1 PETER-SERIES: NR 4
Theme: Live as free men
Scripture: 1 Peter 2: 13 – 25
One can be in temptation to think that the Apostles could speak easily when they spoke about authority and government and rulers. Not so for us today! But keep in mind that the inhuman brutal Roman Emperors of the Roman Empire was the government of the day at the time of the Apostles. This same Peter would for example die a martyr’s death under the Roman authorities. The emperors were notorious for their cruelty and injustice. Many a Christian died a martyr’s death. Indeed all the Apostles except John died a martyr’s death.
Therefore, when the Apostle Peter says, “Submit yourselves to every authority instituted among men” whether emperor or whomsoever – then they aren’t words glibly spoken. Yes, he is saying it because it is God’s truth and because it is the Holy Spirit urging him. Indeed he is writing – as Apostle – by the authority of God and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed the will of the Lord that all Christian-believers should respect the authorities – even though it is not a Christian government – as it was the case with Rome.
That is part of the Christian‘s testimony to the world. Of course it does not mean that a Christian should obey the government where things are required that are at variance with the Word of God. Daniel for example calmly continued to pray to the Lord – while the king had ordered that only the KING must be worshipped – and he was therefore willing to rather end up in the lion’s den than to submit. Which is exactly what happened. But, concerning all other matters, a Christian must submit. Things like obeying traffic-rules and respecting laws are very important to a Christian’s witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though you are never commended for it. Because it is not about what people say or think, but about the Lord’s honour and will.
That briefly is the teaching of the Spirit in verses 13-14.
And take note of how verses 15-16 connect to that:
Children of God are controlled by the Holy Spirit and therefore they stand-up for Christ and the Truth – sometimes among people who are hostile towards Christ. In the light of the previous two verses: When the whole world is in revolt against authority and government, but the Christian-believers are NOT – well, eyebrows are raised and questions asked and conflict is at hand. Or – as it said in verse 12 – when Christ-believers stand out and stand up for Christ, persecution may be expected.
The question is: How does a follower of Christ react when other people slander him/her or tell lies about them behind their back ONLY BECAUSE you stand out for the Gospel? Should we defend ourselves? No, Jesus did not. He did not answer Pilate on all the accusations against Him.
Unsaved people behave in ignorance, says Peter. They do not know and do not realise what they are doing when they come up against Christian-believers, and they talk like foolish men. And the way it should be dealt with, is to calmly continue to do good and obey the Lord’s will to the letter. Not object and oppose. But remain focussed on the Lord’s will – as for example subjecting to the authorities as it is said in verse 14. And not to misuse the freedom in Christ as an excuse to do evil.
Unsaved people – people who are without Christ – observe these things in Christians and then they can say nothing against it, because nobody lives like THAT – only people in whom the Spirit dwells. Besides: Who can bring an accusation against a holy lifestyle?
Because the free grace of God in Christ delivered the Christ-believer and, totally liberated from all condemnation and punishment, we can get into temptation thinking that it is a free pass to sin.
But no: The truth is the complete opposite. The freedom that we receive in Christ result that we love Him and do not WANT to sin any longer. The true Christian never looks for a reason or a free pass to sin or to justify it. The true Christian desires an obedient and holy life. God’s grace teaches/instructs us to renounce worldly godless behaviour, says Titus 2:12. Yes, the believer IS free! Free to serve the Lord, not to serve sin. As a train is free. To remain on the rails!
You know, if we look at what has emerged from this passage thus far, we realise that it is humanly impossible to live it in practice. It completely cuts AGAINST the grain of the fallen human nature. Because it is about, amongst other things, putting OTHERS – often whom we think are inferior to ourselves – ABOVE ourselves.
Just think for a moment about the content of verses 17-18. To respect ALL people. ALL people. And love ALL fellow-believers. And there are always those whom one cannot tolerate. There are those outside the faith whom I cannot stand. There are those inside the faith whom I dislike. What now? Do you see how impossible the Lord’s Word can become?
Listen what the Holy Spirit is saying through the pen of the Apostle: HONOUR THE KING! What??? The godless king?
Slaves and servants should submit themselves to their masters – even to those who are inconsiderate and cruel and harsh. And that while they would rather desire to be free.
ABOVE all of course is: fear God! Fear and respect.
The Apostle is still busy showing how Christians by their everyday life must be witnesses for the Lord. He therefore continues to enlarge upon the preceding verses. But the point is: Human nature CAN simply not obey.
This is showing us two great realities:
1 HOW SUPERNATURAL THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS. It is not a matter of trying to do some things and obeying a couple of rules and hoping for the best – hoping for forgiveness and admittance into heaven. It is the supernatural Divine life of the Lord Jesus himself – by the working of the Holy Spirit – which He lives THROUGH the believer. It is only the Lord himself who can live His own will. And by faith-trust in Him, He controls our life. The Christian life is therefore the life of the Lord Jesus Himself.
2 IN THESE INSTRUCTIONS WE SEE HOW LOST WE ARE WITHOUT CHRIST. We see in this how desperately disobedient we are by nature, by sinning against the perfect will of the Lord. We see that we truly deserve death. But Jesus gave up HIS life so that He died our death and we now may enjoy God’s perfect redemption and forgiveness – all thanks to Jesus.
But do you imagine that a life in the Lord Jesus is cheap – in the sense that it is a jolly party? Faithful to the Lord and saved by Him… and everything runs smoothly? Well, not so at all. Look at Peter and the people to whom he was writing this letter – look how they have suffered greatly because of their unquenchable love for the Saviour and their passion to be faithful to Him.
What does that mean? It simply means that the unsaved people all around them – who were mostly pagans and unsaved Jews – were persecuting them as a result of their stand for Jesus Christ. The people could not tolerate JESUS and therefore also not His followers. We do not know exactly how they were persecuted, but the apostle uses strong language. He mentions PAIN. And unjust SUFFERING. And: Beatings. It sounds really bad. And remember: It is still happening today.
Actually, nothing has changed. 2 Tim 3:12 says that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. In some way or another.
If a Christian suffers because he/she was looking for trouble or did wrong, it is a different matter. But Peter talks about Christians who do RIGHT and suffer nonetheless – only because they faithfully serve the Lord. In that case, says the Apostle, it is the grace of God in action. Yes! It is God’s favour upon you, he says. It FEELS as if the Lord has forsaken you, but the truth is: it is quite the opposite. It is a sign of God’s grace. We must hold onto that. It is God’s favour over you when your employer treats you unfairly because you are a Christian. And we do not react with anger and enmity. But we react out of the connectedness with Christ.
The question one naturally wants to ask is: How is it possible for a Christian to endure unfair suffering and persecution? Yes, we hear and realise that it is the Christian’s solemn calling. But how CAN it?
Here is the answer in verses 21-23. If a person is a true Christian, he is included in Christ. You are included with HIM and HE has already walked the road ahead of you. In HIS strength and by HIS Spirit you follow in His footsteps.
If ever there was someone who was treated unjust and who suffered innocently, it was the Lord Jesus. But even more: He was the only human ever on this earth WITHOUT SIN. We can therefore not compare His suffering with our own, because we are sinners, and in one way or another we certainly deserve the suffering that undeservedly comes our way only because we follow Christ. Strictly speaking, our sin and sinful nature disqualify us to assert that we do not deserve persecution and suffering. Only Jesus could say that. Because He was born of a virgin without any connection to Adam and the Fall. But, when HE was treated unjustly, He suffered vicariously, that means IN OUR PLACE. What He suffered was OURS. Now we CAN follow in His footsteps and watch Him where He was 100% unfairly insulted and suffered. Yes, even the 39 strokes He received and being nailed to the cross. And His reaction to it all? He did not retaliate or fight back. He did not threaten anybody. But He was enabled by the Spirit of God to leave everything to His Father’s judgment. In this way He supremely triumphed as substitute for all His people, all the elect!
In verses 24-25 the Holy Spirit gives a description – through Peter’s pen – of the Lord Jesus’s attitude, his disposition, during His earthly ministry when He – being the Son of God – suffered so much bitter injustice.
But look what God the Father surprisingly did through it and with it. And that is the essence of the Good News. God the Father used the injustice that Jesus suffered by the hands of sinners, to work the eternal salvation – in fulfilment of what He had promised centuries before in the Old Testament. And it is exactly this eternal salvation that today helps Christians to endure suffering and to behave differently to unsaved people when there is unfair treatment towards them.
When unjust treatment descended upon Jesus, He endured it and did not fight back. And then God the Father used that injustice to work eternal salvation for those who are wandering like lost sheep. Indeed, ALL people wander around like sheep – due to the fall of man and original sin. Not one single person is therefore able in himself to return to the Good Shepherd. All that the fallen human wants, is to be free from the Shepherd and to be king themselves.
A true Christian is someone who has RETURNED to the Shepherd by the grace of God. The time of wandering in the wilderness is over.
But, how could this miracle take place? If man is wandering around and not able in himself to return – how can the return take place?
Only one way, says the Apostle. The return is the result of the miracle that the Father worked when He included into Jesus’s broken body on the cross the sin and guilt of all the people who would ever come the faith in Christ – God’s elect.
Jesus literally carried those sins in His physical body and it died that way. It is by that action of God in Christ on the cross that WE are dead to sin! Is it not magnificent? That is why we are really able to live in obedience. It is not based on something WE do. It is His miraculous work of 2000 years ago that does it. His wounds DID heal us – on the cross. We are healed from wandering and sin and blame and being lost. The blood of ONE single MAN has done it all. Because He did it as substitute. He took the place of all believers. And the Father completely accepts it. Therefore it succeeds. Therefore we have assurance. Honour and glory to the Lord for this miracle from Above.
Translated by Marthie Wilson