1 Peter 2:11-17 A Call to Good Works

11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.

13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor. (HCSB)

In this passage, Peter exhorts the believers in the church in Asia Minor to live godly lives, shine their light to the unbelievers around them, respect authority, and use their freedom for good.

Verses 11-12

In these two verses, Peter characterizes the identity of the recipients of his letter in four ways.

  • Peter has Christian affection for the recipients, addressing them with the term “dear friends.” Peter is invested in their spiritual growth and wellbeing.
  • In the first chapter, Peter had already identified the recipients as sojourners or aliens. By joining the two words, Peter reinforces the fact that as believers in a fallen world, this is not their permanent home, and to the lost around them, their behavior would make them stand out as being different (strangers) in comparison to them.
  • At first, it may appear peculiar that Peter would tell the believers living in Asia Minor to act in a Christ-like manner among the unbelievers around them. To the Jews, anyone who was not a Jew was considered a Gentile. However, Peter is making the point that believers are grafted into Yahweh’s chosen people. They are now different from those around them.
  • The recipients of the letter are facing persecution in the form of slander from non-believers around them. This is the first explicit mention of hostility directed at believers in the letter. Let’s consider several factors here:
    • What qualifies as “evil” is often subjective and depends on the person viewing the action. Because of Christian resistance to Roman traditions/laws, they were viewed as criminal or evil in their behavior.
      • Acts 16:20-21  20 Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews 21 and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.”
      • Acts 17:6-7  When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, and Jason has received them as guests! They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees,  saying that there is another king—Jesus!”
      • Acts 19:24-27  24 For a person named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis,  provided a great deal of business for the craftsmen. 25 When he had assembled them, as well as the workers engaged in this type of business, he said: “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. 26 You both see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods!  27 So not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one all of Asia and the world adore.”
    • They are to resist the cravings of the world by Christ-like living.
      • The cravings that believers experience can often be strong as the enemy desires us to stumble or fall.
      • Believers are at war with the powers of darkness.
      • We should never underestimate the powers of darkness and do all we can to resist the temptations of the world.
      • Do we desire holiness or pleasure? The one we feed is the one that will take control.
      • Fleshly desires are motivated by a spirit of selfishness.
      • They make us spiritually weak and ineffective.
    • These verses start a section that is a call to missions.
      • They are to live among the Gentiles, engaging them and being a living witness to the power of Jesus.
      • They are not to withdraw and live a life of isolation.
      • Their incarnational living will draw the lost to submit their lives to Jesus.
    • Believers are not to retaliate or engage in self-defense against those persecuting them.
      • They are to pursue virtue and goodness.
      • By doing this, it would contradict the false accusations being placed against them.
    • The day of visitation is the moment of salvation for the Gentiles around them who submit to Jesus because of the witness of the believers.
      • Peter is convinced that some will convert because of their behavior.
      • The unbelievers may persecute the believers, but some will join Yahweh’s spiritual family because of their faithful lives.
      • God is glorified when this happens.

The summary of these two verses is this. Live holy lives in the middle of secular chaos, and let God take care of everything else. Peter is calling the churches in Asia Minor to live radically different from the surrounding culture to please God and cope with their circumstances. Peter’s point is a timeless point. In today’s world, the church also needs a call to holiness as the modern church, especially the Western church, is under heavy influence from the culture around us.

Verses 13-17

This section is challenging, if for no other reason, that in today’s world, there is an overall element of government/leader bashing. As we look at this section, there is an important divergent point in the discussion. Does the government/leader position go against Scripture, or does it go against your personal preference? The answer to that question is important both in how we understand this passage, and how it should affect our behavior. Now, let’s understand what Peter is saying.

  • Believers should submit to governing authorities.
  • It’s God’s will for believers to submit to authority.
  • Believers don’t submit to human authority with a subservient spirit but as one who is free in Christ.
  • Freedom doesn’t give license for evil.
    • Creating political chaos.
    • Moral irresponsibility.
    • Christians should choose to be orderly citizens.

Verse 15

By submitting to authorities, believers demonstrate the following characteristics.

  • They are good citizens.
  • They are not anarchists.
  • Unbelievers can’t criticize them for their disobedience.

Peter is not saying that authorities will always be on the side of believers or even recognize and reward them for good behavior. He is saying that such behavior will reduce the slanderous attacks on believers.

Verse 16

Peter is focusing on what motivates the behavior of submission. He uses three phrases to explain how Christians should live when subordinating them to governing authorities.

  • As free people:
    • The blood of Jesus has redeemed them.
      • Freedom from the power of sin over our lives.
      • Freedom from the guilt of our sins.
      • Freedom from the impossibility of earning God’s favor through obedience.
    • They no longer are subject to the futile lifestyle of the lost.
    • Their submission is not out of a position of weakness but strength.
  • Not engaging in evil.
    • Genuine freedom allows believers to do what is good.
    • Engaging in evil shows they were never free in the first place.
    • Wickedness is the definition of slavery.
  • Submit as slaves of God.
    • Believers are not given unrestricted freedom.
    • Freedom is exercised under the authority of Yahweh.
    • The understanding of New Testament liberty is the freedom to do what is right.
    • Only slaves of God are truly free.

Let’s draw some conclusions to the concepts of subservience and freedom, as is discussed in this passage.

  • Our ultimate submission is to God.
    • Governments don’t get a blank check pass in our submission to them.
    • Peter never intended his words to mean that we blindly follow governments.
    • As believers, we must weigh what governments are telling us against Scripture.
    • When those two sources of authority over us are in conflict, we must choose what is contained in Scripture.
    • Our ultimate loyalty is to God, not Caesar or any of our current leaders.
    • As believers, we are free from fearing our earthly leaders.
  • Under normal circumstances, governments will punish evil and reward good, as understood through Scripture.
    • At these times, believers can follow the dictates of their government with a good conscience. This is important to avoid unnecessary civil unrest.
    • However, Peter is saying that when governments propose what is evil of demand that believers can’t worship God, then we must not obey the dictates of the government.
    • Practical examples.
      • Abortion clinics – it is ok to protest peacefully against them.
      • Civil rights – again, peacefully demonstrate.
    • Tragically, most of the examples we see today of protests are violent and destructive in nature.

Verse 17

Peter concludes with four commands for the believers in Asia Minor.

  • Honor everyone – treat everyone with dignity and respect since we are all created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 26 Then God said, “Let Us  make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.  They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth,  and the creatures that crawl  on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.
  • Love the brotherhood – we should show love to all members of our spiritual family.
  • Fear God – only God is deserving of our fear (respect) in our actions. Matthew 10:28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Honor the Emperor – we are to honor our leaders and show respect to the position they hold.

The famous preacher, Jonathan Edwards, had six points that follow Peter’s teaching on how the church should operate today.

  • Christians have a responsibility to society beyond the walls of the church. We must not engage in isolationism.
  • We shouldn’t hesitate to join hands with non-Christians in working towards common moral grounds. At the same time, we must not compromise our Christian beliefs in cooperative endeavors.
  • Christians should support their government but be ready to criticize when the circumstances dictate that.
  • Politics are not important in the long run. Our first responsibility is to Jesus and only then to our government. No matter how much we do or want to respect our government, we should respect the church of Jesus more.
  • Christians should be aware of nationalistic pride. In the history of the church, there’s never been a truly Christian nation. As a Christian, our identity is in Jesus…period.
  • Christians must display an attitude of mercy for those less fortunate. If our God is a God of compassion and mercy, then we as Christians need to display those same characteristics.

Three main points in summary before I list some applications.

  • As the church, we can’t isolate ourselves from the world. The early church didn’t do that; they engaged the world, often leading to martyrdom.
    • The early church faced mostly physical persecution.
    • In most parts of the world today, the threat isn’t overt physical violence; it’s a slipping away from correct teaching and doctrine, leading to weak or false Christians.
  • Holiness means in all areas of our lives.
    • It isn’t restricted to spiritual disciplines; Bible reading, prayer, attending church, bringing our offering to God.
    • It includes all aspects of our lives.
      • Sexual practices.
      • The words we speak/don’t speak, write/don’t write.
      • How we spend our money.
      • Recreational pursuits.
      • Vocation.
      • Theological decisions.
  • The church needs to call all of its members to holiness. They should collectively fight against the sin in our society.
    • Casual sex.
    • Drugs.
    • Alcohol abuse.
    • Discrimination of any kind.
    • Gambling.
    • Oppression.
    • There’s a multitude more, and they vary in different locations around the world, choose those that fit your context.

Applications

  • First, no matter our circumstances, we must remember that our lives on earth are temporary. When we go through difficult times, face persecution, or just resentment for being a Christian, we must not forget that we weren’t the first, nor will we be the last. Rest in the assurance that Jesus is our strong tower, and He has already overcome the world.
  • We must resist the temptations that the world throws at us and seek holiness in our lives. If we struggle in an area, do we put up safeguards? Do we have an accountability partner?
  • Do we engage the lost world around us with the truth of the Gospel message? Jesus didn’t tell us to avoid the world; He told us to take the Gospel to a lost and dying world.
  • Do we respect our leaders both in action and word (spoken/printed/social media)? Disagreeing with our leaders does not give us the freedom or right to disrespect or slander them. If their words or actions are in conflict with Scripture, we have the freedom and responsibility to disagree with them in a respectful manner and/or peacefully demonstrate against whatever they do contrary to Scripture. Acting in accordance with Scripture goes against everything the world would tell us. However, we must remember application point one above, we are temporary residents here, and our identity is Jesus. If we act like the world, nobody will confuse us with the description of a Christian in the Bible.
  • Do we treat everyone with honor and respect?
  • Do you demonstrate love to your spiritual family?

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