Monday, December 20, 2010

How Is Your Conduct In The Midst Of Suffering?

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

As believers, we are “aliens and strangers” in this world, because our real home is with God. Heaven is not the pink-cloud-and-harp existence popular in cartoons. Heaven is where God lives. Life in heaven operates according to God’s principles and values, and it is eternal and unshakable. Heaven came to earth in the symbolism of the Jewish sanctuary (the tabernacle and temple) where God’s presence dwelt. It came in a fuller way in the person of Jesus Christ, “God with us.” It permeated the entire world as the Holy Spirit came to live in every believer.

Word Study:

sojourners and pilgrims: With these words, Peter reminds believers (1 Peter 1:1) that this earth is not our home. We are foreigners here, traveling to our eternal home, heaven. The word translated abstain literally means “to hold away from one’s person.” In other words, we must distance ourselves from our own self-indulgent urges.

war: Life is not a game but a war to be waged, and that war is a matter of eternal life or death (Romans 7:23; James 4:1). Yet the war is not necessarily fought on a physical, temporal plane, but on a spiritual one.

Gentiles: Refers to those who are not believers in Christ, not to those who are not Jews.

they speak against you as evildoers: Despite our good works, those who are unbelievers will slander us.

they observe: The Greek word for observe, used only here and in 1 Peter 3:2, implies a conscious, ongoing examination—in this case, of the actions of believers.

the day of visitation: Probably refers to the final Day of Judgment when all people, believers and unbelievers alike, will fall on their knees and acknowledge who Jesus Christ is and what He has done through His people.

Peter’s advice sounds like Jesus’ in Matthew 5:16: If your actions are above reproach, even hostile people will end up praising God. Peter’s readers were scattered among unbelieving Gentiles who were inclined to believe and spread vicious lies about Christians. Attractive, gracious, and upright behavior on the part of Christians could show these rumors to be false and could even win some of the unsaved critics to the Lord’s side. Don’t write off people because they misunderstand Christianity; instead, show them Christ by your life. The day may come when those who criticize you will praise God with you.

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

When Peter told his readers to submit to the civil authorities, he was speaking of the Roman Empire under Nero, a notoriously cruel tyrant. Obviously he was not telling believers to compromise their consciences; as Peter had told the high priest years before, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). But in most aspects of daily life, it was possible and desirable for Christians to live according to the law of their land.

Word Study:

governors: This term was used by the Greeks for all people, apart from the supreme ruler of a nation (1 Peter 2:13), who exercise authority on behalf of the government of a country.

the will of God: The authority backing Peter’s command for civil obedience is the God of the universe, the Sovereign Ruler over all citizens and governments and over all Christians and non-Christians.

put to silence: Our actions should make our accusers speechless, like a muzzle placed over their mouths.

not using liberty: Freedom in Christ must be used wisely (1 Corinthians 6:12,13; 10:23–31). A cloak for vice may be understood either as an excuse made up before the fact (a reason for wrongdoing), or after the fact (a cover-up for wrongdoing). The context here seems to support the second. We are free from keeping the law as a way to earn salvation. However we are still to obey, out of gratitude for our free salvation, the teachings of the Ten Commandments, for they are an expression of God’s will for us.

as bondservants of God: We should submit all our actions to God, for He is our Master.

Fear God: Our reverence for God should be the basis of our relationships with others. All people are created in His image, and He is the One who has placed some people in authority over us. Therefore we should treat everyone with love and respect.

Peter forcefully commands Christians to submit voluntarily to governing authorities. He does not make submission a matter of personal conviction or choice. Peter decrees that it is an obligation for all Christians. When Peter writes "to every ordinance of man", he is suggesting that the submission of Christians is not to be exercised solely in relation to civil authorities (1 Peter 2:14), but to all kinds of rules that Christians encounter (1 Peter 2:18; 3:1). Today, some Christians live in freedom while others live under repressive governments. All are commanded to cooperate with the rulers as far as conscience will allow. We are to do this “for the Lord’s sake”- so that His Good News and His people will be respected.

Are there times when we should not submit to the government? We should never allow government to force us to disobey God. Jesus and His apostles never disobeyed the government for personal reasons; when they disobeyed, it was in order to follow their higher loyalty to God. Their disobedience was not cheap: they were threatened, beaten, thrown into jail, tortured, and executed for their convictions. Like them, if we are compelled to disobey, we must be ready to accept the consequences. If we are to be persecuted, it should be for obeying God, and not for breaking moral or civil laws (Romans 13:1,2).

Someday, after God judges and destroys all sin, the kingdom of heaven will rule every corner of this earth. John saw this day in a vision, and he cried out, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). Our true loyalty should be to our citizenship in heaven, not to our citizenship here, because the earth will be destroyed. Our loyalty should be to God’s truth, His way of life, and His dedicated people. Because we are loyal to God, we often will feel like strangers in a world that would prefer to ignore God.

So I ask you my brothers and sisters in Christ. How is your conduct in the mist of suffering? Do you allow the "Light" of Christ to shine even in times of trouble and despair? It is my prayer today that our Almighty and Holy God give each and every one of you the wisdom and courage needed to fight off the temptations of this world (devil) until you complete your journey home. Amen.

References: NKJV Holy Bible, Life Application Bible (NIV), the Nelson Study Bible.


Lou said...

Great post, Lloyd. I am reminded of a book I recently read about the reign of Hitler in Nazi Germany and how a great deal of German Christians bought into Hitler's claims that the Jewish people were responsible for much of Germany's suffering and shared in the persecution of millions of people. We have to be careful when submitting to the law that we don't dismiss our principles and morals in the process and that we remember that the ways of man are not the ways of God.

Merry Christmas! Lou

GOD thinker said...

Great post! Many people say you can't tell what is inside a fruit until it is squeezed. The pressure and the squeezing shows what is on the inside. When we are squeezed with struggles or suffering hopefully juice comes out instead of anger, fear, or stress. That is when we know we are fruitful in the Lord.

dfish said...

Great Post, Lloyd.

Many people are concerned with compromising their conscience. Unfortunately our conscience can be defiled. We must be careful not to equate our conscience with God's command.

Zim said...

Last time I thought about Christian suffering, loneliness and Cross. Everybody wants to be accepted by most of people and it is natural. But Jesus wakes up every time in the world - protests. There is no compromise between world and God's children.

MTJ said...

Hi Lloyd,

Thanks so much for sharing this teaching of how one lives in this world as a Christian. I believe every Christian desires to hear the words, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God."

In America, we have the unique heritage of Christianity, so we do not grasp the threat of life Christians in other countries face each day. That being said, we do face temptation and this is where we find the greatest threat to faith in Christ; sin and apathy.

Two phrases impress upon me what must be understood in both concept and application:
1. Bondservants of God
2. Fear God

Thanks so much for extending brotherly fellowship, friendship and encouragement to me. I admire and thank God for your faith and witness.

Blessings and peace.


The Angulo's said...

This was a really good post Lloyd! I really appreciated how well you explained about those who rule over you and not to hurt your own conscience. This is something I have struggled with. Trying to please those in authority for the sake of peace. It might be an interesting post if anybody has the wisdom to balance between having the gift of peacekeeping and also obeying the indwelling Holy Spirit.

God bless you!

Mrs. A

Judy said...

Hi Lloyd,

Thanks for this post. Love the first half where you discuss exuding behavior beyond reproach in the eyes of unbelievers who will see our good works and praise our father in heaven. This is something we should all aspire to as Christians even in our own families where there are often many unbelievers who are watching our every move.

I write about Jesus being the reason for the season in my new blog post.

Merry Christmas to you and your family,

Dear Carissmi said...

Thank you for your invitation. I am grateful.

Dean Spencer said...

Lloyd -

This is such an instructive post. You aptly show our responsibility as believers to live godly lives. Not just for our sake, but knowing that our actions our being observed (as you point out) and that how we respond to difficult circumstances will definitely affect how others perceive God.

I don't think many Christians realize how great a responsibility we have. I often internalize circumstances in my life as if I'm on an island. I need to realize my wife, my mom, brothers, sisters, and those close to me are deeply affected by my choices and how I live.

Thank you so much for this refreshing reminder. God bless!