Throughout the past 3 we’ve been in a short series called ‘Government Under God.’ We’ve looked at Jesus and Paul’s teaching on what government is, how it’s to function, how it’s not to function, and what the Christians role in it is to be and not to be. Today we end this series by looking at what Peter has to teach us in 1 Peter 2. Many questions have risen in your minds throughout this series, so let me encourage you again to stick around after service today for our Q&A on these very things. Let me also remind you that next week, Lord willing, we’ll pick back up where we left off in our expositional series through the book of 1 Samuel. But for one last week we look to what government under God is to look like, go ahead and turn to the book of 1 Peter.
First, let’s see the context our passage by looking at the first two chapters of 1 Peter. Peter is writing to Christians living in Asia Minor who are beginning to suffer for their faith. In the first verse of his letter he calls them ‘elect exiles of the dispersion.’ This dispersion or ‘diaspora’ is a term used to describe believers who were scattered abroad due to persecution. That he calls them ‘elect exiles’ reminds his audience of two things. First, that he calls them ‘elect’ reminds them of God’s predestining love and His election of them to salvation through Christ. Because God sovereignly saved them they would have been encouraged to remember that God can sovereignly keep them in the midst of suffering and difficulty as well. Second, that he calls them the ‘elect exiles’ reminds them that because of their faith in the risen Christ they are truly exiles, aliens, and sojourners in this present world. They do live in the world but this world isn’t their true home. They’re to be looking ahead to the heavenly country whose Maker and Builder is God where their citizenship truly is.
These two things were meant to be encouragements to this group of suffering Christians Peter is writing to, and today these same two things are meant to be encouragements to any Christian in difficulty or suffering. We have been sovereignly elected by God from before the foundation of the world, we have been ransomed by the blood of Christ which is more valuable than silver or gold, and because of these things Peter reminds us that we have an inheritance that is ‘imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.’ So for the Christian, at all times and especially in times of suffering, we must remember that the best is always yet to come. This raises a question: in the meantime while we’re doing life as exiles and aliens here, how are we to live? Peter begins answering that question for us in chapter 2 by calling us in 2:1 to ‘grow up into salvation.’ It’s a call toward maturity and away from immature faith. Well how do we do that? How do we mature or grow up into salvation? Our passage this morning tells us.
v11-17 answers our question about how to do life here while we’re passing through as exiles waiting to be in glory by bringing up the Christian’s conduct. v11 calls us to abstain from the things called ‘passions of the flesh’ or in other words those things ‘which wage war against your soul.’ The word abstain doesn’t just mean do ‘not do’ but ‘keep a far distance from.’ Just as a traveler doesn’t embrace the customs of the nation he’s traveling through, Christians as exiles here in this world aren’t to embrace the customs of this world. Even more, the customs and natural ways of this world wage war against our souls, which is more reason to abstain from them. The word flesh here doesn’t mean physical or bodily. ‘Flesh’ means the old sinful nature that is within us…always luring us away from God and seeking to enslave us to sin. v12a brings this same thought a bit further by extending our inner struggle against fleshly passions to a public setting. We’re to keep our conduct ‘honorable’ or good, excellent, and upright before the Gentiles, basically before the watching world. So taking v11 and v12 together the meaning is that the inner life of a Christian abstaining from fleshly lusts leads to an honorable public life from the Christian. So if you’re doing v11 and you really are abstaining from sinful lusts you’ll at the same time be living an honorable life before the world as v12 calls for. And the opposite is also true. If you’re not doing v11 and you’re not abstaining from sinful lusts inwardly you at the same time won’t be living an honorable life before the world as v12 calls for.
Peter doesn’t stop here, he continues. Did you notice the reason why Peter wants us to live such an honorable life in v12b? “…so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” What? This should be strange to you. We’re accustomed to thinking that an honorable life would be seen as honorable, but in v12b Peter says the honorable life of a Christian will cause the lost world around you to think you’re an evildoer even though they can recognize your own good deeds. Notice it doesn’t say ‘if’ they speak against you, it says ‘when’ they speak against you. This is a promise. An honorable life before God will lead to being dishonored before men. Remember what Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim. 3:12? ‘All those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Does that seem odd? That the world would recognize good deeds yet still conclude us to be evildoers? Sin never does make sense does it? But even when the world labels us as an evildoer, the reason we want to be honorable is that the world would see our good deeds and glorify Christ at His 2nd Coming.
This is the principle at work here: we don’t need our own good works to be saved. Praise God?! We’re saved not by our own works, not even by the most righteous of our own works, but by the fully sufficient work of Christ in behalf of sinners like you and me. We praise God for the work of His Son because Jesus took the punishment for us and became man so that men could become sons of God. All of this leads to something within the heart and life of the Christian. Redemption doesn’t stay stagnant within us, no, it’s always moving deeper in and further out. Once Christ’s fully sufficient work has saved us, His work within us by His Spirit produces good works in us. Thus, a true understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ leads to holy living. These good works are cultivated in us by God inwardly (through enabling us to abstain from fleshly lusts and passions and live honorably before the world) and then those good works are put on display publicly by God so that the world sees them and glorifies God.
So here is the principle Peter has set up for us to see: God doesn’t need our good works, but who does? Our neighbor does. Because it’s by seeing our good works that our neighbors will glorify God.
Now comes the question that flows from this: what kind of good works does Peter have in mind? From chapter 2:13 to the end of his letter he mentions many kinds of good works we can and ought to engage in, and all of these are good works our neighbors can witness for themselves. But what is the first good work Peter mentions? What is the first good work that our neighbors are to see in our lives so that they would glorify God? v13-17 gives it to us – our submission to governing authorities.
In v13-14 Peter states it, in v15 Peter gives the reason for it, and v16-17 Peter summarizes it. Let’s take these as they come in the text.
The Statement (v13-14)
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”
Many people today believe that the Biblical authors do not agree in their doctrine. They pit Moses against Isaiah, Paul against Jesus, and Peter against John…and claim that because there’s no unity in doctrine throughout the Bible we should throw the whole Bible out. Hogwash. See here the evidence of the agreement among the Biblical authors. What Peter says in v13-14 is, on its right, a concise summary of what Paul has already said to us in Romans 13:1-7. They not only agree on our call to be subject to our governing authorities, they both place a heavy weight and a high importance on our call to do so to governing institutions, whether it be emperors, kings, or monarchs, Presidents, Senators, or Representatives, or their governors sent out throughout the nation to administer penalties on the law breaker and give praise to the law keeper. We are to be subject to our authorities. But note that Peter says something explicitly here that Paul only says implicitly in Romans 13. Peter says we’re to be subject ‘for the Lord’s sake.’
So, the submission we’re to give our civil authorities is a submission that is done to honor God. For the Lord’s sake we submit to Caesar. For the Lord’s sake we obey laws. For the Lord’s sake we pay taxes. For the Lord’s sake we engage in political matters. This shouldn’t surprise us because Scripture is filled with multiple examples of the call to have a Godward bent on all of life. 2 examples: 1 Cor. 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Col. 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” The Bible doesn’t allow us to think any sphere of our life is a sphere that God isn’t Lord over. So when you vote or when you don’t vote; when you discuss political matters with a friend; when you state a political opinion; or when you share a politically charged meme on Facebook, remember that Christians are to engage in politics ‘for the Lord’s sake’ because all of life is to be done ‘for the Lord’s sake.’ God is the One who needs to be honored in our political affairs, even if you decide to move to Canada after the election. Don’t mishear me. This doesn’t mean God frowns on us sharing and talking about deep political opinions in public. This doesn’t mean we can’t call the government to repent when they refuse to function in their Romans 13 God ordained manner. God is truly honored when we obey our governing authorities for His sake as much as God is truly honored when we disobey our governing authorities in order to be obedient to Him. So this is the statement, let’s look at the reason.
The Reason (v15)
We know we’re to be subject for the Lord’s sake, but while that attitude of the heart largely happens inside of us, Peter continues on and gives us a reason to be subject that is more public. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
‘For this is the will of God’ is a statement so rarely used in the Bible that when it is used we ought to pay close attention to it. Do you want to know the will of God? Do you want to know what the will of God is for your life today? Peter’s answer: do good, for it will silence fools. When Peter says here that we’re to ‘do good’ he doesn’t just mean a general kind of decency or virtue done to mankind like picking up trash on the side of the road, as good as that is. In context, the good Peter is speaking of here is civil obedience. When the believer obeys the governing authorities their conduct not only serves as an example for all men but also serves to silence the foolish ignorance of others who refuse to submit to the governing authorities and act as their own king. We know of a bunch of examples of this happening. Isn’t this how movies always end?
For example: in every Back to the Future movie even a child can tell who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. Biff, always tries to be his own man and act according to what he thinks will best serve himself, while Marty and Doc always try to right the wrongs caused by fluctuations in the space time continuum by their own moral and good actions. What happens at the end of each movie? Marty and Doc win, Biff loses, and somehow Biff always finds himself underneath a pile of manure. When we read v15 about the fool who is silenced, Biff is the character I want you pay attention to. Other than being covered in manure at the end of the movies what always happens to Biff? He is always shamed by the uprightness of Marty and Doc. Peter says the same thing is in play with Christians and the watching world in relation to government. By the Christian submitting to governing authorities, obeying the laws of those authorities, and even disobeying those same governing authorities for the sake of obeying God there is something about our actions that even fools recognize as good, and from seeing our good works the false charges or accusations from those fools are silenced. So when God’s grace is poured into our hearts at the moment of conversion, that grace changes how we engage with the government, and when unbelievers see how Christians engage with the government they will be silenced…that is, if we truly are submitting. So where does this leaves us? We’ve seen Peter’s statement, we’ve seen his reason, now to end see his summary.
The Summary (v16-17)
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
So we’re to live in freedom. By faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us, we’re to live in, enjoy the fullness of, take great delight in, and drink deeply of the freedom and liberty that Jesus lived and died and rose to give us. This freedom defines our lives. If God is for us who can be against us? But, freedom isn’t the only thing that defines us. Peter continues…he also says, make sure our living in this glorious freedom doesn’t lead to a cover-up for sin or an excuse for rebellion.
Rather, what does freedom in Christ lead to? Serving everyone around us. Peter’s argument here is that for the Lord’s sake, we serve our neighbors by submitting to our governing authorities….when we do this our neighbors see the glory of God.