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© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

From 2:13 to 5:6 Peter commands submission in a range of human relationships. While doing so, he also gives us further teaching about Jesus Christ, using Christ’s submission under mistreatment as an example of what submission looks like.


‘Submission’ is an emotive concept. It is not something we do easily. It cuts across our pride. It offends our ego. We would usually far rather not be submissive. The offensiveness of submission is particularly acute for those who have historically been the targets of demands for submission.

But the principle of submission pervades the whole New Testament and applies to all who believe in Jesus Christ – regardless of who they are and what social roles they fill.

The biblical principle of submission reflects the humility and self-denial exemplified by Jesus Christ, and the obedience to Christ commanded of all believers. It is the opposite of the ego-centric, self-promoting independence and pride that was our human downfall in Genesis 3. The submissive person, recognizing the biblical priority of the other, puts aside their own rights [whether real or perceived] in order to achieve the well-being of the other.

This principle of submission, of prioritizing the other, applies at both ends of any ‘authority’ structure – to both husbands and wives, to both parents and children, to both masters and slaves.

In 2:11-12 Peter says: ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’ He then goes on to spell out the implications of this instruction in various relationships and situations, and the key implication in every relationship and every situation is submission.

Read these verses. Identify who is to submit to whom. Also identify the description, reason or explanation Peter gives for this submission.
















We should all submit to the government for the Lord’s sake. [2:13-17].

Slaves [employees] should submit to their masters [employers], even insulting or unjust masters, and so express the example of Christ [2:18-25].

Wives in the same way should be submissive to their husbands, and possibly by this submission win them over to Christ [3:1-6]. Note that this submission is not an expression of fear [3:6].

Husbands in the same way [3:7] are to treat their wives with consideration and respect because they know they are weaker and because they are heirs together of the gracious gift of life, and, Peter adds, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

All of us [3:8-4:19] are to live in harmony, be compassionate and humble, and suffer insult and persecution without retaliation. By doing so we acknowledge that Christ is Lord [3:15].

Elders [5:1-4] are to serve God’s people, not lording it over them.

Young men, in the same way [5:5], are to be submissive to those who are older.

All of us [5:5,6] are to clothe ourselves with humility, and humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.

Peter, very much aware of the pagan world looking on and observing the behaviour of Christians, calls Christians to express their knowledge of Jesus Christ in their relationships in such a way that God will be glorified.

Governments may be wrong: but the Christian’s responsibility before Christ is to submit to their decrees.

Masters may be harsh and unjust: but the Christian servant’s responsibility before Christ is to respect them and not retaliate.

Husbands may be unsaved and demanding: but it is the Christian wife’s responsibility to choose to respect their authority.

Wives may be frustrating dependents, but it is the Christian husband’s responsibility to treat them with consideration, respect and equality.

The unbelieving world may treat us harshly and unjustly, but the Christian is commanded to practice non-retaliation, just like Jesus.

As the ultimate example of submission, Peter speaks of the way Jesus Christ submitted to human insult and assault, without retaliation:

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps ...” [2:21].


Firstly, the submission that God commands in 1Peter is doing good.

Peter refers several times to doing what is good, right or righteous.

Read these verses. What does he say about ‘doing good’ or doing what is right?









This doing good is not a moral ideal disconnected from the realities of life. It is doing good, pursuing right, in a life context that is neither good nor right.

It is doing good in the context of injustice.
It is doing good in the context of criticism, malice and insult.
It is doing good in the context of ignorance and misunderstanding.
It is doing good in the context of false accusation.
It is doing good in the context of suffering and mistreatment.
It is doing good in the context of threat.
It is doing good in the context of fear.
It is doing good in the context of evil.

And all of this brings us to a second dominant aspect of the principle of submission: that this submission is intimately connected to pursuing the will of God.

It is God’s will that by doing good we will silence the ignorant talk of foolish men (2:15).

The primary commitment of the Christian’s life is no longer the pursuit of sinful human desires but the pursuit of the will of God, even when, especially when, obeying God incurs suffering (4:1-3).

Peter is not saying that God has decreed that Christians should suffer. What he is saying is that if we do what is right, if we do what is God’s will, in the context of a sinful, evil world then we will suffer. We, like Christ, the holy and righteous one who fully submitted to the will of God the Father, will suffer, as he suffered, the rejection, insults and hatred of our fellow human beings. God’s will is for us to do good. If doing good incurs suffering, then it is better to do good, and suffer because of it, than to do evil. The Christian who chooses to do good and suffer for it demonstrates that he is truly submissive to God.

Submission then, while on the surface it looks like giving in to the humans who are mistreating and misunderstanding us, is at its fundamental level, submission to God.

It is obeying God’s commands.
It is honouring the name of Christ.
It is showing the proper respect for everyone that God demands.
It is obeying Christ’s example of non-retaliation.
It is loving and serving our fellow believers with compassion and humility.

For God’s sake, for Christ’s glory, regardless of how much it hurts.


In a word, submission looks just like Jesus.

Peter put it this way:

‘To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, to that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed’ [2:21-24].

Paul expressed it in his letter to the Philippians:

‘Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ [2:4-8].

Jesus demonstrated it when he washed his disciples’ feet:

‘“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. ... A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”’ [John 13:12-15, 34].

Several levels of Christ’s humility and submission are revealed in these texts:

His submission in his incarnation. He who is the eternal Creator became part of his creation. He who is spirit, unbounded by time and space, became flesh, locked in time and space. He who is clothed with glory and splendour and is worshipped by all the hosts of heaven, became exceedingly ordinary, hidden, unrecognized.

His submission in non-retaliation. When subjected to rejection, mockery, abuse and false accusations he could have summoned the angelic hosts to rescue him. Indeed, he could have annihilated with a single word those who mistreated him. But he chose not to do so.

His submission in taking on the role of our substitute under the just judgement of God. He, the innocent one, put himself in place of us, the guilty ones. He, the righteous, put himself in the place of us, the sinners. He who had no sin, and therefore no condemnation, took upon himself our sin and our condemnation.

His submission in the symbolic action of foot-washing. This action was a micro symbolic demonstration of the submission involved in the three above. It shouts of the grace of Christ. It commands us that we act towards one another with this same grace.

In this submission of Christ we learn that submission has a double direction:

The primary direction of Christ’s submission was submission to the Father’s will. The Son came to do the Father’s will, to implement in time and space the divine plan of salvation that had been determined before time began and before the universe was created.

The secondary direction of Christ’s submission was submission to our well-being. He put aside his rights for our sake. For our sake he became one of us and lived the authentic human life. For our sake he took our sin upon himself and bore its just penalty. For our sake he died – so that we may live.

This is the submission God requires of us: firstly, that we submit to his will, to his commands, and secondly, that we put aside our own rights in order to bring about the well-being of the other.


From 2:13 to 5:10 Peter commands us to practise the principle of submission. This is a general command given to all of us to be applied in every life context. As well as commanding submission as the Christ-like attitude in every context, he also told us what submission will look like in some specific contexts, including, importantly, the context of unjust mistreatment and suffering.

But this all-inclusive submission is not an arbitrary requirement imposed upon us without any reason and without any purpose. Peter also includes in his instructions:

The motivation for submission, and
The results of submission.

Read these verses. What are the motivational truths that compel and inspire submission? In other words why should we submit?

2:17,18; 3:7

2:15; 3:17; 4:2,19; 5:2


2:21; 4:1







4:13; 5:1,4,10

5:5; see also 3:12


Now read these verses. What are the motivational results that encourage and endorse submission?




3:7; 4:7

3:9,14; 4:14




Beyond the suffering and the submission are two further motivations to be submissive rather than retaliatory or overwhelmed in the face of unjust suffering:

God will lift us up in due time (5:6)
God himself will restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast (5:10).

As we meditate on these before and after motivations for submission, it is good to call to mind two verses from Hebrews:

‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ [Hebrews 12:2,3].