Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
- 1 Peter 2:11-25
In the last generation and a half Western culture’s opinion of Christianity has shifted from generally positive to downright terroristic. Christians have gone from being seen as nice people to being characterized primarily as dogmatic bigots, sexually backward traditionalists, and ignorant conservatives. The backlash from four hundred plus years of Christendom is coming full force, and as others have noted (See here and here for a couple insightful articles along these lines) we need to set aside our assumptions of being a majority with significant cultural clout and learn to live into the role of exiles and a minority.
This is especially true for millennials, young adults, and the following generations who will (and do) live in the midst of this quickly-coalescing anti-Christian culture., The book of 1st Peter will become an increasingly valuable Biblical guidebook for how to live in light of exile and how to bear witness to Christ in a world that has little to no positive associations with Christianity.
In 1 Peter 2 the apostle lays out a strange strategy for bearing witness to Christ in exile. In contrast with the common evangelism tactics used over the last fifty years or so, Peter’s strategy doesn’t have much to do with cold-calls, getting people to acknowledge their sinfulness, or preaching on street corners. Honestly it doesn’t have much to do with speaking at all; it has everything to do with living a kind of life that brings up questions. Here’s what Peter calls the people he’s writing to to do in order to bear witness:
1. Stop sinning
In verse 11 he writes, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” How can a believer bear witness to the power and glory of the Gospel of Christ in a post-Christian culture? By removing the sin from their lives. Cut out lust and pornography, lying and manipulation, self-praise and laziness and the world around you will begin to wonder what the source of your transformation is.
2. Do good
It’s not enough to stop doing bad things. Instead, we must “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”Our lives should overflow with good deeds – from helping a new neighbor move in to congratulating a coworker on their success to giving generously of our finances. Our lives should be so full of good deeds that other people can’t help but be impressed.
3. Submit to authority (even bad ones)
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.” Oh how hard this presses against our American tendency to assert our right to overthrow unjust and ungodly authority! We’re quick to fill Facebook feeds with articles insulting Obama and calling for the reform of American government, but does that truly reflect the character of Christ who submitted silently to the questioning of Pilate and bore stoically the utterly unjust weight of the cross?
The world, post-Christian or otherwise, knows well how to buck the authorities they dislike. What will bring questions and bear witness to patient faith in God is not mainly civil disobedience and moral outrage; it is submitting, for the Lord’s sake, to even unjust human authorities. (Disagree? Comment below.)
4. Honor everyone
“Show proper respect to everyone…fear God, honor the emperor.” Not only are we to submit to even evil authority, we are to honor everyone. Everyone here means – you guessed it – everyone.
Christian, do you know how to honor homosexuals? Are you equipped to honor, regardless of their policy on immigration/taxes/social security/ISIS/gender norms, the next President of our country? Will you be prepared to honor your boss when they fire you simply for being a Christian or will you take to social media and release your righteous, fully justified indignation? Trevin Wax has some wise words about honor and social media. (http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2013/11/25/does-your-facebook-rant-honor-everyone/) We followers of Jesus should be known for the way we are fair and honorable towards those who we disagree with and dislike.
In my personal opinion this practice of honoring everyone may be the most powerful tool for bearing witness to Christ in a post-Christian culture. We need to learn how to leverage it.
5. Love other believers
Peter commands us to honor everyone, but to “love the family of believers.” Echoing Jesus’ command in John 13, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” Peter echoes that indeed, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Love goes above and beyond honor. Where honor can be done solely on the outside, bowing externally while the inside is raging, love demands a peculiar level of affection. Love covers over differences and focuses on the good of the other. Love ignores petty divisions and searches out common ground on which to stand. If we want to reach young adults and millennials and a post-Christian world, love must be the tone of every conversation and interaction we have with other Christians. Petty divisions be damned, love be all.
As I look out over the collapse of Christendom I see a world of opportunity. I see a generation of young adults who are hungry for true spirituality and who are eager for purpose in life. in the midst of our culture’s is increasing opposition to Christianity we have a massive opportunity to help them correctly redefine what it means to follow Jesus. It is as we “live such good lives among the pagans” that we will bear witness and be the re-writers of those definitions.
Let’s begin to live that kind of life and “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” As we do so we will begin to see the fruit of true conversions and discipleship take place. Truly, there is no other way.