I Am Just Passing Through

| 1 Peter 2:11-17 | February 11, 2018

Week of February 18, 2018

The Point:  Our lives in this world should reflect our eternal home.

Lifestyle Evangelism:  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]

“[11-12]  A new section begins with Beloved, I urge you. With beloved Peter emphasizes that his readers are ‘beloved by God’ and chosen to be His people. The emphasis in the letter now shifts to the relationship believers have with the world. Hence, they are identified as sojourners and exiles. These terms recall Abraham’s status as a sojourner, for he describes himself as a sojourner and foreigner [Gen. 23:4]. Abraham uttered these words in a context in which he had no property on which to bury his wife. Similarly, the Petrine readers had no permanent home in the world. There is no need to try to distinguish between the two terms sojourners and exiles. Peter intended us to read them together to say that believers are aliens and strangers in this world. We should not read the words literally as if they depict the actual political status of the readers. The language of strangers and exiles is appropriate theologically, signifying that the readers are like foreigners because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. Peter now exhorts believers to live a certain way as aliens and strangers. Exhortations to godly living are often communicated in the New Testament with the verb I urge. Such exhortations are always grounded in the redemptive work of Christ already accomplished for believers. They are exhorted to abstain from the passions of the flesh. The meaning here appears to be close to the Pauline understanding of the term flesh. These are the natural desires that human beings have apart from the work of the Spirit. In 1 Peter the flesh represents the weakness of human beings in this age [cf. 1:24; 3:18; 4:1-2]. This verse is instructive because it informs us that those who have the Spirit are not exempt from fleshly desires. Such desires cannot be confined to sexual sins or sins of the body like drunkenness. The depth of the struggle in which believers are engaged is explained by the words which wage war against your soul. Obviously the desires of the flesh that emerge in believers are quite strong if they are described in terms of warfare, as an enemy that attempts to conquer believers. Such desires must be resisted and conquered, and the image used implies that this is no easy matter. The Christian life is certainly not depicted as passive in which believers simply ‘let go and let God’. The soul here does not refer to the immaterial part of human beings. The whole person is in view, showing that sinful desires, if they are allowed to triumph, ultimately destroy human beings. Verse 12 is connected to verse 11 by a participle that is translated as an imperative, keep your conduct. The participle may be better rendered as instrumental (by keeping your conduct honorable among the Gentiles). If the latter is the case, it still has an imperatival sense by virtue of its relationship to the main verb. One of Peter’s favorite words for expressing the new life of believers is conduct. In 1:15 it refers to the holiness of life required of Christians and in 1:18 to the evil way of life from which they have been delivered by Christ’s death. It depicts the godly behavior of wives in 3:1-2 and the godly life of those suffering as believers in 3:16. The term is used broadly in Peter to designate the new way of life demanded of Christians. Such honorable conduct will appear beautiful to the Gentiles. Using the term Gentiles for pagans indicates that the terminology of Israel is now applied to the church of Jesus Christ. Hence, even though unbelievers are inclined to revile Christians as those who do evil, they will be constrained by the godly lifestyle of believers to reconsider. Peter did not summon believers to a verbal campaign of self-defense or to the writing of tracts in which they defend their morality. He enjoined believers to pursue virtue and goodness, so that their goodness would be apparent to all in society. The evident transformation of their behavior will contradict false allegations circulating in society. Peter’s hope is that unbelievers will glorify God  because they see your good deeds, which probably refers to the good works of believers that permeate every dimension of life. Peter almost certainly alluded to the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5:16, let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Both Peter and Matthew drew a connection between ‘seeing’ good deeds and the corresponding praise that is given to God as a result. But what did Peter mean by glorify God on the day of visitation? The day of visitation could refer to God’s judgment or His salvation. Peter may have been saying that they will glorify God in the day when they are judged, acknowledging at that time the good works of believers and vindicating God’s justice. But there are good reasons to think Peter referred to salvation in this verse. The reference to glorifying God suggests that the salvation of Gentiles is in view. Typically in the New Testament people glorify God or give Him glory by believing. Conversely, those who refuse to believe do not glorify God. Peter exhorted believers to live noble lives because in doing so unbelievers will see their good works. Because they observe such works, some unbelievers will repent and believe and therefore give glory to God on the last day. Peter was confident that some unbelievers will be saved when they notice the godliness of believers. The unbelievers may revile Christians, but as they notice the goodness in their lives, some will repent and be saved, and as a result of their salvation God will be glorified.

[13-17]  How should believers respond to the social structures of the day? Since God is their Lord, should they ignore human and governmental institutions? Peter argues here that believers should submit to the emperor and those governing authorities appointed by Him. They are to submit to governing authorities because of their relationship to God, for in obeying the government they carry out God’s will. Further, by doing good in the public square they will contradict those who claim that believers practice evil. Peter did not see human authorities as ultimate. Christians obey governing authorities because such obedience is God’s will. Hence, the supreme authority for Peter was not the emperor but God Himself. Further, in verse 16 believers are to submit as those who are free in Christ and as slaves of God, and not from a subservient spirit. Peter only cautioned that their freedom should not become a pretext for evil. The section concludes with four imperatives in verse 17. Believers are to show respect and honor to all people, while a special affection for fellow believers is to be displayed. Only God is to be feared, but this does not rule out honor for the emperor.

[13]  The central theme of this section is found in the first verb: be subject. The idea that believers should be subject to governing authorities is a standard part of New Testament ethical exhortations [cf. Rom. 13:1,5; Titus 3:1]. The injunction to submit does not rule out exceptions, for God is the ultimate authority. Peter gave a command that represents a general truth, that is, he specified what Christians should do in most situations when confronting governing authorities. Believers should be inclined to obey and submit to rulers. We will see, however, that the authority of rulers is not absolute. They do not infringe upon God’s lordship, and hence they should be disobeyed if they command Christians to contravene God’s will. When Peter gave the exhortation, every human institution, he reflected only upon governing authorities (emperor … governors), not every single person. But believers are to submit to these authorities for the Lord’s sake, which is likely a reference to Jesus Christ. They obey the injunctions of governing authorities ultimately because of their reverence for and submission to the Lord. We have an implication here that the ruling powers should be resisted if commands were issued that violated the Lord’s will. It is impossible to imagine that one would obey commands that contravened God’s dictates for the Lord’s sake.

[14]  When Peter said every human institution [13], he meant both the emperor and governing authorities under the emperor. The word governors is not intended to be specific since it can include procurators, proconsuls, and officials who collect revenues. Believers should submit not only to the highest authority (the emperor) but to all those who are in authority. The purpose of ruling authorities is then explained: the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do what is good. During good here means that Christians behave as good citizens, that they do what is honorable in the world’s eyes. Peter hardly intended to say that rulers always fulfill such a purpose. He was quite aware from the Old Testament that rulers may resist God and His will. The persecution of believers indicates that rulers may be involved unjustly in oppressing believers. Furthermore, Peter and early Christians could hardly forget that Christ was unjustly condemned under Pontius Pilate or that James was put to death by Herod Agrippa. Even the most oppressive governments, however, hold evil in check to some extent, preventing society from collapsing into complete anarchy. The ideas here are quite similar to Romans 13:3-4, though Peter did not identify the ruling authorities as God’s servant. All believers should do what is right and strengthen the social fabric. Rulers help maintain order in society by commending good citizens.

[15]  Peter now explains why believers should submit, arguing that they should do so for this is the will of God. The interpretative question is whether for points backward or forward. If backward, then the meaning would be ‘Submit because this is the will of God, with the result that you will silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good’. If forward, then the meaning would be ‘because the will of God is that you should silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good’. The word for normally points backward and that is the best option here. By submitting to government, Christians demonstrate that they are good citizens, not anarchists. Hence, they extinguish the criticism of those who are ignorant and revile them. Such ignorance is not innocent but culpable, rooted in the foolishness of unbelievers. To refer to unbelievers as foolish is no denigration of their intellectual capacities. Peter hearkened back to Proverbs, where the foolish are morally debased. They are foolish because they do not fear the Lord and walk in His ways [Prov. 1:7], and hence their ignorance is culpable. Such people will be silenced by the good deeds of Christians. The participle doing good is instrumental, emphasizing how unbelievers are silenced. We should note again that there is no conception of believers doing whatever a government enjoins. He did not envision society and governmental structures as always siding with believers or inevitably commending them for their good behavior. His point was that the good behavior of Christians will minimize slanderous attacks on believers, revealing that charges of moral debilitation have no basis. Opponents will be discovered to be animated by hatred, lacking any objective ground for their criticism of believers.

[16]  Peter was not merely concerned about the outward actions of believers but also the motivations that inform their submission. Three phrases explain the standpoint from which Christians should operate in subordinating themselves to governing authorities. First, they are to live as people who are free. Believers have been ransomed by Christ’s blood [1:18-19] and are no longer subject to the futile lifestyle characteristic of this world. Hence, the submission of believers is never servile or rendered out of weakness. Second, as free people they are not to use their freedom as an excuse to indulge in evil. Genuine freedom liberates believers to do what is good. Those who use freedom as license for evil reveal that they are not truly free since a life of wickedness is the very definition of slavery. Christians should never respond to the dictates of government slavishly, but they should obey out of strength and because of their freedom. Third, believers should live as servants of God. The word servants also could be rendered ‘slaves’. Believers do not enjoy unrestricted freedom. Their freedom is exercised under God’s authority. In fact, genuine freedom is experienced only by those who are God’s slaves. One is either a slave of sin or a slave of God. True liberty, according to the New Testament, means that there is freedom to do what is right. Hence, only those who are slaves of God are genuinely free. Believers are called upon to live under God’s lordship, obeying the government as God’s servants. When we consider the freedom of believers and their subservience, ultimately, to God alone, it is evident that the government does not enjoy carte blanche authority. Peter did not envision Christians submitting to government regardless of the circumstances, even if ruling authorities prescribe what is evil. The ultimate loyalty of Christians is to God, not Caesar. They are liberated from fearing Caesar, and hence they do not feel compelled to do whatever he says. Believers are God’s servants first, and thereby they have a criterion by which to assess the dictates of government. Ordinarily believers will submit to the commands of ruling authorities, for in the normal course of life governments punish evil behavior and reward good conduct. The inclination and instinct of believers, then, will be submission to government. Peter wanted to avoid anarchy and a kind of enthusiasm that rejects any human structures. Nevertheless, if governments prescribe what is evil or demand that believers refuse to worship God, then believers as slaves of God must refuse to obey.

[17]  The section concludes with four commands. The command to honor begins and concludes the list. Peter did not place God on the same plane as the others mentioned in this verse, for fearing God is fundamental and primary and hence cannot be equated with the honor due to all. Peter specifically distinguished one’s attitude toward God (fear) from one’s attitude toward the emperor (honor). The verbs honor … love … fear simply do not mean the same thing. The first imperative is the call to honor everyone. Believers are to treat every person with dignity and respect since all human beings are created in God’s image. Even sinners are to be accorded respect and honor as human beings. Interestingly, the same respect and honor that should be given to the emperor should be given to all human beings. Those with more power and dignity are not exalted over ordinary human beings. All human beings should be respected, but there is a special bond between fellow believers. Indeed, the union between fellow Christians is such that it is best described in terms of family, and hence we have the command to love the brotherhood of believers. In the stresses and difficulties of life and the battle against fleshly desires, believers need to be reminded of the priority of love, of the need to love fellow members of the family. The injunction to fear God is placed in contrast to honoring the emperor. Believers are to honor the king and show him respect because of his office, but they are not to fear him. Only God is to be feared. Indeed, Peter was quite clear that his readers were not to fear other human beings [1 Peter 3:6,14] and that only God should be feared as the sovereign Lord. The imperatives conclude with a call to honor the emperor. Believers should continue to respect and honor the emperor, even though they are free citizens of God. Their freedom should not become a pretext for sin, as if they were free from giving the emperor the respect the office deserved.”   [Schreiner, pp. 119-134].

 Questions for Discussion:

  1. Peter describes his readers as sojourners and exiles. Why did he do this? In what sense were they exiles in their own society? How are you an exile or alien in your own society? How do you balance living in this world while living in the hope of your future eternal home [1:13; 2 Peter 3:11-14]?
  2. In this passage, Peter describes what can be called “lifestyle evangelism.” According to Peter what does this lifestyle evangelism look like? Peter uses two verbs as commands: abstain and keep. What are we to abstain from? What are we to keep? What does Peter say is the goal of our abstaining and keeping (so that [12])? How can the way you live your life today be a positive witness to the Gospel; a negative witness?
  3. How should believers respond to the social structures of the day? What does Peter mean by telling his readers to be subject … to every human institution? Should believers submit to the authorities over us in every instance? Explain how the phrase, for the Lord’s sake, modifies our submission to civil authorities [ see also Matt. 22:21]? When should believers not submit to the governing authorities?
  4. List the commands Peter gives his readers in these verses. Note that these commands flow out of who these readers are in 2:9-10. Peter is saying that, since you are now God’s people, act in this way! Meditate on how you can obey these commands in your life. As you seek to live your life in this way, always keep in mind the ultimate purpose for your lifestyle: that God will be glorified [12].


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

1 Peter, Karen Jobes, ECNT, Baker.

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