God’s Word for You
1 Peter 2:15-17 Freedom and obligation
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 17, 2022
15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
“It is God’s will… that you should silence.” This is an example of the Greek infinitive of obligation: It is the will of God. What is? That we should silence the ignorant talk of the foolish with our good lives, which, as Peter just said, are to be “such good lives among the pagans” that their unjust assaults on Christians will be unmasked as jealous lies and exaggerations, proved false by the simple truth exhibited by the life of the Christian. This is also what Nehemiah said as he repaired the walls of Jerusalem: “Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?” (Nehemiah 5:9). The wicked unbeliever says to God, “Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways” (Job 21:14), but the Christian’s life causes God’s ways to be known, whether his neighbors know it or not.
Not that the life of the believer will proclaim the gospel itself. This is done through the preaching of the word. But Peter is talking about an application of the law in this verse (doing God’s will), not the proclamation of Christ and his forgiveness. For the unbeliever may eventually ask the Christian the question that will open the door for the gospel: the question “Why?” “Why do you do the things that you do, behave the way that you do, turn the other cheek as you do? Why do you have confidence and even hope when faced with death?” Then the gospel can be proclaimed, because to a certain extent the way has been prepared because the law has caused the pagan to say, “I am different and I don’t want to be different any longer. I don’t want to be afraid of death.” He doesn’t realize yet that his heart is truly saying, “I am a sinner and I’m afraid of God’s judgment.” But whatever language his heart uses, the thought is there, and the gospel can be proclaimed.
16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (NIV)
When we learn about Christian freedom (or liberty) there is a temptation to use it to the point of abuse: “Since I don’t have to, I won’t….” Paul warns about this with the strongest possible words: “Be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). Perhaps the hardest lesson for many Christians to learn is that there are people in the pew next to you who don’t know everything you know. Everyone is on a different part of the path on the journey of sanctified, holy living. Paul’s example for the Corinthians is about meat that had been sacrificed to an idol before it was sold in the local butcher shop. Can a Christian eat that meat without sinning? The answer is: Yes or no. Yes, if he understands that an idol is nothing and that everything is a gift from God. But at the same time: No, not if his conscience is bothered by the idolatry and if any part of his mind will think that the act of eating, or touching, or even purchasing the meat, would in any way be an act of idolatry or give glory to a demon. “Therefore,” Paul says, “if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). If this is an inconvenience in my life, shouldn’t I accept it for the sake of my brother’s soul? Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? (Job 2:10). What is his soul worth, and is there a way in which I myself can snatch him from the fire and save him, as Jude says (Jude 1:23)?
There is a troubling undercurrent in some churches today. As more churches incorporate modern and contemporary music (which of itself is a fine and godly thing, and which Luther also did), there are those personalities that are easily swept away by the desire of churches that also use modern music but who have an agenda that wants to eliminate the liturgy from worship. The motive of those churches (hidden from many or most of their people) is to dowse or eliminate the preaching of sin. Apart from the liturgical confession and absolution and certain historic prayers, there is no preaching of sin or the law to be found among them anywhere, and therefore Christ becomes nothing but an example and not the Savior. This agenda, of course, is hidden from the people, who don’t notice it right away (like the proverbial frog in the pot as the heat is slowly turned up). However, I know of a Lutheran church (not of our fellowship) in which a woman stormed out of the church in a huff one Sunday when the pastor said the Lord’s Prayer. Some are led to think that the right path of worship for modern music is something like: Prayer, music (½ hour), sermon or motivational talk, more music, and perhaps a closing blessing. For the weak Christian, the weary Christian, the Christian burdened by sin and guilt, as well as the new Christian who is not well-versed in the Gospels, this style of no-liturgy worship is empty of the gospel of forgiveness, especially if the sermon is based on a topic rather than on a text of the Bible.
The complaint or excuse that the liturgy is “not commanded in the Bible” is only true insofar as the order of the liturgy is not commanded. But neither is singing music in worship commanded in the Bible, although it is certainly urged (1 Chronicles 5:16; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). But where the law is not preached, the gospel cannot be truly preached or applied. Therefore, the hidden motive for doing away with the liturgy is a wicked one that robs Christians of law and gospel.
God commands us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16; 1 John 1:9) and he commands the church to proclaim his forgiveness (John 20:23). If we remove the confession and absolution from worship, we reject the command of Jesus and at the same time force Christians to do this on their own, and how many will do what is not modeled for them in worship?
Where there is no invocation in the name of the Triune God, have “two or three gathered in his name” (Matthew 18:20)?
Every service should remind us that Jesus has risen from the dead. This is not always the point of a passage, especially during Lent, Advent, Christmas, and some other seasons, and therefore isn’t always a point in our preaching. And while (of course) the risen Christ should be present in our preaching, the historic liturgy provides the Prayer of the Day, the short prayer spoken just before the Scripture lessons, which always has the reminder that Christ “lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” There in the Prayer of the Day, the worshiper learns to anticipate that wonderful truth of the risen Christ, just as we also do at the end of the second article of the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, which are another part of the liturgy that should be retained since through them we review in a simple way both the elementary beliefs of the church and also the most important points of the life and work of Christ on our behalf.
I could continue, but I want to remember to say that modern or contemporary music has a place in worship, but we need to consider the reasons and true motives for wanting to dismiss the liturgy. For the sake of the hurting Christian, the grieving Christian, the straying Christian, the young Christian, the Christian losing her memory, the Christian who is overwhelmed with guilt over a sin, the minister overwhelmed with the burden of many duties and the cares of his flock, and many others, the liturgy is a comfort. If a worshiper struggles to apply the liturgy to himself, perhaps he should consider joining in the liturgy as he sings in such a way that the music is beautified for the sake of the Christian who needs it, for whom the added beauty of a well-sung harmony line will touch the emotions (which is surely one of the reasons we use music and the arts in worship). But I should also be willing to apply Paul’s words even to this part of my life: “If what I dismiss from the liturgy causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never dismiss the liturgy ever again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). Living “as servants of God” does not always mean getting my way, but of loving God above all, and my neighbor as myself.
Pastor Timothy Smith