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- 1 Peter 2:11 - 17
You are allot weaker than you think you are and you are allot stronger than you think you are. You are weak in yourself. You are strong in Christ. Or better said, Christ is strong in you. If you are trying to be strong this morning in yourself, if you have set out to fix something by yourself, if Christ is not in plain view, you are weaker than you know. However if you are trusting in Christ this morning, leaning on Him this morning, beleiving in His promises this morning, you are strong.
Sometimes, we think of strength as moral resolve or human initiative. So we make a resolution on December 31st to exercise more, read the Scriptures more, lick this or that habit. And then by January 15th, our resolve disintegrates and we are left where we started. Why is that? It’s because the ambition is set on something we need to change or fix or improve. There is a problem and I am the solution. This is self-help theology. You are broken yes, now fix yourself. Put yourself back to together. And this leads to surges of moral resolve and then depression when the resolve is simply not enough to make things right.
Welcome to the planet
If you have experienced this, welcome, officially to the planet. The world is full of weak, broken people, many of whom are trying to fix themselves through a variety of ways. It is a world full of symptoms and few solutions, a world where everyone has room to improve, to get better and no one is “complete.” Enter the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus says that you are complete in Him, you are perfect in Him, you can rest in Him because you are loved by Him. There is no mountain peak to climb to. He descended from heaven to lift us up to God and there we sit, seated at the right hand of the Father.
Here and now
However, we still live here and now. And we still have struggles and battles and challenges to face down and overcome. So how does our positional status in heaven as perfect, righteous and redeemed affect the way we handle the challenges of life now? That is what verses 11 and 12 are getting at here in I Peter 2.
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against the soul.” This is an urging, a prompting, an encouragement to avoid certain behaviors that would destroy the soul. It is a loving instruction.
Pastor Peter calls the church “beloved.” This points to the motivation behind the urging. It is love, care, concern for people. This is not condemning or judgmental or threatening. It is drenched in compassion. When God urges us, warns us, encourages us, instructs us, it is always for our good. God proved His love by giving us the Son and He continues to prove His love by giving is His law, His council, His good instruction.
Passions of the flesh
The urging here is to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against the soul. The passions of the flesh (at least some of them) are named in chapter 4:3. “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” This is not a comprehensive list. You could add to it, jealousy, envy, malice, deceit, greed, etc. There is probably no way to put together a comprehensive list of all the passions of the flesh. But they could probably be identified as things contrary to the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, patience, self-control.
Things non-believers want to do
These passions of the flesh are things that the Gentiles (or non-believers) want to do and perhaps we wanted to do before we were saved but it is implied here that we don’t really want to do these things anymore. Peter does not say, “don’t do these things that you want to do.” He says, abstain from doing these things that non-believers want to do because the core desire of believer in Jesus is to do that which is pleasing to Jesus. When we are given a new nature, we are also given a new set of desires. And now the motivation of our life is to please and be happy in the One Who saved us.
We do this by abstaining from passions of the flesh. And these passions are waging war against our soul. Now notice the contrast. We do not fight fire with fire. We do not make it our goal for the day to wage war on passions of the flesh. We abstain from them. We don’t try to defeat them. If we do that, we create a mini-religion and beating the enemies becomes the goal of our life instead of loving Jesus and loving people. To abstain is to resist sinful, Christ-ignoring impulses, to put them away.
Warring against our soul
This is far different than what these passions of the flesh are doing in us. These passions are waging war against our soul. This is a military word. The imagery is that of little soldiers inside of us constantly fighting us, trying to take us down, warring within us. And these little guys don’t quit and we should not expect them to quit. Passions wage war. That is what they do. Now it seems a bit odd that we would have little soldiers in us warring with us and that we would respond by ignoring them. Shouldn’t we do more than that? Well yes and no.
Remembering the cross
There are times when the battle ramps up and the little bad soldiers are extra combative. But the way we fight is by remembering the cross of Jesus. At the cross of Jesus, sin was put to death. We along with our sinful passions were crucified with Christ. We no longer live but Christ lives in us. And so why spend the rest of our lives waging war on an enemy that was already defeated by Jesus?
Instead, we put to death that which has been put death. We resist that which we now have the power to resist. This means that we go into the day not wondering whether or not we will overcome our former passions. We go into the day trusting that Jesus has overcome these things already.
Have you ever seen those wartime dramatizations? A bunch of (usually) guys dress up in 1760’s military uniforms and re-enact the revolutionary war with canons and bayonets. The people in uniform know that they are actors. And it would be humorous if someone thought that they were fighting for actual freedom. The war has been won already. The beetles happened. Adel tours America now. You can even invest overseas in British banks.
When we fight the good fight of faith we are not fighting so that we will win. We are fighting because He has won already. And we fight by abstaining, by putting off, by fleeing defeated enemies and walking by the Spirit.
How we live
And this has an affect on how we live in society. Peter says, “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation.” So we have moved beyond personal conduct, perhaps unknown to other people. And we have moved now to Christian witness, what some would call lifestyle evangelism. Jesus called us the salt of the earth, the light of the world. That is what the idea is here. Jesus enveloped the world in light. So do Christians. Jesus performed many good works. So do His followers.
This is not impressing the world by abstaining from certain behaviors. It is impressing the world with, visible, actual good works or good deeds. These good deeds actually turn people’s heads and may even contribute to a person being saved. They will see it and glorify God which I think means they will be impacted by a Christians’ witness in such a way that they will at least be curious enough to learn more about Christ on the way to being born again. John was a witness to the Light that would come. We are a witness to the light that has come. And our good deeds are meant to be arrows to Jesus.
Living within culture
Some of these deeds are seen in the way we treat people, the way we live within a culture, what kind of citizens we are. We are to be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. Subjection is living within given confines, within the borders of a created institution, a political institution, a criminal justice system, etc. It is voluntary. Not subjection because you have to. It is subjection because you want to.
This sounds a bit strange because Jesus is our Lord and King. We are subjected and submitted to Him. Isn’t that all that matters? Do we submit ourselves to Jesus or do we subject ourselves to human institutions? And the answer is yes. We are submitted to the King of the ages Who is uncreated. And we subject ourselves to institutions created by God. We do it for the Lord’s sake because He said to do it.
Jesus and taxes
Maybe the most obvious example of this purposeful subjection is in Matthew 17:24-27. Jesus led the way in this being subject to human institutions. “When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” Jesus is giving the okay to be subject to Rome, to the emperor. He is paying His taxes. Jesus paid His taxes. Jesus was not anti-government. He was pro-government.
Not perfect but good
That doesn’t mean the government is always right and just. They did kill Jesus and his brother James and Peter got thrown in jail more than once. But government in general is a good thing that keeps order in the world. So if a crime is committed, it is not the responsibility of an individual to mete out judgment or enact revenge. That is the responsibility of the courts and the criminal justice system. Government in its best form even praises people for doing good! I am still waiting for that $100 check in the mail for a no speeding ticket year but that might not come. The idea here is that human institutions created by God are designed for evil to be squelched and for good to be celebrated.
What is the purpose of a Christian being subject to human institutions? This fulfills a part of God’s will for your life. “For this is the will of God that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” The “good” here is in part living as citizens of a country and being subject to the laws so long as they don’t lead you to sin against God. There were political revolutionist in Peter’s day that sought to overthrow the Roman government. And Peter even at one point may have had the ambition to be a political rebel and see big bad Rome overthrown. But not anymore.
Now big bad Rome is an opportunity to show the world Who our hope is in. It is in King Jesus. So we don’t watch the news as those who have no hope. We have the Hope of the universe, a living Hope. And we will inherit an eternal kingdom that will never be overthrown or become distant history, like almost every government that has ever existed.
Protest and proclaim
So we can protest a certain law or stance that the government has taken. That is within the law of the land. But that is not our main objective as the saved. Our main task is not to protest a human institution but to proclaim the everlasting Kingdom of our God and invite many to join us in the new heavens and the new earth. There, “…..night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”- Revelation 5:22. This is the kingdom we wait for and point people toward.
Live as free
“Live as free people,” Peter says “but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil but living as servants of God”. So Peter anticipates something happening. The Christian message is a message of freedom: Freedom from sin and passions of the flesh, freedom from future judgment, freedom from the power of the law to condemn, freedom from fearing a tyrannical government. Jesus even says that the meek will inherit the earth and that even though we pay taxes, we are actually sons and daughters of the Owner of the earth. Those are all really good things.
Trouncing or serving
However, with so much freedom, it may be easy to trounce around like rock stars, to treat life as a victory parade. We won the super bowl and now we gotta go do the parade in downtown New Orleans or wherever else. This kind of arrogant freedom, better than thou mentality, can actually lead to enormous Christian cover-ups, insulary, ingrown communities that are joyless and lifeless. Freedom to do what you want if unregulated by the Scriptures, the Spirit and authentic Christian community will often lead a person, family or institution to abandon the commands of scripture and be enslaved to a former passion.
Freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want. It is the ability to serve and love people in obedience to the command and example of Jesus Christ. A sure fire way to lose all your freedom is to run headlong in the pursuit of exercising your freedom without submitting to the Lord Jesus.
Jesus was free
Jesus was the freest Being on the planet and this freedom was used to serve people the gospel. Philippians 2:5-8, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Paul picks up on this is in I Corinthians 9:19, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” Before he says this, he gives a list of all the things that he could enjoy but doesn’t. He is free to eat and drink whatever he wants. He is free to get married like Peter did. He is free to take some money from the church like other church leaders. But He did not take advantage of any of these rights. He did not create an identity based on his freedom to enjoy any of these things. Instead, being deeply impacted by Jesus, he used his freedom to serve instead of take.
Free but bound to Jesus
There are some freedoms that Christians have that not all Christians should enjoy. You can get married but don’t demand it. Receive it in God’s time. You are free to eat this or drink that. But walk by the Spirit and be wise. You are free to watch that or listen to this but don’t ignore an unsettled spirit as you watch or listen. You can buy that thing if you got the money but don’t see that thing as a guarantee of your happiness. Real Christian freedom is being so content in having Jesus that you are able to say no to anything else.
What it looks like
Peter explains more what this identity as a free servant of God should like. Verse 17. “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” Doing this accomplishes 2 things. It eliminates the opportunity to indulge the passions of the flesh (verse 11) because we don’t have enough time in the day. And it fulfills the command to live as servants of God. It is very difficult to do good deeds and bad deeds at the same time. It is actually impossible.
Beautiful and simple
This list is really beautiful and simple. We are to honor people, esteem people as valuable and this includes the emperor or in our case the President. The fact that Peter says honor everyone and then says, honor the emperor may imply that his readers may not have included the emperor in the category of everyone. So it may be translated as, honor the one you may have the most difficult time honoring. Mankind is created in God’s image. Our nature, though marred by sin, does not change that and people are worthy of our honor and respect.
We are to love the brotherhood, the family of God. I am so glad that this in here because we forget! We might be so busy being the church, doing church stuff and participating in churchy opportunities (thank you nacho libre) that we forget to love each other. Here it is commanded. Put love at the forefront of your mind, not wandering in the back hallways somewhere. Put God’s love before you and then respond to it by loving each other. And this goes for personal families too. In the busyness of lessons, practice, training and room cleaning, don’t forget to love each other. There is no higher priority than that.
We are to fear God. This eliminates all other potential things to fear. We usually fear the thing that we think will hurt us. We fear the thing or person that does not love us, does not have our best interests in mind but that we think will harm us. If that is true, then why are we told to fear God Who is love, the God Who casts out fear? This is a different kind of fear than trepidation and dread. This is to put your whole self into the safe keeping of God. It is to revere Him. It is to be okay with all that He wills and plans. So when talk about being a God-fearer or fearing the Lord, we are saying that God has my heart and no one else.
There is an article from the Huffington post that came out last August entitled, 85% of what we worry about never happens. And they did a study to prove it. At first that sounds like good news but the problem is how do you know which 15% of the things you worry about will actually happen?! This is like playing Russian roullete with your worry. That study to me is not reassuring at all.
Entrusting ourselves to God
I think the only way we can really be confident and not filled with anxiety and fear is by entrusting ourselves to a faithful Creator God. God is the only safe person to fear. His perfect love casts out fear and replaces it with full confidence in God, the Maker of heaven and earth. And he does not offer us an 85% chance of things working out in our favor. He guarantees that all things will work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. The soul is only at rest when it is resting in God. To Him be the praise, the fear, the glory, the honor now in this earthly kingdom and in the great Kingdom to come. Let’s pray.