1 Peter 2:11-20 - T. CONSTABLE EXPOSITION
THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CHRISTIAN INDIVIDUALLY 2:11-20
1. Our Mission in the World 2:11-12
v. 11: Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. - "Beloved, I [or we] urge you" frequently marks off a new section of an epistle, as it does here (Romans 12:1; Romans 15:30; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2 Corinthians 10:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:10 b; 1 Peter 5:14; Hebrews 13:22; cf. Hebrews 4:12; Hebrews 5:1). "I urge you" typically introduces exhortations. Again Peter reminded his audience of their identity so they would respond naturally and appropriately (cf. 1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:17).
▪ Aliens have no rights in the land where they live. Strangers are only temporary residents (cf. 1 Peter 1:17; Genesis 23:4; Psalms 39:12; Ephesians 2:19; Hebrews 13:14). Peter reminded his readers that, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through." Note the dual hendiadys that form an inclusio for 1 Peter 2:11-25: "aliens and strangers" (1 Peter 2:11) and "Shepherd and Guardian" (1 Peter 2:25). A hendiadys is a figure of speech in which the writer expresses one complex idea by joining two substantives with "and." Here the meanings are "strangers who are aliens" and "the Shepherd who guards."
"Peter's purpose is not to define his readers' actual legal or social status in the Roman Empire . . . but simply to further his standing analogy between them and the Jewish people (cf. Hebrews 11:13 . . .)."
▪ In view of our status we should refuse the appeal of our desire to indulge in things that are contrary to God's will for us. "Fleshly lusts" are selfish natural appetites that appeal to our sinful nature (cf. 1 John 2:16). We experience temptation to satisfy bodily desires in ways contrary to God's will.
▪ "The knowledge that they do not belong does not lead to withdrawal, but to their taking their standards of behavior, not from the culture in which they live, but from their 'home' culture of heaven, so that their life always fits the place they are headed to, rather than their temporary lodging in this world." [ Davids, p. 95.]
Peter spoke of the soul as the whole person (cf. 1 Peter 1:9; 1 Peter 2:25; James 1:21; et al.). When we yield to the desires of the flesh that God's Word condemns, we become double-minded, somewhat schizophrenic. This Peter aptly described as war in the soul. The antagonists are the lusts or will of the flesh and the will of God
Since Christians have a particular vocation in the world, certain conduct was essential for Peter's suffering readers.
▪ "The address, 'Dear friends, I appeal to you,' in 1 Peter 2:11 marks a shift from the identity of God's people to their consequent responsibility in a ungodly world. If 1 Peter 1:3 to 1 Peter 2:10 expanded on their identity as 'chosen people' (cf. 1 Peter 1:2), the reference to them as 'aliens and strangers' in 1 Peter 2:11 serves as a reminder that they are at the same time 'living as strangers' (again cf. 1 Peter 1:2) in contemporary society."
▪ So, Peter has explained what Christian conduct should be negatively (1 Peter 2:11) and positively (1 Peter 2:12). Then he expounded more specifically what it should be positively in 1 Peter 2:13 to 1 Peter 4:11.
v. 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. - Peace in the inner man is necessary for excellent behavior before others. Part of the suffering Peter's original readers were experiencing was due evidently to slander from unbelieving Gentile pagans. They appear to have been accusing them unjustly of doing evil. This has led some commentators to conclude that Peter wrote this epistle after A.D. 64 when Nero began an official persecution of Christians allegedly for burning Rome. I think this conclusion is reasonable.
▪ Peter urged his readers to give their critics no cause for justifiable slander. If they obeyed, their accusers would have to glorify God by giving a good testimony concerning the lives of the believers when they stood before God. The "day of visitation" is probably a reference to the day God will visit unbelievers and judge them (i.e., the great white throne judgment). This seems more likely than that it is the day when God will visit Christians (i.e., the Rapture). The writers of Scripture do not refer to Christians' departure from this world as an occasion when unbelievers will glorify God. However when unbelievers bow before God they will glorify Him (e.g., Philippians 2:10-11). For the original readers this would have applied to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. "This brief section sketches Peter's 'battle plan' for the inevitable confrontation between Christians and Roman society. . . .
▪ "The conflict in society is won not by aggressive behavior but by 'good conduct' or 'good works' yet to be defined. Peter's vision is that the exemplary behavior of Christians will change the minds of their accusers and in effect 'overcome evil with good,' . . ." [Note: Michaels, p. 120.]
2. Respect for Others 2:13-14; Respect for everyone 2:13-17
NOTE: This section of the letter clarifies what it means to function obediently as God's people in a hostile world. It contains one of the tables of household duties in the New Testament (1 Peter 2:13 to 1 Peter 3:7; cf. Ephesians 5:21 to Ephesians 6:9; Col. 3:18 to Col. 4:1). Luther referred to these sections as Haustafeln, and some scholars still use this technical term when referring to these lists. However, this one begins with instructions regarding the Christian's relationship to the state, which is similar to Rom 13:1-7. It is particularly our duties in view of suffering for our faith that concerned Peter, as is clear from his choice of material.
vv.13-14: 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. - The Christian's relationship to the state and to state officials is quite clear (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; Titus 3:1-2). We are to submit to the authority of government rulers by obeying them. We should do this not because these individuals are personally worthy of our submission necessarily, but because by submitting to them we honor God by obeying His Word (cf. Matthew 22:21). [Note: Bigg, p. 139.] Peter reminded his readers that government has a valid and necessary God-appointed purpose. The presence of political corruption should not blind us to the legitimate role of government that God has ordained. [Note: See W. Robert Cook, "Biblical Light on the Christian's Civil Responsibility," Bibliotheca Sacra 127:505 .
▪ Peter believed that there was a proper place for civil disobedience, however (cf. Acts 4:19-20). It is when the laws of human government make it illegal to obey God. In such a case we should obey God rather than man. However we should also realize that in disobeying the law we will probably have to bear the consequences of disobeying. The consequences may involve a fine, imprisonment, or even death. [Note: See Charles C. Ryrie, "The Christian and Civil Disobedience," Bibliotheca Sacra 127:506 (April-June 1970):153-62.]
▪ "Ever since Christianity was first preached the Christian citizen has been a puzzle both to himself and to his rulers. By the elementary necessities of his creed he has been a man living in two worlds. In one he has been a member of a national community, in the other of a community 'taken out of the nations.' In one he has been bound to obey and enforce the laws of his State, in the other to measure his conduct by standards not recognized by those laws and often inconsistent with them. This dualism has been made tolerable only by the prospect of a reconciliation. That prospect is, again, an elementary necessity of the Christian creed. Somehow, somewhere, the conflict of loyalties will end. The kingdom of this world will pass; the Kingdom of God will be established."
▪ Some Christians have taken the position that believers are free to disobey their governments if the government permits conduct that is contrary to God's will. [Note: E.g., Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, pp. 134-37.] Consequently some Christians feel justified in bombing abortion clinics, for example. However cases of apostolic civil disobedience recorded in Scripture involved situations in which believers had to disobey God's will. Christians should practice civil disobedience only when the government requires its citizens to disobey God, not when it only permits them to disobey Him. Currently the United States
government permits abortion, for example, but it does not require it.
▪ ". . . the principle of the redeemed Christian life must not be self-assertion or mutual exploitation, but the voluntary subordination of oneself to others (cf. Rom. xii. 10; Eph. 1 Peter 2:21; Phil. ii. 3 f.)."
▪ Peter continued to give directions concerning how the Christian should conduct himself or herself when dealing with the state since his readers faced suffering from this source.
v. 15: For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. - In the context Peter meant that by obeying the law we can obviate unnecessary and illegitimate criticism. Jesus did this by faithfully paying his taxes (Matthew 17:24-27; Matthew 22:21). Note that Jesus also told His disciples to pay their taxes even though Rome used their tax money for purposes contrary to God's will. Paul taught that Christians should pay their taxes, too (Romans 13:6-7). Peter had learned that physical retaliation was not best since he had tried to defend Jesus by attacking the high priest's servant in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:50-54; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:50-51; John 18:10-11).
v. 16: Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. -Christians are free in the sense of being under no obligations to God to gain His acceptance. He has accepted us because of what Jesus Christ did for us. Also we are free from the tyranny of Satan. We are no longer his slaves. However, we should not use this freedom to sin but to refrain from sinning. "Liberty misused is like a mighty river flooding its banks and bringing terrible destruction upon all in its path. Liberty used as service is like a mighty river flowing within its banks bringing life and refreshment to all who benefit from it.
v. 17: Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. - These four injunctions summarize our social obligations. The first two and the last two are pairs. We should respect everyone, but we should love fellow believers. God deserves fear whereas the emperor is worthy of respect. These two pairs connect with Jesus' teachings that we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27; Luke 6:35) and render to Caesar what is his and to God what is His (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25). [Note: Michaels, p. 123.]
▪ All people are worthy of honor if for no other reason than because they reflect the image of God. Our primary responsibility to other Christians is to show them love (cf. 1 Peter 1:22; John 13:35). Our primary responsibility to God is to show Him fear (reverence, cf. 1 Peter 1:17). Peter added a final word about the king. He probably did so because his readers found it especially difficult to honor the Roman emperor, who was evidently Nero when Peter wrote this epistle (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-2).
▪ "Peter called believers to a different spirit, a spirit of deference-even while experiencing undeserved persecution. The word 'deference' conveys the idea of thoughtful consideration of another individual's desires or feelings or the courteous, respectful, or ingratiating regard for another's wishes. . . .
"'Deference' refers to a proper attitude that results in behavior characterized by respect." [Note: James R. Slaughter, "The Importance of Literary Argument for Understanding 1 Peter," Bibliotheca Sacra 152:605
▪ Respect is not the same as honor. We may not respect someone, but we can and should still honor him or her. For example, I have a friend whose father was an alcoholic. My friend did not respect his father who was frequently drunk, often humiliated his wife and children, and failed to provide for his family adequately. Nevertheless my friend honored his father because he was his father. He demonstrated honor by taking him home when his father could not get home by himself. He sometimes had to defend him from people who would have taken advantage of him when he was drunk.
▪ Similarly we may not be able to respect certain government officials because of their personal behavior or beliefs. Still we can and should honor them because they occupy an office that places them in a position of authority over us. We honor them because they occupy the office; we do not just honor the office. Peter commanded us to honor the king and all who are in authority over us, not just the offices they occupy. We may not respect someone, but we can and should honor them by treating them with respect. Respecting people and treating them with respect are two different things. Feeling respect for someone is different than showing respect for someone. Honoring others is our responsibility; earning our respect is theirs. This is especially difficult when those in authority are persecuting us.
4. Slaves' respect for their masters 2:18-20
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. - In Peter's culture the servant was the person who faced the most difficulty in relating to the person over him or her in authority. Masters traditionally enjoyed great power over their slaves. The Greek word translated "servants" (oikelai) means domestic servants, but in that society those people were slaves in that they had some limitations on their personal freedom. In our culture Peter's directions apply to how we behave in relation to those directly over us in society (employers, bosses, administrators, teachers, et al.).
▪ Again Peter commanded an attitude of respectful submission (cf. 1 Peter 2:13). The master's personal character or conduct is not the reason for this behavior. We are to respond this way regardless of his or her actions (cf. Eph 6:5-8).
▪ "The unusual fact, unnoticed by most Bible readers, is that he [Peter], along with Paul (1 Cor 7:21; Eph 6:5-8; Col 3:22-25; 1 Tim 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10) and later Christian writers (Did. 4:11; Barn. 19:7), addresses slaves at all, for Jewish and Stoic duty codes (which in many respects this code in 1 Peter, as well as those in Ephesians and Colossians, resembles) put no such moral demands on slaves, only on masters.
▪ "The reason for this difference between 1 Peter and other moral codes of his time is simple. For society at large slaves were not full persons and thus did not have moral responsibility. For the church slaves were full and equal persons, and thus quite appropriately addressed as such. The church never addressed the institution of slavery in society, for it was outside its province-society in that day did not claim to be re-presentative, and certainly not representative of Christians, concepts that arrived with the Enlightenment-but it did address the situation in the church, where no social distinctions were to be allowed, for all were brothers and sisters (Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 3:11; Philemon 1:16), however shocking that was to society at large." Peter evidently addressed servants but not masters because he addressed a social situation in which some of his readers were household servants but few, if any, were masters.
v. 19: For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. - The reason we should behave this way is that this behavior is God's will (cf. 1 Peter 2:13; 1 Peter 2:17). The fact that this is how God wants us to behave is sufficient reason for compliance. Our conscious commitment to God should move us to do what is right resulting in a clear conscience. Probably many of Peter's readers were suffering because of the persecution of their masters (1 Peter 1:6-7). The translators of the word "favor" in this verse and the next in the NASB (Gr. charis) usually rendered it "grace." ▪ In this context it means what counts with God, what pleases Him, rather than what He gives. [Michaels. 139.]
v. 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. - However, Peter hastened to distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable suffering. He did not want his readers to rest comfortably if they were suffering for their own sins. Nevertheless if they were suffering for their testimony, or without having provoked antagonism by improper behavior, they could rest confidently because God approved their conduct even if other people did not. What God rewards is endurance in His will (cf. James 1:4). Although 1 Peter 2:20 has domestic servants particularly in mind, neither it nor anything that follows is limited to them. Their experience, whether actual or hypothetical, becomes a paradigm for the experience of all Christians everywhere in the empire. The position of a household slave was tenuous, subject to the character and moods of the owner. Despite the justice of the state, the position of Christians in the empire was also tenuous, subject to differing local conditions and sudden changes in the public mood." [Ibid., p. 135.]
1 Peter 2:11-20 - Barclay Commentary
1. REASONS FOR RIGHT LIVING ( 1 Peter 2:11-12 )
2:11-12: 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.
The basic commandment in this passage is that the Christian should abstain from fleshly desires. It is of the greatest importance that we should see what Peter means by this. The phrases sins of the flesh and, fleshly, desires have become much narrowed in meaning in modern usage. For us they usually mean sexual sin; but in the New Testament they are much wider than that. Paul's list of the sins of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, includes "immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like." There are far more than bodily sins here.
In the New Testament, flesh stands for far more than the physical nature of man. It stands for human nature apart from God; it means unredeemed human nature; it means life lived without the standards, the help, the grace and the influence of Christ. Fleshly desires and sins of the flesh, therefore, include not only the grosser sins but all that is characteristic of fallen human nature. From these sins and desires the Christian must abstain. As Peter sees it, there are two reasons for this abstinence.
(i) The Christian must abstain from these sins because he is a stranger and a pilgrim. The words are paroikos ( G3941) and parepidemos ( G3927) . They are quite common Greek words and they describe someone who is only temporarily resident in a place and whose home is somewhere else. They are used to describe the patriarchs in their wanderings, and especially Abraham who went out not knowing where he was to go and whose search was for the city whose maker and builder is God ( Hebrews 11:9; Hebrews 11:13). They are used to describe the children of Israel when they were slaves and strangers in the land of Egypt before they entered into the Promised Land ( Acts 7:6).
These words give us two great truths about the Christian. (a) There is a real sense in which he is a stranger in the world; and because of that he cannot accept the world's laws and ways and standards. Others may accept them; but the Christian is a citizen of the Kingdom of God and it is by the laws of that Kingdom that he must direct his life. He must take his full share of responsibility for living upon earth, but his citizenship is in heaven and the laws of heaven are paramount for him. (b) The Christian is not a permanent resident upon earth; he is on the way to the country which is beyond. He must therefore, do nothing which would keep him from reaching his ultimate goal. He must never become so entangled in the world that he cannot escape from its grip; he must never so soil himself as to be unfit to enter the presence of the holy God to whom he is going.
2. THE GREATEST ANSWER AND DEFENCE ( 1 Peter 2:11-12 continued)
(ii) But there was for Peter another and even more practical reason why the Christian must abstain from fleshly desires. The early church was under fire. Slanderous charges were continually being made against the Christians; and the only effective way to refute them was to live lives such godly lives that they would be seen to be obviously untrue.
To modern ears the King James Version can be a little misleading. It speaks about "having your conversation honest among the Gentiles." That sounds to us as if it meant that the Christian must always speak the truth, but the word translated conversation is anastrophe ( G391) , which means a man's whole conduct, not simply his talk. That is, in fact, what conversation did mean in the seventeenth century. The word translated honest is kalos ( G2570) . In Greek there are two words for good There is agathos ( G18) , which simply means good in quality; and there is kalos ( G2570) , which means not only good but also lovely, fine, attractive, winsome. That is what honestus means in Latin. So, what Peter is saying is that the Christian must make his whole way of life so lovely and so good to look upon that the slanders of his heathen enemies may be demonstrated to be false.
Here is timeless truth. Whether we like it or not, every Christian is an advertisement for Christianity; by his life he either commends it to others or makes them think less of it. The strongest missionary force in the world is a Christian life.
In the early church this demonstration of the loveliness of the Christian life was supremely necessary, because of the slanders the heathen deliberately cast on the Christian Church. Let us see what some of these slanders were.
(i) In the beginning Christianity was closely connected with the Jews. By race Jesus was a Jew; Paul was a Jew; Christianity was cradled in Judaism; and inevitably many of its early converts were Jews. For a time Christianity was regarded merely as a sect of Judaism. Antisemitism is no new thing. Friedlander gives a selection of the slanders which were repeated against the Jews in his Roman Life and Manners under the Early Empire. "According to Tacitus they (the Jews) taught their proselytes above all to despise the gods, to renounce their fatherland, to disregard parents, children, brothers and sisters. According to Juvenal, Moses taught the Jews not to show anyone the way, nor to guide the thirsty traveller to the spring, except he were a Jew. Apion declares that, in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Jews every year fattened a Greek, and having solemnly offered him up as a sacrifice on a fixed day in a certain forest, ate his entrails and swore eternal hostility to the Greeks." These were the things which the heathen had persuaded themselves were true about the Jews, and inevitably the Christians shared in this odium.
(ii) Apart from these slanders attached to the Jews, there were slanders directed particularly against the Christians themselves. They were accused of cannibalism. This accusation took its rise from a perversion of the words of the Last Supper, "This is my body. This cup is the new covenant in my blood." The Christians were accused of killing and eating a child at their feasts.
They were also accused of immorality and even of incest. This accusation took its rise from the fact that they called their meeting the Agape ( G26) , the Love Feast. The heathen perverted that name to mean that the Christian feasts were sensual orgies at which shameless deeds were done.
The Christians were accused of damaging trade. Such was the charge of the silversmiths of Ephesus ( Acts 19:21-41).
They were accused of "tampering with family relationships" because often homes were, in fact, broken up when some members of the family became Christians and others did not.
They were accused of turning slaves against their masters, and Christianity indeed did give to every man a new sense of worth and dignity.
They were accused of "hatred of mankind" and indeed the Christian did speak as if the world and the Church were entirely opposed to each other.
Above all they were accused of disloyalty to Caesar, for no Christian would worship the Emperor's godhead and burn his pinch of incense and declare that Caesar was Lord, for to him Jesus Christ and no other was Lord.
Such were the charges which were directed against the Christians. To Peter there was only one way to refute them and that was so to live that their Christian life demonstrated that they were unfounded. When Plato was told that a certain man had been making certain slanderous charges against him, his answer was: "I will live in such a way that no one will believe what he says." That was Peter's solution.
Jesus himself had said--and doubtless the saying was in Peter's mind: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" ( Matthew 5:16). This was a line of thought which the Jews knew well. In one of the books written between the Old and the New Testaments it says: "If ye work that which is good, my children, both men and angels shall bless you; and God shall be glorified among the Gentiles through you, and the devil shall flee from you" (The Testament of Naphtali 8: 4).
The striking fact of history is that by their lives the Christians actually did defeat the slanders of the heathen. In the early part of the third century Celsus made the most famous and the most systematic attack of all upon the Christians in which he accused them of ignorance and foolishness and superstition and all kinds of things--but never of immorality. In the first half of the fourth century, Eusebius, the great Church historian, could write: "But the splendour of the catholic and only true Church, which is always the same, grew in magnitude and power, and reflected its piety and simplicity and freedom, and the modesty and purity of its inspired life and philosophy to every nation both of Greeks and barbarians. At the same time the slanderous accusations which had been brought against the whole Church also vanished, and there remained our teaching alone, which has prevailed over all, and which is acknowledged to be superior to all in dignity and temperance, and in divine and philosophical doctrines. So that none of them now ventures to affix a base calumny upon our faith, or any such slander as our ancient enemies formerly delighted to utter" (Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History, 4.7.15). It is true that the terrors of persecution were not even then ended, for the Christians would never admit that Caesar was Lord; but the excellence of their lives had silenced the calumnies against the Church.
Here is our challenge and our inspiration. It is by the loveliness of our daily life and conduct that we must commend Christianity to those who do not believe.
3. THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN-AS A CITIZEN ( 1 Peter 2:13-15 )
2:13-15: 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.
Peter looks at the duty of the Christian within the different spheres of his life; and he begins with his duty as a citizen of the country in which he happens to live.
Nothing is further from the thought of the New Testament than any kind of anarchy. Jesus had said, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's" ( Matthew 22:21). Paul was certain that those who governed the nation were sent by God and held their responsibility from him, and were, therefore, no terror to the man who lived an honourable life (Rom 13:17). In the Pastoral Epistles the Christian is instructed to pray for kings and all in authority ( 1 Timothy 2:2). The instruction of the New Testament is that the Christian must be a good and useful citizen of the country in which his life is set.
It has been said that fear built the cities and that men huddled behind a wall in order to be safe. Men join themselves together and agree to live under certain laws, so that the good man may have peace to do his work and go about his business and the evil man may be restrained and kept from his evil-doing. According to the New Testament life is meant by God to be an ordered business and the state is divinely appointed to provide and to maintain that order.
The New Testament view is perfectly logical and just. It holds that a man cannot accept the privileges which the state provides without also accepting the responsibilities and the duties which it demands. He cannot in honour and decency take everything and give nothing.
How are we to translate this into modern terms? C. E. B. Cranfield has well pointed out that there is a fundamental difference between the state in New Testament times and the state as we in Britain know it. In New Testament times the state was authoritarian. The ruler was an absolute ruler; and the sole duty of the citizen was to render absolute obedience and to pay taxes ( Romans 13:6-7). Under these conditions the keynote was bound to be subjection to the state. But we live in a democracy; and in a democracy something far more than unquestioning subjection becomes necessary. Government is not only government of the people; it is also for the people and by the people. The demand of the New Testament is that the Christian should fulfil his responsibility to the state. In the authoritarian state that consisted solely in submission. But what is that obligation in the very different circumstances of a democracy?
In any state there must be a certain subjection. As C. E. B. Cranfield puts it, there must be "a voluntary subordination of oneself to others, putting the interest and welfare of others above one's own, preferring to give rather than to get, to serve rather than to be served." But in a democratic state the keynote must be not subjection but cooperation, for the duty of the citizen is not only to submit to be ruled but to take a necessary share in ruling. Hence, if the Christian is to fulfil his duty to the state, he must take his part in its government. He must also take his part in local government and in the life of the trade union or association connected with his trade, craft, or profession. It is tragic that so few Christians really fulfil their obligation to the state and the society in which they live.
It remains to say that the Christian has a higher obligation than even his obligation to the state. While he must render to Caesar the things which are Caesar's, he must also render to God the things which are God's. He must on occasion make it quite clear that he must listen to God rather than to men ( Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29). There may be times, therefore, when the Christian will fulfil his highest duty to the state by refusing to obey it and by insisting on obeying God. By so doing, at least he will witness to the truth, and at best he may lead the state to take the Christian way.
4. THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN-IN SOCIETY ( 1 Peter 2:16 )
2:16: Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.
Any great Christian doctrine can be perverted into an excuse for evil. The doctrine of grace can be perverted into an excuse for sinning to one's heart's content. The doctrine of the love of God can be sentimentalized into an excuse for breaking his law. The doctrine of the life to come can be perverted into an excuse for neglecting life in this world. And there is no doctrine so easy to pervert as that of Christian freedom.
There are hints in the New Testament that it was frequently so perverted. Paul tells the Galatians that they have been called to liberty but they must not use that liberty as an occasion for the flesh to do as it wills ( Galatians 5:13). In Second Peter we read of those who promise others liberty and are themselves the slaves of corruption ( 2 Peter 2:19). Even the great pagan thinkers saw quite clearly that perfect freedom is, in fact, the product of perfect obedience. Seneca said, "No one is free who is the slave of his body," and, "Liberty consists in obeying God." Cicero said, "We are the servants of the laws that we may be able to be free." Plutarch insisted that every bad man is a slave; and Epictetus declared that no bad man can ever be free.
We may put it this way. Christian freedom is always conditioned by Christian responsibility. Christian responsibility is always conditioned by Christian love. Christian love is the reflection of God's love. And, therefore, Christian liberty can rightly be summed up in Augustine's memorable phrase: "Love God, and do what you like."
The Christian is free because he is the slave of God. Christian freedom does not mean being free to do as we like; it means being free to do as we ought.
In this matter we have to return to the great central truth which we have already seen. Christianity is community. The Christian is not an isolated unit; he is a member of a community and within that community his freedom operates. Christian freedom therefore is the freedom to serve. Only in Christ is a man so freed from self and sin that he can become as good as he ought to be. Freedom comes when a man receives Christ as king of his heart and Lord of his life.
5. A SUMMARY OF CHRISTIAN DUTY ( 1 Peter 2:17 )
2:17: 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Here is what we might call a four-point summary of Christian duty.
(i) Honour all men. To us this may seem hardly needing to be said; but when Peter wrote this letter it was something quite new. There were 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire, everyone of whom was considered in law to be, not a person, but a thing, with no rights whatever. In effect, Peter is saying, "Remember the rights of human personality and the dignity of every man." It is still possible to treat people as things. An employer may treat his employees as so many human machines for producing so much work. Even in a welfare state, where the aim is to do so much for their physical welfare, there is a very real danger that people may be regarded as numbers on a form or as cards in a filing system.
John Lawrence in his book, Hard Facts, A Christian Looks at the World, says that one of the greatest needs in the welfare state is "to see through the files and forms in triplicate to God's creatures who are at the other end of the chain of organization." The danger is that we fail to see men and women as persons. This matter comes nearer home. When we regard anyone as existing solely to minister to our comfort or to further our plans, we are in effect regarding them, not as persons, but as things. The most tragic danger of all is that we may come to regard those who are nearest and dearest to us as existing for our convenience--and that is to treat them as things.
(ii) Love the brotherhood. Within the Christian community this respect for every man turns to something warmer and closer; it turns to love. The dominant atmosphere of the Church must always be love. One of the truest definitions of the Church is that it is "the extension of the family." The Church is the larger family of God and its bond must be love. As the Psalmist had it ( Psalms 133:1):
Behold, how good a thing it is,
And how becoming well,
Together such as brethren are
In unity to dwell!
(iii) Fear God. The writer of the proverbs has it: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" ( Proverbs 1:7). It may well be that the translation should be, not that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge but that the fear of the Lord is the principal part, the very foundation of knowledge. Fear here does not mean terror; it means awe and reverence. It is the simple fact of life that we will never reverence men until we reverence God. It is only when God is given his proper place in the centre that all other things take their proper place.
(iv) Honour the king. Of the four injunctions of this verse this is the most amazing, for, if it was really Peter who wrote this letter, the king in question is none other than Nero. It is the teaching of the New Testament that the ruler is sent by God to preserve order among men and that he must be respected, even when he is a Nero.
6. THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN AS A SERVANT ( 1 Peter 2:18-25 )
2:18-20: 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.
Here is the passage which would be relevant to by far the greatest number of the readers of this letter, for Peter writes to servants and slaves, and they formed by far the greatest part of the early church. The word Peter uses for servants is not douloi ( G1401) , which is the commonest word for slaves, but oiketai ( G3610) , the word for the household and domestic slaves.
To understand the real meaning of what Peter is saying we must understand something of the nature of slavery in the time of the early church. In the Roman Empire there were as many as 60,000,000 slaves, Slavery began with Roman conquests, slaves being originally mainly prisoners taken in war, and in very early times Rome had few slaves but by New Testament times slaves were counted by the million.
It was by no means only menial tasks which were performed by slaves. Doctors, teachers, musicians, actors, secretaries, stewards were slaves. In fact, all the work of Rome was done by slaves. Roman attitude was that there was no point in being master of the world and doing one's own work. Let the slaves do that and let the citizens live in pampered idleness. The supply of slaves would never run out.
Slaves were not allowed to marry; but they cohabited; and the children born of such a partnership were the property of the master, not of the parents, just as the lambs born to the sheep belonged to the owner of the flock, and not to the sheep.
It would be wrong to think that the lot of slaves was always wretched and unhappy, and that they were always treated with cruelty. Many slaves were loved and trusted members of the family; but one great inescapable fact dominated the whole situation. In Roman law a slave was not a person but a thing; and he had absolutely no legal rights whatsoever. For that reason there could be no such thing as justice where a slave was concerned. Aristotle writes, "There can be no friendship nor justice towards inanimate things; indeed, not even towards a horse or an ox, nor yet towards a slave as a slave. For master and slave have nothing in common; a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave." Varro divides the instruments of agriculture into three classes--the articulate, the inarticulate and the mute, "the articulate comprising the slaves, the inarticulate comprising the cattle, and the mute comprising the vehicles." The only difference between a slave and a beast or a farmyard cart was that a slave happened to be able to speak. Peter Chrysologus sums the matter up: "Whatever a master does to a slave, undeservedly, in anger, willingly, unwillingly, in forgetfulness, after careful thought, knowingly, unknowingly, is judgment, justice and law." In regard to a slave, his master's will, and even his master's caprice, was the only law.
The dominant fact in the life of a slave was that, even if he was well treated, he remained a thing. He did not possess even the elementary rights of a person and for him justice did not even exist.
EW Commentary - 1 Peter 2:11-20 - Theme: How those who have come to Jesus are to live.
1. (11-12) When we come to Jesus, we are to abstain from fleshly lusts.
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.
a. Abstain from fleshly lusts: We can only abstain from fleshly lusts as we live as sojourners and pilgrims, as those who recognize that this world is not their home, and that they have a home and a citizenship in heaven.
b. Which war against the soul: Peter understands that these fleshly lusts... war against the soul. To be a Christian means to fight against the lusts of the flesh, and the battle continues as long as we live in this flesh.
i. It is easy to see how the pursuit of fleshly lusts can destroy our physical body. Just ask the alcoholic dying of liver disease, or ask the sexually immoral person with AIDS or one of the 350,000 people on this earth who contracted a sexually transmitted disease in the last 24 hours. But Peter reminds us that fleshly lusts also war against the soul. Some escape disease in the physical body when they sin, but the disease and death of the inner man is a penalty that no one given over to the flesh escapes.
c. Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles: This kind of godly living makes our conduct honorable among those who don't know God yet. Though we can expect that they will speak against you as evildoers, they can still be brought to glorify God by seeing our godly conduct.
i. Christians were falsely accused of great crimes in the early church. Pagans said that at communion Christians ate the flesh and drank the blood of a baby in a cannibalistic ritual. They said that Christian "agape feasts" were wild orgies. They said that Christians were antisocial because they did not participate in society's immoral entertainment. They said that Christians were atheists because they did not worship idols.
ii. But over time, it was clear that Christians were not immoral people - and it was shown by their lives. "The striking fact of history is that by their lives the Christians actually did defeat the slanders of the heathen. In the early part of the third century Celsus made the most famous and the most systematic attack of all upon the Christians in which he accused them of ignorance and foolishness and superstition and all kinds of things - but never of immorality." (Barclay)
d. The day of visitation: This is probably a reference to their ultimate meeting with God, either when they go to meet Him or when He comes to meet them. The idea is that the Gentiles might be persuaded to become Christians by seeing the lives of other Christians, and that they would glorify God when they meet Him instead of cowering before His holy judgment.
i. "That the day of visitation means a time in which punishment should be inflicted, is plain from Isaiah 10:3: And what will ye do in the DAY of VISITATION, and in the desolation which shall come from afar? To whom will ye flee for help? And where will ye leave your glory?" (Clarke)
2. (13-17) When we come to Jesus, we are to show proper submission to the government.
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. 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.
a. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man: As Christians we should be good citizens, submitting to government. This was very different from those zealous Jews in Peter's day who recognized no king but God and paid taxes to no one except God.
i. Peter wrote this in the days of the Roman Empire, which was not a democracy and no special friend to Christians. Yet he still recognized the legitimate authority of the Roman government.
ii. "The meaning of St. Peter appears to be this: the Jews thought it unlawful to obey any ruler that was not of their own stock; the apostle tells them that they should obey their civil magistrate, let him be of what stock he may, whether Jew or Gentile, and let him exercise the government in whatsoever form." (Clarke)
b. For the Lord's sake: This is why we obey the government. Since governments have a rightful authority from God, we are bound to obey them - unless, of course, they order us to do something in contradiction to God's law. Then, we are commanded to obey God before man (Acts 4:19). God, as their supreme governor, shows them that it is his will that they should act uprightly and obediently at all times, and thus confound the ignorance of foolish men, who were ready enough to assert that their religion made them bad subjects.
c. As to those who are sent by him: Peter also insisted that rulers are sent by him; that is, sent by God. Governments are sent by God for the punishment of evildoers and for the recognition of those who do good.
God uses governing authorities as a check upon man's sinful desires and tendencies. Governments are a useful tool in resisting the effects of man's fallen nature. Based also on what Paul wrote in Rom 13, we can say that the greatest offense government can make is to fail to punish evildoers or to reward them through corruption.
d. That by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: Peter knew that our conduct is a way to defend the gospel. He knew that those who never read the Bible will read our lives, so it is by doing good that we put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
e. Yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God: We are warned against taking the liberty we have in Jesus as an excuse for sin. Instead we use our liberty in Jesus to show the kind of love and respect that Peter calls for.
3. (18-20) When we come to Jesus, we are to show proper submission to our employers.
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.
a. Servants, be submissive to your masters: The command to submit to masters isn't just to those who work for masters that are good and gentle, but also to those who are harsh. If we must endure hardship because of our Christian standards, it is then commendable before God.
b. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? To be punished for our wrongs is no credit to us. But when we are punished for doing good and endure it patiently, we are compl-imented before God. It appears from this that the poor Christians, and especially those who had been converted to Christianity in a state of slavery, were often grievously abused; they were buffeted because they were Christians, and because they would not join with their masters in idolatrous worship. Our case is like that of a criminal who had better bear quietly a sentence for a crime he has not committed, lest by too much outcry he induce investigation into a list of offenses, which are not charged against him, because they are not known." (Meyer)