This text is full of hope and goodwill for the world around us. The advice is about how we can improve the world, that is, put into practice the reality that we are the place of encounter between the earth and the heavens. It’s what we thought through last week. What we are talking about today will not make any sense without that context. That’s why we record the messages and I encourage you to listen to them or read the notes on our webpage.
In saying this, Christianity is not a moral way to approach God. Morality is about the way to behave and we all have a morality. All religions and spiritualism use morality as the way to encounter God, except Christianity. In Christianity, morality comes after knowing God. The whole point of the good news that Jesus brings is to show us God come to us he is near! Christian morality is the response to that encounter.
For this reason it is important that we understand that behaviour affects the soul. If we already know God to the depth of the soul, behaving in an inadequate way is a real problem. Verse 11: Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.
If we want to take care of the soul we can not go with just what feels good. If we reflect on our own life we see the effect of determining our course like this. It felt good to eat sugar, smoke, have sex, not study, scream and fight … and then we regret it. I wish I had done it differently. I hope my children learn and do not repeat my mistakes. So we excuse ourselves and say, “But I couldn’t help it.” Correct, it is a war against the soul and if we do not see it that way, we will lose the battle. If we do not have the basis of what we talked about last week, about the cornerstone for a well-built life, we will always lose.
In reality, what Peter writes is a revolution. I can say that because of 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. (“pagans” means the nations in general)
Peter is sure that this path can change the whole society for the better. It is not to bring judgment to others. The irony is that society does it to Christians, as if we were evildoers. But the desire is that they will see the good we do and praise God. In other words, it’s so others can know the salvation and the good life that we have found in Jesus. Not by judging but by the good life. Look, this life really works. First century Christians never used force or judgment against society. They lived the reality of what Peter speaks and the hope of Christianity eventually won over the society, even the emperor.
So today we’re talking about civil authority. This is important because if Christians understand that authority is really God’s, what do we do with earthly authorities? I am aware of the present situation where we live in Barcelona and how what we have here impacts so strongly with our society. It sounds naive. How good that God gives us a challenge today! God is not a vending machine to give us what we already want. If you are looking for this type of God, buy some gold and do it yourself. We worship the living God.
Remember that Peter’s context was the same or worse than what you see now. The Pax Romana was maintained by force. Don’t dismiss Peter as ignorant. He had to deal with the reality of earthly authority as much as you need to.
The solution we seem to be following in Catalonia seems to be dividing society. I speak of both sides, those for independence and the centrists. If dividing society is the consequence, how can it be for good? I’m not talking about the state or politics. I talking of the division in everyday relationships.
So if we are followers of Jesus, how do we behave? Verse 13: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.
This is not to say that the centrists are correct. I suspect that both the centrists and the pro-independence supporters are driven by the conviction that their response is the only one and they have the right to defend it. Their attitude is not about serving others.
The key to understanding the difference between this attitude and the one Peter is talking about is the word submit; it does not mean obeying. The difference is “to submit” is a choice. I choose to do this. It’s a way to stop putting yourself first and look for a way to serve.
Why should Christians choose to submit? Peter gives us two reasons.
The first reason is the general purpose of human authorities. Verse 14: who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
Christians should not be pessimistic. We are people of hope even for the purpose of the authorities. We can work for the good of the government.
Peter’s second reason for calling Christians to submit is exactly what we would not expect. If Christians recognise above all the authority of God, who cares about human authority? We would have every reason to rebel, right? Verse 15: For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. In Greek “the ignorant and the foolish” means people who do not yet know God. It is a comment about your inability to think and perceive correctly, it is not an insult.
Do you understand? Christians are not another rebellious and self-centred group. For the sake of the Lord they seek the good of the whole society and believe in the good of the government. In a real sense it is a response of love: we seek the good of all, we continue with hope and serve others.
And if the authorities don’t use for good their authority? God is going to ask everyone for an account. Read Psalm 2.
The summary is verse 16: Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. (slave here means “not as your own possession”). We can overcome the human desires that fight against the soul, that is, we really can be free people when we serve God.
If you believe that God wants you to challenge the authorities, accept the consequences. The history of the Bible is full of examples. Consider Daniel, Peter and Jesus. All of them challenged bad governments. It meant that Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den; Peter was beaten and jailed; Jesus was crucified. Like them, let God justify you. Remember verse 11, that the important thing is the state of the soul, verse 12 that God calls everyone, including you, to account and verse 16, who you serve. You see the difference in acting like them.
Above all, the Christian response to human authority is to treat everyone well for the good of society. Verse 17: Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor. Like this verse, put God at the centre and you will know how to behave with everyone else around.
(Image by Safiyyah Scoggins – PVisions1111 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51478777)