1 Peter 2:11-17

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Sermon Notes of Rev.Dr.I.J.W.Oakley (13-3-1977 Strandtown Baptist Church)


1 Peter 2:11-17

Additional Bible readings: Acts 5:24-32; Romans 13:1-7



Now Peter deals with very practical ways in which we are to be Christ’s advertisements and to reveal His glories. He speaks about our attitude to sin and slander, how we deal with everyone in the world and specifically with our fellow Christians, and our relationship with the state and with God.


Dealing with sin

Peter speaks with much tender affection as he addresses his readers: Dear friends (Beloved A.V.), I urge you to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul (2 Peter 2:11). He is concerned about all violations of the seventh commandment, the commandment which covers not only adultery, but also fornication or perversions of various kinds. But Peter is concerned with more than just the body and its appetites, for he is also concerned with unredeemed human nature, human nature apart from God’s grace; life lived outside the standards and grace of Christ. (C.f. Paul’s list of the acts of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19-21) includes sexual immorality and impurity, but also hatred, discord, selfish ambition, i.e. not only the grosser sins of fleshly lusts, but all the pride, malice and evil thinking that is characteristic of fallen human nature.) 

Peter also reminds us that we are aliens and strangers in the world. We are only here temporarily, for our true home is elsewhere. We are just passing through. As strangers here, we cannot accept the world’s ways and standards. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, and should direct our lives by His standards. Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We must not soil ourselves so that we are unfit to meet God at the end of our journey. The sinful entanglements which Peter urges us to abstain from would spoil our lives and fitness for heaven.


Facing slander

Believers then and now have to face the problem of people speaking evil against them, making them out to be evildoers. Slander and false rumours were a particular difficulty for the early Christians. In the second century they were accused of cannibalism, because of Christ’s words, “This is my body”. They were accused of killing and eating children at feasts. They were accused of immorality and incest, of holding sensual orgies which were scenes of shameless deeds, at their Agape meetings, i.e. “love feats”. They were accused of tampering with family relationships and turning slaves against their masters. They were accused of being disloyal and traitors to the state. In the New Testament we read of them being accused of damaging trade (c.f. the charge of the silversmith at Ephesus). 

Today in Communist lands [this sermon written in 1977], similar accusations are made. In so-called “Christian lands”, believers are branded as “hypocrites”, “ignoramuses”, “do-gooders”, “holier-than-thou’s”, and “wishful thinkers”. When the world is faced with something they do not understand, that makes them feel insecure and uneasy, they react by saying the one who is different is obviously wrong. The world gets even by smearing the Christian. 

How is this to be dealt with? Peter’s teaching is to live it down. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds (1 Peter 2:12). The A.V. translates the first part of this verse as: Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles. But it is more than just speaking the truth, as the A.V. suggests. It is about the whole conduct and way of life that must be good, lovely and attractive, and seen to be so. When this is obvious, the accusations of the pagans will have no foundation. There is no point bringing a libel action against them. Just show their error by the way you live. 

The best argument for the Gospel is the real Christian. We are advertisements of Christ whether we like it or not. We either commend the Gospel, or else we cause people to think less of it. The strongest missionary force in the world is a Christian’s life. Peter would have heard the words of Jesus: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). This was, in fact, the way the early Christians did overcome the accusations and slander against them. 

Here is our challenge and inspiration. We have to let our daily life commend the Gospel to unbelievers, and answer the rumourmongers and slanderers and gossips.


Honouring all men

Show proper respect to all men (1 Peter 2:17). We have to regard everyone with respect and honour. Of all the items in this list, this is the most challenging, and therefore easily overlooked. It was a startling thing for Peter to say. There were 60 million slaves, and in the eyes of the law they were not persons but things, and had no rights. But Peter was saying, remember the rights of the human personality, the dignity of every man, because every man is a person made in God’s image, not a thing. 

How easy it is to treat others as a means of furthering our own ends, and ministering to our own comfort. It is easily done with those who are our nearest and dearest. C.f. Christ’s attitude to the lowest human creatures: "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:2). 

Showing proper respect for all men is done not only by the way we treat them, but by the things we say. How often political speeches, articles in the press, or statements by some Christians, use the utmost insulting and abusive terms to speak of others. It is clear when someone does not recognise his fellow man as made in the image of God. Even when we do not see eye to eye with another person, we ought to treat him with the proper honour and respect.


Loving fellow Christians

Love the brotherhood of believers. This is echoed by Paul in Galatians. Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10). We are to go the second mile in regard to our fellow believers. Peter often returns to this theme in his letter. Have sincere love for your brothers (1 Peter 1:22). Live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble (1 Peter 3:8). Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). 

All Christians are relatives in the spiritual sense. That is why there is a special closeness and trust among Christians, deeper than among men in worldly associations and among members of the same family. We belong to one another, are bound to one another, and therefore we are to love one another.


Serving the state

Although we are citizens of heaven, we are also citizens down below. It is important to stress this as some Christians have contracted out of all sense of responsibility to the state. They pay their rates and taxes, and do the bare necessities, but after that they wash their hands of all other responsibility, because they are “strangers and pilgrims”. They accuse Christians who do try to get involved and do something about the state of the world as being sidetracked into a social Gospel or good works. 

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors (1 Peter 2:13,14). Social institutions of an ordered society, the state, household, social and industrial groups, and family – these things are in harmony with God’s will for the ordering of human life. Kings and governors were instituted by God to punish evil and commend those who keep the law. So serving God in every aspect of life involves honouring the king. (Note that the king at the time Peter wrote was Emperor Nero, who was shortly to start a vicious persecution of the Christians.) Loyalty to the institution is different from confidence in a person or throne. 

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Matthew 22:21). Pray for kings and all those in authority (1 Timothy 2:2). Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1,2). The New Testament teaching is clearly that the Christian is to be a good, useful, law-abiding and faithful citizen. In those days, it was an authoritarian state where the people had no say in the government of the country. But nowadays there are more opportunities to share in government. It is a legitimate sphere for Christians to take their place. 

We have privileges from state. In our turn we have duties. It does not mean that we have to be uncritical and take everything without protest and agree with everyone and every law that is past. But as far as possible we have to be good dutiful citizens and do what we can to right the wrongs and improve society. Cannot take everything and give nothing in return. Perhaps society and government and industry would be in a better condition if Christians played their part. “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” The supreme motive is “for the Lord’s sake”. Upholding government, law and order, seeking to improve society, are the Christian’s responsibility because it is the Lord’s will and therefore to be done for His sake. We are free to be martyrs, but never free to be law-breakers.


Reverencing God

But what if the state orders us to act against conscience and against the laws of God? Fear God is applicable here. fobeisqe is more than honour, love and respect. It means to hold in awe, be in dread of, have the highest respect for God, adore God. Duty to God is paramount. God has to have supreme place. We have a higher obligation to Him than to the state. We must obey the state until it requires disobedience to God. Peter’s own example when arrested in Jerusalem - We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29) when accused of not obeying the call to cease preaching the Gospel. We must share this depth of allegiance and obedience and submission to God, which we can give to no one else.

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