May 23-24, 2020
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#5—1 Peter 2:11-25
Living godly lives in a difficult time
Hudson Taylor, the famous 19th century missionary to China, wrote, “It does not matter how great the pressure is. What really matters is where the pressure lies — whether it comes between you and God, or whether it presses you nearer His heart.”
How are you responding to the pressure we’re all facing? Is it coming between you and God, or pushing you closer?
We’re talking about Sturdy Faith, how to grow our faith in Jesus deep so that it weathers any storm. We’re going through the book of 1 Peter, which Peter wrote to first century Christians who were facing all kinds of trouble. They lived in the Roman Empire that was openly hostile to their faith. They were pressured to worship the emperor, to recite “Caesar is Lord.” And because they believed that Jesus is Lord, not Caesar, some refused and suffered for it. Others caved in to the pressure and lost their faith. It was to these people that Peter wrote this letter. What can we learn from them?
Today, we’re reading 1 Peter 2:11-25—open your Bible there, please. Notice the heading in your NIV Bible: “living godly lives in a pagan society.” Peter is giving instructions to people living in difficult times—sound familiar? So I’m titling this “Living godly lives in a difficult time.”
Let’s dig into the words of Scripture.
1 Peter 2:11-12 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
1. Live good lives. 11-12
Peter begins by addressing them as “foreigners and exiles.” These words describe someone who is a temporary resident in another country; his home is somewhere else. I know a man whose work sent him to Dubai for two years. He was an American living temporarily in Dubai; he was a “foreigner and exile.”
Peter reminds us that as Christians, wherever we live, it’s not home. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God and we are temporary residents here.
We used to sing a chorus that said, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” It was corny, but true—a good reminder that this is not home.
ILL: A missionary and his wife returned home after decades of service abroad. When they landed, a big crowd was there to greet a returning celebrity, but no one was there for them; no one even noticed them. For weeks, the husband was bitter about this. “After all that we’ve done, all that we’ve sacrificed—we came home and no one noticed. No one cared. We came home to nothing.” His wife kept telling him to take it to the Lord. Finally, he did and he came out of his prayer time beaming.
“What happened?” she asked.
“The Lord spoke to me,” he said.
“What did He say?”
“He said, ‘You’re not home yet.’”
We’re not home yet either. Like these first century Christians, we find ourselves living in a culture that is not always hospitable to our faith. We’re not home. So then how are we to live? What Peter says may surprise you. He tells them to do two things.
First, they are to “abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul.” You’ll love this: the word “abstain” translates a Greek word that means, “to avoid contact with, keep away, abstain, refrain from.” Avoid contact—sound familiar? Peter is saying, “Quarantine yourself!” But he’s not talking about a virus, but your sinful desires!” Why? They “wage war against your soul.” Simply put—they are bad for you. When God says, “Don’t do that,” it’s not because He’s a spoilsport wanting to ruin your fun. It’s because He knows what’s good and what’s bad for you.
ILL: When I told my small children not to run out into the street, it wasn’t because I wanted to ruin their fun—I wanted to keep them getting squished. When I told them as teenagers to abstain from alcohol, it wasn’t because I wanted to ruin their fun—it’s because I wanted to save their lives from the chaos and destruction I’d experienced in an alcoholic home.
When God says “No,” it’s because He loves you and wants the best for you. That’s why he says, “Abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul.”
Is there something that is harming your soul that you need to abstain from? Quarantine yourself!
Second, live such good lives that those around you see your good deeds and glorify God. Peter clearly has the words of Jesus in mind from:
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Peter mentions that their pagan neighbors might accuse them of doing wrong. What kinds of wrong were Christians being accused of?
- They were accused of being atheists because they refused to worship the Roman gods.
- They were accused of being cannibals because of the Lord’s Supper where they reputedly ate the body of Jesus and drank His blood.
- They were accused of sexual immorality because of their Love Feasts—which were misconstrued as sexual orgies.
- They were accused of disrupting the economy because they slowed the sales of idols.
- They were accused of breaking up families when some believed and others did not.
- And they were accused of disloyalty to Caesar because they wouldn’t burn the pinch of incense and recite, “Caesar is Lord.”
What could they do to answer these accusations? Live such a good life that it is clear that accusations against you are false. Live such a good life that if someone accused you, your neighbors would say, “That doesn’t sound like Joe.”
How about today; what are Christians accused of?
ILL: In 2007, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published unChristian. They interviewed thousands of young people, ages 16-29 and asked them their opinions of Christians. Obviously, responses were all over the map, but several things were repeated over and over. Christians were routinely accused of being judgmental, self-righteous, hypocritical, too political and anti-gay…among other things.
How should we answer these accusations? Peter says that we should live such good lives that they will see our good deeds and glorify God.
When Plato was told that a certain man had been making slanderous accusations against him, he said, “I will live in such a way that no one will believe what he says.” That’s how we’re to live.
Every Christian is a walking advertisement for Jesus—good or bad. What kind of ad are you? Live a good life!
2. Submit to human authorities. 13-17
1 Peter 2:13-17 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
What are we to make of these verses, especially at a time like this when so many citizens, including many of you, disagree with the decisions of their elected officials? Let’s break it down.
It starts: “Submit yourselves”. Submission is “a voluntary yielding to the will or authority of another.” It is voluntary; it is something you offer; it is not subjection that is forced upon you. You choose to yield. In v. 16, Peter tells us to live as free people. Only free people can choose to submit. Subjugated people have no choice. We do—we’re free. It’s very important to understand that submission to others is a voluntary choice of free people, not a forced subjection. Submission is an expression of freedom.
As Christians, we are free and are called to give up our selfishness and put others ahead of ourselves.
Philippians 2:3–4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
This selfless attitude is the spirit behind Biblical submission. I willingly subordinate my own interests for the sake of others, whether it’s the Lord, or another person, or my community. “Submit yourselves…”
“For the Lord’s sake.” Peter makes submission to civil authorities a spiritual issue, not a political one. It is about the Lordship of Jesus in my life more than the authority of the state. I’ll come back to that thought. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake…”
“To the emperor as the supreme authority.” When Peter wrote this, the emperor was most likely Nero, a compulsive and corrupt tyrant. Suetonius wrote that Nero set Rome on fire in AD 64 for his own purposes, and Tacitus reports that he then blamed the Christians and burned them alive as punishment. Why would Peter tell us to submit ourselves to the emperor—especially one like Nero?
And Peter wasn’t the only one. The apostle Paul tells the early Christians to submit to governing authorities in Romans 13:1 and Titus 3:1. Even Jesus, when asked about paying taxes to Caesar, said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21). In saying this, Jesus underscores that we have a duty to civil authority, but there is an authority higher than Caesar!
What are we to make of this, particularly as free citizens of a democratic republic? What does “submit yourselves” look like for us? Three ideas:
First, every nation requires a level of submission from its citizens. Including the most free and democratic. In fact, it’s not just nations: every community, every organization, every church, every group of people requires a level of submission from its members to hold together. Members must voluntarily choose to put the group’s agenda or well-being ahead of their own. We voluntarily subordinate our individualism for the good of the whole. We all live this way—it’s Society 101.
ILL: I may like to drive 100 mph and not like stopping at stop signs. But I voluntarily subordinate my individual preferences for the good of the others—and hope you do the same!
I may wish I could not pay taxes and keep all my money. But I voluntarily subordinate my individual wishes for the good of the whole. And because we all (theoretically) do this, we all benefit.
The alternatives to some level of voluntary submission are tyranny on one hand and the end of our freedom, or anarchy on the other hand and the end of our nation, community or organization. Some level of voluntary submission is essential.
As Christian citizens in a democracy, we willingly comply with the directives of our government. And if we disagree with them, it is our duty to respectfully state our differences and work for change. We can honor governing authorities while engaging them in civil pushback when necessary.
“But,” you ask, “are there limits to our compliance?” Yes.
Second, there are limits to our voluntary submission. When a government asks us to do something immoral or against the commands of God, we are bound to obey God first. This is civil disobedience for the sake of God.
In Acts 4 the apostles are arrested and commanded to stop spreading the gospel.
Acts 4:19–20 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
They respectfully disobeyed—because they had a clear command from God. There are limits to submission. God still trumps Caesar. Always will.
Third, this is spiritual. We do this “for the Lord’s sake.” The Biblical writers understood civil authority as something that God established—which goes back to the very nature of human societies all requiring some level of voluntary submission. To submit to the governor is to submit to God. We do it because the Lord told us to.
And I’ll take it one step further: if you can’t submit to people whom you can see, how can you submit to God whom you cannot see. My voluntary submission to others is soul-training—I’m learning how to submit to God.
Live a good life.
Submit to civil authorities.
3. Follow Jesus’ example. 18-25
1 Peter 2:18–25
18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Peter continues with his theme of submitting yourselves and addresses slaves, particularly those with harsh masters, and tells them that bearing up under the pain of unjust suffering is commendable with God. Then he points them—and us—to the example of Jesus.
Look again at verse 21:
21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
Peter points these slaves who were suffering unjustly to Jesus’ example, who suffered injustice for us. When Jesus was insulted, He didn’t retaliate. When Jesus suffered, He made no threats. He entrusted Himself to God, and suffered unjustly for our sake, to save and heal us. These slaves were powerless; the only thing they could control was their response. And so Peter tells them to respond like Jesus. Follow Jesus’ example: trust God and be willing to suffer for the sake of others.
What are we to do with this? We’re not slaves! Here are two thoughts.
First, is there a time to fight injustice? Absolutely! Peter tells these slaves to bear up under unjust suffering and trust God—that was the best they could do in their situation. But we’re not in their situation; there is a lot we can do, and there are many places in Scripture where we are commanded to fight injustice, to come to the aid of the widow and orphan and poor and marginalized. For example:
ILL: I have friends who are working here in Spokane and around the world to stop sex slave trading. They are not only rescuing boys and girls from unthinkable horror; they are also arresting the perpetrators. And I say…go get ‘em! Good on you!
I have friends who are working here in Spokane to reduce domestic violence. They are not only rescuing victims of abuse, but they are helping to lock up abusers. And I say…go get ‘em! Good on you!
Is there a time to fight injustice? You bet! To take this Scripture to mean that we should always submit to unjust suffering would be a wrong application.
Second, we can follow Jesus’ example; we can walk in His steps.
ILL: Do you remember the WWJD craze? Lots of us wore WWJD? bracelets—it stood for What Would Jesus Do? The idea was that we asked ourselves that question before we made a decision or did something. Friends, that’s a really good idea!
Did you know that the whole WWJD? thing came from a book, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? written by Charles Sheldon in 1896. The book is one of best-selling books of all time, selling over 50 million copies! In the novel, a fictional pastor challenges his church to not do anything without asking, “What would Jesus do?” The rest of the novel describes dramatic change as people follow Jesus’ example.
The title of the book, In His Steps, comes from this passage: 1 Peter 2:21.
How can we live godly lives in a difficult time? This would be a great place to start. Ask, “What would Jesus do?” and follow in his steps.