The Responsibilities of God’s People through Sin and Suffering

After a long break, I continue my series on the Epistle of 1 Peter with a discussion on 1 Peter 2:11-4:11 concerning to the Responsibilities of God’s People through Sin and Suffering.

The Responsibilities of God’s People

The second half of 1 Peter includes a paraenesis – a list moral virtues and vices, or collections of moral commands to practice specific virtues and avoid specific vices.  Peter gives specific moral instruction and exhortation for the believers’ relationship with the surrounding culture, the state, and fellow believers.  Appropriately gospel-centered, Peter grounds his exhortations in believer’s identity in Christ (2:4–10) – namely, that they are an elect people who have been markedly saved and set apart for gospel praise and proclamation (1 Pet 2:5, 9).  Henceforth, this gospel is the motivation for fulfilling our duties and roles as believers.

Role of Believers to the World

Toward the surrounding unbelieving culture (2:11–12).  In this section, Peter calls his readers to live a righteous life as exiles (cf. 1:1, 17) in a hostile world that rejects their message.  In order to bear witness to the gospel whey they live in a way that pleases God, they must abstain from fleshly lusts.  In order to have any impact in the world for God, believers should be disciplined in their private, inward lives by avoiding the desires of their depraved and fallen natures (cf. Gal 5:19-21).  The pleasures of the world are tempting and enticing, hence there is a great internal struggle and powerful spiritual warfare against such desires. Believers must abstain from sinful passions, for they wage war against your soul: holding on to sinful desires brings spiritual harm.  The notion here has a connotation of a military campaign in which fleshly lusts are personified as if they were an army of rebels or guerrillas who incessantly search out and try to destroy the Christian’s joy, peace, and usefulness (cf. 4:2, 3).

Peter’s exhortation to avoid sin stems from the inward person and results in public, external behavior that is honorable – that is, that which is the purest, highest, and noblest kind of good.  Being in the unbelieving culture, believers are to outwardly live in a manner that reflects inward discipline. Peter clearly alludes to Matthew 5:16 here — even though they will often be criticized by unbelievers, believers ought to do good deeds, so that some unbelievers will repent and believe, thus glorify God.  This worship from the formerly unbelieving will happen on the “day of visitation” (Isa 10:3; Jer 27:22) – a reference to initial regeneration by the Spirit, as well as to the day of judgment at the end of the age (cf. Rev 14:7; 19:7).  The point is that an unbeliever will respond with saving faith (cf. Acts 13:48; Rom. 15:7, 9) and glorify God when the grace of God visits the heart of that unbeliever, because God remembers the testimony of believers he had observed; however, those who don’t believe will experience the visitation of God’s wrath in the final judgment.

Toward the state (2:13–17).  Even in light of one’s loyalty to God, believers are also citizens in the world and under civil law and authority.  Therefore, God’s people must submit themselves to the state and its government, and live humbly in the midst of any hostile, godless, and slandering society (cf. Jer 29:4-14; Matt 22:21).  And even though our true citizenship is in heaven (cf. Phil 3:20), we must still live obediently as citizens in this world so that God will be honored and glorified.  Christians are to be subject to every civil authority, for rebellious conduct by a Christian only brings dishonor on Christ (Rom 13:1-5; Titus 3:1, 2).  The godly lives of believers will put to silence any false charges raised against them.  For the purpose of their submission to authority is two-fold: to avoid condemnation from unbelievers, and to win the commendation that shuts the mouth of those obstinately set against the faith who are looking for reasons to criticize believers.   That is why honor – obedient duty and inner respect – should thus be given for all people just as for the emperor.  Tender love is for each other as members of the same family, but only God is to be feared.

Servants’ toward Masters (2:18–20).  One’s Christianity does not give him the right to rebel against his superior in the social structure, regardless of how unfair or harsh he may be (1 Cor 7:21-23).  Favor with God is found when a servant, though treated unjustly, accepts his poor treatment with faith in God’s sovereign care, instead of responding in anger or hostility (cf. Matt 5:11).  Patient endurance of suffering is evidence of God’s grace at work, and God’s people will receive a reward from him if they endure suffering righteously (cf. Luke 6:34–35).

Suffering is a Christian Calling

In 1 Peter 2:21-25, the apostle takes his reader on an excursus to Christ’s suffering as the basis for our abstinence from sin and acknowledgment of the Christian’s duties.  To be specific, Peter  contends ineluctably that Christ’s suffering is an example to believers. Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice in which he gave his life for sinners is unique, and yet those he has saved may follow Christ’s example when they suffer unjustly, even though their sufferings do not atone for sin.

Consequently, a person called to salvation will endure unfair treatment.  Commendable behavior on the part of the believer in the midst of such trials results in the strengthening and perfecting of the believer (cf. 5:10; James 1:2-4) and his increased eternal capacity to glorify God (cf. Matt 20:21-23; 2 Cor 4:17-18).  Christ Jesus is thus the pattern for believers to follow in suffering with perfect patience: his death was efficacious as an atonement for sin (cf. 2 Cor 5:21), as well as exemplary as a model for the Christian’s endurance under unjust suffering.  Since Christ entrusted entirely to God both himself and those who mistreated him, believers likewise are to do the same (cf. Rom 12:19), for every sin will indeed be either covered by the blood of Christ or repaid justly by God at the final judgment.

Role of Believers to the Body

In the Family (3:1-7).  Peter now extends his exposition to include the wives responsibilities towards her husband (3:1-6), and the husband’s duty towards his wife (3:7). While man and woman are equal in value, both being made in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:27), there must be male headship in the home (cf. Titus 2:5) and in the church (cf. 1 Tim 2:11–15; 3:2–3).  Husbands are to be the leaders in their homes (cf. Eph. 5:22–33; Col. 3:18–19), and wives are to be subject to and follow their leadership. If a wife has an unbelieving husband who is disobedient to the word or the gospel, she should not try to pressure him into converting. Instead, her godly conduct will testify without a word to the truth of the gospel. Hope in God is thus expressed in a wife honoring her husband by submitting to him, as the venerable women in the OT did (Sarah obeyed Abraham; cf. Gen 18:12).

In the Church (3:8–12).  The sum of all the responsibilities of God’s People is promulgated in 3:8–12 with the Christian’s duty toward fellow believers: those who imitate Christ and pursue goodness will receive an eternal reward. Peter transitions from the preceding specific instructions to a general list of godly virtues that all believers are called to exemplify at all times.  In short, we who bless others will receive a blessing from God, and this blessing of others always includes being ready to provide a rationale for our faith (3:15). As long as we keep a good conscience, any accusations against us will prove unwarranted, and their accusers will be put to shame.  Thus accordingly, it is God’s will that Christians suffer for doing good.

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