Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
These words are echoes of those Paul wrote to the Romans and words that we must face humbly if we are to call ourselves Christians.
The striking thing is that we believe we live in a time so unlike any other time and that the woes visited upon us by secular leaders are greater than even God can overcome, but as we read Peter's words in this letter, we have to understand that the persecution faced by the people who read these words was greater than we will ever know.
He tells his readers to submit to secular authority. In his time, we are more than likely reading about pagan authority. Not only did they call God's sovereignty into question, they lifted up other gods as national rulers. The Caesars were seen as gods and people were forced to bow to them and to their likenesses.
Peter doesn't tell his people that they should rise up against these rulers, but that God's will is for his people to good work.
Now, he is also not speaking of unlawful or tyrannical authorities. In Acts 4:19, we find Peter speaking to the Sanhedrin and refusing to abide by their command to not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Their reply was "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God."
No, Peter clearly states at the beginning of this passage that we are to obey authority for the Lord's sake. If we suffer at the hand of an authority, it should be because we are a Christian, not because we have committed another offense.
Why is this to happen? So that no one can slander God by our actions. If we honor those who are in authority, we bring honor to God. If we respect those who lead government, we silence those who would slander Christianity. A Christian's good works brings honor from those who are in authority and lifts up the name of God.
He asserts in 1 Peter 2:16 that we are to live as free people, but we are to never use that freedom to cover evil. We are servants of God. We must not act as the world acts when it questions authority. We must always do so with respect and honor.
1 Peter 2:17 offers up two pairs of commands. Show respect to everyone, love other Christians. Fear God, honor the King.
There are distinct differences between how we are to treat people in the world and how we treat those in the fellowship of Christ. We show one group respect, but we are to sincerely love our Christian family. While we may honor or respect those in authority over us, we are to give God reverence.
We are taking holiness out into the world.