STAND AGAINST! STAND OUT! STAND UNDER!
1 Peter 2:11-17 : 9 November 2014
A. Timothy Heijermans, Christian community Church, Luxembourg, asbl 1 Peter 2:11-17
Audio at www.christian-community-church.net for registered users
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king”.
1 Peter 2:11-17, NASB
How hard is it to stand? Your answer depends on your health, the time of day and your circumstances.
If you’ve just come out of open heart surgery, you’ll find it impossible. If it’s in the middle of the night, you’d rather be horizontal. If you’re walking down a street in the middle of a typhoon, you may find it difficult to stay upright. When we’re weak, when we’re asleep and when we’re encountering power greater than our own, we find it hard to stand.
The same is true of our walk with God. He wants His people to stand against the passions of the world, to stand out from the world, and yet to stand under the authorities established by God Himself in the world. In our text Peter is going to urge us forward in our Christian walk in these three areas.
I. STAND AGAINST YOUR PASSIONS (2:11)
We saw last week how important it is for the Christian understand his identity in Christ. Just as Paul insisted upon this in Ephesians 1, so Peter insists upon it in 1 Peter 1-2. Christians are a “chosen race” (genos eklekton) that derives from a shared spiritual birth (1:3, 23). They share the inheritance of a royal priesthood (hierateuma basileion), which is theirs through faith in the Messianic High Priest, Jesus Christ (1:3b-4). They are a holy nation (ethnos hagion), consecrated to God by the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work (1:2, 15) as a people group having no visible human political state, but committed together to the law of Christ. They are possessed by God as a unique people (laos eis peripoiesin) who belong to God because of Jesus’ ransom price (1:2, 19).
Does this mean the church’s inheritance belongs to this world? No! The church is composed of believers who are foreigners (resident aliens without citizenship) and pilgrims (temporary residents) awaiting God’s New World Order, which He will establish through His Son at His return. And as aliens in the present world system–people of the light who live in a dark culture–they need to live differently from others who have no appetite for the Word of God and who indulge themselves in the things of this world.
WHAT IT MEANS TO ABSTAIN
The command of this first sentence is “abstain”. When it’s time to vote at an annual general meeting, this word means “to take no position, to be neither for nor against”. But here the meaning is different. The sense is, “to shun”, “to distance yourself from”, “to refuse”, “to push away”.
WHAT WE ARE TO ABSTAIN FROM
Peter says we are to abstain from “fleshly desires”. These are not just the well-known evils of immorality, murder and theft. Fleshly lusts are the desires by which we set our hearts on the things of this passing life. They are the passions that drive the world system in which we live. What does our world clutch at? Security. Safety. Freedom from pain. Material comfort, even luxury. Advancement in the workplace (no matter how I perform). The yearly bonus (no matter what the market does). The party scene to forget my problems (be it birthday parties or the disco scene). A Facebook page that’s the envy of all my “friends”. These may become idols of the heart when we cannot live without them. Yes, our souls have been cleansed by the blood of Christ (1:22), but the drives of the old life have not yet been completely removed. They must be reined in like an unbroken young stallion. These, then, are the things which we are called to deliberately push away. Why? Look at the next phrase . . .
WHY WE ARE TO ABSTAIN FROM THEM
Here’s the reason why–they wage war against the soul. The terms Peter uses shock us! Are the idols of our culture really this hostile? Indeed they are! They wage war against our thoughts and highest affections, pressing to find a small chink in the armor and so to dislodge us from our loyalty to Christ and His cause. Do we think of our day at school or at work as “war”? Do we prepare in the
morning in our time with God to do battle with the spirit of the world in which we live . . . and with our own selves? This is our calling as foreigners to this world: we take a stand against the value system of our culture that will not last and move in the opposite direction, as we will see immediately in the next sentence . . .
II. STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD (2:12)
Here’s the positive alternative to yielding to the spirit of the age: keep our behavior before the Gentile
world above reproach.
THE STANDARD (2:12a)
The believer’s conduct must be excellent (kalen), “good, having integrity”. God’s church (2:9) is a holy nation. Therefore in the midst of the nations who dwell in the dark, God’s nation must live out their consecration to God by a holy lifestyle. This is a repetition of what we’ve already seen in 1:14- 16. Can you see how different this is to much of the thinking in the so-called Christian world today? We often hear that no one will listen to the gospel if God’s people do not identify with the culture and be as close to it as we can get. On the contrary! We are indeed commanded to be very much in the world, spending time with unsaved people who need the gospel. But we must not be of the world. We must be different from pagans at the very deepest level, swimming against the current–thinking differently, acting differently, looking different, speaking differently. All of this is part of keeping our way of life–our behavior–excellent.
Our culture in Europe–once privileged by the warmth of the Reformation and the stirring of sound evangelical movements–is dying around us. The days are growing very dark indeed. The average pagan we speak with at work or in the community–now most often completely unanchored from the shelter of the Judeo-Christian ethic that long tempered Europe–thinks only of himself. But the Christian should think about the advantage of others. He loves at his own expense. The pagan acts aggressively and angrily, lying and cheating his way through life. The Christian should be marked by joy; he acts with truth. The pagan looks as scrappy and despairing as he can, to make sure he looks like others just as depressed as he is. The Christian, on the other hand, expresses his confidence in the God of beauty and order by reflecting that in his appearance. The pagan speaks with off-color jokes and profanity, complains about his circumstances and slanders those to whom he wants to appear superior. But the Christian’s speech is to be seasoned with gratefulness to God even in the midst of difficult circumstances. He has set aside the relational sins that dull his appetite for the milk of the Word.
THE THREAT (2:12b)
Now this is not so easy to pull off. Why? Because the pagan world will slander Christians as evildoers even when we do the right thing. According to Tacitus Nero–the Roman caesar in Peter’s day, and under whose reign Peter was later decapitated–accused the Christians of burning Rome in 64 AD, although they had nothing to do with the event. Other historians suggest Nero himself had Rome burned by arson so he could build himself a new palace, the Domus Aurea.
Modern examples of these false accusations abound. Your boss tells you to inform any caller that he’s not there, when in fact he is. Will you refuse to lie? If you tell the truth, your boss may attack you, even if your integrity insures your boss that you will not later lie to him! A Christian doctor or nurse refuses to apply the euthanasia laws . . . and is attacked as an evildoer, even though he has preserved life. A Christian comments that he does not agree with the moral choice of homosexuality and is attacked as an evildoer–a homophobe who should be prosecuted by the courts, fined or jailed (note the recent controversy in Houston, TX, where the mayor of the city subpoenaed pastors’ sermons if they publicly opposed a law that would allow men unsure of their sexual orientation to use women’s public toilets. The supoenas were withdrawn, but 50,00 signatures for a petition were illegally thrown out).
C. THE PURPOSE (2:12b)
Why must our way of life be excellent under this kind of pressure? There’s a long-term goal: the glory of God! And when and how will God be glorified? Through the Christian’s integrity under pressure, the pagan world sees the light of God’s holiness in a dark place. On the “day of visitation” the pagan will glorify God on account of those very good deeds.
When is the “day of visitation”? The phrase is ambiguous. It may refer to the final day of judgment, when God “visits” the world with retribution. In this case Peter is alluding to Jeremiah 10:15 (“in the day of their punishment [lit. ‘visitation’] they will perish”) and Isaiah 10:3 (“what will you do in the day of punishment [lit. ‘visitation’]?”), where the judgment day is called the “day of visitation”. On the
other hand, it may also be the day of their conversion, when God visits them with salvation. In that case Peter is using the phrase as Mary did in Luke 1:68 (“the Lord God of Israel has visited us”) and as Jesus did in Luke 19:44 (“you did not recognize the time of your visitation”). In either or both cases, God will be glorified because the unbelieving world will admit that by His gracious enabling God’s people acted as righteous men when the world around them acted in disobedience.
III. STAND UNDER HUMAN INSTITUTIONS FOR THE LORD’S SAKE (2:13-17)
Now, we need some concrete examples of what “excellent behavior” means in times of persecution, be it “soft” or “hard”. So Peter is going to mention a list of things. The common thread of these examples is a humble, submissive spirit. The Christian is going to show this very un-pagan attitude in (1) his relationships with human authority, (2) in the workplace, (3) in marriage, (4) in the church and (5) in society at large. Right in the middle of that list we will see the example of Christ, who humbled Himself
in the same way when He was persecuted to the death. He is our supreme example! Let’s take the first of these contexts this morning – relationships with human authority . . .
THE ATTITUDE WE MUST EMBRACE – SUBMISSION
Submit! That means “willingly place yourself under the authority of another person”. The text does not say to the ruler, “cause the Christian to submit”. It’s the choice of the Christian citizen to do this.
The German philosopher Friederich Neitzsche mocked Christianity for defending “slave morality”, which valued kindness, humility and sympathy, emphasizing the morality of the intentions. On the other hand, the more imposing “master morality” of the strong-willed man valued pride, strength, and nobility, weighing actions by the consequences. Jesus’ teaching that we must “turn the other cheek” and promote humility, love and pity is, according to Nietzsche, the result of imposing the universal plight of the slave onto all humankind, and thus enslaving the masters as well. He wrote in Beyond Good and Evil, "the democratic movement is the heir to Christianity"– democracy is the political manifestation of slave morality through its obsession with freedom and equality. He laid the blame for slave morality at the door of the Jews, who first inverted values by equating poverty with holiness, and thus sought to enslave the master with themselves!
But wait! The attitude of submission taught in Scripture is not an idea concocted by men. It is revealed by God and exemplified by Christ Himself. In a fallen world human institutions like human government are not the creation of man; they are given by God. Peter says, “submit yourself for the Lord’s sake . . .”
THE INSTITUTIONS TO WHOM WE ARE CALLED TO SUBMIT
The word Peter uses refers to “creations of man”, that is, governmental institutions developed by people to maintain public order. This includes the king who is in authority over the empire in Peter’s day. It also includes his emissaries, called “governors” or “leaders”. These people are delegated authority to punish those who do wrong and reward those who do right. And as we will see in the rest of the section, it includes business relationships (2:18-25), domestic relationships (3:1-7), relationships in the local church (3:8) and in society at large (3:9-17).
This clause gives us a biblical understanding of the role of the state. It does not exist to replace God; it responsible to God, the ultimate Lawgiver, because God alone decides what is evil and what is good. The state should properly legislate based upon God-given morals. When the state departs from these absolutes, it challenges God and His moral order, and only disaster can follow.
C. THE REASON WHY CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED TO SUBMIT
The will of God, who established the concept of human government after the flood of Noah (Genesis 9), is that his people be able to shut the mouths of ignorant men. The world is brimming with people like this! They strut and boast, denying God’s delegated authority and imposing their will on the weak. Some are multi-billionaires who believe they will never die and leave their fortunes to bickering, greedy relatives, friends and institutions. Others are rulers who believe their influence will last forever and they will be remembered for centuries as history-makers. As Bishop Leighton commented in the 17th century, “ignorance is usually loud and prattling, making a mighty noise, and so has need of a muzzle to silence it. They that were ready to speak evil of the Christian faith are called witless and foolish men – there was perverseness in their ignorance”.
How can we possibly shut the mouths of arrogant people? Here’s the answer—by doing right under pressure! Again I quote Leighton: “It is a wise Christian’s way, instead of impatiently fretting at the mistakes or willful miscensures of men, to keep still on his calm temper of mind, and upright course of life, and silent innocence; this as a rock breaks the waves into foam that roar about it”.
D. HOW CHRISTIANS MUST VIEW THEMSELVES AS THEY SUBMIT
So if you submit to human institutions, should you think of yourself as a groveling slave? Is God treating us like mere chattel – pieces of property owned by men bent on grinding us into the dirt? No! Peter says Christians must act as free men. Free people are not under the boot of their persecutors, however tempting it is to believe the contrary.
On the other hand, free people must respect a limit to the exercise of their freedom. They are still under God’s authority as willing subjects of the state. They must not use their freedom as an excuse to do wrong, as a veil for evil. The term “veil” is often used in the Old Testament for the covering of a sacred object, like the cloths that covered the furniture of the temple (Exodus 26:14; Numbers 4:11, 13). Instead they must remember they are God’s own servants, His bondslaves. So they never must cover an evil motive or action with a veil of piousness. 1 Corinthians 7:22 suggests an
example of this in master-servant relationships. A Christian slave could approach his master some morning when being told to clean out the pig sty and announce that he has been “freed in Christ”, so the boss needs to get someone else to do the cleaning! But this Christian slave’s arrogance would just be an excuse for his unwillingness to obey the one who is in authority over him. Romans 6:1 suggests the same dilemma in the Christian’s life. If we have been freed from condemnation by grace through faith, shall we continue in sin, so that grace will abound even more? Not at all! Freedom from judgment must never become an excuse for self-will.
This is why the New Testament never calls upon slaves in the Roman empire to revolt against their masters. Instead it calls for both masters and slaves to view their relationship under God and to replace dominance with loving care and angry, forced submission with joyous obedience as unto God. More about this next week when Pastor Joël continues the passage in 2:18-25.
Peter concludes the paragraph by mentioning authorities in rather rapid succession. All men should be honored. (This does not mean we should go around demanding that people honor us–the command is given to the one who chooses to honor someone else). Honor includes an inner attitude of esteem as well as outward behavior. Furthermore, every Christian should love the brotherhood of believers selflessly. And every Christian is to fear God. In this spirit we honor the king, even though he may be wicked.
Mid-term elections in the United States have just concluded. Depending upon which political party one prefers, one can be tempted to speak critically and even bitterly about those in power. I don’t believe the Scriptures require we agree with every decision of our rulers. But we must be careful not to dishonor the public servants whom God has placed in authority to maintain public order. Even an evil ruler is preferable in many ways to anarchy. So we must pray for Luxembourg’s government, even if we take strong exception to moral choices the state makes or elected officials legislate. We need to pray for the mercy of God upon them and pray for their salvation, and that God will not give us the government we deserve (that would surely be a disaster!), but better than what we deserve.
Just one more word about the limitations of this command. God is not asking His people to blindly obey the state at every turn. If the state demands that a doctor implement euthanasia, he may refuse to obey. But in a spirit of submission he must also submit to the consequences, whether that means being fired, paying a stiff fine or going to prison. He is not free to become a revolutionary or suicide bomber, destroying the people who created the injustice. He submits as a free man to the unjust penalty imposed by the state because of his obedience to God over men.
Do you see the need to stand against your own passions? Are you willing to stand out from the crowd? Are you committed to standing under human authority? We can’t do this in our own strength. All of us have neither the grit nor the wisdom to do this consistently. We need the sanctifying work of the Spirit and the sustaining strength of the milk of the Word of God to be equipped for this mission. The wonderful thing about the Gospel is that we need only come to God confessing our weakness, asking for His enabling, and relying on Him when we have to stand.
Christian, if we are part of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s possession, then it’s time to stand against our passions, to stand out from the world, and to stand under those whom God has placed over us . . . because this is living for the glory of God!