How do we live with honor when there’s so much dishonor and disrespect? What do you do when you don’t like or agree with your government or your boss? In today’s passage Peter shares ways we can stand with honor. I’m sure Peter had in mind what Jesus had taught him regarding our responsibility before God and our government.
When Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:15-22) he changed how His followers should view authority and government. On the one hand, they are to submit to the authorities (even pagan authorities), but on the other hand, they are to remain in full submission to God. But how do we do that?
- Stand with honor among Unbelievers
People are watching us. How we live is just as important as what we say. What should be our mindset that makes us live good lives before unbelievers? We are citizens of heaven, and must represent God well.
2:11 As believers, we are “temporary residents and foreigners” in this world because our real home is with God. Heaven is not the pink-cloud-and-harp existence popular in cartoons. Heaven is where God lives. Life in heaven operates according to God’s principles and values, and it is eternal and unshakable. The Kingdom of Heaven came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ: “God with us.” It spread through the entire world as the Holy Spirit came to live in every believer.
Someday, after God judges and destroys all sin, the Kingdom of Heaven will rule every corner of this earth. John saw this day in a vision, and he cried out, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them” (Revelation 21:3). Our true loyalty should be to our citizenship in heaven, not to our citizenship here, because the earth will be destroyed. Our loyalty should be to God’s truth, his way of life, and his dedicated people. Because we are loyal to God, we often will feel like strangers in a world that would prefer to ignore God.
“Live such good lives that among the unbelievers that they see your good deeds and glorify God.”
2:12 Peter’s advice sounds like Jesus’ in Matthew 5:16: If your actions are above reproach, even hostile people will end up praising God. Peter’s readers were scattered among unbelieving Gentiles who were inclined to believe and spread vicious lies about Christians. Gracious, godly, and winsome behavior on the part of Christians could show these rumors to be false and might even win some of the unsaved critics to the Lord.
Let’s not write off people because they misunderstand Christianity; instead, show them Christ by our lives. The day may come when those who criticize us will praise God with us.
- Stand with honor before Government Authorities
Peter named the offices we are to respect. “The king” meant “the emperor.” In democratic nations, we have a president. Peter did not criticize the Roman government or suggest that it be overthrown. God’s church has been able to live and grow in all kinds of political systems. The “governors” are those under the supreme authority who administer the laws and execute justice.
Perhaps the most important phrase in this entire passage is found in verse 13. Peter tells his hearers to live in submission of authorities and institutions “for the Lord’s sake” (v.13). While he states other reasons to live in submission, this is the main one. He wanted his readers to submit to authors because of Christ’s glory, not theirs glory or even that of the human institution. This likely is calling to their minds the fact that God is sovereign over all things, especially earthly authorities. We read in Colossians that through Jesus “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16).
Jesus is the Authority of all authorities and the Ruler of all rulers. This is the reason Peter wants them to submit to human institutions, Jesus would be glorified through their submission since they are “servants of God” (v.17). Only a view of Christ’s glory can fuel this kind of submission since we know how harsh authorities can be.
Whether it is an evil government, a difficult boss, or a harsh landlord, we know what it is like to have laws and policies imposed on us. But we are to remember how temporary they are. Christ is Lord of all, therefore we can submit, as long as God’s will is not violated. We know that eventually every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. This is why we can submit now.
Is there ever a time to not obey government authorities? 2:13-17 When Peter told his readers to respect all human authority, he was speaking of the Roman Empire under Nero, a notoriously cruel tyrant. Obviously he was not telling believers to disobey God’s word. Like Peter had told the high priest years earlier, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). But in most aspects of daily life, it was possible and desirable for Christians to live according to the law of their land.
Today, some Christians live in freedom while others live under repressive governments. All are commanded to cooperate with the rulers as far as conscience will allow. We are to do this “for the Lord’s sake“—so that his Good News and his people will be respected. If we are to be persecuted, it should be for obeying God, not for breaking moral or civil laws.
2:16 Christians have freedom in Christ, but the apostles defined freedom more narrowly than the normal use of the word in common language. Christians use freedom as a tool for a life of service. It’s the foundation that God gives to us to reach our highest potential. Because God gives us freedom from religious rules and eternal guilt, we must not seek to indulge our own desires; instead, we should reach for the best God has for us. Let our freedom express power, joy, and love—accountable to God, devoted to others.
- Stand with Honor before your Employer
In this section Peter addressed the Christian slaves in the congregations, and again he stressed the importance of submission. Some newly converted slaves thought that their spiritual freedom also guaranteed personal and political freedom, and they created problems for themselves and the churches. Paul dealt with this problem in 1 Corinthians 7:20-24, and also touched on it in his letter to his friend Philemon.
The Gospel eventually overthrew the Roman Empire’s the terrible institution of slavery. Christians in the abolitionist movement in England and the U.S. worked hard to outlaw slavery.
You may not be a slave, but what Peter wrote does have application to employees. We are to be submissive to those who are over us, whether they are kind or unkind to us. Christian employees must never take advantage of Christian employers. Each worker should do a good day’s work and honestly earn his pay.
2:18-21 Many Christians were household slaves. It would be easy for them to submit to masters who were gentle and kind, but Peter encouraged loyalty and perseverance even in the face of unjust treatment. In the same way, we should submit to our employers, whether they are considerate or harsh. By so doing, we may win them to Christ by our good example.
- Stand with honor while suffering.
2:21, 22 We may suffer for many reasons. Some suffering is the direct result of our own sin; some happens because of our foolishness; some is the result of living in a fallen world. Peter is writing about suffering that comes as a result of doing good. Christ never sinned, and yet he suffered so that we could be set free. Jesus’ suffering was part of God’s plan (Matthew 16:21-23) and was intended to save us. All who follow Jesus must be prepared to suffer (Mark 8:34, 35). Our goal should be to face suffering as he did—with patience, calmness, and confidence that God is in control of the future.
This passage offers a radical vision of honor, respect, submission and obedience. May we be a people who strive to live this out and show the world the gracious God we serve.
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