Background Scripture: 1 Peter 2:11-25
Quote of the Week:
Above all be of single aim; have a legitimate and useful purpose, and devote yourself unreservedly to it.
There is a story I have heard of a guy who moved to a monastery to get closer to God, and in doing so, he took a vow of silence. He could only say two words every seven years. The first time, he went to the head monk (the abbot) and said "Bed hard". Seven years later, he went and said "Food bad". In another seven years, he said "I quit". The abbot said "It doesn't surprise me. All you have done since you got here is complained!" While that is a funny story, it should give us all a little pause on multiple accounts. First, we all tend to complain (even more than this guy!) and second, how is our view of people that we have only encountered a couple of times created? What if I had only seen somebody for a few minutes at a time over 20 years? Their view of me might be based on a very bad day or a very good day (just as my view of them might be). Isn't it strange how we have opinions of people based on a very short exposure to them? Haven't you found people to be quite different once you spend time with them? Have you ever wondered why we create a snap judgment without ever really trying to understand who somebody really is?
This lesson could easily be entitled as the heading in Scripture says, "Living Godly Lives in a Pagan Society". We do realize that the society in which we live impacts us in many ways. Do you think that things would be different if you were only living around, working with and associating with other believers? You might find things to be somewhat more encouraging, but one common element among believers is that all are human and all have problems and all are imperfect. Ask anyone who works in a church (assuming the others are believers) and ask them if that is always a positive environment. If you were able to work with believers, you would be able to pray for one another and talk about what God might be doing in your life without feeling as if you were making someone uncomfortable. But, once again, we know that there would still be problems from time to time. And, sometimes problems between believers seem to be worse because of heightened expectations we may have.
As we live our lives, we will be around others who are believers and others who aren't. I work with a large number of people with diverse backgrounds. Despite the differences, we generally tend to get along well and treat each other respectfully in most occasions. There are times, however, where I need to remember that my life is intended to be pleasing to God and not simply focused on just trying to get along with everyone.
Peter was giving guidance on how to live in such a way that we do not adopt a legalistic point of view. His answer to why is not just 'because I told you so', which is the common answer of many parents to their children. Peter was appealing to other believers to live in a way that honors Christ, based on our higher calling as believers as opposed to merely making some intellectual argument. He urges us to live as foreigners and exiles in this world. To be honest, from time to time, I watch the news or other TV shows, and I feel like a foreigner in this world. The way this world has gone - with the things that are seen as commonplace today is much different than it was even twenty or thirty years ago.
We are citizens of whatever country to which we belong, but we need to realize that we are really citizens of a heavenly kingdom. As such, we need to abstain from sinful desires. The world encourages us to just give in. Today, there are many people that want us to accept any type of lifestyle and to partition our lives so that we only think of 'church' when we are in church. Additionally, there is a notion that there are places that you can go and do whatever you want to do, while what happens stays there. Are we to stay away from such behavior just because we're told to? Peter tells us that those sinful desires wage war against your soul. Do you realize that you are at war? If there were hostile enemy soldiers that were in your town, you'd likely change where you walk and be very cautious about the places you go. However, we are at war each day and many of us act as if there are no hostile forces around us at all.
As believers, we are called to live good lives among the pagans in the world. When you don't give in to the desires of those around you and you stand on what you believe, you may receive some amount of grief from those around you, but when you are consistent and authentic in what you stand for, they will take notice. This often leads to opportunities to share with those around us when they encounter difficulties in life. While they may make fun of you at some point, they will truly respect who you are and what you stand for, which may eventually lead to them glorifying God.
Actually, submission to our leaders is throughout Scripture. We need to realize that this goes to all forms of authority, from the family to the government. We don't submit and we don't show respect because those in power do what we want. We are told to submit for the Lord's sake. This is His authority structure and while it may appear arbitrary, we are not given an option. We are to submit to the authority of the office and not the character of the holder. We are to obey the laws of government, unless they are trying to go against God's clear direction. We have some people that have tried to take things into their own hands and have caused major problems for other believers. There are those who have committed murder in the name of pro-life. While we should take stands, we must realize that God is the Supreme authority and He has told us to submit. While we may be able to voice our opinions, we need to be careful when we find ourselves continually speaking out against our leaders, showing them little, if any respect. It can be difficult, but if you find yourself only showing respect if others earn it, you have missed the point. Submission is your choice and your mindset. We must remember that people are watching us. They may never read the Bible or care about what it says. However, when they see your lifestyle, they will get some interpretation of what God says.
We are called to live as free men. Obviously, this does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want to do. If I drive to work in the morning and choose to not obey stop signs, stop lights, lane markings or speed limits because I am free, what will happen? Although I may claim freedom, I will likely cause others to wreck, if not myself. We see that there is responsibility that goes along with freedom. While we may not know the reasons why certain rules exist, we should be seen as those who follow rules.
I doubt that any of us are slaves, those of us in the workforce are usually accountable to an employer or some boss. You can probably recall times when your boss may not have deserved respect. You may have felt that they didn't pay attention to your ideas or asked you to do menial tasks that were below your capabilities. Perhaps you have seen others promoted when you realized that you were the one who did all the work. There are various issues that arise in workplaces, but our attitudes should be one of submission to our employers, despite how we are treated.
There are some people who work with or for other believers. For many of them, it might be a joy to go to work due to the relationships that they have. However, even then, we need to realize that we are at work to work and not for social hour. In some of the places I have worked, we have had weekly Bible Studies. In those studies, we really encouraged everyone to not shirk their work responsibilities, as we were truly representing Christ in the workplace. It truly harms our witness if we claim to be a believer, but we do not do our job. Regardless of where you work, spend your time as required, and show respect to those who are in authority over you.
Realize that your performance appraisal at work is important, but in the grander scheme of things, it is God's input that really matters. In all areas of our lives and in all of our decisions, we are to be conscious of what God has called us to do. We all have made decisions that seemed right at the time, but in the back of our minds, we knew that we truly hadn't sought God. In many of those cases, the outcomes come to be much less than we had hoped.
In our lives, we may receive different types of persecution. We are not likely to be persecuted to the point of fearing for our lives, but we may lose jobs, friendships or other things when we are persecuted. At times, we suffer consequences of what we have done wrongly and brought upon ourselves. At other times, we are persecuted for doing the right thing. In either case, it is not for us to draw attention to ourselves and actually, in either case, we can provide a witness to others. People see how we handle persecution for taking a stand and learn about what is important in our lives. On the other hand, while we may not receive credit for our mistakes, people do want to see how we respond to failure in our lives. It is amazing to realize that nonbelievers are often more focused on those who have failed and how they respond, because they know of failure in their own lives. They may have a much harder time relating to those who have suffered for doing the right thing. The key point is that ultimately God can be honored by the way we handle life, regardless of how we got to where we are. Is God being honored in your life?
He was insulted, yet He did not retaliate. How do you handle it when people make fun of you and call you names? Retaliation is a pure human response, yet Jesus shows us that there is a better way. When Jesus suffered, He made no threats to others. Jesus, who could have called fire down on His enemies, chose not to attack them. If you or I had this capability, do you know a few people that may have met an untimely demise? It is a good thing that you and I are not able to have the power that Jesus had, as I know that we could not control it. While we are not to retaliate, this passage is not implying that it is wrong to defend yourself against wrongdoing. There were times in the life of Christ when Jesus did not remain passive, and it would be wrong for us to say that we are to allow others to steamroll over us, pointing to the example of Jesus on the cross.
Jesus gave of Himself for you and I. In the Old Testament, it was clear that God demanded sacrifices for sin. It was something that had to happen over and over, as we are always dealing with sin. But, Jesus bore our sins on the cross, so that in one fell swoop, we would be righteous and healed. On our own, we were headed for punishment and separation from the love of God, but now through Jesus, we have returned to the Shepherd of our souls.
Every relationship you have in life will have some amount of stress. Even if you are doing all of the right things, we are all human and mistakes will be made. Much of life is based on how we respond to the mistakes that we and others make in life. If you believe yourself to appear as perfect to those you are around, you need to take a step back and realize what they see. We are never going to model perfection to the world around us, but they do want to see how we deal with stress in life and how we handle our mistakes.
We need to ensure that we live in a way that pleases God. Don't make the way you live your life dependent upon how others live. If you are living to please anyone other than God, you will encounter issues. Strive to live for God in your workplace. Strive to live for God as a citizen. Strive to live for God as a spouse, parent or child. Strive to live for God in your relationship with other believers. While we all may agree in the way we should generally live; it is another thing altogether to live that way. Don't make your life's focus on pleasing others, but strive to live in a way that pleases God.