Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority… (1 Peter 2:13a)
Submission has to be one of the harshest words in our language. When I hear it, I picture a tired UFC fighter in the Octagon tapping out as he winces in pain. But submission is something we are all called to. It's a normal part of our lives. It is a daily practice for any Christian. If you've been a Christian for long, you know that you are to submit your life to Christ. There is, however, also clear instruction that we are to submit to every human authority (see 1 Peter 2).
This authority includes governments, police officers, bosses, and well, any human authority. Submission starts by understanding that you are not in charge. Take a deep breath and read that again and let it sink in. You. Are. Not. In. Charge. No matter how high you climb on any ladder, there will still be someone over you, for the rest of your life. You can stop trying to think of the exception – there isn’t one. Boards rule over CEOs, and the government rules over the self-employed. Every human is subject to authority. And all authority is instituted by God. One implication of this is that you should pay taxes fairly.
What about corrupt authority? Because every human is a sinner, every human authority is sinful in some way. Therefore, every human authority is corrupt at least in part. That means someone with the purest of motives still has an ego or a selfish ambition that could get in the way at times. If you are in a position of authority over others, please consider how your own sin nature gets in the way of your effective leadership.
Now that we've established that all human authority is sinful, we can understand that submission to human authority is not a fair requirement. You will be asked to do things that are not fair. You will be asked to do pointless tasks that take hours and don't make sense. You will be asked to prioritize work over other things that feel more important to you. You will be asked to come in on the weekends, change the rows to columns, change the font and color, and redo the project. Sometimes others will be promoted over you when they cheat. Sometimes your boss won't like you for no logical reason. This is all very unfair. But if you expect it, you won't be blindsided when it happens. And it will happen.
These unfair situations are incredible opportunities to show Whose authority you are really under. As a follower of Christ, you are directly under God, Who tells you to submit to every human authority as an act of worship to Him. He says He will reward you for being faithful in these unfair situations. This is where a lot of faith and patience comes in. These moments are great opportunities to trust Him.
What about when you are asked to sin by a human authority? That's easy – don't sin. Remember you are ultimately under God's authority – you must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). However, HOW you avoid sin really matters. Sometimes I think we are waiting for that moment to really stand up to corrupt authority in a dramatic way. Calm down – they are simply sinners being sinners. Make sure you are the most excellent example of an employee. Communicate clearly what you are unwilling to do and why, but also communicate clearly what you are willing to do. "I will be the best at anything you ask me to do. I'll come in early and stay late. I'll work with excellence, exceeding your expectations. I cannot, however, do that...(dress like that, go to strip clubs, get drunk, cheat, lie, etc.)”
People often ask, “what about our forefathers who came to America in rebellion against British authority?” “What about Bonhoeffer who sought to kill Hitler?” “What about Martin Luther who rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church?” Were they wrong? Yes, in part, because all of them were also sinners. God used their imperfect rebellion, and He was honored by the portion of their rebellion that came from faith. Most of our motives are mixed. Some of their motives were probably pure and God-honoring, and some probably weren’t. The Proverbs say that “all a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:2)
But let's get back to you. You are not in charge. You are subject to someone over you. You should obey the laws fully – even the ones you don't like. And when you don't obey them, you should pay fines responsibly, not trying to get out of what you owe. You should work hard under the authority over you, exceeding expectations and being respectable. If you have to leave your job, leave respectfully and with honor. You should not slander or speak poorly about anyone in authority over you. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, and honor the government (1 Peter 2:17).