What should we do when an authority figure is unreasonable?

Have you ever had an unreasonable boss? Have you had a coach that treated you unfairly? Has the government ever accused you of something you didn’t do? What should we do in those situations?

1 Peter tells us what we should do, but before we look at that, let’s look at an example of harsh treatment and God’s response to it. The example is found in Genesis 16 and involves Hagar and Sarai. Let’s start reading at verse 3; notice the word despised in verse 4.

Gen. 16:3 After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.

Gen. 16:4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.

Hagar was able to conceive and she looked down on Sarai, her mistress, because Sarai was not able to conceive. Next, Sarai confronted Abram. Notice the words “wrong” and “judge”.

Gen. 16:5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

Sarai wanted Yahweh to decide whether Sarai or Abram should bear the wrong. What did Abram and Sarai do next? Notice the words “power” and “harshly”.

Gen. 16:6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.

Abram gave Sarai permission to do whatever she wanted so Sarai treated Hagar harshly. Hagar fled, but notice what God told Hagar. Notice the words “return” and “submit”.

Gen. 16:7 ¶ Now the angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.

Gen. 16:8 He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”

Gen. 16:9 Then the angel of the LORD said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.”

Even though Hagar had been treated harshly, God still told her to return and submit to her mistress.

What should we do when an authority figure is harsh or unreasonable? Consider the following verses from 1 Peter 2-3. First, we are told to submit to the government. Notice the phrase “for the Lord’s sake”.

1Pet. 2:13-14 ¶ Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

Notice that there are no exceptions to this command. Next, servants are told to submit to their masters, even when their master is unreasonable. The reason is that we find favor with God if we suffer when doing the right thing.

1Pet. 2:18-23 ¶ Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;

Just as Yahweh told Hagar to submit to Sarai even though Sarai was harsh, so too Peter is telling servants to submit to their master, even when their master is unreasonable.

Next, wives are told to submit to their husbands. Notice the phrase “in the same way”. Notice that submission is a way to win husbands who are disobedient to the word.

1Pet. 3:1-2 ¶ In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

The phrases “in the same way” and “disobedient to the word” indicate that submission is to happen even when the husband is being unreasonable. Next is a summation.

1Pet. 3:8-9 ¶ To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

1Pet. 3:13-14 ¶ Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED,

Unfortunately, from time to time we find ourselves in a situation where an authority figure is unreasonable. 1 Peter tells us to submit to that authority anyway because submitting when it is difficult to submit earns more favor with God than submitting when it is easy to submit.


Further Reading

What should we do when someone harms us?

Do we curse people without realizing it?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”