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. 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. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:2-17
An exercise I do when I read these ancient texts, outlining how we should live, is consider the time in which they were written. I don’t want to dive too deep into the study of when this passage was written, but more than likely, it was within the first century. To understand the import of this statement in that time period is to understand the absolute depravity of leadership in Rome. The value of human life was near nil, and nothing escaped the exercise of desire. Even with the evil we’ve witnessed and read about in the last 200-300 years, it rarely, if ever, approaches first century Rome.
Then, as now, Jesus followers experienced the same soul-freedom we do today. Living within this freedom removes the moorings of the trappings of life. Was life for them difficult, and is life for us difficult? Absolutely. While we’re not being roasted to illuminate dinner parties, life for us can be hard. And yet, we can find joy in this experience similar to those praising Jesus as they burned. Up to now, most of us haven’t experienced anything close to this tortured existence. Not having enough money for cars, homes, or other possessions doesn’t count. What truly counts is how we live our lives while on the earth.
These words in the passage are truly powerful. The words penned by Peter were targeted for Gentile and Jewish believers in the Diaspora. Just as he told them in this letter, our lives are to fearlessly reflect Jesus to everyone around us. When the time comes for people (“Gentiles”) to speak out against us, our life and actions will speak louder than their words. The way we live is observed to the degree we don’t need to ‘toot our own horn.’ People will know.
Just as our ancestors in the faith were called to honor the Emperor, so are we (1 Peter 2:17). Remember that when the Emperor ‘s rulings superseded the preeminence of God, they chose Christ. As we go through our daily lives, experiencing the peace and presence of God with us, engaging in the practice of prayer, let’s pray for our leadership. I’m certain some would rather chew aluminum foil than pray for our politicians, but this is what we’re called to do (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Remember, our moorings adhere to God and our choice, Christ.
By Rich Obrecht