The Fourth Sunday After Easter May 18, 2014
1 Peter 2:11-20
188, 409, 400, 206(1-3)
Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.
During the time that I lived in Florida, identifying the visitors—and there were many—was often quite simple. During the winter the “snowbirds” would come to Florida and the number of out-of-state license plates would rise.
Similarly, when visitors travel to foreign countries, they are usually easy to spot because they look, speak and act like people from their homeland. Everything that causes them to “blend in” at home, makes them “stand out” and be noticeable when they are outside of their country.
You and I are foreigners. We and all other believers are foreigners in this world. Just as Abraham was a stranger in the land of Canaan and went from place-to-place waiting for the time when God would give his descendants the Promised Land, so we are strangers on this earth, traveling through life, waiting for God to take us to Himself in Heaven. YOU ARE CITIZENS OF GOD’S HOLY NATION This makes you I. Aliens in the World. Since you are strangers living in the world you are II. Noticed by the world, and God has words of direction for your travels while you are III. Living with the world.
There is an old saying: “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” In other words, if you want to fit in be like everyone else. Fitting into the world and being like everyone else is to follow after sin:
These, and all other sins are the ways of the world. It is the “course of this world” and the way in which citizens of the world walk “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). It is this course of the world that leads away from God and makes all who follow it His enemies. In this same course of the world we all once walked. We were all natural born sinners and citizens of this world until God, through the working of the Holy Spirit, called us and brought us out of it.
God has with the Gospel called us out of the way of the world to be His children and citizens in His kingdom. Just before the words of the text, Peter writes, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
We, citizens of God’s kingdom, enjoy the privileges of that kingdom. The privileges of this citizenship in God’s holy nation are all the blessings we have through Jesus our Savior. He is, in fact, the One who has made us holy in God’s eyes by giving us His righteousness and dying on the cross for our sins. The forgiveness of sins, the peace of a clean conscience, the knowledge of God’s mercy and preservation, and the confidence of an eternal home in Heaven are all benefits of being citizens of God’s kingdom. These are benefits that are not known to any one who is not a citizen of God’s holy nation.
Now, because we have been called out of darkness and made into a holy nation through Christ, we are no longer true citizens of the world. Now, this is not the place we call home. It is not where we will find our lasting pleasure. Now, we don’t live for this life. Now, concerning the things of the world we are just passing through as foreigners and travelers. Therefore, Peter writes, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul…” [v.11]
The fleshly lusts and sins that are the traits of the world’s citizens campaign against our very souls. We, travelers through the world, are the foreigners who act differently. If we take part in the ways of the world then we change our status and become citizens of the world ourselves. If those fleshly lusts that war against our souls become our way of life we are denouncing our citizenship in God’s holy nation, and then we also lose all the rights and privileges of that citizenship.
When people live in a foreign country long enough they tend to adopt the customs and habits of that country’s citizens. Peter warns, don’t do it! Don’t try to mix the darkness of the world and fleshly lusts with the light of Christ because they don’t mix. Peter’s warning is very clear, “keep yourselves away from these things because they do battle against your soul.” Don’t dabble in them, don’t fool yourself into thinking a little bit can’t hurt. Paul gave similar warning to the Romans and said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). To do this will make you aliens in this world, but then you will retain your citizenship in Heaven with all of its blessings.
Strangers cannot help but be noticed when they are among many people who are from a different ancestry and heritage. Someone from European ancestry will, simply on the basis of appearance, be noticed in a crowd of people whose ancestry is from Africa or the Orient. The apostle John noticed these differences when he saw the vision of believers in Heaven from “all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues…” (Revelation 7:9). In a similar way, you will be noticed in the world because you are citizens of God’s holy nation and foreigners here.
Old Testament Daniel rather quietly went about his worship of God without making a big scene, but he stood out like a beacon in a nation that worshipped many false gods. Jesus was noticed by the world because His preaching and teaching was so unlike that of the leaders. Furthermore, unlike the leaders who were proud and looked for ways they could get honor for themselves, Jesus did not hesitate to associate with anyone who wanted to hear His word of Life. After Christ’s ascension when the New Testament Church was first established, the people on the outside noticed how the church grew and how different the people were.
The differences that the world’s citizens will notice in you are those things in your life that reflect your homeland and the Savior who brings you there. By following Jesus’ example we will be different. Citizens of God’s Holy nation do not press an advantage, they do not lead this life vehemently fighting for what is theirs. Rather, like their Savior who willingly gave of Himself for others and quietly endured what His enemies inflicted upon Him, they too seek their neighbor’s welfare. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:38-41).
When children of God live as citizens of His holy nation they will stick out because of their behavior. That behavior will be guided by their love for God and love for their neighbor. Citizens of God’s holy nation are zealous, eager, active in doing the good works that “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” and for which Christ has purified us for His own special people (Titus 2:10,14).
It is no small thing when people notice that we are foreigners in the world. When visitors enter a foreign country they represent their homeland. The United States has earned a horrible reputation in some countries because of the things that have been done by some of our citizens while they were there. It makes no difference that those few individual Americans may not be a good representation of our nation as a whole. It makes no difference because people will define an American on the basis of the Americans they know. If when they see an American they see someone who has conducted himself horribly, that is America to them.
Now pause and think what that means for us who are foreigners in this world. Just as people across the ocean know America by the Americans, so the people of the world know God’s holy nation by us. Realize the impact your life has. To everyone who knows you, you and your life are their window to God. Their concept of God will be shaped by what they see in you because you say that you are a child of God. In some cases, what people see in you is their only concept of God. There have been more than a few who have said, “If that person is a Christian and what he is doing is what a child of God does, then I want nothing to do with Christ.”
Now, we ask ourselves, “what are people noticing?” Consider every person you know and ask yourself, “What is their impression of me?”—this is private in your heart and mind, so be brutally honest. Consider those impressions and ask yourself, “Do those impressions and the things I have done to give others those impressions reflect my citizenship in God’s holy nation and my Savior?”
When the conduct and behavior of a foreigner speaks well of a country then the people in the lands he visits say, “I would like to be a citizen of that country too.” “…having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” [v.12]
Your life and behavior will be some of the best mission work you can do. This doesn’t mean that we can push off our involvement in other things by saying, “I live a Christian life so that is my contribution to mission work,” but it does mean that we shouldn’t forget the role that our Christian life can play in the work of Christ’s kingdom, and then act accordingly.
If we blend into the world and are just like everyone else in town, then we are in trouble. If we stick out for reasons that are displeasing to God that is wrong too. If we stick out because we reflect our Savior, then people will notice. A Christian’s life that agrees with God’s Word may lead the world’s citizens to realize and be ashamed of their own sins and to seek to learn more. It is then that we have the rich opportunity to lead them to God’s Word and show them the marvels of His kingdom. Thus, one or more of the world’s citizens may very will be made brought into God’s holy nation and glorify Him with us.
If we endure persecution, return kindness for ill, speak gentle words when everyone else is screaming insults at us—in short, if we act completely different than most—then we will heap coals of fire on the heads of the world’s citizens and they will notice. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
By following God’s will we will live differently and be noticed as foreigners in the world. This is good and acceptable to Him and it will silence those who oppose us and God. “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—” [v.15] When we don’t give the citizens of the world anything with which they can find fault, their opposition will be silenced. They may look for things and make things up, but let them rage and do not retaliate in the way of the world. Follow the example of your Savior-King.
It has been rightly said that we are in the world but not of the world. Peter continues with a few specific examples of how we as citizens of God’s Holy nation live in the world. You can see that the way of life Peter describes is much different from what is largely taking place around us. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good… Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh (literally, “crooked”)” [v.13-14,17-18]
Peter’s admonition to the citizens of God’s nation who are living in this world is to submit themselves to the authorities of the earth and give honor to all, that is hold them in esteem and as having value. This applies all the way from the king—or whatever ruler has the highest authority—all the way down to the most local of authorities: governors, judges, employers, parents. The authorities on this earth are authorities that God has placed over the people in the world and because we are living in the world they are placed over us as well.
God has established the different authorities on this earth for the sake of order and peace. He establishes authorities to keep order by punishing the evildoers and rewarding those who do well. If this were a perfect world such order and authority would not be necessary for there would be no disorder and no evil to punish. However, since the world is sinful, if there were no human authorities sent by God the whole world would be chaos.
The world’s citizens don’t care about living a life out of love for God, they only care for themselves. If there were no threat of punishment from the law there would be no conscience or anything else to stop these people from doing whatever they wanted to do. So when the rulers and authorities neglect their God-given responsibility and do not punish the evildoers, then the threat of punishment diminishes and the evil runs wild. If there were no authority at all things would be much worse. Or when parents ignore their God-given responsibility to exercise authority over their children, we see households run wild. During the time that we live in this sinful world, it is to our advantage and for our blessing that God establishes authority on this earth.
The worldly citizens frequently rebel against God’s earthly authorities just as they rebel against God Himself. This is what makes what Peter describes—submitting yourselves to the ordinances—such a rare thing. When we follow God’s will and Peter’s admonition in submitting to the earthly authorities while we live here, it will not go unnoticed.
Peter does not suggest that we submit ourselves to the authorities on earth because they themselves are so great. Nor are they perfect or always right, nor are they always good and upright rulers. We submit to the authorities, Peter says, for the Lord’s sake—because He has established authority, because we show our love to Him, because we live as his people
Peter also says that we submit ourselves “as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” [v.16] Our New Man loves to do what is right and pleasing to God, and therefore, doesn’t need the Law. However, our Old Man and the sinful world around us does need the Law. We are new creatures in Christ and set free from the Law but this does not give us the opportunity to use our freedom as an excuse for doing all kinds of evil. We are free, but we gladly and lovingly live as servants of God and abide by His Word.
Yes, Peter says, subject yourselves “even to the crooked.” Will we, therefore, suffer abuses? Yes. “This is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.” [vv.19-20]
If we submit to the employers or any other authority that is crooked and deal with him through the God-pleasing means of His appointed authorities and in a God-pleasing way, we may at times get the short end of the stick, but we know that to submit in this way is pleasing to God and so we strive to patiently endure what may come as long as God allows it to continue. If on the other hand, we face punishment for some evil that we have done, then we are getting only what we deserve.
We are citizens of God living and traveling in a foreign land—made foreign because by the Grace of God, Jesus our Savior from sin has made us citizens of a far better country. God does indeed shower blessings upon us during our sojourn here and for these we are thankful and enjoy them. Yet, as travelers we also look forward to that blessed day when our traveling days will be done and we will enjoy the full blessings of being citizens of God’s holy nation. 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 New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.