Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:11-17 NIV
On Being An Alien
Peter starts this section off by identifying his audience as “foreigners and exiles.” He has earlier used similar language, calling them exiles in 1 Peter 1:1 and foreigners in 1 Peter 1:17. Exiles (parepidemos) refers to those who are living in a strange place away from their own people. Foreigners (paroikos) has a very similar meaning, referring to a stranger, an alien, or a person living away from their homeland.
What Peter is emphasizing here is that we no longer belong to this world. While we sojourn (or live) here, our real home is elsewhere. Like an American living for a time in France. To the French, the American is a foreigner. And in the same way, to the kingdoms of this world, the citizens of the kingdom of God are foreigners.
While the American living in France may go native, living as if he were French, the same should not be true of us as believers. As citizens of the kingdom of God, we should not go native; blending in with the culture around us. We are called to be a distinct people. Peter warns us to abstain from evil desires; the desires that belong to this world. And that admonition is not just because he doesn’t want us to have fun. Rather it is because those desires are at war with our souls. While they may seem harmless, they are anything but. I do not believe Peter is saying that our salvation is at risk when we satisfy our sinful desires. But he is saying that it does cause us spiritual harm. We are spiritually weakened when we surrender to physical desires.
Living To Glorify God
Peter goes beyond just abstaining from sinful desires. He also calls on us to live good lives among the pagans. The word pagans (ethnos) is often translated as Gentiles or strangers. While we are strangers to the peoples of this world, they also are strangers to citizens of God’s kingdom. And, while we are living among them, we should be living in a way that would glorify God.
Live a good life as a believer, and don’t be discouraged when the people of this world accuse you of evil. In John 15:18-25 Jesus warned his disciples that the world would react to them the same way they reacted to our Lord. If the people of this world have rejected Christ, it is only natural that they will also reject those who live as he did. We actually should be concerned if the world embraces us. That should be a warning to us that we are living like they are rather than like Christ.
While the world may wrongly accuse us of evil now, that will change in the end. Christ will return for those who are his. When he does, our lives will serve as a judgment against them in the end. And, too late, they will glorify Christ. Live now in such a way that, in the end, no one can use you as an excuse for rejecting Christ.
Submitting to Human Authority
In some respects, Peter’s admonition to us to submit to human authority seems counter-intuitive. If I am a citizen of God’s kingdom and only a foreigner here, why should I submit to their authority? And yet it’s really not that strange. When I go to a foreign land, I am still responsible to obey the laws of that land. So I should obey the laws of whatever human kingdom I find myself in.
Peter gives two reasons for submission to human government. First, we are to submit to these human authorities for the Lord’s sake. He has instituted these human governments. So by obeying them, I am also obeying God. At least so long as the human government has not overstepped its bounds. God’s authority is higher than the authority of our government rulers. If there is a conflict between the two, I should always submit to the higher authority; the authority that belongs to God as my king. But otherwise, I need to be careful to submit to the human authority I find myself under.
The second reason to submit is to “silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.” Believers will be accused of all kinds of things. By living as good citizens of the country we reside in, we can prove their accusations wrong. The term ‘ignorant people’ does not refer to those who are uneducated. Rather it refers to those who do not have knowledge of God, who are ignorant of spiritual things. And so to them, our lives seem foolish. Prove them wrong by the way you live.
Living As Free People; Living As Slaves
Live as free people. Some might take this as living free of any law, which would be contrary to the previous verse. But that is not what Peter is referring to here. We have been set free from sin and our sinful nature. No longer are we under its control. So we seek to live lives free of sin.
Yet there is the danger that one might use their freedom from sin to indulge that same nature. After all, I am not under the law, so I should be able to do whatever I want to. But Peter is clear that is not the case. As Paul says in Romans 6:15-18, when we offer our bodies to sin, we become slaves to that sin. Live as those who are free from sin.
At the same time Peter calls on us to live as slaves; slaves to God. Because God has freed us from bondage to sin and the law, we are now free to offer ourselves to him as slaves to righteousness. We will never truly be free of any master. Either we will serve ourselves, and sin, or we will serve God. Only by choosing the latter will we experience true freedom.
How To Treat Everyone
Peter concludes this section with a quick instruction on how to relate to other people. Show proper respect to everyone. Different levels of respect are due to different people in different positions. But at a minimum, I should respect all other people as God’s image bearers, his creation. I may not agree with them on much of anything. But I should be respectful of them as a special work of God.
I should love the family of believers. Not just those that I happen to find lovable. But all of them. Including the one who is a thorn in my side. We are called to love, and only when we do are we truly living as disciples of Jesus.
God is our creator and redeemer. He is far above us in every way. Fearing him does not mean that we live in terror of him. He is our loving Father. But we should not trivialize him. He is God. Fear and respect him.
And honor those who serve in our government. We may not care for them or their policies. But we are called to honor them. In the US we have the opportunity to vote for our leaders and should seek to remove those who are incompetent or harmful. But as long as they are in office we should honor them.
Call To Action
As citizens of the kingdom of God, we are foreigners, temporarily residing in this world. And while we are here we should be living in a way that would reflect well on our native kingdom and King. The people of this world will not understand us, and may well accuse us of many things. Don’t be surprised. But also, don’t give them any valid grounds for speaking evil against us. Live to honor God, and this world will eventually see and acknowledge that we have been faithful to and glorified God.
- Why does Peter continue to identify us as foreigners and exiles?
- How do sinful desires war against your soul?
- Why should we be in submission to the human authorities we find ourselves under?
- 1 Peter: An Introduction
- 1 Peter: Because of His Great Mercy (1:3-5)
- 1 Peter: Glorious Joy, In All Kinds of Trials (1:6-9)
- 1 Peter: The Mystery of Salvation (1:10-12)
- 1 Peter: Be Holy In All You Do (1:13-16)
- 1 Peter: Living as an Alien, a Foreigner in this World (1:17-21)
- 1 Peter: Love One Another Deeply, From the Heart (1:22-2:3)
- 1 Peter: A Chosen People, A Royal Priesthood (2:4-5; 9-10)
- 1 Peter: A Chosen and Precious Cornerstone (2:6-8)
- 1 Peter: Living As Foreigners and Exiles (2:11-17)
- 1 Peter: Responding To Suffering (2:18-25)
- 1 Peter: Instruction for Wives and Husbands (3:1-7)
- 1 Peter: Christian Ethical Behavior (3:8-12)
- 1 Peter: Revere Christ in Your Suffering (3:13-18)
- 1 Peter: Imprisoned Spirits and Baptism (3:19-22)
- 1 Peter: Don’t Surrender to the World’s Influence (4:1-6)
- 1 Peter: Life in the Church: to Love and to Serve (4:7-11)
- 1 Peter: Being a Shepherd, a Rewarding Task (5:1-4)
- 1 Peter: Humble Yourself Under the Hand of God (5:5-11)