Enduring Faith

The Point:  Trust God in every circumstance.

Submission to Authority:  1 Peter 2:11-17.

[11]  Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. [12]  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. [13]  Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, [14]  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. [15]  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. [16]  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. [17]  Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.  [ESV]

[11-17]  “Peter instructs his Christian readers that they are to live appropriately within pagan society as those who are in many respects but visitors. The visitor mind-set is intended to motivate them to maintain a way of living that would be recognized as good by their Gentile neighbors who speak against this foreign sect of Christians as evildoers. According to Peter, the visitors’ goal should be to live in such a way as to quiet the negative stereotypes associated with this foreign religion, Christianity. This is to be accomplished by being people who do not indulge in self-destructive behavior and whose lifestyles can be recognized as good even by their pagan neighbors. In this form of lifestyle evangelism, Peter expects that instead of speaking evil against Christians, these Gentiles will be among those who ultimately glorify God. Peter begins the exhortations of his letter by addressing his readers as beloved, before he begins his difficult instructions about how they are to live in relationship to unbelievers within their society. Though they may be estranged from their neighbors because of their faith in Christ, he reminds them that they have his apostolic affection. The verb urge introduces Peter’s central concern and marks these verses as a transition to the body of the letter, in which Peter exhorts Christians to live in right relationship with their society. His opening exhortation is twofold, stated first in the negative (abstain from the passions of the flesh) and then in the positive (keep your conduct … honorable). This good way of life contrasts with the previously mentioned futile ways [1:18] in which Peter’s readers once lived. They are to receive the apostle’s exhortation as sojourners and exiles. Peter’s readers need to reorient their self-understanding with respect to the society in which they live. The terms Peter uses to describe them basically mean that as Christians they are citizens first of God’s holy nation and therefore not primarily citizens of the society in which they live, to whatever extent the two conflict. The force of the comparison to sojourners and exiles derives from the observation that foreigners in the ancient world, whether in residence or just passing through, did not fully participate in the customs and practices of the host culture. Foreigners had neither the privileges nor the responsibilities of citizens. The moral estrangement Christians experienced in their society was a consequence of not sharing society’s values and customs. As a citizen of God’s holy nation, the Christian was therefore an alien and foreigner in pagan society, wherever that might have been. As resident aliens and foreigners, Peter’s readers are instructed to abstain from carnal desires, maintaining an honorable way of life among the Gentiles. Peter sees Christians as God’s nation among the nations and is concerned with how the Gentiles perceive Christian behavior. Keep your conduct … honorable forms a parallel contrast with conduct yourselves with fear in 1:17. In 1:17 the Christian is to be aware of being observed by God, and the believer’s lifestyle is to be lived in reverent fear of God. But God is not the only one watching. Being observed also by unbelievers, that same Christian lifestyle should, to whatever extent possible, be characterized by a way of life that even pagans could recognize as good. The soul that is the target of spiritual warfare is not to be understood as referring to the incorporeal part of the human being in distinction from the body but the whole self in its new identity in Christ. Self-control that enables one to abstain from carnal passions was highly valued by Greek moral philosophers and would have been recognized as virtuous behavior by all. Peter expects that his readers can live in a way that will be recognized as good even by the standards of unbelieving pagans. Peter recognizes that non-Christian values of his culture overlap in some ways with those of the Christian faith. Peter challenges his readers to live by Christian values and, when they conflict with those of society, to be willing to endure graciously the grief and alienation that will inevitably result. According to Peter, a significant outcome of proper Christian behavior with respect to society will be the Gentiles glorifying God on the day of visitation. In the Old Testament, God’s visitation is used to refer to His intervention either with grace for His people or with wrath on the unrepentant. Some interpreters understand the day of visitation to be the time when God intervenes in the unbeliever’s life with the offer of salvation. But the day of visitation should probably be understood as a reference to the future final judgment, by which time Peter hopes that unbelievers who have observed the good works of the Christians they have slandered will have come to faith in Christ. The future visitation of God in Christ will be a day of blessing for God’s holy nation [1:5-7] but a day of judgment and condemnation for the nations who are not God’s people. The witness of a sustained good lifestyle by Christians who are being maligned by their society will be a testimony on the final day of judgment, which will vindicate the Christian’s faith. Those who reject the gospel will be condemned by their own harsh judgment of Christians, who refused to indulge in the values and practices of an ungodly society. In 2:13-17, Peter begins to specify how citizens of God’s holy nation are to relate to the sociopolitical authority of the world in which they live. It may be tempting for Christian believers, especially in pagan societies, to construe their loyalty to Christ as a license for rebellion against the ungodly authorities that govern them. In Peter’s view, Christians must be subject to even pagan authorities, even those as ungodly as the Roman emperor, who, at the time Peter wrote, was probably Claudius or Nero. Not only must Christians be subordinate to secular authorities, but they must also do good, for by doing so they will silence slander against Christians, as is God’s will. The verb do good occurs three times in the letter, in reference to slaves, wives, and then generally to all Christians [2:20; 3:6,17]. The same verb is found on the lips of Jesus in Luke 6:35, where He instructs His followers to do good even to their enemies. In both Luke and 1 Peter, the deeds encouraged do not seem to be merely private acts of Christian piety but deeds that would also be generally acknowledged by society as good. Peter’s exhortation here is prefaced by a claim to divine authority. It is the will of God [15] that Christians do good even in pagan societies, for by such behavior they will silence the slander about Christianity, and all the more so if they are publicly recognized by the authorities for good works that benefit their city. It is difficult to square this teaching with any worldview that recommends strict separatism from society and withdrawal from civic responsibility as a legitimate Christian lifestyle. Peter’s exhortation that his readers must be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake is not to be taken as an invitation to slavery. On the contrary, Peter declares his readers to be free people [16]. They were free to choose to be slaves of God. Being free from sin, they are free to choose to live in a way that honors the God whom they serve before the eyes of a pagan society to whom they have no similar obligation. Throughout his teaching, Peter affirms that Christians have been set free from their former way of life so that they can become slaves of God and live in obedience to Him rather than as they once did.”  [Jobes, pp. 167-178]

Submission to Masters:  1 Peter 2:18-20.

[18]  Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. [19]  For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. [20]  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.  [ESV]

[18-20]  “Peter’s emphatic opening description of Christians as those who have been born again into a new life with new allegiances and the further description of Christians as a people set apart as God’s own possession and as a kingdom of priests make it necessary for Peter to explain how the new life in Christ is to operate within the most basic social unit, the household. The apostle Peter informs Christians of their duties in a way that affirms part of the Greco-Roman social order while subtly rejecting those premises that are not compatible with the gospel. Peter is concerned that Christians not use their moral freedom in a way that brings condemnation on the infant church for subverting social order. At the same time, the moral freedom that Christians have been given in Christ transforms their understanding of themselves in ways unparalleled in the Greek moral philosophy of their time. Christian slaves may have wondered that their new birth into a living hope would relieve them from the oppressive social expectations of their station. Peter affirms that they are now indeed free people but also that this freedom does not entitle them to rebel against their masters, whether those masters be good and considerate or harsh. Apparently harsh treatment of slaves was socially acceptable and perhaps even expected by the Romans. Even in such a harsh situation, the Christian slave is to submit to the master’s authority and to bear up under unjust treatment because of a consciousness of God. The direct transformation of society’s structures, even those that are patently unjust, does not seem to be the goal of the New Testament writers. Rather, it is the transformation of the believer regardless of one’s situation that is the primary concern. Peter is clear that he is not speaking of suffering caused by one’s own misbehavior [20]. But when Christians suffer unjustly and do not sin in response, this is a gracious thing [19].”  [Jobes, pp. 180-191]

Christ our Example:  1 Peter 2:21-25.

[21]  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. [22]  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. [23]  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. [24]  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. [25]  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  [ESV]

[21-25]  “The presence of a passage about Christ’s suffering is unexpected in a discussion about slaves, wives, and husbands. The concept of suffering does not appear in pagan household codes and is unique to Peter’s purposes. Peter claims that slaves, and by extension all Christians [3:9], are called both to suffer unjustly and to continue to do right as they follow the example of Jesus Christ in His passion. These verses [21-25] form the heart of 1 Peter’s Christology, joining ethics to theology in a profoundly convincing way. Ironically, the suffering of Christ has become central to the Christology of the apostle who most strongly objected to Jesus’ prediction of His death [Matt. 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33]. The suffering to which slaves, and by extension all Christians, are called is not suffering caused by the human condition, such as illness, aging, and death. Nor is it suffering that is the consequence of one’s own sin and poor judgment. Peter’s call is to suffer unjustly, to suffer even though one has done nothing to provoke or deserve it, simply because one is a Christian. The challenge of the call does not stop there; Peter further exhorts the Christian to keep on doing good even when unjust suffering continues to be the result. First Peter 2:21-25 is a remembrance of Jesus’ suffering, explained and interpreted by the prophecy provided by Isaiah that allowed Peter to make sense of the sufferings of the Christ. Peter presents the unjust suffering of slaves as the calling of all Christians because Jesus was called to suffer unjustly, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps [21]. This is powerful imagery. The Greek word translated example was used to refer to a pattern of letters of the alphabet over which children learning to write would trace. It suggests the closest of copies. If Christians are to live as servants of God, the essence of that identity is a willingness to suffer unjustly as Jesus did, exemplifying in suffering the same attitude and behavior He did. Jesus Christ left us this pattern over which we are to trace out our lives, in order that we might follow in His footsteps. This is a strong image associating the Christian’s life with the life of Christ. For one cannot step into the footsteps of Jesus and head off in any other direction than the direction He took, and His footsteps lead to the cross, through the grave, and onward to glory. In these verses Peter emphasizes the verbal aspect of the Suffering Servant’s behavior as lived out by Jesus. His speech was not deceptive; He did not revile, and He did not threaten. Peter’s readers were on the receiving end of abusive speech, ignorant talk, and the like. Perhaps Peter begins to describe the Suffering Servant as a model for Christian behavior with these particular phrases because, when people are treated unjustly, it is most tempting to respond by stretching the truth, putting our opponents in a bad light, speaking abusively of others, or making threats. Following in Jesus’ footsteps through this trying situation means not responding in kind to the accusers or using deceit, slander, or threats. It is, however, the silence not of passive resignation but of patient confidence. After giving the example of what Jesus did not do, Peter reminds his readers of what Jesus did do. Instead of sinning under the pressure of unjust suffering, Jesus continued to trust God. Peter later exhorts his readers to do likewise in 4:19: let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. This is ironic because Christians are to keep on doing good even though the conflict they suffer is being generated because society questions whether a life motivated by faith in Christ is good. But rather than yield to their adversaries’ judgment, Peter’s readers are to trust God, who judges justly. Peter reminds his readers that Jesus’ unjust suffering did not mean that God had abandoned Him; to the contrary, unjust suffering was God’s mysterious way to accomplish the redemption of humanity. Jesus’ trust was well placed, despite the circumstances that ended in His death. Peter encourages his readers to recognize that their unjust suffering does not mean that the gospel is untrue or that God is displeased with them. To suffer for following Christ is to share the nature of Jesus’ suffering in that it is undeserved. It is caused by the world’s hostility to Christian allegiance to God, but it will nevertheless accomplish God’s purposes.”  [Jobes, pp. 191-200]

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In this passage, Peter describes what can be called “lifestyle evangelism.” According to Peter what does this lifestyle evangelism look like? What does Peter say is its goal? How can the way you live your life today be an evangelistic tool?

2.         Peter describes his readers as sojourners and exiles. Why did he do this? What made them exiles in their own society? How are you an exile or alien in your own society? What determines when you are a citizen and when you are an exile?

3.         What example does Christ give us concerning how we should act when we suffer unjustly? What would it mean in your Christian walk to continue entrusting yourself to God?

4.         We live in a world that is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. Believers truly committed to glorifying God by the way they live should expect various types of suffering: criticism, ridicule, loss of friendships, work-related issues, etc. What can you learn from this passage concerning how you are to live in the midst of suffering?


The Message of 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney, Inter Varsity.

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, BENT, Baker.

1, 2 Peter, Jude, Thomas Schreiner, NAC, B & H Publishers.

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