• The BaptistWay lesson for Nov. 3 focuses on 1 Peter 2:11-3:9
We know Christians are supposed to behave. In some ways, this is the most distinguishable feature in a Christian’s life. Unfortunately, a focus on behavior can become disproportional and unhealthy when context is ignored. I grew up in a small town where everyone went to church. “God talk” was part of the culture, and everyone knew the rules they needed to follow when others were watching. Of course, following a list of rules or cultural expectations does not define the Christian life.
In 1 Peter 2-3, cultural norms are mentioned, but they are set apart and defined by one’s Christian behavior, not the other way around. Verses 2:11-12 seem to be the thesis statement for this passage: “as foreigners and exiles … abstain from sinful desires … live such good lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Can you see the difference from the culture in which I grew up? The emphasis is not on behaving to keep from causing a scene at church, but on living in an altogether different way that attracts people to Jesus. This message fit the various audiences Peter was addressing scattered throughout pagan provinces, and it’s fitting for people today who find themselves in an increasingly post-Christian world.
Godly citizens (1 Peter 2:13-17)
While in seminary, I got a part-time job tutoring at an inner-city high school. I went through minor culture shock as I realized the expectation of good, Christian behavior that permeated my community was not present in this one. Teenage pregnancies, foul language, drug use and disruptive behavior were a regular part of the lives of these students. During the morning announcements, pledge of allegiance and “moment of silence” at the beginning of the day, many students continued to carry on in whatever manner they wished. An attitude of apathy permeated the school, and behavior to the contrary often was the exception.
Peter’s instruction to “submit yourselves … to every human authority” (2:13) is meant to stand out and be exceptional as well. While he would not have ascribed human authorities to God, Peter recognizes God has allowed them to be in place. As such, believers can influence them for good with exceptional behavior, regardless of how flawed or pagan they might be. Recognizing authority and approving of authority is not one in the same. It is a necessary distinction that allows Christians to serve God in a world that is not their home.
Godly slaves (2:18-25)
What happens when human authority is abusive and unjust? Are Christians still expected to go along with it? Peter remains silent on this subject, because his concern is for people who are “stuck in the system.” For them, there may not be a foreseeable way out. It is from this frame of reference that Peter addresses the suffering endured by slaves from harsh owners: “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God” (v. 19). In other words, God makes a difference and gives meaning to suffering. It does not have to be faced with indifference or trusting in self-sufficiency.
Thankfully, slavery is not an issue for us today; but everyone has something in life that seems to be their “lot.” There is so much we cannot control, and suffering is inevitable. Peter reminds us the way we face this suffering can point others to Jesus, who “suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (v. 21).
Godly marriages (3:1-9)
Whether it is between a slave and a master, a citizen and a ruler or a husband and a wife, the Christian faith has the power to transform relationships. Andrew Peterson speaks to this in a song about marriage called “Dancing in the Minefields.”
The song portrays a mutual “dance” in marriage, as the couple navigates both joys and hardships together. This was not the way marriage was done in Peter’s time. Just as he does in reference to slavery and citizenship, Peter gives us a glimpse into the hierarchical nature that ruled the institution during his life when he instructs wives to “submit yourselves to your husbands” (3:1). Again, the emphasis is not on what Peter is telling women to do—they already would have been doing this out of cultural obligation—but on the purpose behind it: “So that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives” (v. 1). Peter recognizes women literally were the “weaker partner” in his society and encourages husbands to “be considerate … and treat them with respect” (v. 7).
It is amazing to think something as small as the way we observe a law, encounter suffering or model marriage can make a difference for Jesus. However, we live in a world starving to see Jesus in the everyday, mundane aspects of life. It is not about obeying rules or cultural expectations; it is about bringing glory to God.