1 Peter 2:11-12 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Several years ago a friend invited me to join a team he was putting together for a celebrity golf fundraiser. Each group had four golfers + one “celebrity”. Our group was paired with a former Packer running back. For the first several holes things were exactly as you’d expect from a group of guys on a golf course in this context. There was laughter, eating, drinking, bad jokes and bad golf.
Midway through the front 9 the inevitable, predictable questions began to flow. Where are you from? Have you ever played in this tournament before? What do you do for a living?
I usually really like being asked the last question because it tends to lead easily into the gospel. The thing I remember most about being asked “what do you do?” this time—aside from being asked by a still-physically-impressive, former NFL player—was how quickly he shrank when I answered. It was as if he instantaneously began mentally replaying his every word and action to see if he’d said or done anything that a pastor might find unbecoming. My career choice and lack of participation in some of the jokes because of my faith in Jesus caused this otherwise larger-than-life man to noticeably shrink.
My experience on the golf course captures some of the heart of Peter’s charge to his readers in 2:12.
1 Peter 2:12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Peter’s point is that when Christians act in God-honoring ways—particularly in response to being mistreated for acting in God-honoring ways—their conduct glorifies God and silences unbelieving skeptics. In other words, Grace, there’s glory for God and ministry for unbelievers in our holiness. Let’s pray that God would help you and me to live consistently with our new lives in Christ such that God would be glorified and unbelievers saved.
BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE IN CHRIST, BE HOLY
If you were here last week may remember that Peter has three main points in verses 11-12. First, Peter reminded his beloved readers of the fact that everything they were called to do flowed, not out of the circumstances around them, but out of who they were in Jesus (which, in the immediate context, we see positively in vs.9-10 and negatively in v.11). Second, because of who they were in Jesus, Peter specifically charged them (again) to be holy. He charged them to be holy by making war on the passions of their flesh because the passions of their flesh were making war on them (all of this we covered last week). Peter’s third main point (which is where we pick up this week) was that God’s people are called to be holy in front of unbelievers as an important aspect of their ministry to unbelievers.
Again, having considered the first two of Peter’s points, this morning we’re going to look at the third.
IN FRONT OF UNBELIEVERS
In v.11 Peter charged his readers to be holy because God had saved them from their unholiness, for holiness. They had been rescued from their sin and set apart by God in order to be pure. In other words, Peter wrote, actual, practical holiness is an essential and inevitable part of the Christian life. It is who you are and so it must be what you do (both in times of comfort and suffering).
He builds on this great reality in the next verse, our verse for this morning. That is, in v.12 Peter told his readers not only to pursue holiness by themselves, in their own private lives, and not only within the church, alongside the people of God, but also in front of the unbelievers around them.
1 Peter 2:12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable…
V.11 says, be holy (abstain from the passions of the flesh). V.12 says, be holy (keep your conduct…honorable) even in front of unbelievers. Or, to say it in reverse (and to go a bit further upstream), the honorable conduct Peter commands his readers to have in front of the gentiles is referring to is the result of the successful killing of the passions of the flesh, which is the result of their new identities in Christ, which is the result of their faith in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus on their behalf.
In particular, however, the “honorable” conduct Peter has in mind is the kind that even the watching, unbelieving world would understand to be honorable. Much of what we are called to think and be and do as Christians is considered offensive by unbelievers. We must not shy away from any of Jesus’ commands. However, there are still good works (because of common Grace) that unbelievers consider good works. These are primarily what Peter has in mind.
In other words, Peter calls his readers to care for the widow, poor, orphan, and all who are otherwise vulnerable in ways that cannot be explained apart from the reality of Christ in us. We must visit the imprisoned and lonely in ways that are inexplicable without the power of the Holy Spirit. By honorable conduct Peter means that his readers must be generous in the face of theft, kind in the face of mean-spiritedness, caring in the face of persecution, loving in the face of hatred, patient in the face of hostility, forgiving in the face of injustice, …
God empowers Christians to do love things (like our enemies) and do things (move our families to hard places to care for the needy) that could not otherwise be done. Peter tells his readers to trust in God and live like that in front of skeptics. Grace, we need to act honorably and we need to act honorably in front of unbelievers in ways that even they cannot deny. Hopefully this is clear.
Before moving on, though, I’d like to quickly address something that I hope has already occurred to you. You’ve probably heard it said that it is wrong to act righteously in front of others. We’ve all seen the young child act a bit more sweetly as his brother or sister are being disciplined. Indeed, Jesus himself warned,
Matthew 6:1-4 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The obvious question is, “Does Peter’s command in v.12 contradict Jesus’ teaching?”. And the obvious answer (at least for those who accept the bible as God’s word) is, “No, there is no real contradiction (as there are never real contradictions in the bible).”
The distinction between the Peter’s command to practice righteousness in front of others and Jesus’ command not to, then, is not in the practice but the reasoning behind the practice. Whether or not it is good to intentionally display holiness in front of others depends on one’s reason for the intentional display.
Jesus does not tell his hearers not to practice righteousness in front of others. He tells them not to do so “in order to be seen by them,” or “that they may be praised” by them. The problem with these motives is that they cancel out the possibility of true righteousness. True righteousness can never have as its goal the praise of people.
Just a few verses later in Matthew Jesus said the same thing about prayer. If your aim of praying with/in front of others (which ought to be an act of honorable conduct) is to impress them with how spiritual you are, your conduct isn’t honorable and your prayers are a stench to God.
When the aim of your bible reading (which ought to be an act of holiness) is for other people to think you’re a good Christian, it is not an act of holiness, you are not a “good Christian,” and your bible reading is entirely missing the point.
When you care for poor (which God commands) to be known as one who cares for the poor and to have people praise you for your selflessness, you’re depriving the poor of what they need most and dishonoring God.
We must act honorably in front of others, but we must not do so in order that they will think highly of us. If that isn’t the right motive for obeying Peter’s command, though, what is? That leads to Peter’s final point.
AS A MINISTRY TO UNBELIEVERS
Just as he did in v.11 (which we saw last week), in v.12 Peter not only gives a command, he also gives the reason for the command. In v.11 we saw the command to abstain from the passions of the flesh, and the reason for it, because the passions of the flesh wage war on the souls of those who embrace them.
The command of v.12, once again, was to “keep your conduct among the gentiles honorable.” The reason for the command is “so that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Jesus said clearly that our actions cannot be truly righteous when they aim to draw attention and praise to ourselves. Instead, true righteousness aims to draw attention and praise to God. To see how Peter makes this same claim, let’s consider the two clauses of his reasoning.
So that when they speak against you as evildoers.
Peter’s assumption is that non-Christians will slander Christians. Jesus said the same thing. And so did Paul. Sometimes the slander is as mild as name calling (the disciples were called drunkards and strange). Sometimes it is harsh and pointed (Jesus was called demon possessed and a son of the devil). Regardless of the severity, Christians ought to expect that they will be spoken against—that we will be labeled as “evildoers”.
After a few generations of respite (at least in the U.S.), this seems to increasingly be on the rise again. It is difficult to articulate a biblical worldview in public without being named some type of phobic (e.g. homophobic) or ist (e.g. sexist). It’s hard to avoid being labeled intolerant or unloving. In many cases, a historical Christian understanding of sin, sexuality, hell, and marriage is seen as flat-out hateful. When we actually herald the teaching and live out the commands of Jesus, we are, therefore, increasingly thought of as and called “evildoers”.
In Peter’s day and ours, it is not a question of if the world around us will speak against us on account of our public acts of righteousness (holiness, honorable conduct), it’s a question of when and how.
Why, then, would Peter have his readers (and us) do this? Why not just keep our righteous thoughts and actions to ourselves or within the church? It can be tempting to want to do this sometimes, can’t it? Usually it’s less of a headache. But our identities in Christ will not allow us to be silent and we find out why in Peter’s final clause.
They may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
The reason we must not—indeed, cannot—hide our acts of righteousness, Peter writes, is because if we do, we betray our new natures and the unbelievers around us will not be able to see them and glorify God on the day of visitation. In other words, our public acts of holiness are an important part of who we are in Christ and how God draws unbelievers to himself; they are an important part of Christian identity and ministry.
Again, simply, here’s Peter’s logic: when we stop acting on the passions of our flesh and instead act in holiness (true holiness which has as its aim the glory and praise of God—not ourselves), when we do this in front of non-Christians, we make it possible for them to hope in God, turn from their sins, and glorify God.
Here’s how I think this works. In general, the more people are mistreated the more people expect them to act in a spirit of revenge and anger and frustration. Since Peter’s readers had been mistreated in extreme ways—being driven even from their homes and families—the watching world (especially their persecutors) would have expected them to be bitter and hostile. Therefore, the more they responded in honorable ways, the more the unbelievers would realize that the only possible explanation for such loving, generous, joyful behavior in the midst of such harsh, unjust, constant abuse was the reality and transforming power of God. The result, Peter writes, of those who are able to recognize such things is that they will turn to God (as those acting honorably follow up with the reason behind our honorable conduct—the gospel of Jesus Christ) and glorify him on the day of visitation—the day in which God visits his people.
Is this easy for you all to see? Does it inspire and encourage you all to want to fight with greater earnest in the power of the Holy Spirit for greater holiness in you? Does it cause you to want to see this happen not only for your own sake and joy, but for the sake and joy of the watching, unbelieving world? If so, then Peter’s words and my sermon have found their mark and we bring the same glory to God that Peter wrote about.
For the hundredth time, Peter’s readers had been driven out of their homes because of their faith in Jesus. We saw that immediately in 1:1. Peter’s letter is addressed “to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. We saw it again in 1:17 when Peter charged his readers to conduct themselves with fear “throughout the time of [their] exile”. That his readers had been exiled on account of their hope in God shows up again in our passage for this morning. In 2:11 Peter again addresses them as “sojourners and exiles”. More literally Peter refers to his readers as “resident aliens (sojourners – 1:17) and “visiting foreigners” (exiles – 1:1). They are sojourners because they are living in a land that does not belong to them. And they are exiles because they are always, only visiting as citizens of another kingdom.
Grace, this is the startling reality of all who trust in Jesus. When we accept the forgiveness that Jesus offers as savior, we also accept his right to rule as king. Being a Christian means having our sins forgiven and our citizenship changed. We are no longer dead in our sins under the wrath of God, and we are no longer servants of sin under the dominion of the Evil One.
And this means that this world is no longer our home. The people of this world are no longer our family. And the rules and desires and perspectives of this world are no longer ours. Heaven is our home, other Christians are family, God’s word is our standard and perspective, and God is our ultimate desire.
All of this makes living in this world awkward at best and dangerous at worst. Peter’s readers were neck deep in this reality and so will be all who live the life of the citizens of the kingdom of God. All of this led Peter to write this letter with one primary aim in mind. His aim was to answer the burning question that was on the minds of all of those he loved so much: how do we honor God as mistreated sojourners and exiles?
If that is not a consistent, desperate question of yours; if you do not sit up and lean in when you hear that question; divine alarm bells ought to be going off in your soul. If you were stranded on a desert island and you heard the hum of an approaching plane you’d jump up and start yelling and signaling. Likewise, if you were sick with a specific type of cancer and news came to you of a new treatment designed specifically for your type, you wouldn’t be able to contain yourself. And if you are living your life as the sojourner and exile that you are, persecution will come and news of how to handle it in ways that are pleasing to God will be sweet news indeed.
Again, the primary point of 1 Peter is to answer the question of how to please God in our sojourning and exile. Peter has already given several answers to this question. One particular answer that he keeps coming back to is: holiness. Peter’s readers honor God by being holy, even in front of unbelievers. May we do the same, glorify God, and cause unbelievers to turn to God on account of the gospel’s transforming power they see in us.