The Christian faith is far more than a set of rituals reserved for two hours on a Sunday morning. Christianity is a living relationship with God that pervades all of life. It is, in other words, a faith that must intentionally influence every area of our lives. This is perhaps especially true with our faith is not respected as we would like it to be.
Christians in Western-influenced societies typically enjoy a degree of power and influence. It might be argued that this is waning influence, but it is nonetheless very real influence. Christians living in first-century Asia Minor did not enjoy this privilege. First Peter 2:11–12 highlights this truth. Peter’s readers were “sojourners and exiles,” which is here likely a reference to their status in society rather than a statement about their heavenly inheritance. They did not enjoy the privileges that we are accustomed to as South African Christians.
In a reversal of Uncle Ben’s counsel to Peter Parker, the apostle here exhorts his readers that with lack of power comes great responsibility. Since they did not enjoy a privileged place in society, they needed to be intentionally careful about their conduct. Their critics were already looking for reasons to scorn their faith and they needed to be intentional in their conduct so as not to give any justification for such scorn.
Peter goes on to show that this required honourable conduct was for all of life. They must behave honourably toward government (2:13–17), toward employers (2:18–25), toward spouses (3:1–7), and even toward enemies (3:8–17). Specifically, they must behave honourably toward unbelieving government, unbelieving employers, unbelieving spouses, and unbelieving enemies who were looking for justification in their dishonourable behaviour for rejecting the gospel.
But notice, carefully, that there are two arenas in which this honourable behaviour must be pursued.
First, honourable living is seen in our inward behaviour: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (v. 11). Peter wanted his readers to be intentional in their walk with and obedience to the Lord even when no one was looking. Intentional Christian living is concerned about the inner life. It is concerned about what we are before God in our private capacity. God is concerned about the way we respond in our hearts to government, employers, spouses, and enemies. Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount against hypocritical religion and Peter was concerned about the same. It does no good to display Christian behaviour externally when we inwardly harbour bitterness and hatred toward those to whom we are showing such love.
Second, honourable living is seen in our outward testimony: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (v. 12). Intentional obedience to God must be displayed both inwardly and outwardly. We should be concerned to maintain a godly reputation before a watching world.
The purpose of this external exhortation is made plain: that the gospel opponents “may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” “The day of visitation” is language for the day of judgement (see Exodus 32:34). Since Peter frequently sees opponents of the gospel falling under judgement (2:15, 23; 3:9–12; 4:5, 17), we understand him to be saying that the purpose of honourable conduct is to add to the opponents’ guilt. By maintaining honourable conduct, we give unbelievers no excuse for rejecting the gospel. At the day of judgement, critics of Christianity will have no excuse for their unbelief. They will give glory to God even as they face judgement. Our honourable conduct adds evidence to that final docket.
As you meditate this morning on 1 Peter 2:11–12, ask God to help you to be intentional in your pursuit of godliness—both inner and outer—so that you can live a life of true gospel hope in a world hostile to grace.