The way you live your life bears witness to the Gospel. This is true in face-to-face interactions as much as it is true in online interactions. The way you treat others and live your life bears witness to the Gospel. No matter what role you find yourself in there are two things that need to happen. First, you need to live under whatever authority you have been placed and second you are to live peaceably from that position. Peter is now launching into a section of his letter about how to do these two things in whatever role in life you find yourself in (citizen, slaves and wives). Peter does not tackle masters and husbands as it appears he is addressing those in the more difficult position in his audience and it may well be the masters and husbands aren’t Christians anyway, based on what Peter has to say.
In 2:11 Peter reminds them of their position in the world, just as he did at the start of this letter, that they are “foreigners and exiles” in the world. Because this is true there is a way they are to live that runs counter to the way people who belong to this world (and who operate in a worldly way). How are we to live as citizens in a land that doesn’t value the Gospel? That is a key question as much today as it was then and here is Peter’s answers – live out your faith in a way that points people to Jesus. This is done through living a good life that promotes a conversation about Jesus (2:12), submission to authority (2:13 – being a zealot won’t point people to Jesus), live free to the world but as slaves to God (2:16) and finally in 2:17 he writes, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
There were many reasons for Peter to say something else but this is what he wrote and these are difficult teachings. For instance, the emperor one was to respect, Nero, was the same one who would later have Peter killed and persecute Christians. Peter isn’t about rationalizing things counter to the Christ-centered life. Peter is about drawing people to Jesus through a life lived in discipline to our Gospel-identity.
What makes it hard today to live as a citizen of God’s kingdom among earthly rulers? Does that vary based on who our President is or is it really like this all the time?
Peter’s words challenge us because he is retraining our natural reactions to being attacked and reviled to respond with respect, love, continuing to do good instead of evil and submission. If that isn’t hard, I don’t know what is but this is the way of Jesus. He will point that out more specifically in 2:21-24,
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps…When they hurled 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.’“.
Christ did it first and not only that…by doing so Christ has healed us. He has healed us from our selfishness. He has healed us from our entitlement. He has healed us from the ways of that world that urge us to leverage our victimhood to perpetrate more violence and disrespect. We have been healed – so we can live as free people in the world and yet as slaves to God (2:16).
If you struggle with retaliation you are not living as one who has been healed. If you struggle to justify lack of respect and love you are not living free in the world. God has a better way and Jesus blazed that trail so we could follow him to a better way of being. When we do that, people will notice Jesus when they see us.