God’s Word for You
1 Peter 2:11-12 Such good lives among the pagans
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, March 15, 2022
At the beginning of the letter, there was a cycle of God’s plan (1:3-12) followed by Peter urging us to live holy lives and to be holy (1:13-2:3). Now a second cycle turns in a similar way from Christ’s relationship with believers (2:4-10) to another string of commands about the way believers should live in the world (2:11-3:17).
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.
Possessions are not evil. In fact, “God gives a man wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing” (Ecclesiastes 6:2), and “a diligent man prizes his possessions” (Proverbs 12:27). But possessions can lead to great evil. If someone prizes his possessions over his family, or in place of his own faith, then he has left the path of wisdom, and God will take those possessions back and give them to someone else (Zechariah 9:4). So also money is not evil, but the love and craving of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Peter tells us that we should live with our eyes on heaven rather than on the things and possessions we might collect in this lifetime.
Luther put it this way:
“The devil is a prince of the world, and he rules it; his citizens are the people of the world. Therefore since you are not of the world, you must act like a stranger in an inn who does not have his possessions there but only takes food and gives his money for it. For here there is only a stopover where we cannot remain. We must proceed on our journey. Therefore we should use temporal goods for no other purpose than clothing and food. Then we depart for another land. We are citizens in heaven; on earth we are pilgrims and guests.” (LW 30:67)
You and I must have a few things in order to live in such a way that we are not considered vagrants: a roof to live under (owned or rented), income of some kind, clothing, shoes, food; access to water and a toilet. When one is homeless, these are the very first things to be considered. But there is also a stigma that comes with being homeless, a certain shame for having to live that way. To be homeless for only a few days would be a frightening experience, but there are people who live that way for months or years. Begging for food is the first order of business. A young man I once knew who was homeless for a few days even considered stealing food, but the Lord preserved him from letting that temptation grow into sin. The most serious problem in our culture for a person who is homeless is that in most villages and towns there is nowhere to go where one is not trespassing. The daytime isn’t too bad a problem if there are parks or streams except in the winter, but at night one can hardly sleep anywhere without breaking a law, even in a village cemetery or a grove of trees. It isn’t easy trying to wash your socks and bluejeans in the local creek without attracting attention.
The trouble with all of those details is that they apply to our world today, but they didn’t apply in the same way in the days when the Apostle wrote this. So let’s not get bogged down in modern examples. Let’s come back to Peter’s command: If we live like a traveler who has money for a hotel, and a little money for his meals, who can go from place to place and not worry about very many possessions, then we will have the right picture of being strangers in the world, of living like aliens.
The Christian’s goal is to abstain from sinful desires, so that coveting will not become a temptation that leads to all sorts of sins. If I am content with a baggy old shirt that covers my body and isn’t offensive to look at, I might perhaps keep myself from coveting another one that I don’t need. On the other hand, if I have a wardrobe full of clothes because a variety of clothes is expected of me, I might be content with them, and that wouldn’t be sinful either. It is the condition of the heart that Peter is examining, not the fullness of the dresser or closet. If a man with one shirt becomes smug about his one shirt, then he is sinning, and that’s a danger, too. I had a teacher who used to say: It is a narrow middle road that Christians walk.
12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (NIV)
This earthly life will be lived among the pagans. For some, there are pagans even within a single household. Paul gives special instructions and comfort about that (1 Corinthians 7:15, 7:16-17, 12:2-3) and John and Jude touch on this when applying the doctrine of fellowship (3 John 1:7, 1:8; Jude 1:4). Peter wants us to live in such a way that, even if we are condemned by unbelievers because of our faith, those same unbelievers will recognize us for what we truly are on the day when Christ comes again in judgment, “on the day he visits us.” God’s “visitation” is not always neighborly, as when he brings his wrath to sinners: “In the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:12, King James Version). And also: “The day of thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity” (Micah 7:4, King James Version).
This verse does not teach us that by living a good life we will avoid accusations. Quite the reverse. When a Christian lives a sanctified life he will be hated by unbelievers who will assume that he is being “holier than thou” or some such nonsense. The unbeliever loves it when he can drag a Christian down to his level, but the unbeliever won’t hesitate to crow about it as if he is the devil himself switching hats from the lying devil to the accusing Satan. The devil is never our friend, and an unbeliever cannot be trusted when it comes to matters of faith or our Christian reputation. Peter’s words are therefore a warning: The pagan will still accuse you in this lifetime, but he will give glory to God on Judgment Day. But for the pagan, that is the unbeliever, it will be too late. In the mean time, pray for him.
Pastor Timothy Smith