Vol. IX — No. 20 May 19, 1968
1 Peter 2:11-17
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain From fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
In Christ Jesus, who would have us be His witnesses at all times and in all Places, Fellow Redeemed:
“Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things,” Luke 24:46-48. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Mark l6:15. “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Matthew 23:19. You surely recognize these words, as recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke, as the final commands of our Lord before He ascended on high.
We think of them as missionary commands. And when we think of carrying them out, we usually think of local and synodic mission programs, evangelism campaigns, national and international missionary societies, training pastors and teachers and so maintaining educational institutions, fund raising efforts and personal witness. These are the time-tested means and methods used by God’s people to do what our Lord commanded us to do.
There is another way that is sometimes overlooked. It involves each individual Christian, and it involves him at all times and at all places and under all circumstances. St. Paul spoke of it when he wrote these words to the Corinthians, “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men.” II Cor. 3:2. Each child of God is a letter that can be and is read by all who meet him and come into contact with him, for people read our way of life much more clearly than they hear the testimony of our lips. Our Lord spoke of this method of witnessing in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 5:16. It is precisely this method of witnessing that Peter urges upon his readers in our text. You may have been mislead by the word “conversation.” Today conversation means an interchange of speaking, but in the days of the King James translators the word had a broader meaning, including one’s whole way of life—speaking, acting, reacting, sense of values and priorities in life and so on. Peter describes a Christian’s way of life in detail, for our way of life is on public display. It will make a favorable or unfavorable impression and so will either help or hinder others to glorify the God of our salvation. Let us take to heart this truth that our Lord, St. Paul and St. Peter here in our text emphasize, namely, that—
No child of God wants to be a death-trap that hinders another person from accepting Christ or cau5es someone to fall from the faith. Our conduct, our way of life, can do just that if it does not reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ at all times. This very thing is happening today, for many who bear the name “Christian” are disavowing Christian principles for living. Let us strengthen and fortify our principles by hearing and heeding the words of St. Peter. He describes our way of life, first of all—
“Dearly beloved, I beseech—urge, exhort—you as strangers and pilgrims” and then he continues by urging his readers to practice good citizenship. We are all citizens of these United States and residents of a specific political unit. We are bound to the laws and regulations of the local area where we live, also the county, the state and the federal government. We are citizens with all the privileges and responsibilities that citizenship entails. But at the same time we are strangers or aliens and pilgrims just passing through. We have no abiding city here. We’re on our way to our final destination. Heaven is our home.
This dual citizenship, in heaven and on earth, is to be reflected in our lives. On the one hand we we must beware of falling victim of the error of the Middle Ages—namely, that of withdrawing from the world and so overemphasizing the “pilgrim” role. The idea prevailed that the world was incurably evil and that a Christian could best serve his God by withdrawing as much as possible from the world” The result was monasticism. The monastics thought they could escape the world, but they failed to realize that they took the world with them into their monasteries. On the other hand we must beware of becoming too engrossed in the affairs of this life—in political ideology and in political and social and economic movements. It’s one thing to function as a responsible citizen, but quite another to make some political ideology the consuming passion of one’s life. That is the evil called “worshipping the beast” in the book of Revelation. We are to lead concerned, but detached lives. Certainly we are concerned about the problems that face our country, especially in this election year. We may participate to a greater or lesser extent. But we dare not become slaves of any ideology or political or social movement, for we remain but strangers and foreigners passing through to our final home.
From this general view of our conduct Peter proceeds to a negative factor, Our way of life is to be—
Peter urges Christian pilgrims and strangers to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” Many people in our country are becoming extremely concerned over the change in moral climate that is taking place in our country. Hedonism, the satisfying of the senses with pleasure and the making of pleasure the highest goal of life, seems to be becoming our national religion. Literature, pop music, the movies are beginning more and more to exploit fleshly lusts. Nudity has become an acceptable method for artistic expression in movies and magazines. Pornography is acceptable if it can claim some redeeming social value. The hippie movement seeks inner freedom by rebelling against accepted standards of behavior whether they be in line or out of line with divine directives. What is all of this but giving the lusts of man free rein. We have then the paradox of slavery to sin being considered the highest form of individual freedom. That is where much of society is today.
We are to be different and noticeably different. we are to be as ones who stand out by abstaining from fleshly lusts. If all the world says that free and uninhibited expression of love before and after marriage, within or outside of the bonds of marriage is good and moral, we are to say “no” and act according to that principle. If all the world says that excessive use of alcohol, the free and medically uncontrolled use of drugs, living off society instead of contributing to society is moral and right, we are to abstain from approving such fleshly lusts. And our abstaining is to be visible to all men. If we thus abstain from fleshly lusts, we bear witness to the grace of God in Christ which has forgiven our sin and given us strength to combat sin in our lives. If we fall victim to our lusts and even tend to glorify the satisfaction of lust as moral living, we cast shame upon our Lord who came to remove the curse and break the power of sin.
We are strangers and pilgrims, yet at the same time citizens of our country. As citizens, our way of life is to be—
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man—to every human institution—for the Lord’s sake: whether it he to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and For the praise of them that do well.” There was a time when churches to a great extent taught obedience to the government with all its institutions for the regulation, assistance and enjoyment of its citizens. And so the churches reinforced government under law. But a change has taken place. Now it would seem that the majority of churches are teaching and also participating in civil disobedience, which has also been advocated and supported by men high in governmental positions. The idea of civil disobedience claims the right for a citizen to disobey a law which he considers unjust. This actually makes each citizen a law unto himself. The social reformer may with good intentions consider that a given law is unjust and then proceed to gain publicity for the injustice by disobeying that law. The criminal element rarely learns anything From the leaders of society and of the church, but they do learn disobedience to law and order very quickly. We have seen the results of such learning in the outbreaks of arson, sniping, looting and almost civil war. As is inevitably the case those who preach disobedience reap what they sow. George Lincoln Rockwell was a prophet of violence. He died violently at the hands of one of his own disciples. Martin Luther King was the prophet of non-violent disobedience, but he also died violently at the hands of an individual who carried civil disobedience to its logical conclusion. For if the individual has the right to disobey some laws, then all law and order is undermined, and anarchy replaces government by law. (We will at this time not discuss situations in which government either commands what is forbidden by God or forbids what is commanded by God.)
St. Peter did not advocate civil disobedience, but rather the submission to all human institutions. There are laws that we may consider unwise and even harmful to the welfare of society and our nation. He have every right to use whatever legal means are available to change the laws and secure a redress of grievances. But no child of God has the right to place himself above the law. When this is done in the name of Christianity, it casts a reflection. upon our Lord. We are to let our light shine by conducting ourselves as obedient and peaceful citizens. This we are to do for the Lord’s sake, as an act and fruit of faith.
As strangers and pilgrims, yet citizens of this, nation, we are to conduct ourselves—
“As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as servants of God.” The correlates of freedom are restraint, concern for the freedom of others and responsibility. Much of what passes for freedom today is but a cloak for lawlessness and violence. To hiss and yell and so prevent another from exercising his right of free speech is a misuse of freedom. To break the laws of God and man in the name of freedom is making a travesty of freedom. The truly free man is a slave at all times to the will of God. When the Spirit of God works faith in the Savior in a human heart so that that individual truly belongs to his God, then he is free—free to love his God and his fellowman. Such an exercise of freedom in this day and age is a daily witness that will attract the attention of people and may be instrumental in leading them to glorify the God of their salvation.
We testify to the Gospel of Christ furthermore when we live our lives—
“Honour all men.” What is that but a cry to respect the dignity of all men. We live in a pluralistic society. Our country has been called the melting pot of the world. We live and move among people of different races, creeds, social customs, educational and cultural backgrounds. We may prefer one to the other. He may disagree with one or the other. But we are to honour all. This is not an optional attitude, but a fruit of faith by which we are to give witness to our Lord.
“Love the brotherhood.” A special attitude is to prevail among those of the brotherhood, among those with whom we are united in a common confession of faith. With them we work and worship. With them we exercise and experience empathy, for when they suffer, we suffer. When they rejoice, we are to rejoice. This—despite separation by hundreds and thousands of miles.
“Fear God.” When a man stands in awe and reverence of his God, he cannot but stand out in society. When he so stands out, he is bearing witness to the grace of God in Christ Jesus that has become fruitful in his life.
“Honor the king or the government.” We may not have voted for the government. He may be using all methods and power to change the government, but we owe the government our honor.
So let us live that our way of life at all times and in all places is a favorable testimony to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.