1 Peter 2:11-17 Good Works
The new Captain America movie is out. It is called Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This comic book character was created in 1941. Captain America is the alter ego of Steve Rogers, a frail young man who was enhanced to the peak of human perfection by an experimental serum, in order to aid the United States government’s imminent efforts in World War 2. Captain America wears a costume that bears an American flag and is armed with a nearly indestructible shield that can be used for defense and as an offensive weapon.
Just like Captain America was at war with the groups who want to destroy America, you and are also in a local battleground. There is a war between the flesh and the spirit. We are foreigners on battleground soil. Just like Captain America, we have a shield which we can use for an offensive and defensive strategy: good works.
Let’s first talk about the war we are in.
WAR OF THE SPIRIT VERSUS THE FLESH IN THE LOCAL WORLDLY BATTLEGROUND
“Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you.” (1 Peter 2:11, HCSB)
We are called soul mates, sojourners, strangers, and soldiers in a spiritual battle.
Again we have the reminder that we are strangers and temporary residents. We are not like everyone else. One of the ways we are not like everyone else is because we live as spiritual beings. The flesh is at war with the spirit within us. The flesh also refers to the physical world we live in. In our case, we live under the authority of local, county, state, and federal government authorities.
Peter begins this discussion about daily living by addressing this issue both negatively and positively. In verse 11, he addresses it negatively: abstain from fleshly lusts.1 The word translated “war” carries the idea of “a military campaign.” We do not win one battle, and the war is over! It is a constant warfare, and we must be on our guard.2The Greek word translated “war” is strateuomai, from which we get our word “strategy.” The Enemy has a strategy to war against your soul—your personality, your emotions, your will, your volition.3
OFFENSIVE STRATEGY OF GOOD WORKS
“Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12, HCSB)
As a reminder that the Jews live under a physical authority, Peter states that they should conduct themselves honorably among Gentiles. This leads us to the first ways we can show good works. The war between the flesh and the spirit in this world leads to two types of postures we can take: offensive and defensive postures. In those postures, good works are necessary.
Peter then addresses the issue positively in verse 12. These Jewish believers are to live a spiritual lifestyle among the Gentiles: having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles.4 Some commentators, like Wayne Grudem, conclude that Gentiles refer to unbelievers. Other commentators, like Arthur Fruchtenbaum, state that these Gentiles are Gentiles, since these were Jewish believers. No matter which way you interpret who the Gentiles are – the application is that Gentiles refer to people who are outsiders. These are people who are in society – we would say that they are unbelieving neighbors.
The strategy listed here is not just the idea of doing good works. The point here is our conduct when we do these good works. Are we conducting ourselves with honor or dishonor? The purpose of our good works is not for the sake of “making us saved” – Jesus has already done that. The purpose of our good works is to glorify God during the “day of visitation.” What is the “day of visitation?” “The day of visitation” is probably a term for the day of judgment.5 As Christians, we will be judged not by whether we followed Christ or not. That is the salvation judgment. Christians will be judged by our works and we will be rewarded for them as well.
He intimates that we ought thus to strive, not for our own sake, that men may think and speak well of us; but that we may glorify God, as Christ also teaches us. And Peter shews how this would be effected, even that the unbelieving, led by our good works, would become obedient to God, and thus by their own conversion give glory to him; for this he intimates by the words, in the day of visitation. I know that some refer this to the last coming of Christ; but I take it otherwise, even that God employs the holy and honest life of his people, as a preparation, to bring back the wandering to the right way. For it is the beginning of our conversion, when God is pleased to look on us with a paternal eye; but when his face is turned away from us, we perish. Hence the day of visitation may justly be said to be the time when he invites us to himself.6
“If anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward.” (1 Corinthians 3:12–14, HCSB)
If we are going to witness to the lost people around us, we must live “honest” lives. This word implies much more than telling the truth and doing what is right. It carries with it the idea of beauty, comeliness, that which is admirable and honorable.7 You see everyone is going to talk about how you act as a Christian. They all watch and they all comment. The question is how will people comment? Will my conduct change their spiritual status from unbeliever to believer?
In this war game between the flesh and the spirit, there are referees. The referees in this case are human authorities. Government officials are God’s war game referees. As Christians, we can disagree with the referee, but we still have to submit to his authority.
GOD’S REFEREES: HUMAN AUTHORITIES
“Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good.” (1 Peter 2:13-14, HCSB)
In verses 13–14, Peter begins with a principle of subjection: believers are to be in subjection to both the king and the king’s representative. The motivation for this subjection is for the Lord’s sake. Human governments are divine institutions that God has appointed to punish the evil-doers and to avenge on behalf of the victim. It is the responsibility of government to approve those who do well. 8 “Doing well” is another way of saying “good works.” The government notices what is “evil works” and “good works.” We may not trust the people in government. However, we are all called to obey the institution of government when it follows this pattern. The government is in the business of praising good works and punishing evil works.
As a result, doing good is always within the framework of our society. Our freedom in Christ is not an excuse to flaunt human laws or to withhold respect.9 We are called to live in this world under the rules that God has given. He has made the government the people who execute the rules. There are other New Testament instruction on this matter:
“then He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”” (Matthew 22:21, HCSB)
“First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2, HCSB)
“Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1, HCSB)
However, not every government official is to be obeyed:
“They worshiped the dragon because he gave authority to the beast. And they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to wage war against him?”” (Revelation 13:4, HCSB)
There are times when government is not to be obeyed. Peter gives us the standard. When the government is not praising “good works” but encouraging “evil works” as in the day of the Antichrist, then Christians are called to oppose it. Government is a servant of God, not something which is to be worshiped.
DEFENSIVE STRATEGY OF GOOD WORKS
“For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil.” (1 Peter 2:15-16, HCSB)
This the defensive strategy. To silence people who make comments, you do “good works.” Part of God’s will is that you do good works in such a way as to silence critics.
THREE REASONS FOR SUBMISSION
In verses 15–16, Peter gives three reasons for submission. First, the believers should submit because it is the will of God (v. 15a). Second, the believers should submit because (v. 15b) that by well-doing they will muzzle the ignorant who may accuse them of lawlessness. In other words, the verbal attacks against the believers of verse 12 will be silenced. Such attacks are prompted by the ignorance of foolish men. The word ignorance used here is not the same as the one used in 1:14, which meant intellectual failure. This is a different Greek word that refers to a religious failure—a failure to understand the true nature of the faith. The English word agnostic derives from this Greek word. The word foolish means “to act without reason” and, by the use of this word, Peter is saying these men lack mental sanity. Third, the believers should submit because they are bondservants of God (v. 16). While they are living as free, which is the spiritual status of believers (Jn. 8:36; Gal. 5:1), this freedom does not release them from subjection to the state and does not permit freedom to be used as a cloak for wickedness. The Greek word for cloak is used only here and nowhere else. Freedom cannot be used as a pretext to antinomianism, which is disobeying government law. Spiritual freedom is not a pretext for evil deeds.10
FOUR DIRECTIONS OF AUTHORITY IN OUR LIVES
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17, HCSB)
This is a summary statement of the passage. There are four different groups addressed here:
The first direction of authority is everyone. In this direction of authority, we are to live at peace. We honor everyone around us. We might not be able to achieve perfect relationships with everyone, but at least we can live honorably with everyone.
The second direction of authority is the church. In this direction of authority, we submit to one another. Jesus said that the world will know us by our love. We are called to keep loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The third direction of authority is God. He is our ultimate Authority. We are expected to respect, even fear God. The fourth direction of authority is the government. Just as we honor other people around us, we also honor and respect the government under which we were placed.
The Barmen Declaration, written by the Confessing Church in Germany, led Dietrich Bonhoeffer outlined the borders or the fence between “fearing God” and “honoring the Emperor.”
“Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well. 11
Thus, God has placed a role for the government and a role for the church. They both should work in harmony with each other, not in opposition. The best way the church accomplishes that is through the good works that Jesus Christ has called us to do.
1 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 345.
2 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 404.
3 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1554.
4 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 345.
5 Curtis Vaughan, “1 Peter,” in The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, ed. H. Franklin Paschall and Herschel H. Hobbs (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1972), 787.
6 John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 79.
7 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 404.
8 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 347.
9 Larry Richards and Lawrence O. Richards, The Teacher’s Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987), 1028.
10 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 347–348.
11 Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).