Lesson 4 - 1 Peter 2:11-20 - HOLY LIVING IN AN UNHOLY WORLD
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in 1 Peter 2:1-10, Peter continued the theme of holy living and used four metaphorical examples that illustrated how we do it: (1) Like discarding filthy clothes, we should rid ourselves of all sinful conduct like malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander because they are incompatible with Christian love and damage the church (v.1); (2) Like babies, we need to develop an appetite for the 'pure milk of God's Word' because it's essential for spiritual growth (vv. 2-3); (3) As "living stones" in Jesus Christ's 'spiritual house'-the Church-we need to undergo a process of spiritual growth that transforms us from 'babies' into 'priests' who offer up sacrifices in the form of worship, prayer, service, and financial giving that builds up God's house (vv. 4-5); and (4) How God sent Jesus Christ to be the 'corner stone' of this new spiritual house-the church-so that we could became a "Chosen Race, a Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, and a People of God" whom God is using to redeem a lost world by becoming a spiritual light to those who still sit in darkness.
This week, in 1 Peter 2:11-20, the apostle moves to a new section of the epistle in which he talks about the responsibility of Christians in the ungodly world where they now live. In general, Peter tells believers to willingly submit to every human authority because it is the will of God. This includes emperors, governors, kings, employers, and even slave masters. While Peter doesn't endorse slavery as an institution, he nevertheless instructs Christian slaves to endure unjust suffering, as Jesus did for our sake on the cross. On the other hand, he does not expect Christians to ''obey'' requirements that are clearly contrary to the will of God. Instead, Christians are called to emulate Christ by being willing to suffer for the sake of doing good-doing what is right in God's eyes.
Read 1 Peter 2:11-12 - KEEPING YOUR BEHAVIOR EXCELLENT
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
v. 11a: "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers" - Here, Peter reminds his predominantly Gentile audience of their true identity: They are "aliens," which describes people who have no or very few rights where they live, and "strangers," who are only temporary residents. Peter said this to remind them that their true home was not this brief earthy existence but eternity in heaven.
v. 11b: "to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul." - In general, "fleshly lusts" are any behaviors or attitudes contrary to God's will. For Christians, this means more than just the gross carnal sins that typically come to mind, but include any type of sinful attitude or behavior towards others. Peter is saying that Christians must take their standards of behavior, not from the culture in which they live, but from the purity of God's culture of heaven.
v. 12a: "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers," - Here's a timeless truth: Whether we like it or not, every Christian is an advertisement for Christianity. In the early church this demonstration of "excellence" was vitally necessary because of the false accusations pagan Gentiles were making against the church (e.g., anti-Semitism, cannibalism [Lord's supper]; agape love feast as sexual orgies and even incest, etc.).
v. 12b: "they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." - Peter says, in effect, live the Christian life in such a way that positively demonstrated that all the accusations against them were false. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). This did happen over time, so that Christians in the Roman Empire were often criticized as being ignorant or foolish but almost never as immoral. And even today, this "excellent behavior" of doing "good deeds" is a very big part of bringing people into the light and winning them to Jesus Christ. The "day of visitation" most likely refers to the end-time day when God will 'visit' unbelievers and judge them.
APPLICATION 1: Every Christian needs to be conscious of the fact that he or she is an advertisement for Christianity. Even today, we need to proactively demonstrate "excellent behavior" in terms of our moral character and perform "good deeds" that display Christian love in the form of unselfish service to others. The outward image we project is vital our mission of bringing people into the light and winning them to salvation in Jesus Christ.
Read 1 Peter 2: 13-15 - THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN AS A CITIZEN
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
v. 13: "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority," - Now Peter talks about the duty of Christians as citizens of the country where they happen to live. Nothing is further from NT thought than any type of anarchy. Christians are commanded to submit to and obey the authority of government rulers, not because these individuals are worthy of it, but because by doing so we honor God by obeying His Word. Jesus said, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:21). Therefore, the clear instruction of the NT is that a Christian must be a good and useful citizen of the nation in which he lives. Christians should only practice civil disobedience when the government requires its citizens to disobey God, but not when it only permits them to disobey Him. For example, today in the U.S., the government permits abortion on demand, but does not require it.
v. 14: "or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right." - After referring to governments established under kings (or emperors) in v. 13, in this verse he's tell Christians to submit to lower authorities as well, which today would be state and local agencies which enforce the law. In Peter's time, many Christians were being unjustly accused of crimes they didn't commit. Even so, Peter is instructing Christians not to fight back by rebelling against those in authority but to make their defense by leading blameless lives.
v. 15: "For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men." - In this context, what Peter means by silencing "the ignorance of foolish men" is that by voluntarily obeying the letter of the law without defiance or confrontation, Christians will over time discredit any false accusations made against by their steadfast example of "doing right." And instead of being seen as a undesirable factor in society, people in general will regard Christians as honest, law-abiding citizens and will view their critics as "foolish men." Therefore, it is the "will of God" for Christians to make good choices that will eventually silence those who are prejudiced against them. This goes hand-in-hand with the "excellent behavior" of v. 12 as an advertisement for the Christian life.
APPLICATION 2: Christians should submit to the authority of government because the Word of God
commands it. By following our duty to be honest, law-abiding citizens of the nation, state, and locality where we live, Christians can discredit the accusations of those who are prejudiced against us. APPLICATION 3: Christians are only entitled to practice civil disobedience in situation where the government requires its citizens to disobey God, but not when it only permits them to disobey Him. For example, today in the U.S., the government permits abortion on demand, but does not require it.
Read 1 Peter 2:16-17 - THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN IN SOCIETY
16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
v. 16: "Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God." - As defined by Peter, the "freedom" of a Christian is multifaceted: We, by grace, are free to the extent that we have to do nothing further to gain God's acceptance-because our salvation is for once and for all because of what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. Moreover, we are free from Satan's domination, though not from his temptations. Keeping this in mind, we should never use our freedom as an excuse for sinning or for neglecting the work God calls us to do in this world. In other words, Christian freedom is always conditioned upon Christian responsibility, and this responsibility is always conditioned upon Christian love. Only in Jesus Christ can a person truly become free from self and sin in such a way that he or she can become all that our holy God wants us to be.
APPLICATION 4: Our status as saved Christians is not a license to be back-slidden. As Christians, we must never use our "freedom" (i.e., our saved status) as an excuse to sin or ignore the work God has called us to do in this world. Peter makes it clear that our Christian freedom is conditioned upon Christian responsibility, which is always conditioned upon Christian love for both our fellow Christians and for all the lost souls who need to be won to Jesus Christ.
v. 17: "Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king." In this verse, Peter issues four 'injunctions' that summarize the Christian's responsibilities in the society where he or she lives:
APPLICATION 5: In terms of Christian social responsibility, God's Word's commands us to:
A. Honor all people: All people are worthy of honor because they are created in the image of God.
B. Love all Christians: This is unconditional love based upon actions rather than feelings.
C. Fear God: Making a conscious effort to show God the awe, reverence, and respect He deserves.
D. Honor our leaders: We do this because of the office they hold, which isn't the same as respect.
Read 1 Peter 2:18-20 - THE DUTY OF A SERVANT (or SLAVE) TO A MASTER
18 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. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 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.
Note: This passage would have been relevant to the greatest number of Peter's readers, servants and slaves who formed the largest segment of the early church. In the Roman Empire of Peter's time there were as many as 60 million slaves. Most all the 'work' of Rome was done by slaves, the idea being that there was no point in being a master if you had to do the actual work. Roman slaves didn't only perform menial work. Many were trained as doctors, teachers, scribes, musicians, artisans, and other skilled occupations. However, in Roman society, a slave wasn't a person but a thing with no individual legal rights. Slaves also could not marry, and if they cohabited, children born of their union became the property of their master. So to a slave, the concept of personal justice was nonexistent.
v. 18: "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." - The word Peter uses for "Servants" (Gk. oiketes [oy-ket'-ace]), was a term often used for household and domestic slaves. For their own wellbeing and safety, Peter urges these servant/slaves to willingly submit to their masters even when they were unfair and repressive. By contrast, in the church, where no social distinctions are allowed, slaves were treated as full and equal persons. Note: Peter does not address masters here because few, if any, belonged to the church. On the Christian duty of masters, see Paul's letter to Philemon.
v. 19: "For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly." - This one is hard one because slaves had no legal recourse or ground for grievances against harsh masters. So, Peter is telling these slaves that he understands their suffering, and while he doesn't approve of it, he encourages them to "bear up under it"-i.e, to endure it and make an attitude adjustment-by keeping their minds focused on their position with God rather than their current circumstances. Being able to endure it for "for the sake of conscience toward God" was better than the alternative of being constantly miserable and discouraged.
v. 20: "But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God." - In this verse, Peter makes it clear that a Christian, slave or free, is entitled to no credit or praise for suffering that results from of his own wrongdoing. In other words, if a Christian slave is beaten for something that would be contrary to God's will, it's not worthy of praise. But suffering while doing your job right "finds favor with God." The main idea here is that God rewards endurance when a person "bears up under it" and does the right thing anyway. That's real Christian integrity.
This would certainly be the case in situations where slaves were being mistreated by their pagan masters because of their Christian faith.
APPLICATION: God observes and rewards Christian endurance when we "bear up" under unpleasant working conditions and do a good job anyway. In our modern society, we'll never have to endure the hardships faced by Roman slaves, but many of us may find ourselves being forced to work for or with people who don't share or respect our Christian beliefs. When it happens, God expects us to endure it and perform our jobs with Christian integrity. As recently as 49 years ago, many young American men found themselves involuntarily drafted into a military establishment where the training could very harsh at times and combat duty could get them killed.