“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 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.” (1 Peter 2:11–12 ESV)
The stakes are high for our personal lives. Our spiritual lives. Our happiness. But that is not Peter primary concern here. He is concerned about the local church’s witness and testimony in the community. Remember, the secular world is hostile to Christian truth. We live as exiles here. What should we do? “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.” (1 Peter 2:12)
Verse 11 flows into verse 12. They are one thought in Peter’s mind. Something not to do: abstain from the illicit desires. Something to do: live honorably before a watching world. We tend to think of morality and virtue as a private matter, as something we do behind closed doors so as not to seem holier than thou. Peter has the opposite perspective for the church. See it in the first phrase, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.” Why does he use the term Gentiles here? It’s not to make an ethnic distinction. He means Gentiles in the spiritual sense. Unbelievers. The unbelieving world and people around us. Peter says that your conduct, your lives, should have a certain quality to them. The ESV translates it “honorable.” It is the Greek word for good in the sense of inherently good or beautiful; not in the artistic sense, but in the moral and spiritual sense.
When real and authentic Christianity shows up, the secular culture can’t help but notice. Real Christianity shows itself in kindness, generosity, justice, sacrificial love—virtues that are rare in the world. This is not a call to perfection. The gospel reminds us that we need grace every day. But it is a call to a holy life marked by love.
As I was doing a final edit on this at a restaurant, the loud table next to me was telling stories of Christians going to Sunday lunch after church and leaving loose change and tracts. They weren’t impressed. Peter assumes Christians will live faithfully as Christians and that lifestyle will create a holy curiosity.
“So that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (Verse 12) This sounds like double-speak. Live righteous lives and they will accuse you of doing evil? In honor of the Masters golf tournament, here’s a quick golf illustration. There is a true story from years ago involving a Pro-Am tournament. Billy Graham was playing as an amateur in the event. It just so happened that one of the more notorious bad-boy golfers on tour was matched to play with Billy Graham. A friend of the golfer thought this humorous and kidded with the PGA golfer about it. After the round, the friend saw the PGA player on the practice tee hitting balls in a furious anger. So he rushed out and asked him, “What did Billy Graham say that made you so mad?” The golfer replied, “He didn’t say anything!” (R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God)
How many of us deal with negativity from family or coworkers simply because we are Christians? A few weeks ago we looked at verse 9 that Jesus is the stumbling stone for those who do not believe. I had a family come up to me after that sermon in tears. They are just about to leave for the mission field to minister in a community that does not like Christians at all. With tears they said, we have to remember that it is not us they are rejecting; it’s the stone that is being rejected.
The only perfect human being who has ever lived was accused of being born illegitimately, of plotting to overthrow Rome and be king, of demon possession, blasphemy, and mental derangement. The early Christians were viewed with suspicion and hostility because they didn’t conform to the lifestyle of the people around them (See Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude, Vol. 37, p. 122).
If I may pull a thought from recent headlines, to believe marriage is between a man and a woman is increasingly portrayed as pure hatred and bigotry. The world accuses us of evil in their eyes. But in all this, we have a spiritual ace in the hole. What is it? Go back to verse 12, “so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” The church in exile should exhibit a kind of life that is so different morally and so different socially (love for others), that the world becomes like that PGA golfer—exasperated and perplexed, but silenced because of our example of love.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) The effect of “light” (Jesus) and “good deeds” (Peter) is evangelistic. Both verses culminate in the unbeliever worshiping God. Peter adds the wrinkle “on the day of visitation.” I think that refers to the return of Christ or final judgment. In the end, the PGA golfer who has a close-up view of Billy Graham may rethink his prejudice and hopefully believe in the saving message of Jesus which Billy Graham represents.
Let’s let Peter challenge us here. Does my life make the case for Jesus and the gospel? Would an unbeliever be drawn to consider becoming a Christian himself?
Live beautiful lives in this hostile world. Even those who hate you will in their hearts wonder if maybe there is something to it. That wondering may open their hearts to think, If Jesus did it in his life or her life, maybe he will do it mine.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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