1 Peter 2:11-25
Sermon Preached at Christ Church Duesseldorf, 21st October 2018
Most of us, at some time, have moved house, and had to pack all our belongings into boxes.
Some stuff you pack into a box labelled “living room”, some stuff you pack into a box labelled “bed room”, some stuff you pack into a box labelled “kitchen” and so on.
Well, we do the same with our lives- we pack them into boxes.
We might have one box labelled “religion” or “church”, another box labelled “politics”, another box labelled “work”, another labelled “family”, another labelled “hobbies” and so on. Then we take those boxes and pack them into one of two big boxes, one labelled “private” and the other labelled “public”. And very often, our faith goes into the “private” box, while work and politics go into the “public” box. And there is a lot of pressure on us to do that. More and more, we are told by our culture, and the media, and by the government that faith is a private matter, and that it should be left behind in our public lives. But I want to suggest to you this morning- in fact, like the Apostle Peter, I want to urge you to think this way- that in fact we should only have one box, and on the outside we should write “Jesus is Lord”. Because…
Christian faith can never be merely a private matter- we have to go public with it.
In 2:11 Peter starts a new section of his letter, and talks about the public life of Christians, about how we relate to the pagan, often anti-Christian world around us. And he singles out three things that should characterize our public lives as Christians- three things that we should do. They are struggle, submission, and suffering.
- Struggle – v11-12
We are to Struggle as strangers – v11a.
Peter first of all reminds us of what he said in 1:1- we are “strangers and exiles”, or “resident aliens”. We used to be part of the pagan, non-Christian world around us, but God has called us out of that darkness into his light, to be a holy people. So now we are outsiders, misfits- we don’t belong to this present world, and we don’t fit into the culture around us, we stand out. We are like exiles or refugees, who have had to leave their homeland and go and live in a foreign country, where the language and way of live are strange. Of course, foreigners and refugees in a strange country often face suspicion and hostility in that country. It will like that for Christians- because we don’t fit in, people will be suspicious of us, they will be hostile to us, and that will lead to suffering, as Peter will show in v21-25. But- and I think this is his point- we mustn’t be hostile to the world. Strangers and refugees, who face hostility, can very easily fall into a “them and us” mentality, where they see those around them as the enemy. Christians mustn’t do that! However much hostility we face, we mustn’t see our pagan neighbours as the enemy. Our struggle is not against them. In the past 50 years, Christians have thought a lot about how we should engage with politics and society. Some have said that we must fight a culture war. Others have said that we must struggle for social justice. There is a place for both of those- but they are not where the real battle takes place.
Instead, our Struggle against the enemy within – v11b.
Peter says that the enemy is not out there- it is in here. The real enemy is the fifth column in our hearts, the desires in our hearts and souls that are waging war against us. Those desires would of course include the desires for sex and money that have devastated the witness of so many Christians. But they would also include ambition, the desire for power and influence, or the desire to be popular and well liked, or the desire for ease and a quiet life. They struggle and fight against us, and the warfare is deadly- no holds barred and no quarter given. Left unchecked, those sinful desires, which are still there after we are born again, will destroy our souls- they will lay waste our interior lives, and drive us to everlasting destruction. So this is where we have to fight and struggle. In other words, our public life begins with our private life- we can’t separate the two. Fighting a culture war, or struggling for social justice don’t give us a license to lead an immoral life in private, even if it is only in the privacy of our thoughts. So we struggle against our desires- but what do we struggle for?
We Struggle to do good – v12a.
Peter says that we struggle against our inner, private desires so that our outer, public behaviour is honourable- good and beautiful and attractive. Then, when people slander us and lie about us- when they call us homophobes and misogynists, when they say that we are a danger to society and to the state- the lies will fall flat because people will see the visible, public goodness of our lives.
When we think about Christian engagement with public life, especially with politics and social action, we often think of high-level engagement. So we might of campaign to get the person we want elected as President or Prime Minister, or we might go on a protest march to right some injustice. It’s big, and dramatic, and glamorous, and it makes us feel good about ourselves, we feel like we are making a difference. But that feeling might be the voice of our inner desires- of our vanity. If we take the Bible seriously, I believe that we need to think in much more humble and less dramatic terms, of engaging on a local level. So Christians have become school governors and local councillors. They have founded hospitals, schools, hospices, and businesses to give employment to the poor. They have fostered troubled children and cared for teenage mothers who might otherwise have killed their unborn child. They have taken meals to sick neighbours and befriended the lonely. Dear friends that is the public Christian politics and social action for which we must struggle. But why do we struggle for this?
We Struggle to the glory of God – v12b
What I think Peter means is that by our public lives of goodness, we soften people up for the Gospel. We remove their suspicions, so that when God drops the seed of his word, the Good News of Christ, into their lives, it doesn’t fall onto hard rock; it drops into yielding soil, into hearts that have been made soft for the Gospel. Then on the day God visits- that is, on the day Christ returns- they will be among those praising him and giving him glory. This is about evangelism- about bringing people to praise and glorify Christ as Lord- and it seems to me to very clear that the New Testament regards evangelism as more important than culture war or struggling for social justice.
So this is Peter’s evangelistic strategy that he is giving to this and to every church. We find it hard to share Christ with our family and friends, don’t we? We find it hard to start conversations about Christ. But if we do what Peter says, and life beautiful public lives, conversations will start naturally, as people ask us about the hope that makes us different. And people will be brought to Christ by our behaviour. And this strategy works: the first Christians didn’t seek power or try to change the social structures. But they cared for the poor and the sick, they cared for unwanted babies, they treated slaves and women with dignity and respect, and by their goodness they conquered the Roman Empire. That is our struggle- the first thing that should characterize our public lives. And the second thing is…
- Submission – v13-20
We are to Submit to those in authority – v13-14, v18-20
So who exactly does Peter want his readers to submit to? First of all to the Roman Emperor, and the provincial governors he sent out. The Emperor at the time was Nero- a vain, immoral, lunatic. And yet Peter says to submit to his authority, and to that of other human institutions. So Peter is telling us to submit to civil government, to the authority of the state. Even if the government isn’t a very good one, even if it isn’t the government we would have chosen to have, even if we didn’t vote for the Prime Minister or the President, and we think he is unworthy of that role, we are still to submit to respect and submit to the authority of the government. God has a good purpose for political authority. It is there do justice- not just restorative justice, but retributive justice, Peter says it is there to punish evildoers. And the government is also there to promote virtue by praising and rewarding those who do good. So Christians shouldn’t be revolutionaries or have the reputation of being rebels. History shows that revolutions rarely lead to good. Instead, Christians should be known as good, peaceful, law-abiding citizens.
Then Peter says in v18-20 that household servants should submit to their masters, even to those who are harsh and unfair, who might mistreat them for being Christians. Some translations of the Bible say “slaves” here, but that’s a poor translation. Peter doesn’t use the general word for “slaves”, he uses a word that means specifically “household” slaves or servants. So although these people weren’t free, they weren’t like the slaves who worked in the cotton plantations in America. They would be more like the servants in Downton Abbey. So although the situation isn’t exactly the same, because they weren’t free to leave their work, Peter’s words do tell us how we as Christians should behave at work, towards our employers. We are to submit to authority in that sphere. Even if our employers aren’t the ones that we would have chosen, or we don’t like our job, or we have a bad boss. Christians shouldn’t have the reputation of being lazy or antagonistic to our employers. Christians should be known as good, hard-working employees.
Now, everyone will by now have lots of “what ifs” in our minds. Should we blindly accept all authority? What if we were in Nazi Germany? What about American slavery? Should Christians just have accepted that? What if an employer doesn’t pay a fair wage? Should Christians join a Trade Union and agitate for higher pay? The Bible doesn’t say- at least, not here. Peter isn’t trying to answer all our questions and cover every possible situation. Those are extreme circumstances which we rarely have to face. Most of the time we live in normal circumstances with OK governments and OK employers. In those circumstances, we are to submit to lawful authority. Peter is speaking to our hearts, to the sinful desires that lurk there, one of which is rebelliousness. Especially in our culture which idealizes rebellion and make heroes out of revolutionaries- think of Star Wars where the heroes are the rebels. We need to rebel against our rebelliousness, and submit to those in authority. But why?
Well Peter says we are to Submit because of God – v13, v15-16
So why should we submit to the government? In v13 Peter says submit because of God, and in v15 because this is the will of God. So in v16 he says submit freely, not because you are forced to by the law, but because you are God’s slaves, you belong to him, not to the government or your masters, and this is his will for you. His evangelism strategy comes into it: in v15 he says again that this will silence what foolish people say: probably they had accused Christians of being rebels and trouble makers. Why should house servants endure the pain of unjust treatment? In v19 Peter says “because you are conscious of God, because you are aware of him”. Then he says that this is commendable, it brings you favour with God. Your human master may be angry but God, then one you really belong to, the one whose approval should matter more, is pleased with you. You are doing a God-glorifying thing
Peter says that we are to Submit to the authorities, but not to fear them – v17
The Roman emperors at the time were worshipped as gods- and to refuse to worship them was a crime against the state. But look at what Peter says. Honour everyone in authority, including the emperor. But love your brother Christians- that takes precedence over submission to the government. And fear God- not the emperor. “Fear” here includes worship. So here is the answer to one of our “what ifs”: Peter is not saying that we should give unquestioning obedience to the state. Christians have a higher loyalty, first to the brotherhood of Christians, and above that to God. The same Peter that wrote “submit to all those in authority”, in Acts 5, when he was on trial before the governing council, and was told to stop talking about Jesus, said “we must obey God rather than men”. And was then he was beaten up for it. So the public lives of Christians are marked by struggle, submission, and…
- Suffering – v21-25
Christians are called to suffering – v21a
So often Christians have thought that their calling was to gain take control of the state, or to change society, when Peter says that we are called to suffer. And that applies to all of us- if God calls someone to follow Christ, he calls him to suffer, there is no way around it. Struggling to do all the good we can is a very effective evangelism strategy, but it won’t always make us popular. In v20, the servants are beaten for doing good- Peter is probably thinking of cases where their masters mistreat them because they are Christians. Sometimes doing good will arouse even more hatred and hostility. After all, no one has done more good than Jesus, and no one has ever been treated more harshly and unfairly. We are called to suffer, because Christ our master was called to suffer.
Christ suffered as an example – v21b
A few years back there was a sort of craze in Christian circles for bracelets and badges with the letters WWJD, which stood for “What would Jesus do?” Remember them? A lot of people didn’t like them- they said that they were legalistic, and we can’t always do what Jesus would do. Which is true. But it is still a good question to ask. Because the Bible says very clearly here that we are to imitate Christ in our public lives, and especially in our suffering. Christ is the model or the pattern we are to follow. We are to walk in his footsteps, and be like him. Some of you have read The Vine Project, or heard Kingsley’s talks at the weekend away. Remember the second of the five convictions? What is a disciple, a Christian? Someone who is learning Christ. Not just someone who is learning about Christ, but someone who is learning Christ, learning to walk in his footsteps, learning to be like him. So how did Christ suffer?
Christ suffered without sin – v22-23
Again Peter turns to the Old Testament, to Isaiah 53, to show us the beauty and goodness of Jesus’ life and suffering. He was completely innocent and sinless. He didn’t even have any sinless desires to struggle against, he never even wanted to do anything wrong. But he did struggle- he wrestled with temptation all his life, and never once for the slightest moment gave in. He would have nothing to do with sin and lies. And when he was lied about and beaten and abused, he didn’t retaliate. He didn’t try to strike back at his abusers, or yell that he would get even with them. He suffered like a silent lamb. Because he put himself into his Father’s hands, he knew that this was his Father’s will for him, and he was content to leave it to his Father to see that justice was done. That’s our example. That’s the pattern we are supposed to follow in our public life, when we are abused for doing what’s right. If the sinless one submitted to this without complaining about injustice, how can sinners like us complain when we suffer? These are the footsteps that lead to the cross. Christ suffered without sin, and…
Christ suffered for our sin – v24-25
Still in Isaiah 53, Peter shows us the beauty and goodness of what Christ did for us. And here we can’t imitate him- only wonder. On the cross, he swapped places with us, and bore the crushing burden of sin. He bore the just retribution for all the times we’ve waved the white flag instead of fighting against sin. The punishment for all the times we’ve not submitted to authority, to the authority of God. He bore that retribution so that we don’t have to bear it. And so that we could die to sin and live for righteousness- in other words, so that we could win the struggle against sinful desires, and live to do good. And so that we could come back to him, the shepherd and overseer of our souls. Did you notice that those are both authority words? The shepherd is the ruler of the flock, the overseer is the manager of an estate. He died so that we could come and live under him, under his authority which is far above any human institution. And if you’ve never done that, do it now. By his cross, come back to him, and put every box of your life under the authority of the one who loves you so much that he died for you.
You see, our real problem is not that we are victims. Our problem is not that we live under an unjust government, or that we have an unfair employer. Our problem is that in our hearts and souls, we don’t like being told what to do. By the boss, or by the government, or by God. But when you see the beauty and goodness of what Christ did for you, that’s what will change your heart into an obedient heart.
Dear friends, don’t put your private life and your public life into different boxes. Put them both into the box marked “Christ the crucified is Lord”.