Click here for the reading: 1 Peter 2:11-20.
St. Peter had earlier labelled his recipients, “elect exiles.” (1 Peter 1:1). To that description of Christians as exiles he now adds “sojourners.” (1 Peter 2:11). This connects in perfectly with the context of the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, where the Israelites in exile were given hope.
Christians are here taught a proper view of their place in this world. Though they have gone from being “not a people,” to being “God’s people,” there is a rest and homeland that has not yet been reached. St. Paul’s famous dictum: “your citizenship is in heaven,” finds its complement here.
How then should sojourners and exiles live? This seems to be the overarching question that the epistle reading for Jubilate Sunday addresses. The preacher will want to consider the possible dangers that sojourners might encounter on their journey to the world to come. What are the various things that might hinder the journey? While the making of a list has value, it is the preacher’s special concern to identify those dangers which are most prevalent in his congregation’s own time and place.
The epistle lumps many things together under the phrase, “passions of the flesh, which wage war against the soul.” If the preacher is in need of help in compiling his list of such passions he will find more than enough from our Lord’s discussion of what comes out of the heart (Mattthew 15:19) as well as St. Paul’s so-called vice lists (e.g. Galatians 5:19-21). However, it is worth noting that St. Peter doesn’t enumerate these passions. He opts instead for brevity and the promotion of what he calls “honorable conduct,” and “doing good.”
One pitfall for sojourners is to ignore the lands they are passing through. While Christians recognize that this world is passing away and that we are not to become at home in it, Peter’s emphasis is on doing good as we journey through this passing age. So, he tells Christians to “be subject” to the emperor and his governors. The rationale that is given is that such authorities exist to punish evil-doers and praise those who do good. The will of God is summed up as, “doing good,” and this is what is the primary concern for Christians in this world.
As the preacher considers this he will find a helpful distinction to be made by asking the question, “who determines what good works are?” Subjecting oneself to the emperor and governor is not synonymous with obedience to every executive order that comes down from on high. The same apostle Peter famously said to the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). And, according to tradition, he was crucified upside down for running afoul of the authorities.
Just as there is a pitfall in ignoring the world we now live in, so there is a danger for sojourners to becoming totally at home in it. Especially in a time when governments disregard the life of the soul and are antagonistic towards any suggestions about the life of the world to come Christians should be urged to exercise discernment. It is not a rebellious spirit that suspects that governing authorities that will not recognize the humanity of unborn babies do not have the best handle on what it means to “do good.” What is to be done when governments order citizens to “do what we say is good,” if they contradict what God says is good? If they appeal to “loving your neighbor,” or, “protecting public health,” does that mean they have accurately understood these things? If it is God’s will that by doing good we put to silence the ignorance of foolish people, might this include the emperor and his governors?
The epistle reading concludes with a reminder that doing good will not always be met with praise. While it is God’s will for the civil estate to praise those who do good, it is commonly not the case that this happens. The kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord and against His anointed (Ps. 2:2). The pages of Scripture, the history of the church, and the preacher’s own experience will provide ample examples of this. Christians are to look for vindication not from Caesar or his governors but from God, who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23).