A man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy street. Suddenly, just in front of him, the light turned yellow. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.
The tailgating woman was furious and repeatedly honked her horn, screaming in frustration, as she missed her chance to get through the intersection, while also, dropping her cell phone and makeup.
As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very stern looking police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up.
He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.
He said, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ window sticker, the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday-School’ bumper sticker and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk; naturally… I assumed you had stolen the car.”
In our last lesson we learned from Peter that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, and a people who have received mercy. Because we are these people and have this special relationship with God, we are called to live as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which are warring against our soul. Essentially, since you are God’s people, here is how you must live. With the privileges of being God’s chosen people come the responsibilities of godly living. Particularly, Peter is instructing us how to live as a holy nation. These are the things we are do while living as exiles in the world. This is what the Christian behavior ought to be.
Keep Your Conduct Honorable (2:12)
Live in a way that is respectable while on earth. Keep your living honorable. Notice that we are to living honorable in the face of those who speak against us as evildoers. How are Christians supposed to handle those in the world who slander us and consider us to be evildoers? We are not to handle it by acting like them. We are not to handle it by treating them as they have treated us. We are to handle this by living honorably. We are to continue conducting ourselves as Christians even when what others are doing is unfair or unjust. The world will speak of us as evildoers, especially as we strive to expose the darkness with the light of Jesus. We will encounter all sorts of resistance when we try to live righteously, speak righteously, and teach righteousness. Be ready for it. But even more important, when the resistance comes, live honorably. Don’t give them a reason to think that they are right about you. When we retaliate or respond similarly, we are only validating their accusations, not proving them to be false.
Live honorably in the face of such duress so that they will see your good works and glorify God later. They will see your good deeds in the face of evil and may change to glory God before the judgment. Your reaction to their slander and evil can change them. The way you handle their slander and duress can cause them to glorify God later. They will possibly rethink what they are doing. Jesus is a terrific example of this, causing the Roman centurion to confess that Jesus truly was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54). All of the events that surrounded Jesus and how he handled it proved to the outsider that Jesus was who he claimed to be. How we handle all the pressures and difficulties that surround us will prove to others that we truly are living stones, molded after the image of Jesus. We will not be a discredit to the name “Christian.”
Yield To Human Government (2:13-15)
Notice that the command is to be in subjection to every human institution. It does not matter what that institution is, we are to yield to it. Peter goes even further to make sure that we understand that he means every human institution by adding, “whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors sent by the emperor.” Whoever is in charge, that is who we are to yield to. We are to yield to any authority.
Christians seem to forget this charge. We are not called to be zealots who riot or picket against the government. We have seen one extreme in religion where people refuse to pay taxes because of their faith. We see people unwilling to state their allegiance to this country. But we are subject to the laws of this nation and we live in this nation. We are told to respect that and honor that. “Honor the emperor” is part of this instruction in verse 18. But we must watch that we are not at the other side of the coin. We think that everything about this country is what matters. So we become activists trying to overthrow various laws and systems. The point that Peter is making is that Christians are to keep to themselves and obey the laws. We are to conduct ourselves honorably. I think we can see the damage that is done by those who refuse to obey these rules. The “religious right” has probably done more damage than good for the cause of Jesus. This radicalism is only another reason for the world to discredit God. We must be careful in our blending of politics with Christianity. While we certainly should use our freedom to advance the kingdom of God, we must be careful that we are not in the process hurting the influence of the kingdom of God. God’s will is that we do good, silencing the criticism by our good works, not discrediting God by our works.
Why do we submit to every human authority? We submit for the sake of the Lord. We are doing this for the cause of Christ. This is God’s will. We are only going to bring change for the kingdom by working to change the hearts of the individuals in this country. Trying to change laws will not fix the problem. Just as prohibition taught us that people will be immoral regardless of the government’s laws, we also learned that it is the changing of the people’s hearts that will really bring change. If we do not like the direction of our country, I do not believe the answer is to become more politically active and raise our voices in shouting about the government and its laws. We are to show subjection to the government and not look like religious extremists. If we do not like the direction of our country, I believe the answer is to become more evangelistic with the gospel. If we want to change things, then we need to change the hearts of the people.
Consider Jesus as our example. When he came to this world to establish his kingdom, how did he go about establishing it? Did he overthrow the Jewish government? Did he try to change Roman laws? No, he submitted to the laws. Jesus established his kingdom by preaching the gospel to every person. One person at a time, the gospel spread from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth. That must be our focus — change the hearts one person at a time with the gospel, not through political zealotry.
Further, in verse 16 Peter tells us to live as people who are free. We are to be using our freedom to live as God’s servants. That is what we are to do with our freedom. We are not to use our freedom as a cover to commit evil. Just because our government is lax on laws does not give us authority to break God’s laws. Just because divorce and remarriage is okay by our government does not make it acceptable to God. Just because our government says abortion is okay does not mean we have the freedom to do. Yield to the government. Obey the laws of God. Do not use your freedom to commit evil. Live as exiles, knowing that the kingdom of God is what comes first.
Quick Hits (2:17)
Finally, Peter ends this thought with four quick admonitions.
Honor everyone. Underline the word everyone. No excuses. It does not matter how someone treated us. There is not excuse that if we are disrespected then we have the right to disrespect that person. Put the interests of others first always. Show them honor. Show them respect. Even if they do not respect you. Be aware that this is talking about the world. Honor people in the world. Peter will speak about how to treat Christians in just a moment. Honor all people.
Love the brotherhood. Among the family of believers there should be even greater respect and honor. This love is a great symbol to the world. If we treat each other like the world treats one another, then what is the attraction for coming into the family of Christ? There is no attraction. We should have such a strong, deep love for one another that it will cause people to glorify God and want to be part of that family and be in that relationship.
Fear God. Being exiles in this world means that we must always show our allegiance to God. God must be first. If we do not show God to be first and show our reverence and fear of God, then we will discredit God. How will we influence the world if we treat God with the same importance as our hobbies, our recreation, or our work? No one will come to God if God is seen as just another activity in your life. Fear God. Show your passion. Reveal your zeal. God first.
Honor the emperor. Finally, honor the emperor. If a Roman emperor was to be honored and respected, then every government official deserves that same honor. This does not mean that we necessarily agree with their lives, their decisions, or their actions. But it does mean that we are not slanderers, but are respectful. We will not speak ill of our leaders. We do not ignore their evil but their evil is not a license for us to speak or act ungodly.
We are aliens and strangers in this world. We need to show a different life from the way others act. We need to live honorable lives reflecting the laws and attitudes of Jesus. Our good deeds should sway people to favor the Lord. We keep our noses clean, put our noses to the grind, and serve the Lord in all we do.