The Expository Files.

 

Victims, But Still Obligated!

1 Peter 2:11-17

1 Pet. 2:11-17:

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering for righteousness' sake. The time and location would strongly imply this and there is evidence within the epistle (1:6 & 4:14).

When we undergo difficulty and injustice, there may be a tendency to relax our efforts and leave some of our responsibilities undone. We may want to say to ourselves: "Well, I'm under all this pressure right now. I've got all these problems to cope with. I can't grow spiritually right now; I can't worry about all these duties." We may be tempted to think in this direction, excuse ourselves and even assume that God grants us some sort of immunity in view of our troubles.

Think about this. Peter was writing to a persecuted, suffering people, and he told them:

"Abstain from fleshly lusts."
Make sure your conduct is honorable.
Obey the laws and ordinances of man.
"Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king."
One simple lesson to learn is: IN TIME OF HARDSHIP, WE ARE NOT EXCUSED FROM DUTY. We must not push duty aside in order to survive; rather, we must engage in our duty to survive!! Obedience to God does not make hardship harder, it makes it easier!

"Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."

Peter refers to his brethren as "sojourners" and "pilgrims." SOJOURNERS are travelers, who haven't reached their final destination yet (Heb. 11:9; Phil. 3:20). PILGRIMS are temporary visitors - people who are just passing through. Both expressions emphasize that this world is not our home; heaven is our final destination.

On our way to heaven we have the duty (even if we are under hardship) to abstain from fleshly lusts. To "abstain" means to hold off from; to keep yourself from (similar to 1 Thess. 4:3 & 5:22). Those desires that are wrong and lead to sinful deeds we must abstain from. The New International Version says: "Abstain from sinful desires." And, be sure and connect this prohibition to the identity of Christians! We are sojourners and pilgrims; only here for a short while. So we must (while we are here) abstain from sinful desires.

WHY? Because fleshly lusts "war against the soul!" When you nurture and entertain evil desires; when you dwell on or plan that which is sinful, you are doing something that's detrimental to your soul! It is spiritually damaging! You may say to yourself - "well, nobody knows!" You may deceive yourself into thinking that no harm is done. Or you may let the devil convince you that since you are going through "a difficult time," it is not as bad for you to indulge. Yet the passage tells us - IT IS SPIRITUALLY DAMAGING TO ENTERTAIN THOSE EVIL DESIRES. "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul."

"...having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation."

In the N.T., the term "Gentile" has two different meanings:

There is, what might be called THE DEFINITE, PRIMARY MEANING: Those who were Israelites, Hebrews (stress on genealogy; race). Then there is what might be called THE INDEFINITE, SECONDARY MEANING: Those not in the favor of God; or, sinners (stress on conduct; spiritual relationship). This later, accommodative use applies here, in 1 Pet. 2:12 where Peter calls attention to A CHRISTIAN'S CONDUCT AMONG THOSE WHO ARE OUTSIDE OF GOD'S FAMILY.

He says "having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles." The subject is good behavior before those outside the church; so that, even when we are spoken against as evildoers, the hope is, outsiders may by our good works which they behold, "GLORIFY GOD IN THE DAY OF VISITATION." This word "visitation" is from a Greek word which involves the idea of EXAMINATION, or judgment. I take this to be a reference to the final judgment.

Before we study the next few verses, let me remind you: much of the persecution these Christians were going through was from the government. What wasn't directly from the government, was tolerated or encouraged by the Roman empire. Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering persecution at the hands of the government they were subject to. Even before Nero there was discrimination against Christians; false charges were accepted, with little or no investigation. And the general attitude toward Christians often led to violence or death. Likewise, the form of government was dictatorial, totalitarian and corrupt. So try to imagine the situation, for those Christians in Asia Minor. Here you are a Christian, trying to follow Christ and go to heaven. And almost everyday you find the government as a chief obstacle. There was surely the temptation to disobey, or rebel ... or start a revolution.

But here's what Peter told them:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

"Therefore, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man... ." This is a military term which meant, "to arrange yourself in military fashion under the command of a leader." It means to put yourself in an attitude of submission and obedience. {The same concept is found in verse 18, having to do with submission to masters. Likewise over in chapter 3, having to do with wives submitting to husbands.}

Involved in this, therefore, is respect for authority with the corresponding obedience; in this case, "to every ordinance of man." All kinds of rules and regulations are necessary in order for people to live together in a nation. We - for instance - have county rules and regulations; state statutes; various requirements and federal laws. We may not like all of these rules; we may think some of them are intrusive; we may not agree with many of the things we are required to comply with. And, it may be troublesome to carry proof of insurance in your car, get all the right stickers on time, then meet all the terms and conditions of all the contracts and agreements you've made. But this is God's Word: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." If I'm a Christian, I'll do this. And I'll give God this obedience even though I'm "not feeling well" or going through "a difficult time."

And notice something: WE MUST OBEY, not just for the sake of peace ... not just to avoid punishment and not just for the sake of our reputation. These are legitimate motives. But, fundamentally, we must obey, "for the Lord's sake." God has ordained civil government (Rom. 13); our testimony or influence as obedient citizens will glorify Him. We obey "for the Lord's sake ... whether to the king as supreme, or to governors ..."

Notice, in the last part of verse 14 -- something very significant: two fundamental functions of civil government, as ordained by god.

FIRST -- the punishment of evildoers. God ordained the institution of civil government ... for He knew there would be need to punish evildoers. (The best commentary on this is found in Rom. 13:3,4.)

SECOND -- the praise of those who do good. Those who do wrong; those who inflict violence on others, creature turmoil in society and injure the innocent should be punished by government. Now the other side of that is, those who do good; those who contribute to the betterment of society and make things better should be praised, honored, and protected by government. I refer again to Romans 13 where Paul said, "do what is good, and you will have praise from the same." Of course this is the ideal; this is what God intends, as the function of civil government: "The punishment of evildoers, and the praise of those who do good." "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.

Christians in the first century were frequently charged with disobeying the government (Acts 17:5-8). On this occasion and others Christians were charged with disobeying the government. Hence, the question came up: how do we handle this? Peter answers: obey the civil authorities; do what is good and right, and that will silence the ignorance of foolish men. If you are being charged with wrong doing - though you have been careful to do right, your obvious righteousness will silence the ignorance of foolish men. In this case your life and the testimony of your good works is your best defense. There is injustice, it is not right, but you continue to do what's right!

After making the point about obedience to government, and doing good to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men some might be inclined to assert their freedom. The argument might sound like this: "Well, children of God are free, Peter!" Yes. We are free from the bondage of the old law. We are liberated from sin and its' bondage through the gospel. And free from the repressive religious ordinances and traditions of men. Indeed we are free! But, this freedom we have isn't license to fleshly indulgence; it isn't an absolute liberty or a complete independence to do anything. So, Peter warns: don't use your liberty as a cloak for vice but, be servants of God.

When we obey the laws of the land and when we do good to put to silence foolish men and persecutors, we are not putting ourselves in bondage to men! We are living as servants of God {Gal. 5:1,13}. So we are free; there is a wonderful freedom we have, but this freedom is accompanied by obligations! These obligations are not suspended when we suffer!

"Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. honor the king."

This section ends with these brief exhortations. Each one indicates the proper attitude and relationship we are to maintain toward a specific group (or person). As Christians we are to show proper respect to everyone: "honor all people." There is a specific, close affection we have for "the brotherhood."

"Fear God" has also already been mentioned back in 1:17. There the apostle said we must pass the time of your sojourning in fear; this is that reverence and respect toward God that's fundamental. This reverence helps us through all manner of difficulty. Finally here, just after Peter's teaching in regard to obedience to civil authority, "honor the King."

The thrust of this text is, though you are suffering and do not deserve to suffer, you are still obligated to obey the Lord. In fact, that obedience (when based in trust and love) gives you the strength of character to persevere and glory God, even in uncomfortable living conditions.


By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 5.7; July 1998

 

 

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