Here’s a summary of where we’ve been so far, and I say it because it is essential launching pad for what’s coming. Here’s what we’ve seen.
- We were chosen by God (1 Peter 1:1; 2:9).
- We were ransomed by the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18–19). God paid an infinite price to rescue us from sin and from former desires which we had in ignorance.
- We were born again on the basis of that ransom (1 Peter 1:3, 23) and we were brought by that new birth out of darkness into light as the essential meaning of the new birth. You were dead in darkness (1 Peter 2:9). You are alive seeing.
- We have been given fire-tested faith (1 Peter 1:7, 21). I think faith is the fruit and product instantaneous, simultaneous, with new birth. In that faith, we are given inexpressible joy and living hope.
- The Spirit is now sanctifying us (1 Peter 1:2), thus making us exiles and aliens here (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). You were born at home here. You are second born into exile status. If you haven’t been born again, this world is your home and it’s your end home, meaning there’s no heaven. There’s only extension and worsening in hell. But if you’ve been born again, you wake up and say, “Oh, my king is not President Obama. It’s Jesus. Oh, my home is heaven. It’s not Alabama.” That’s what the new birth does.
- From these new passions in sanctification, we are called to be holy, as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15), and love each other earnestly from the heart (1 Peter 1:22)
- And in this way, lead the Gentiles to glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).
Living Beautifully Amidst Opposition
Let’s make sure you saw that in the text. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles, beautiful or honorable so that when they speak against you, which they may start to do, your prayer and your hope is that they wouldn’t wind up saying, “You’re evildoers,” which is what’s happening right now in America, right?
We are evildoers for taking certain stands. Not just, “You shouldn’t have that.” “That’s a stupid opinion. That’s evil. Your view is evil.” That’s what we’re dealing with, and will deal with more for the time being anyway, and our goal is not to become jaundiced and mean-spirited and ugly and combative. Our goal is that they would see our good deeds and glorify God.
In other words, in the very moment when Christians are being regarded as evildoers, they should intensify their good deeds. We’ll come back to this because this is huge now because I think what the rest of 1 Peter is an unpacking of how this happens. What does that look like as citizens? What does it look like as wives and husbands? What does it look like as slaves in that setting? What does it look like as church members and people in the wider culture?
That’s what the rest of 1 Peter is. Is how do you live a life of conduct that is beautiful? I said the word kalos there is lovely, beautiful, honorable and use these good deeds so that this speaking against you turns into glorifying God. How do you do that?
Christians in a Persecuting Culture
So this is a book that cares very much about its pagan culture coming to see the light. It’s a book that’s very bleak about the present culture. They’re mainly persecutors. They mainly regard you as idiots for not coming to the party anymore. That’s what we’ll see in 1 Peter 4.
But the goal is not to say, “Fine, we’re idiots, but we’re going to heaven and you’re going to hell.” It does say that, but not the idiot part. The attitude issue that we’re dealing with I think in church today, in evangelicalism, is dealt with pretty significantly. Here we are on our way to heaven rejoicing and we want people to go with us who presently are scorning us. If you don’t want people to go with you who are presently heaping scorn upon you, you’re probably not a Christian.
To be born of God is to love like God — to love your enemies. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Do good to those who hate you. And the best good you can do for them is the kinds of behaviors that would possibly bring them to glorify God on the day of visitation.
Frankly, I don’t know for sure what “the day of visitation” refers to there. The two possibilities that are usually considered is second coming or the day when he shows up in their conversion, and the word visitation in the New Testament could go both ways. I incline to the latter, namely, that I think the day of visitation here is when God visits them with his Holy Spirit, lifts the veil, helps them to see the wonderful light and they switch calling you evil and now glorify your God. I think that’s the day of visitation, but the other would not be wrong.
The Christian Mindset
Okay, that’s the summary and here we are at 1 Peter 2:13 finally. So let’s read the paragraph and then talk about a few things in it.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” Now I’ll just make a few comments as we go and then I’ll come back for other things. Literally, it is every human creation, not that human created it, but that it could refer to anything God made that’s human. Human person, human club, human church, human government. Just keep that in mind that that institution here may not be limited to government, though that’s clearly the focus.
I’ll tell you where I’m going. I think when Peter’s done with all of his illustrative settings of how to behave in a fallen and persecuting culture, it’s the same message to every group, and he’s applying it in different ways. So let’s just watch what that message is.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to the emperor as supreme.” This word supreme here, huperechó, is the same word used in Philippians 2:3 where he says, “Count others more significant than yourselves.” Count others superior, count others supreme to yourself. Which is what clues me in that he’s taking broad Christian mindsets and applying them to specifics.
There’s a sense in which a Christian in relating to anybody should regard them as higher, and “I’m your servant.” Anybody I meet. My default disposition to you should not be pay attention to me. “I’m your superior. Serve me.” That is totally contrary to the spirit of Christ.
The default disposition should be: I regard you as more significant than myself. I just choose to. You may have not got a stitch of education. You may be poor. I may have money and lots of education and my default disposition should be I’m here to serve you, which means I’m here to put you up and me down. Now here he’s just saying, “Okay, if that’s true, generally, we got an emperor. Let’s do that to him.”
“Whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him.” And in the same thing that we see in Romans 13, to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good, which they don’t always do, which raises a question and a problem.
“For this is the will of God that by doing good” —- I’m going to circle “for the Lord’s sake” and “will of God.” “This is the will of God that by doing good” — takes you back up to that behavior that we’re talking about that he’s going to illustrate now — “that by doing good, you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
And by that he means people who say, for example, “Christians are cannibals because they eat human flesh at their sacred meals.” That was one of the first century criticisms of Christians. The word got out. “This is the body of Christ, I eat it.” “They’re cannibal.” And you should so talk and live as to say that’s not true. Put that straight. And of course a hundred other things that get wrong about Christians.
Living as Free People
“For this is the will of God that by doing good, you should put to silence the ignorant of foolish people. Live as people who are free.” That’s going to be the most important thing in this paragraph, I think. “Live as people who are free. Not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” When it says live as people who are free, it means when you submit to the emperor and his governor it’s not because they’re your master, you don’t have but one master. You’re in exile here. You’re free.
Which raises of course, the huge question, “Well, if I only have one master, he’s in heaven and Nero is not my master and Pilate is not my master, then I could do whatever I want here. I don’t have to keep the law, the speed limit. I don’t have to pay my taxes. I don’t like what they’re doing with them anyway and therefore I’m free.”
And so he says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. Not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” He knows our hearts. Our hearts are selfish, our hearts are rebellious, our hearts are covetousness. Our hearts are self exalting, self-aggrandizing. And therefore, he’s got some very clear guidelines for what he means with this freedom. But get the mindset clear. You are not the servant of this government in America or any government.
You are free. You belong to another country, another regime, another president, another Lord. And the question is how to use your freedom?
Specifics of Christian Conduct
“Live as servants of God.” That’s yellow so we can see all these references here. Servants of God. So now you’re free vis-a-vis president, Senate, supreme court, legislature, Congress, House Representatives, state governments, police, you’re free.
Now, what are you going to do? You’re going to serve God. You’re going to walk through life not saying, “What’s expected of me? What’s expected of me here in Alabama? What’s expected of me in America?” You’re going to say, “What does God expect of me?”
That’s what I’m seeing happening here. Now he gives some specifics of what that would imply. “Honor everyone.” Whoa, that just kind of knocks you back seat and say, “Hey, I thought I was free and now you’re making me a servant of everybody’s honor?” Yes. That’s what serving God will do.
“Love the brotherhood.” There’s a special affection for the people of God that you don’t have for the world. “Fear God. Honor the emperor,” and the fact that honor everyone, honor the emperor, same word here, shows that it is a general principle that has specific kinds of application in different settings. Like if President Obama came to my house, just knocked on my door and showed up one day, “Whoa, what is this about?”
As many of his policies, like on pro-life issues as I abominate, I would treat him with incredible deference. I would honor him. Not just honor him the way a neighbor, like if a neighbor knocked up, I’d try to honor them, but the honoring of the mailman or the honoring of a neighbor and the honoring of the President of the United States is culturally appropriate different.
So I think that’s what’s going on with the same word in everyone. And then the emperor. Why would you need to say it about the emperor if you already said it about everyone? And the answer is because each sphere — it doesn’t mean you’re cowing.
This is why I said this is probably the most important thing right there. You’re never cowing to anybody. When I show special deference to a president or a mayor or just somebody who has some office, I’m not cowing like, “Whoa, I have to be so careful here.” I’m just trying to display an appropriate honoring to their office. The Bible tells us to take these things seriously, these distinctions, these roles.
Rendering to Caesar
Okay, there’s the overview and I circled those things in yellow just to draw out how prevalent God is in your life in civic culture, your life, obeying for the Lord’s sake, doing the will of God or being free, but servants of God, fearing God. What’s the command of Jesus behind all this, do you think?
I’m thinking of Mark 12:17: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” How does that come out here? What do you make of that? I personally think Peter probably reflected long on that and that’s reflected here.
When I hear Jesus say render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, like he took a coin, said. “He’s got Caesar’s picture on it. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars.” And just when the people think they’ve got him who want to argue for the liberation of Palestine from Caesar: “Good. He’s a compromiser with Caesar because he just said render to Caesar. He’s a compromiser. He’s a sellout. We want liberty for the Jewish nation, and he’s saying, just bow to Caesar.”
Render to God
As soon as they start thinking that, he tosses in, “And render to God the things that are God’s.” And then they say, “Well, how do those fit together?” And surely one way they fit together is the way this is working. Render to God the things that are God’s. Tell me the things that are God’s. What’s a word for it? His. All. Everything. Everything is God’s. Okay, there’s nothing left for Caesar unless God tells you a few things to render to Caesar, and then for God’s sake, you’re rendering them to Caesar and there’s no contradiction between the two.
You are totally giving everything to God. He owns everything. He owns the world. He owns your life. He owns your mind. He owns your heart. He owns all the money. He owns all the banks, he owns all the universities. Everything is God’s. Render to God’s what is God’s. Live in the awareness that everything belongs to God for the glory of God.
Now, once you’ve got that settled, render to Caesar. What? Well, what this text says. For the Lord’s sake, because you’ve already rendered to God, the things that are God’s. Now, for God’s sake, do serve God. And the way God says to serve him is honor everybody. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor with his appropriate honor or subjection.
Now, isn’t it remarkable that this word and this word are so in tension? They’re in tension, but they’re not in contradiction. Be subject. You are free. Free people don’t subject. Don’t submit. Yes they do. But they submit totally differently. When you submit to the speed limit, you should be worshiping God.
This is convicting because none of you do keep the speed limit. But on your best days when the peace of God is reigning in your heart, and you’re not anxious about getting there 30 seconds earlier. Do the math sometimes, folks. Going 65 in a 55 for five miles gets you there 30 seconds early. Is it worth God’s disapproval?
Okay. It’s not about speed limit, but sort of. Because the governors are sent by him to punish. They just give nice big fines to people who break the speed limit. Now, my point is, you can rationalize that whatever way you want, but my point is, if God gives you the grace to submit to the speed limit, you shouldn’t be doing that because of the Alabama legislature. You should be doing that because of God.
For the Lord’s sake subject, submit. For the Lord’s sake. If you’re doing it for the Lord’s sake, it’s worship. If you’re doing it for the Lord’s sake, you’re saying something about the Lord. And I hope it’s not he’s going to rip me. Well, He’s a hard taskmaster. This yoke is hard and this burden is heavy. If that’s the way you talk, you’re probably not a Christian. His burden is light. His yoke is easy. When he says keep the speed limit, it’s because it’s a testimony of how free you are. You’re not craving.
Why do people break laws? Cravings. “Got to have it my way. Don’t like the stupid speed limit.” Thirty-five for goodness sakes. It’s all selfish. It’s all ego. It’s all non-freedom. You’re not free. You’re not free. When you break the law, you’re into your cravings. “I got to get there. I got to be first. I hate being late. Everybody’s passing me.” That’s all ego. That’s all cravings. That’s all desire. You’re not free. You’re in bondage. The free man cruise control 55, worshiping Jesus. Happy, peaceful, get there whenever He says. Long traffic jam. Patience is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I assume you’re laughing because it’s so rare. It’s just wonderful. True. It’s just true. Those are little teeny immediate illustrations from our lives of the big issues of when they want to kill you or take away your bakery business or your floral shop. So we submit for the Lord’s sake to every human institution who are sent to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good. And sometimes they get it exactly backward.