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To this point, Peter has shown his readers their position in Christ. He has spoken of trials and persecutions and our response to it. He spoke of our future inheritance, and our hope. Last week we saw that Christians are a people possessed by God, a chosen people, a royal priesthood. Peter moves to what appears to be an urgent application of the teaching he has just completed.
Take a look at 1 Peter 2:11-20.
Peter tells us that we are not from here. He reminds his readers that they are strangers in the land. We are strangers in this land. Our citizenship is in heaven. We shouldn’t be so attached to this world that we don’t want to leave it. Peter alludes to the fact that his readers are pilgrims, travelers in the land. Travelers have no permanent dwelling place. As Christians, we live in a foreign land because our real home is in heaven. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Citizenship in this verse carries the same meaning as it does in English today. We have certain rights, responsibilities, and privileges because we are American citizens. This same thought holds true of our heavenly citizenship. We are bound by heavenly laws rather than earthly laws. 1 Jo. 2:15 says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Peter reminds them of their citizenship and urges them to abstain from, “fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” A better way to describe abstain in this verse is to distance yourself from fleshly lusts. The idea here is fleshly lusts are of the world and they fight to control you. Gal. 5:17 says, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” They impact your thoughts, your goals, your ideas. Stay far from these things. The goal of a war is to win. We must do all we can to make our borders strong. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16) Walk by the Spirit. Allow the Spirit to control and guide you. It is present tense.
The first thing Peter says is you’re not from here, now he says prove you’re not from here. In v. 12 Peter says, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” This really includes everything we are involved in. Our manner of speech, our plans of living, our dealings with others, our conduct and walk in the church and out of it – all should be done in an excellent manner. Excellent here means honorable. A feeling and expression of admiration, respect, or esteem accorded to another as a right or as due. Honor refers to virtue, purity, a keen sense of ethical conduct, and integrity. Maintain this excellent behavior among the Gentiles with whom you live and work with. The idea is that these Gentiles are not Christians and they are watching you. Our lifestyle should draw people to us. They should see how we act, our joy, our contentment, and the lost will ask us why we are the way we are. Gentiles can talk badly about us and it should not affect our behavior. As Christians, we do not respond to accusations from the heathen. In fact, our manner of life should be such that no one can even accuse us of any wrongdoing. Unfortunately, that is not the case with many Christians. It seems that Christians can be downright mean. There should be no Christians in jail because they committed a crime. If they are in prison, let it be because of their faith.
Even as the Gentiles slander you, as they watch you more carefully, your work will actually move the heathen to glorify God in the day of visitation. There are several opinions as to what the day of visitation means. It could be when Jesus comes back and it is a day of judgment. Some believe it is a time of persecution. Some believe it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem. Some believe it refers to a time when the gospel was preached among the Gentiles as a period when God visited them with mercy. Given our context, this last opinion is most likely correct. When God appeared among men to accompany the preaching of the gospel with saving power, as the Gentiles observed the conduct of Christians, their observations would lead them to honor or glorify Him by turning their hearts to Him. The consistent lives of Christians would be a means of revival and an extension of true religion.
Peter says we’re not from here, he wants us to prove it and finally, Peter says submit yourselves. Wow. Verses 13-14 tells us, “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.” The first word is going to give people problems. In our world, submission is generally thought of as negative and falls under the, “You’re not the boss of me” attitude. In 1998, the SBC approved a measure encouraging women to graciously submit to their husbands. There was general outcry among the public, including outcry from churches. Churches left the Convention even though the resolution was taken almost directly from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Submission gets a bad rap in America today. Submission to authority is very liberating. The word comes from a Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” Peter is calling for submission to “every human institution.” The word here means creature. Submit yourself to every human creature and that makes more sense when you read through the verses.
After telling us to submit to these human creatures, he lists a couple of them. King. During Peter’s time, Nero was the king. Remember that Nero was known for his cruelty, particularly to Christians. Governors sent by the king. Pontius Pilate was a governor sent by Caesar. This submission to civil authority is all part of God’s plan. We are to submit to these people because it is the “will of God.” By our obedience, we “silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Christians were accused of all sorts of things including spreading disloyalty among the people, disrupting trade, cannibalism, and incest. By their law abiding conduct or manner of life, it will be obvious that the types of behavior Christians are accused of are just plain lies. Our obedience is the vehicle that silences the foolishness.
Peter continues in vs. 16 and 17. Our freedom does bring responsibility. We are not to use our freedom to do anything we want to do. Peter gives caution to the people because he knows human nature. Our nature pushes us to go right up to the line of right and wrong rather than staying far from the line. Remember the people Jude referred to in Jude 3. Freedom is a blessing we enjoy because of the sacrifices made by those that have served and continue to serve in our military. As Christians we have another kind of freedom. It is freedom bought at the expense of Jesus Christ and paid for with His blood. We are free from sin and condemnation. We are to spread the gospel and break the yoke of bondage that people are under. John 8:36 says, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Only in Jesus can we enjoy true freedom.
Peter reminds us that we are not from here, we’re supposed to prove it, and we are supposed to submit ourselves. Our obedience shows who we belong to.