Exposition of 1 Peter
“Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the forward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again: when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”—1 Peter 2:11-25
The Spirit of God now gives us important details concerning what should characterize the pilgrim band as they travel on through the wilderness of this world to the Canaan rest that awaits them when they reach the end of the way. Let us consider carefully each verse:
Verse 11—“As strangers and pilgrims.” Note the order. Men often reverse it. But no one is really a pilgrim in this biblical sense who has not first become a stranger in this world. As such, he is to be careful to avoid contamination with the evil that is all about him. He is to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” Just as Amalek came out and fought against Israel (Exodus 17:8), so these carnal desires would tend to turn the believer aside from the path of devotion to Christ, and thus hinder his progress as he journeys on toward that which God has prepared for him (1 Peter 1:3, 5).
Verse 12—“They may be your good works…glorify God.” As Daniel’s enemies had to confess they could find nothing against him (Daniel 6:4, 5) except “concerning the law of his God,” which was contrary to their accepted heathen practices, so consistent believers shut the mouths of those who would deride and vilify them, making these very foes of the truth bear testimony to the consistency of their lives.
Verse 13—“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.” As loyal subjects of the State, Christians are to be obedient to the laws passed even though they may feel that in some instances they are unnecessarily arbitrary and perhaps actually unjust. By their submission they honor Him whom they recognize as their Lord and Saviour. Whatever form of government may prevail, so long as it is recognized as the constituted authority of the country, we are to be in subjection, whether to a king of by whatever name the supreme executive is known.
Verse 14—“Unto governors…for the punishment of evildoers.” Human government has been established by God that evil may be checked and righteousness encouraged. The fact that some rules act contrary to the divine ideal does not absolve the believer from obedience to the powers that be. All human government manifests imperfection, but without its restraints society would be shipwrecked and anarchy would prevail. In principle, all constituted authority is intended to prevent crime and encourage honesty and good living.
Verse 15—“With well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Nothing is a better answer to false and malignant accusations than a godly, upright life, against which no charges can be brought truthfully. Samuel is a good example of this (1 Samuel 12:3, 4). There have not been wanting evilly disposed men in all ages, who have sought to impugn the motives and malign the conduct of God-fearing people. The best answer to all this is a blameless life, and this involves obedience to law.
Verse 16—“As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness.” Christians have been called unto liberty (Galatians 5:13), but this must never be confounded with license to obey the dictates of the flesh. He who makes of his Christian profession a cloak to cover unrighteous behavior is a hypocrite who dishonors the worthy name of the One he professes to serve. Note the vivid contrast here. Those who, through grace, are free from the slavery of sin and free from the principle of legality in Christian service are nevertheless the bondmen of God, purchased with the precious blood of Christ, and so responsible to render glad, loving obedience to his Word. They are not to make their liberty an excuse for fleshy license.
Verse 17—There are four admonitions in this verse. The third really covers all the rest. He who fears—that is, stands in awe of—God will not dishonor any man, and will love his brethren, and give due recognition to constituted authority. “Honour all men.” No man is to be despised. All are among those for whom Christ died. “Love the brotherhood.” This refers, not to the world in general, but to those who have been saved out of the world—those born again into the family of God. “Fear God.” Reverence Him whom we now know, not only as Creator, but also as Redeemer. “Honour the king.” Show due respect to the head of the government as one set by God in that very place, who is therefore accountable to God for the right exercise of the authority committed to him.
In verse 18 servants are exhorted to obedience to their own masters, and that “not only to the good and gentle, but also to the forward.” It is easy to obey a master who is kindly disposed and considerate. But the grace of God is seen in yielding obedience to those who are harsh and needlessly severe. This verse has added force when we remember that in Peter’s day servants were generally slaves. The consistent behavior of Christians in bondage was used of God to lead many of their masters to Christ. Self-vindication is ever to be avoided on the part of the follower of Christ. He is called to imitate his Master, who endured uncomplainingly the false accusation of sinners and lived His pure and holy life as under the eye of the Father, content to leave it with Him to justify Him in due time (Isaiah 50:5-8). The believer is to be subject to the laws of the land wherein he dwells, and to be a loyal citizen and an obedient servant in his particular calling. Thus by his good behavior he will show the falsity of the charges of malicious men, who would seek to make him out a menace to the State and an enemy of mankind. The early Christians were often so charged, but their consistent lives silenced their accusers.
Verse 19—“This is thankworthy.” The leading these of Peter’s first letter is the grace of God as manifested to and in the saints (5:12). The word rendered “thankworthy” here is really “grace.” It is grace active in the life, enabling one to bear up under the false accusations and to suffer in silence when conscious of one’s own integrity.
Verse 20—“If, when ye do well, and suffer for it,…this is acceptable with God.” Anyone can endure reproof when he knows it is deserved. It takes grace to enable one to accept undeserved blame without complaining; but to God it is acceptable, or well-pleasing, for this is to follow Christ’s blessed example. “It is hard to be blamed for what you did not do!” So said a troubled young Christian lately. But in this portion of God’s Word we are bidden to take our blessed, adorable Lord Himself as our example in this as in all else. He was falsely accused and bitterly persecuted for wrongs He had never done. As He left everything in the Father’s hands, so should we. Nature will rebel when we have to say, as he did, “They laid to My charge things that I knew not” (Psalm 35:11). But grace will enable us to triumph and to rejoice when men speak evil of us and persecute us (Matthew 5:11). If we endure patiently, as seeing Him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:27), we shall be vindicated in His own way and time, and reward will be sure at His judgment seat (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Verse 21—“Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example.” He has trodden the path ahead of us. We are called to follow His steps. The word here rendered “example” suggests a top line in a child’s copybook. We are to reproduce Christ in our lives.
Verse 22—“Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” He was pure outwardly and inwardly, God’s unblemished, spotless Lamb; therefore a suitable sacrifice on behalf of sinners, as He would not have been had He Himself been in any way defiled.
Verse 23—“When He was reviled, reviled not again.” Jesus endured patiently all the shame and indignities to which wicked men subjected Him. Their evil accusations brought no answers from His holy lips. He left it to the Father to vindicate Him, in His own good time.
Verse 24—“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” We dislike being blamed for other people’s faults, but He took all our sins upon Himself—bore all the judgment due to us—and so we are healed by His stripes, as depicted in Isaiah 53:5-6. Shall we then live in the sins for which He died? Rather, let us live now “unto righteousness” that He may be glorified in us.
Verse 25—“The Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” Once we were all like straying sheep, but through the grace of God we have been brought to know Christ. He is now our Shepherd, feeding and sustaining us, and our Bishop, or Overseer, guiding and directing us as we pursue our onward way through the wilderness of this world.
Having been saved by Him whom the world rejected, His pilgrim people have no reason to expect better treatment from that world than what was meted out to their Lord. When incarnate Love was here on Earth, few received Him and many rejected Him. His followers need not be surprised therefore if their testimony is spurned by the majority and accepted only by the minority. The Christian is not to think it strange that he, and that for which he stands, is not highly esteemed by the world. He is here as a light to shine for Christ in a dark scene. When Jesus our Lord returns He will estimate aright all His people have done and suffered for His sake, and He will reward accordingly. In the meantime it is better far to have the approval of the Lord than the approbation of the world which crucified Him.
We may epitomize the conduct which is inculcated in this section of the epistle as follows:
Strangers and Pilgrims
Purity of life (verse 11)
Honesty in word and deed (verse 12)
Subjection to law (verses 13-15)
Walking in liberty, not license (verse 16)
Reverence for God and consideration for men (verse 17)
Obedience to masters (verse 18)
Enduring grief (verse 19)
Patient under false accusations (verse 20)
Following Christ’s footsteps (verses 21-23)
Dead to sins and living unto righteousness (verse 24)
Owning Christ’s authority, and under His care (verse 25)
These are the characteristics of the new life which we who are saved have received by our second birth.