Today’s e-bulletin marks the last of a lengthy series of many topics from the wonderful 1st letter of Peter to the “elect exiles of the dispersion”. As exiles, these 1st Century Christians faced various trials, unjust suffering, slander, and persecution; but as “elect exiles” they did so knowing their faith was genuine, and their Christian hope living and secure. One key theme picked up in Chapter 2 is submission to authority, and in particular the importance of proper Christian conduct. Peter writes:
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (1 Peter 2:15)”
The preceding verses see Peter exhorting Christians to “be subject … to every human institution (or authority).” We may well ask: “to what end do we apply this?” It is important to note that biblical submission is never the equivalent of blind obedience. Paul, for example, stated definitively the basic Christian principle: “We must obey God rather than men”, when challenged not to preach in the name of Christ (Acts 5:28-29). Yet Paul and Peter, like Jesus himself, also affirm the general principle of submission to earthly authority, knowing that Christians will often stand falsely accused of various wrong doings.
Why would God ask us to be subject to human institutions, even when they falsely accuse and mistreat us? Two answers present themselves in verse 15. Firstly, quite simply, it is God’s will. In other words this is not personal advice from Peter on how to win friends and influence people. It is not a pragmatic strategy for living as marginalized people in anti-Christian times. It is God’s will. Secondly, we submit, insofar as we can, for what it accomplishes. We may believe that our “doing good” would lead to fair treatment, but no such promise is given. Peter tells us it will, “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people”. Put to silence is a very strong phrase from the Greek word phimoun which means to forcibly muzzle. Yet no physical resistance will accomplish this. By seeing our Christian faith lived out on a day to day basis, even in the midst of unjust treatment, the “ignorant” will stop being ignorant of what Christians are really like. God uses our good conduct to reveal himself and his ways to people who do not know him. As Peter has earlier written: “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.”
These are challenging times for us, but challenging times have always presented glorious opportunities for God to shine. Over the next few Sundays we will be looking at various themes that we believe will help us live as God’s “elect exiles” to his glory!