Right Relationships, 1 Peter 2:13—3:12; 5:1—5

Relationships are a big deal to Christians, especially our relationship to and with God, from which all other relationships descend. Peter had a lot to say about Christian relationships that we need to take heed of. The way we relate to others in the church, to our spouses, and to our peers in the workplace should be based on what our faith says, not on what our culture says. Sometimes, our faith clashes with the forces of our culture, and when that happens, Christians are faced with a choice: do we choose to be obedient to the Scriptures or do we all the culture around us to dictate how we ought to live? For Peter, there really is no choice.

1. Government and business relationships, 1 Peter 2:13—25

(a) Christian citizens, 13—17

A Christian is called to proclaim his faith to the world around him. How is he to do that? Should we sing hymns all day? Are we supposed to dress in white robes and live communally? The most effective way to share your faith with the world at large is to not manifest the “works of the flesh.” A good way to introduce a discussion on Christian relationships is verse 12—

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.

A good way to do that is to be a good, Christian citizen.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority. (verse 13a)

This is Peter’s “political philosophy.” What is he really saying? Christians are to “submit” to every “human authority” “for the Lord’s sake.” From what Peter writes, it is clear that “every human authority” refers to elected officials. Whether that elected official is right or wrong, Christians are to “submit” to them. The idea of “submission” is a major theme in Peter’s writing, and “submission” comes from the Greek hypostasso, which means to willingly “submit oneself.” It in no way suggests a kind of slavery to the state; rather it is an acknowledgment of our respect to instituted authority. This is quite a remarkable statement for Peter to make, considering who the “instituted authorities” of his day were: the Romans under Nero, the famous torturer of Christians!

It is probably significant that Peter puts submission to governing authorities ahead of any other relationship in the Christian’s life. This is because every single Christian has some kind of relationship to the government, but not every Christian may be married or have an employer.

Unlike today, in the first century citizens could not legally demonstrate against their state; such demonstrations would probably result in their imprisonment and execution. In modern America, such freedom is enshrined in the Constitution; part of being a good citizen means, if need be, speaking out against the governing authorities. That freedom should always be exercised legally and in such a way as to glorify God and show respect for the governing authorities even while their policies may be protested against.

Verse 14 seems to limit the Christian submission to governing authorities to authorities that actually govern in a godly manner—

who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

Obviously, Peter is writing in generalities; he cannot be referring to governments that persecute or rob citizens of their freedoms. Submission to those kinds of states may be seem like a good idea, but may not always be glorifying to God. We know, for example, that Peter and Paul followed the “higher law” on different occasions; preferring to be obedient to God and preach the Gospel even though the authorities strictly forbade them. Sometimes preferring God over man results in punishment and persecution; such was the promise of Christ, however.

(b) Christians in the workplace, verses 18-20

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. (verse 18)

During the time of the New Testament, the slavery practiced was not like the slavery most Americans are familiar with. New Testament slaves were not, in the main, like the slaves of pre-Civil War days; they were more like employees with strings attached. Ancient slaves often were very prosperous and respected members of society. However, like employees today, sometimes these slaves were taken advantage of and treated poorly. To these folks, Peter’s advice stands: treat your masters with respect for God’s sake.

Unlike submission to governing authorities, submitting to cruel masters comes with a kind of reward—

But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. (verse 20b)

As you honor your employer, God will honor you! The word for “commendable” is charis, from which the word “grace” comes. Charis is an attractive quality to God.

(c) Christ’s example, verses 21—25

These verses are really directed to Christians who were (and are) suffering unjustly—

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (verse 23)

These verses seem to make plain a couple of points. First, as in the case of Jesus, God knows when one of His own is suffering injustice. Second, even more than knowing, just as Jesus was called to suffer, so some Christians may live under that same calling. Not all Christians are called to suffer, but some are, even it if be for a brief time. If you are suffering for the cause of your faith, then Christ is your complete example, not only in how conducted Himself during His suffering, but also the fact that He was destined to suffer. In the economy of God, suffering for the sake of the Gospel—something modern Christians run from like the plague—is as much a calling as the call to salvation itself or the call to preach.

2. Marriage relationships, 3:1—7

(a) Wives, verses 1—6

The opening phrase, “in the same way” hearkens back to 2:13. Christian wives are not be in subjection to their husbands like slaves, but the general idea is that Christian submission to God’s will should be observed in every area of life, including marriage.

Since American culture is obsessed with “the women’s movement,” any discussion of the place of women in marriage always needs to be preceded by the statement that in matters of the faith, women are co-heirs with men; there is no distinction between the sexes from Heaven’s perspective. However, when it comes to family life on Earth, there is an order that must be observed if Christian marriages are to be functional.

While men and women are equal in God’s estimation, they are obviously different in many ways and those differences should be respected and even celebrated within a marriage. As to why a wife should submit to her husband, Peter gives a very practical reason—

if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives…(verse 1b)

Nothing is more important the salvation of a soul and a wife’s example may lead to the conversion of her unsaved husband. In fact, as we read this whole section of advice to wives that Peter wrote, it seems that is the whole reason for the way she dresses, her whole outward appearance, and even her general attitude is that she set a good example for her children and others. If ever there were a passage of Scripture that celebrated the power and influence of a woman, it must sure be this one!

Whenever we read the Biblical admonitions about wives and husbands, many of us snicker and roll our eyes and make jokes about “obviously a man wrote these rules” or we look at Peter and Paul as barbaric chauvinists. However, God ordained an order for families to follow and He assigned very specific roles to each sex. Perhaps if Christian couples paid attention to and practiced what the Bible teaches about the marriage relationship, the divorce rate among Christians would finally drop back down below 50% and more Christian teens would remain committed to their faith instead of wandering away from it.

(b) Husbands, verse 7

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

It may seem odd to some that Peter spent so much more time discussing wives than husbands, but if we read what he expected of husbands, we would see their very success as a Christian hinges on how they treat their wives! It boggles the mind, but if you, as a Christian husband, fail in that regard, your prayers will go unanswered!

When Peter refers to wives as the “weaker partner,” (TNIV) he does not mean weaker morally or spiritually or intellectually; he means weaker physically. Why does he bring that up? He does so to demonstrate how a Christian husband ought to treat his wife; in ways that are helpful and ways that build her up and empower her. No husband should ever embarrass or belittle his wife; that would be like beating up on a tiny, weak person. Peter uses the word “as,” meaning that sometimes a wife might, in reality, really be stronger physically than her husband. Notwithstanding that, though, a Christian husband needs to hold her up as though she were really weaker than he.

Husbands and wives are really one—they are a unity—but the husband is not responsible for the sins of his wife nor is she for his. Both husbands and wives, however, are responsible for encouraging one another in their faith and fostering growth in that area by praying together, reading the Bible together, helping one another stand against temptation and so on. A good way to start that is to observe the roles assigned by God to each partner.

3. Church relationships, 3:8—12; 5:1—5

(a) United believers, 3:8—12

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (verses 8, 9)

In Peter’s concluding remarks on “submission,” he wrote about harmony; how Christians ought to live with each other as members of Christ’s Body. Here is Peter’s pattern for Christian conduct.

1. Be like-minded. This means members of Church should live in harmony with each other. This in no way means all Christians should think exactly the way about every issue. In fact, Paul’s makes mention of this in Philippians 3:15—

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

Peter wants all believers to live and function with the mind of Christ, so that whatever they do they build up and build the Church, not cause strife and division.

2. Be sympathetic. This means showing genuine concern and interest in the well-being of other members of the Body of Christ, not just in word but more importantly in deed.

3. Love one another. It seems strange that Peter would have to encourage his readers to do this, but loving fellow believers doesn’t always come easily! If Christians would busy themselves trying to love one another, they might find they have less time for gossip and backbiting.

4. Be compassionate. In the Greek, the word rendered “compassionate” is extremely descriptive, picturing feelings that radiate out from our most inner parts—intestines, literally! We might say Christians should be “tenderhearted” toward each other.

5. Be humble. Humility is a divine virtue that does not come naturally to human beings. Jesus demonstrated humility when He washed the disciple’s feet. True humility is preferring others over yourself.

Peter goes on to describe a Christian life in opposite terms to a worldly life. We are to treat our enemies in a way that is opposite to the way they treat us and also opposite to the way we think we should treat them.

When we live as we should, we do not earn a blessing; we inherit one!

to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (verse 9b)

(b) Godly leaders, 5:1—5

Finally, Peter gives some brief advice to the leaders in the Church. He uses the word presbyteros to describe these church leaders. They were elders, as Peter was, and by the time Peter wrote this letter, the structure of a local church was firmly in place.

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve. (verse 2)

Peter uses the sheep/shepherd analogy to describe the ideal kind of relationship that should exist between elder and congregation. We would expect this from Peter, since it was to him that Jesus said “If you live me, feed my sheep” (John 21:15—17). But the image of shepherd/sheep is important to understand if we are to understand how God views the position of “elder.” Just as a shepherd is responsible for the safety and well-being of his sheep, so the elder(s) of a church are for responsible in the same way for the congregation under their care.

An elder should be motivated to care for his people because of their needs, not his; he does not serve his church for what can get out of them, whether it’s money or power or prestige or vanity. The relationship between elder (pastor) and congregation is one based on privilege and responsibility. It is a privilege to pastor a church and with that privilege comes an awesome responsibility to act as a “good shepherd.” From the congregation’s perspective, having a godly pastor is also a privilege, and they have a responsibility to look after him as they allow him to look after them.

It all boils down to relationship. All too often, how we treat our spouses and fellow believers is indicative of how we treat God.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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