Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready to do any good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, to be gentle, and to display every courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2 (EHV).
Early on in church history, Paul and Peter clashed. The former once called out the latter, at Antioch, for hypocrisy. This resulted in a temporary schism between believers who sided with Peter – for adhering to some Jewish customs – and believers who sided with Paul – for determining that Jewish customs no longer applied. The matter was eventually settled by a council in Jerusalem, with the eventual outcome being the recognition that the new covenant through Christ completes the old Jewish covenant and its laws.
Even Peter and Paul had to submit to rulers and authorities, and they founded the temporal Christian church.
A few years after this, they submitted to earthly authorities by facing execution by the Romans. Tradition has it that Peter was executed by crucifixion around the time of the great fire of Rome. Around the same time, Paul was also executed by beheading. Both of them willingly went to their deaths, Peter even ASKING for the more severe penalty of being crucified upside down. THAT is the ultimate submission to authorities.
Yet while submitting, neither Peter nor Paul gave in to the authorities. Their lives might have been spared if they had simply recanted of their faith in Jesus, yet they didn’t. Read the news today and you’ll find that there are Christians in places like Iran, Indonesia, North Korea, and China who are persecuted or killed for preaching Christ crucified. Recant and we may let you live. Hold on to this Jesus and you’re dead.
The response of Peter and Paul and the others: “so be it. Come Lord Jesus, quickly.”
In a world where this kind of thing was commonplace, Paul’s direction to Titus was “submit with honor.” Don’t give up what you believe, and practice all the behaviors recommended of one who believes in Jesus, yet submit to the authorities over you. It’s good practical advice to us today because, to be honest, the same thing still happens. We don’t have much control over our lives because, to be honest again, God allows authorities over us to have control over much of what we do.
What we do have control over is our choices, our thoughts, our actions. No authority can MAKE us think something or say something. And where behavior and actions can be compelled, the responsibility of doing something that we are forced to do rests with the one compelling, not the one compelled. God knows this; God respects this. What He asks us to do is to submit to the rulers and authorities that He allows here and trust that He will work all things for the good of His Kingdom.
For further reading: Romans 13:1, Galatians 2:11-14; Ephesians 4:31, 1 Peter 2:13-14, Titus 3:3
Help me to submit, Lord.