Relating to authorities during difficult times.
I Peter 2:1 ¶ So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
Peter lists some bad behaviour that clearly must not exist in our lives. If we are to be effective believers during difficult times we cannot be heard slandering the authorities and showing malice towards them.
Back in Peter's day I don’t think that elections were held to see if Romans would be in power for the next four years or … should we vote for the Greeks? And even if they did, I just can’t picture Peter getting involved.
But here in Canada, and the USA, we do. And we hear it all. Sad to say, it can be heard even in Christian circles. Peter says, PUT IT AWAY.
But I think Peter is going much further than this. I believe that he knows that some of this is going on in church.
This is an interesting change in Peter’s tone and approach. We wonder at why he would assume that malice , deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander are going on in any of the churches.
One might think that Christians, who were forced to run for their lives … who had scattered everywhere preaching Jesus … how could they possibly be at one another’s throats, so to speak?
I wonder what ‘normal’ church life was like in the days leading up to the day they had to make a run for it? For how long a time had they seen it coming … the persecution, that is? Had they been making adjustments in their ‘witnessing’? Had they developed ways to approach people carefully, so as not to ‘poke’ at a hornets nest?
But here they are, scattered everywhere. Tensions may have been running high. Nothing is like it was. Not everyone would be happy about their present circumstances. There may have been some who held resentments toward those who had been ‘careless’ in their witnessing and the result being that persecution was suddenly an issue. Who knows, the issue may have had something to do with how some Christians viewed the law. Some may have put more weight on obeying the wishes of the authorities while others felt that to do so became a matter of not fully following God.
But to think that malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander was going on is very serious. Envy is understandable. Some families perhaps escaped with more of a ‘heads-up’ and were able to prepare what essential items they could escape with, and others, not so much. The malice and slander easily could have resulted if these Christians who had to escape with only the clothes on their backs were attaching some blame to the others. “Why didn’t they tell us what they knew was about to happen? They knew and kept it to themselves. What kind of Christian is that!”
At any rate … what kind of power will a church have with that kind of stuff going on? Jesus said, By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35
In good times or in difficult times, the world needs to know that we are disciples of Jesus. But we are to be as wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves.
So malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander is NOT how to live in difficult times. Peter simply says, “Put it away”. Quit doing that. Although we are not reading it here, God’s word teaches us to put things away by a process of replacement. A very literal use of the replacement principle is seen in Ephesians 4:28 - Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Picture it, if the thief now has a job and is giving to the poor … he certainly would not continue stealing. So Paul’s command to those who used to be thieves before coming to Christ, is not simply to quit. It is to get a job and then start giving.
So malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander not only need to be ‘quit’, they must be replaced. Here is a verse from Paul that tells us what to replace these things with:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, (put on) compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, Col 3:12
All of these things CAN BE a part of our spiritual dress code. We can adopt these things into our lives. Do not wait for the time to come when you will ‘feel’ like doing it. To adopt these traits is a matter of decision and commitment. Paul has said do it. It is up to you and me to say, I will! In the Old Testament days, Moses instructed the people to develop some creative ways to remind each other about maintaining Godly character. He said, 18 ¶ "You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
20 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, (Deuteronomy 11:18-20 ESV)
Be creative. Make wall hangings that will remind you to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. In social media post things that will encourage this kind of behaviour and attitude.
Eventually (not immediately) we will find it ‘natural’ to be kind and compassionate, not only to one another but also to ‘the enemy’ that wants to make your life miserable. Jesus made it very clear as well; “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, Mt 5:44
It CAN be done.
On another topic, I wonder, if " push came to shove ", and we suddenly found ourselves in a position much worse than simply being confined to our homes, how many Dads and Moms in our Western present day churches would find that Christian teaching in their homes is now up to them. And would they find themselves floundering and needing the basics of God's word?
What if the ‘head of the family’, by default, found himself as the primary teacher of the word of God for his family and neighbors … during a time of persecution? *
Many, if not most of us, have not been ' forced' to trust God. Our faith is rusty. Everything we have learned is theory until we put it into practice. That may have been the case with some of these scattered Christians. So Peter says, as newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby
The writer of Hebrews scolds some of his readers with these words; For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles (word) of God. You need milk, not solid food, Heb 5:12
There is nothing wrong with milk, if that is ‘where we are at’. Peter suggests that there are some of us who have not grown, and now that some of these people are scattered and living in a time of Christian persecution, it is time to grow and to grow as quickly as possible.
The signs … globally and locally, indicate that we may be headed for times that are much worse than what we are experiencing now. Now is the time to grow. Peter says, long for the pure milk of the Word. I trust that if you feel that studying God’s word is more or less optional … that you will be able to change your mind and see it as essential, get a real ‘taste’ for it … and soon feel that you are longing for more.
Peter adds a few words here that are designed to ‘shake up’ some of his readers. He gives a big ‘if’.
3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
He is saying ‘if you are really saved’. There could be a legitimate reason why some folks find that they do not long for the milk of the word and they do not even want to long for it … and that reason would be, they really never accepted Jesus to begin with. They are not born again. Unsaved people have no longing to follow Jesus or to study His word. This would shake some of them up, and this might even shake some of us up. Peter will say later on, “Make your calling and election sure”. We will expand on that statement later on, when we come to it.
I suppose Peter could have expected a response like, “But I AM saved, I know it!”, so he goes on, 4 ¶As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, ...
This ‘living’ stone is Jesus. He is called ‘the rock of our Salvation’.
Jesus is the foundation rock of the church. He said, “On this rock I will build my church …”
In order to live right during difficult times, it is super important to understand where we fit in the bigger picture. Peter says,
5 You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.*
People say that there is strength in numbers, and I suppose there is some truth to that. In order to stand in difficult days, we must realize that we are not supposed to try to be doing it on our own.
Each of us, says Peter, is a ‘living’ stone, each one connected to the one beside us, and all of us firmly placed on Jesus. Together we comprise a spiritual building, the temple of God. But Peter's analogy is twofold. He says we are the building and we are also the people inside the building. He said we are the spiritual house and he said we are also the priesthood.
We offer up spiritual sacrifices. When we meet together and worship, that is one sacrifice. that is called ‘the sacrifice of praise’. But that is only once a week. What about the rest of the time? As we serve him during the week, we also offer up spiritual sacrifices. These include time that you spend serving Him and also money that you use as you serve God.
So he says that you, before you were a believer, when you approached Christ (in other words, when you were spoken to about salvation) you saw something … you either saw an obstacle or you saw an opportunity. The concept of God was something you could latch onto … or not. Some have stumbled at the idea of God. In their minds they are at the place where they say, “I just can’t see it”.
But for those who could wrap their minds around it and see the truth of it, they joyfully come to the place where they see Jesus as a ‘living’ foundation for their lives, and secondly as a place in which to connect, side by side, to others.
They understand that He was chosen by God, and is precious to God. Their hearts can melt at the words, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
And Peter quotes a scripture that underscores this: 6 For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
The thought that comes to mind when we read the word ‘cornerstone’ may not be correct. The best way to understand it is to think, ‘foundation’.
Paul said it very plainly to the Corinthians; For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1Co 3:11
14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.
Peter agrees with what Paul said, 6 … whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." So that would be another way of saying … he will receive a reward.
Peter reminds us that this blessing of being part of God’s spiritual building, and having Jesus as the foundation ... is for believers only. 7a So the honor is for you who believe,
Unbelievers are in trouble - 7b but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,"
8 and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
Repent and believe. That is the command that most of this world disobeys. Until they grasp the seriousness of their lost condition and confess their sin, they remain unsaved. They do not want to accept the fact that there is a God. And this they would have to do, if they were to confess their sin. So they stumble at the Rock.
“But you”, says Peter … 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
We rejoice at what we ‘are’. We tremble at the gravity of what ‘we are to do’.
We are a chosen race. The former Jews could latch onto this one. But, as we will see in a bit, Peter is also talking about gentiles. That is a new concept for us. Now, believers in Christ, Jew or gentile, make up a spiritual race.
We are a royal priesthood. In the Old Testament, it was the descendants of Levi that would serve as priests. And it was the descendants of Judah that would be in the Royal family. What a gift of God’s grace that He would combine the two for His church.
We are a holy nation. This is a designation that can be applied to no other nation. America cannot claim that designation, although many have tried to. But the church is called a holy nation. So what difference should that make to us?
A time is coming shortly, after Jesus returns, that He will rule and reign here on earth for a thousand years. During that time there will be those who remained alive after Armageddon, both Jews and gentiles, who will live out their lives in bodies of flesh here on earth. We, his holy nation, will rule and reign with Him. We will serve as royalty, governing his kingdom with Him.
But we will also serve as priests. This means that we will have a serving function that places us between the people and God. It will be a two-way service. We will share and bring the blessings of God to them, and we will bring the honor of the nations back to God.
The verse above declares that we will be “a people for his own possession,” What a wonderful thing to be a part of!
As I said, we rejoice at what we ‘are’. We tremble at the gravity of what ‘we are to do’.
And here is what we are to do. … that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
This is the part that is difficult at the best of times. In times of difficulty and persecution, it is extra hard to do. This requires that we live with a sense of purpose. He called us out of darkness and now we are in His marvelous light. We need to be talking about that.
And Paul tells us Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. Eph 5:11
Be honest, do you enjoy exposing darkness? Would you continue to do it if the ones to whom you are speaking have the power to have you incarcerated?
Living during difficult times requires using wisdom. God promises to give it when we ask. And it requires the support of His body. Thank God that we can be a part of His holy temple, connected to and planted upon Him.
Peter reminds us, particularly those of us with a gentile background, 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
So how shall we live in these difficult days? Listen to what Peter tells us; 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
We are in a spiritual battle against the forces of darkness. In times of persecution, the government can be seen as our enemy, simply because they are the ones who can rule on what we are permitted to do and what we are forbidden to do.
But Peter is referring to a different enemy altogether … and that is the enemy within. Within each of us are ‘passions of the flesh’. (the BBE version renders it: desires of the flesh) The wants and desires that we have can be extra baggage. The simpler our lives during difficult times, the easier we can move around. That is only in the practical aspect. In the spiritual sense, these desires can affect our soul to the point that it changes our prayer life, it changes our goals, it changes ‘who we love’ into ‘what we love’. Our soul becomes defeated.
Peter has urged us as … sojourners and exiles. The HCSB version puts it this way I urge you as aliens and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you.
This is a concept that really needs to hit home with each of us. We will not be really effective in standing up for the cause of Christ unless we understand that we don’t belong here. We ARE strangers. We ARE temporary residents.
So how should we act around unbelievers during our stay here? Peter says, 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
The Gentiles, about which Peter is speaking here, are the unbelievers around us. They most often are looking for things to criticize about true Christians. They have to do it. It is the only way that they can justify not making the change themselves. And so they try to find fault in what we believe and what we do. Peter says, don't give them any ‘fuel’ for their argument. He says live consistently honest lives before them … in your actions and your speech … and when the end-time prophecies begin to come true … Peter calls it the ‘day of visitation’, many of them will come running to you.
Now Peter begins to give us some really specific instructions about how to live in front of people in such a way that it will really make a difference when they need somewhere to turn.
He says, concerning your attitude toward government, don’t ever bad-mouth them. This is especially hard to do if the government should lean toward being ‘anti-church’.
Peter says, 13 ¶ Obey every man-made authority for the Lord’s sake — whether it is the emperor, as the supreme ruler,
14 or the governors whom he has appointed to punish evil-doers and reward those who do good service. (Philips)
Some of the laws that we are called on to obey, we might take issue with. Some of the choices made by our national government, we might disagree with. We might feel like speaking out loudly in public media and calling them down. It could be things like shutting down pipelines and making laws in support of ‘global warming’. As much as I don't want to say it, I have to … these are not our issues. We are visitors.
The governors of countries, Peter says, were put there by God. The principle of law and order is a God thing.
But how should we apply these things if the ruling of the government were to clearly overstep the mandate of the church … a mandate given to us by Jesus Himself? Actually we have examples in scripture.
Here is one from Acts 4.
18 So (the authorities) called them in and ordered them bluntly not to speak or teach a single further word to anyone in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John gave them this reply: "Whether it is right in the eyes of God for us to listen to what you say rather than to what he says, you must decide;
20 for we cannot help speaking about what we have actually seen and heard!" (Act 4:18-20 Philips)
And another example, this one from Acts 5.
This account is too important to sum up, so I want to give the complete account.
18 (The authorities) had the apostles arrested and put into the common jail.
19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and led them out, saying,
20 "Go and stand and speak in the Temple. Tell the people all about this new life!"
21 After receiving these instructions they entered the Temple about daybreak, and began to teach. When the High Priest arrived he and his supporters summoned the Sanhedrin and indeed the whole senate of the people of Israel. Then he sent to the jail to have the apostles brought in.
22 But when the officers arrived at the prison they could not find them there. They came back and reported,
23 "We found the prison securely locked and the guard standing on duty at the doors, but when we opened up we found no one inside."
24 When the captain of the Temple guard and the chief priests heard this report they were completely mystified at the apostles’ disappearance and wondered what else could happen.
25 However, someone arrived and reported to them, "Why, the men you put in jail are standing in the Temple teaching the people!"
26 ¶ Then the captain went out with his men and fetched them. They dared not use any violence however, for the people might have stoned them.
27 So they brought them in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin. The High Priest called for an explanation.
28 "We gave you the strictest possible orders," he said to them, "not to give any teaching in this name. And look what has happened — you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and what is more you are determined to fasten the guilt of that man’s death upon us!"
29 Then Peter and the apostles answered him, "It is our duty to obey the orders of God rather than the orders of men.
30 It was the God of our fathers who raised up Jesus, whom you murdered by hanging him on a cross of wood.
31 God has raised this man to his own right hand as prince and saviour, to bring repentance and the forgiveness of sins to Israel.
32 What is more, we are witnesses to these matters, and so is the Holy Spirit given by God to those who obey his commands."
33 When the members of the council heard these words they were stung to fury and wanted to kill them.
34 But one man stood up in the assembly, a Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law who was held in great respect by the people, and gave orders for the apostles to be taken outside for a few minutes.
35 Then he addressed the assembly: "Men of Israel, be very careful of what action you intend to take against these men!
36 Remember that some time ago a man called Theudas made himself conspicuous by claiming to be someone or other, and he had a following of four hundred men. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and the movement came to nothing.
37 Then later, in the days of the census, that man Judas from Galilee appeared and enticed many of the people to follow him. But he too died and his whole following melted away.
38 My advice to you now therefore is to let these men alone; leave them to themselves. For if this teaching or movement is merely human it will collapse of its own accord.
39 But if it should be from God you cannot defeat them, and you might actually find yourselves to be fighting against God!"
40 They accepted his advice and called in the apostles. They had them beaten and after commanding them not to speak in the name of Jesus they let them go.
41 So the apostles went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin full of joy that they had been considered worthy to bear humiliation for the sake of the name.
42 Then day after day in the Temple and in people’s houses they continued to teach unceasingly and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
This account touches on several important aspects of our interaction with local officials.
Boldly do what God tells you to do.
If what you are doing goes against man’s law … do not resist arrest … go peacefully.
Believe that God can intervene if He chooses to.
Expect God to interject His will and wisdom … even into the mouths of the ‘officials’, if He so chooses..
Expect abuse from the ‘authorities’ when it comes to making them look bad.
Carry on obeying God … do not become intimidated.
As we live and serve God during trying times it is important that our conduct is respectful. There is no place to initiate or to join a demonstration. We are ‘sheep among wolves’. So we need to be as quiet as sheep, even though we feel like calling some of the authorities to task. Peter says, 15 It is the will of God that you may thus silence the ill-informed criticisms of the foolish.
So Peter kind of summarizes his advice about our attitude and behaviour in the community. He says,
16 As free men you should never use your freedom as a screen for doing wrong, but live as servants of God.
17 You should have respect for everyone, you should love our brotherhood, fear God and honour the king (the authorities)
Respect and gentleness are the key ingredients for our behaviour in the community and before authorities. Why? Why not take up arms and fight if our freedoms are being taken away? The answer is given by Jesus Himself; Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
Once we become a child of God, from that point onward we are visitors on this planet. Visitors with a mission.
Summing up what we have covered in this chapter:
- We are part of God's holy nation, visiting here, … with a mission: to bring others into God's family.
- Satan is opposed to our mission, and will do his best to make us ineffective
- The mission field can be viewed as being comprised of three types of people::
those who have never heard
those who need to be persuaded
those who are against us
- We cannot fulfill our mission … alone, we need each other
- We have to expect opposition
- Persecution of believers, prevalent throughout history, and present in many parts of the world today, has not been the case in this country
- The persecution of believers in all countries is predicted in scripture and may be nearer than we think.
- How we relate to each other in the church, and whether we care or do not care about unbelievers has a direct affect on our effectiveness
- How we relate to those in authority has a direct impact on our overall witness for Christ.
This is all part of how we should live during difficult times.