If you had the chance to have a few words with Hitler in the height of his fury, or with Stalin in the back alley of the Kremlin, or some other creep whose abuse of power was outrageous, just what would you say? And if you had the chance to explain to powerless Christians how to live under such a demagogue, what would you tell them? Peter had the chance to tell Christians how to live under Nero. Here’s what he said:
Live within and under the order and hierarchy of your society: that is what the famously misunderstood hypotasso (“submit”) means. Live inside the order of your culture — of course, as long as it does not conflict with following in the way of Jesus.
And Peter’s advice is clear as a bell: live inside the order of every human, cultural orderly arrangement (or something like that). Kings are the supreme arbiters of authority and power; governors are just under them in the powerful arrangements. Live within their designs (again, so far as it does not lead to idolatry, etc).
And Peter’s stance is just as clear: you are free to do whatever you want, and you are free in Christ (not because they are Roman citizens), but do not use freedom as a pretext for evil deeds (powerful ploys, rebellion, plots against Nero?). Use your freedom, he says, wisely, as those who serve God (not Nero).
The general orientation is also clear: show respect to the orders, love everyone in the community of faith, fear God, and show respect to the Emperor — even if you hate him as an idolater, even if you think he is a creep, and even if you think he’s a blood-thirsty maniac out to abolish the Church! (Nero was probably some of these.) All of this is general and normal: but if Nero summons you to deny your faith, give him a swift kick of disobedience right where it counts. (That’s a metaphor, friends, for steadfastness.)
Why? Because if you do good in the midst of oppression, you will silence the ignorance of foolish people. The “silence” of 2:15 looks like a parallel to the “glorifying” of 2:12 — odd things, these turns of phrases and metaphors.
Time to quote Martin Luther:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
You’ve got to love that German, Lutheran dialectic of language.