities in Acts 5 to quit preaching about Jesus, and he told them, “Sorry, we have to obey God over men.”  But this is generally speaking.  Pay what they request in taxes.  Pay the parking meter.  Get the permits and licenses and things the laws require of you.  Do as the government wants citizens to do, as long as it’s nothing immoral.

And it’s clearly not an instruction based on the character of the government we’re under, because when Peter wrote this to Christians scattered throughout five provinces of the Roman Empire, they were under a pagan, corrupt, very immoral, and cruel government.  Nero was the reigning emperor at the time, and I guarantee you wouldn’t have voted for him.

Verse 15, “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.”  If we are insubordinate to our government, then society will see us as bad citizens (bad for society), and we would have no credibility with them or chance to influence them for the Lord.  But if they see that we always abide by the laws and we’re the best of citizens, then we’ll win respect and credibility.

To Employers

I Peter 2:18, “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.”

Well, we can just ignore that one and move on right, because none of us are slaves, right?  Well, seems to me if the Lord wanted slaves to be respectful and submissive to masters who commonly did not treat or pay them very fairly, then for sure He would have us be so toward our employers who treat and pay us much more fairly.  Doesn’t it stand to reason that if the Lord would permit someone to slack off and do just the minimum to get by, it would be that slave who works for someone who treats him like a thing rather than a person?  It wouldn’t be us who work for someone nicer.  So whoever you work for, even if he or she is a jerk, I think the Lord’s saying you should do what he or she wants you to do in the way he or she wants you to do it.  Or respectfully quit and find another job.  But if you’re going to keep the job, then be submissive to your employer with all respect.

I Peter 2:19-20, “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 when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

He’s talking about when you have a jerk for a master or boss.  He doesn’t appreciate you.  It’s been years since you got a raise.  He’s always a grouch and belittling you.  He’s caused you some suffering.  And yet your response is not to retaliate, not to slack off, or cheat on your time card or something like that, but rather you continue to show great respect and work hard at the things he asks you to do; God takes notice of that, it touches His heart, and He wants to bless you for it.  You obtain credit with God by doing that.

I Peter 2:21ff, “For you have been called for this purpose [to patiently endure unfair treatment and just keep on doing what’s right, what God wants you to do, being submissive], since Christ also suffered for you [this is what Christ did for us], leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no 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; [The Lord did not retaliate.  He trusted the Father to take care of things, to deal with these people, and to vindicate Him.  That’s how we do it.  We trust God to vindicate us and deal with them.] 24 and He Himself 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.  [We were like the “jerk boss” to Jesus, but worse.  We put Him on the cross by our sins.  We caused Jesus extreme suffering.  He took it for us.  He absorbed our sins.  And when we came to see what He did for us, it changed our hearts and made us servants of righteousness and not sin.  God calls us to do the same for others.  To bear their insults, their rudeness, their mistreatment, and just serve and bless them; quite possibly it will change their hearts and lead them to salvation.] 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”  As we follow Jesus, trying to do for people what He did for us, we’re no longer straying lost sheep (they don’t last long), we are staying with our Shepherd and Guardian, we’re going to be well taken care of.

To Husbands

I Peter 3:1, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands…

Some say the NT commands this of wives because of society’s expectations of women back in the day and the concern was for being socially respectable and having a good reputation with society.  And it’s true we live in a different culture.  Yet I don’t see indications in this text or any other to establish that this command was just because of the culture of that day.  Paul in I Corinthians 11 and I Timothy 2, when he’s talking about men having the leadership role and women the submissive role, he grounds his instructions not on society’s expectations, but on what took place back in the beginning in Genesis; how man was first created and then woman was created for man to be his helper.  Paul seems to understand that while men and women are equally valuable in the eyes of God, these are the roles that God intended for men and women from the beginning.  He’s given us different responsibilities when we form a family together.  I think God holds the husband responsible for leading the family.  If the family doesn’t thrive and serve God, I think the husband more than the wife has to answer to God for that.  The wife is held responsible for cooperation and support.

Do this, Peter says, “so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word [So this applies, even if your husband is an unbeliever.], they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”  This is the way to win an unbelieving husband to the Lord.  Submission and respect is powerful enough to touch a man’s heart and draw Him to the Lord (who has made that wife such a beautiful person).

Your adornment [in other words, what you do to make yourself beautiful] must not be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dress; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”  “Quiet” there doesn’t mean “not talkative”.  If it did, then about every woman I’ve ever met is in trouble.  It doesn’t mean shy and introverted.  It means quiet in the sense of not self-assertive or argumentative or short fused or defiant, but peaceable, cooperative, submissive, unselfishly helpful, supportive.  That makes for a beautiful woman in God’s eyes.

For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham…”  You know, Abraham said one day, “Honey, we’re moving.”  “You mean to that nice house across town that we’ve been talking about?”  “No, I mean like to a foreign country, to a land we’ve never seen before.”  “Uh, why would we do that when all our family and friends and everything we have is here?”  “Well, because God spoke to me and said, ‘Go forth from you county, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you…’”  And she said, “Ok dear.”  And Genesis 18 records the occasion when Abraham comes in the tent and says, “Quick, hun, make three big cakes of bread, and get out the milk and cheese.  We’ve got visitors.  And I’m going to go kill a calf real quick and we’ll bring this great feast out to these visitors.”  Pretty extreme hospitality.  And she said, “Ok dear I’ll get after it.”  And Peter says she would actually call Abraham “lord.”  Whoa!  That doesn’t sit well with us, does it?  I think that’d embarrass me if Ally called me that.  It was a more common expression of respect in ancient times.  But Peter’s point, I think, is to illustrate how respectfully she spoke to Abraham.  And it’s pleasing to God when wives choose to be very respectful.

and you have become her children if you do what is right…”  You’re part of the true Israel, heirs of the promises, if you do God’s will like Sarah did.

Notice that last phrase in verse 6, “without being frightened by any fear.”  We don’t submit in the ways God tells us to because it’s scary; it’s scary to think of what may happen if you let that incompetent person run things.  But God’s word says don’t be afraid, just do what I’ve told you.  God is the one in control.  And God will take care of you as you do things His way.

Now, don’t worry, we will pick on the husbands another Sunday, but let’s go to chapter 5 and notice another relationship in which God calls us to submission.

To elders

I Peter 5:5, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders…”

That sounds like, submit to anyone older than you, which is probably a good idea.  Though I hate to spoil it for you olders, I don’t think that’s the idea.  I think he’s using these terms “youngers” and “elders” in more a spiritual positional sense.  Because if you read the first four verses of the chapter, you see the kind of elders he was talking about was not just old people, but the shepherds, the overseers of the church.  And if that’s still the sense of “elders” in verse 5, then what does Peter mean by “youngers”?  Well, possibly it’s all those who are not the elders.  If you’re not an elder, you’re a younger.  Some churches would identify these as clergy and laity, the church leadership and the rest.  I lean toward that interpretation: you who are not elders, be subject to the elders.  You may or may not agree with me about this verse.  There’s lots of debate about what the sense of it is.  But we should recognize that submission to our church’s overseers is a plain command of God elsewhere.  Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

So if the elders stand up here and say, “We would really like all of you who can make it to be here at this date and time to talk with you about this certain matter?”  Then whether you want to be here or not, you should be here, because God tells you to submit to elders just like he tells you to submit to government and employers and others.  What if your boss said, “I know it’s not your normal working hours, but I’d really like you to be here for this company meeting?”  You be there.  So do the same for the elders.  And if they say “We think it would be good for our kids and our community to have a vacation Bible school.  Here’s a list of jobs we need done and places to sign up.  If you can help in one of these ways, please do.”  Then whether we like vacation Bible schools or not, whether we think it’s a good idea or not, we look at the sheet and see how we can help, because God put them in charge of leading and us in charge of following.

To one another

And then notice the second command in I Peter 5:5.  “and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”  Humility is expressed several ways, but submission is one of them.  Ephesians 5:21, “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”  You want me to wear a tie, I wear a tie.  You want the carpet blue, I want it beige.  I say okay let’s go with blue.  You like the old folksy songs, I like the new hip songs.  I’ll be glad to sing those old folksy songs with you.  You have a conscience problem worshiping with an instrument.  Say I didn’t have a problem with it.  I better not push that on you.  You want the devo at your house, I want it at my house.  I need to say let’s do it at your house.  You don’t want to stay and help clean up after potluck, I say, “No problem.  I’ll take care of it.  No big deal.”  Paul words the same thinking in I Corinthians 10 and Romans 15 as not pleasing yourself, but pleasing one another.

This is so we grow in our love for one another, so we can continue to help each other to stay faithful and grow into the image of Jesus.  And as the end of verse 5 says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  I think that’s the biggest hindrance to submission.  It’s our pride, isn’t it?  That’s why I don’t want you having your way over mine.  It’s because I think I’m more important.

Let’s be humble enough to honor God and win souls by this virtue of submission.

-James Williams



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