1 Peter 2:13-17 ~ 20090201~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
This morning we are going to jump back into 1 Peter 2:13-17. We haven't been in Peter for 2 months, so we need to start with some review to put this passage into its context.
Peter is writing from a prison in Rome, awaiting his own execution under the evil emperor Nero. Peter is writing to persecuted Christians scattered across Asia Minor, encouraging them to suffer well. At the close of the letter he says:
1 Peter 5:12 ...I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.
He addresses the believers as 'elect exiles' (1:1) or 'chosen outcasts' or 'the selected rejected'. Because these people had embraced Jesus as their God, they had become strangers in their own hometowns. They no longer fit in to society. They maintain a distinct identity. They don't think and feel and act like the rest of society, and because of this they are rejected and persecuted. But their rejection is because they are objects of God's great mercy and his special favor. They have been selected by God to be his. This is a position of safety and security. So Peter goes on to tell them about their inheritance (1:3-5). They have become heirs because God caused them to be born into his family. Their inheritance is being kept safe for them and they are being kept by God's power safe for it. Any trials they face serve to prove the genuineness of their faith so that the outcome will be the salvation of their souls (1:6-9). Their salvation has been the focal point of prophets, evangelists and angels (1:10-12).
Peter has begun this letter by unveiling the bedrock foundation of our security in Jesus. He spent the first 12 verses pointing us to massive truths about God's work of redemption as a ground for joy and worship. Then, in verse 13 he shifts gears from telling us our identity and security as recipients of God's great mercy to giving us big broad commands of how we are to live our lives. Because the triune God is at work to secure your salvation, this is how you must respond; this is what you must do. His very first command is this: you must fix your hope fully on future grace (1:13). Hope! Hope in God and all that he promises to be for you in Jesus Christ! Look back on what he has done to initiate your salvation and be convinced that he will finish what he has started. Then he commands us to be holy (1:14-16). You have a new driving passion in your life so live set apart and devoted to God. Be passionate about God; be consumed with delight in who God is. Be holy. Next he commands us to fear (1:17-21); fear living in such a way that indicates Jesus' blood is not precious to you. Hope, be holy, fear and love. Love one another with genuine un-hypocritical heartfelt self-sacrificing love (1:22-25). Then he commands us to crave milk (2:1-3). God has brought about new life in you. Long for those things that will sustain that new life. Consistently feed on things that will make you grow.
In 2:4, Peter moves to talk about the corporate existence of those who come to Jesus. We are built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering sacrifices that are acceptable to God. We are a distinct people for his own possession and our reason for existence is to proclaim the excellencies of him (2:9). We have been shown great undeserved mercy and we can now point others to a God who is rich in mercy to undeserving sinners. We were made to give glory to God. We are made recipients of God's great mercy so that we will bring glory to our great God. Peter continues in this present section to tell us how to live our lives in such a way that we proclaim the excellencies of him who called us. He says:
2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Peter's prescribed method for bringing glory to God is both positive and negative. Negatively, abstain from the passions of the flesh, because these will destroy your soul and you will make shipwreck of your faith and bring reproach to the God you claim to follow. Positively, keep your conduct honorable and your good deeds observable. Be known in the community as someone who has genuine integrity and love for others. Perhaps from observing your faithful God honoring life, God will visit them with mercy and they will be brought to trust in Jesus. The goal is God's glory, the means is their salvation, and the method is our life of integrity. Peter points us to our relations to the government, to our employers or masters, and to our husbands and wives as arenas where we can put the glory of God on display. Today we will look at the arena of the state as an opportunity to glorify God.
2:13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover–up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Peter reminds us that the primary motivation for a godly life is the glory of God. We don't live a godly life because there are health benefits or tax benefits or social and economic benefits. We must live in a way that puts God on display and represents God well to our community so that God gets the honor and attention that he deserves. We are told to submit to human institutions for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ; not because it is good for us, but because it is good for him. We want to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light; we want people to see our good deeds and glorify God. So how do we live in relation to our government so that the glory of God is put on display?
Peter tells us to 'be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution'. Literally the text says 'to every human creature' or 'every human creation'. The point is that all people are created by God and in the image of God, and as such are worthy of honor and respect. Peter may be reminding his readers that the emperor is not divine, but a part of God's creation. Paul says:
Romans 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
All authority that exists has been instituted and appointed by God. They are God's servants for your good, as well as God's servant to carry out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. In Daniel 2 we are told of God that
Daniel 2:21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings;
Peter, in prison in Rome under the maniacal emperor Nero, acknowledged that it is right to be subject to those God has placed in authority over him. He even specifies the king or emperor as supreme, and more immediately applicable to his readers, the governors that are sent out by the king to rule various areas.
The purpose of government is clearly and succinctly stated here in verse 14: 'to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good'. Governments are responsible to punish evil doers. Individuals are not to seek revenge, but to trust the authority structure to carry out justice. Governments are responsible to reward and encourage those who do good. If you are a Christian then you should be in this category, being praised by your government for doing good in your community and thus bringing honor and glory to God.
In verse 15 he gives the reason why we are to be subject to those in authority over us: 'for this is the will of God'. There are so many Christians that are wandering through life asking the question 'what is God's will for me? what does God want me to do?' Here is the authoritative word of God for you. This is the will of God for your life – submit for the Lord's sake to those who are in authority over you! In submitting to authority and doing good 'you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people'. 'Put to silence' is the word used for muzzling a wild animal. There were rumors circulating about the Christians. Because Christians would not worship the emperor, they were considered atheists, unpatriotic and dangerous. Their reference to fellow Christians as brothers and sisters was misconstrued to indicate incestuous practices, and their celebration of the Lord's supper won them the accusation of cannibalism. Peter did not instruct them to rent billboards and take out newspaper ads to correct the public thinking and clear up the misunderstanding. Instead, he tells them to muzzle the ignorance of fools by persistently doing good. According to Proverbs 1:7, fools are those who do not fear God and walk in his ways. If you are living in a manner that is clearly above reproach, the accusations and rumors will soon be displayed as foolishness.
Verse 16 is paradoxical. Peter tells us to live as free slaves to God. Jesus said:
Luke 4:18 ... He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives ... to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
John 8:32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” ...36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Acts 13:38 Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything 39 from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
And he tells us in Galatians:
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Peter told us
1 Peter 1:18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ...
Revelation tells us that Jesus is the one:
Revelation 1:5 ... who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood
So we have been set free from our sins and we have been ransomed from a life of futility to live a life that counts for the glory of God. We have been set free by Jesus and we are free indeed.
On the flip side, he tells us:
16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover–up for evil, but living as servants of God.
There are many that misunderstand the freedom that we have in Christ. Rather than a freedom from sin, they take it as freedom to sin. This is a dangerous misunderstanding of freedom and misuse of grace. We were slaves of sin, and a return to sin is a return to slavery. True biblical freedom is the freedom to please and honor God. Paul addresses the issue extensively in Romans 6:
Romans 6:18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness... 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
In Galatians he says it this way:
Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Living in true Christian freedom is really living as the slave of God in full submission to his absolute authority. True freedom is the freedom to be who we were created to be and bring honor and glory and praise to God.
Peter concludes this section with four imperatives:
17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
First, we are commanded to honor everyone. All people must be shown the respect due to those who have been created in God's image. The brotherhood is a word unique to Peter to refer to believers. We are to self-sacrificially love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reverential fear and awe is reserved for God alone. God alone is to be worshiped. God alone has the ultimate authority and power to determine existence. Peter concludes with the emperor, and drops back down to the level of honor, which he already said should be extended to everyone. The emperor is here explicitly included as worthy of honor, regardless of what you think of him, although not necessarily love and certainly not fear.
What Peter doesn't say in this passage is interesting. He tells us to be submissive to every human institution. Where's the 'except' clause? We know that when Peter and the other apostles were arrested and commanded not to teach about Jesus they responded:
Acts 5:29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
We're waiting for Peter to say that it's O.K. to submit to authority as long as and only until and under these conditions. Submit to authority up to this point and then you have every right to rebel. Peter doesn't even go there. He doesn't play the 'what if' game. He doesn't list any exceptions to the rule, and there are legitimate exceptions to the rule. But our tendency is to find ourselves in the exception and ignore the rule. Most of our heroes held up for us in the media are guys who do it their own way and disregard authority and get the job done. They always have a sarcastic remark and a biting comeback. Where is the hero who plays by the rules and submits to authority and treats everyone with respect and honor? Where is the hero whose speech and conduct is above reproach? Peter is giving us the general rule. God has instituted government for our good. Even tyrannical governments do some good in keeping the peace. Our goal is not to come out looking good but to make our God look good. We proclaim the excellencies of him who called us when we incessantly do good and show honor to authority.
Pliny the Younger was governor of Pontus/Bithynia from 111-113 AD.
It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.
Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.
Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.