Sunday, July 03, 2011

1 Peter 2:13-17 - God's Design for Citizenship

Opening thought
On this weekend of the Fourth, we remember; we are grateful for the heritage of liberty and freedom which we have. But we also see that things are not as they should be in our nation, and therefore we pray for our nation.

The first permanent English settlement in America was located at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. There, the settlers' first act when they landed was to covenant America to God by planting a tall cross upon arriving. Ever wonder what that Jamestown Covenant was? They prayed to the Lord. We have a copy of that prayer. Here’s how it goes:

The Jamestown Settlers covenant prayer is:
"We do hereby dedicate this Land, and ourselves, to reach the People within these shores with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to raise up Godly generations after us, and with these generations take the Kingdom of God to all the earth. May this Covenant of Dedication remain to all generations, as long as this earth remains... May all who see this Cross, remember what we have done here, and may those who come here to inhabit join us in this Covenant..."

That incredible covenant with the Lord of evangelism and Godly families and international missions has been beaten up a good bit in the last five decades. The Jamestown settlers’ covenant follows the mandates of Scripture for the way Christians should live in their culture and how they should relate to the state, i.e., holy and good citizenship. Today we want to look at what the Scripture says about citizenship. We could look at several places in the Text, but today that passage is found in 1 Peter chapter 2. Start turning there while I give you a word of background about the letter of 1 Peter in order to help us understand our text.

Contextual Notes:
Peter probably wrote this letter between the martyrdom of James, the Lord=s brother, in 62AD and the outbreak of persecution under Nero in AD 64. This letter was delivered and possibly drafted by Silas (1 Peter 5:12) because of the excellent Greek writing.

Peter writes to Jewish believers (ADispersion@ 1:1) and Gentile Christians (1:14, 18; 2:9-10) mostly in northern Asia Minor enduring Afiery trials@ from hostile Jews and fanatical Gentiles.  Hostility and suspicion were mounting against Christians in the Empire, and they were being reviled, abused, and their loyalty questioned for their lifestyles and talking about another Kingdom.  The stage was set for severe persecution, an official government ban, and martyrdom in the near future, maybe even before Peter finished this letter.   Bad news about an outbreak of persecution against the believers may have prompted his adding the exhortation at 1 Peter 4:12-19.

Notice that Peter uses the term, Babylon, as an origin for his letter.  The literal Babylon was mostly a deserted place by AD 41. This was really code language for the city of Rome (Revelation 17, 18) was a security measure in case a government censor inspected the document. The letter mentions Mark (1 Peter 5:13) who was in Rome during this time with Paul (Colossians 4:10), and who would write down Peter’s memoir of Jesus in his Gospel of Mark. Only 1 Peter and 1 John of all the General Epistles were never doubted in their authority in the early church.

The letter of First Peter is characterized by the Christian Hope in time of Trial B 1 Peter 1:3, 13, 21; 3:15. The word Suffering is found with cognates 16 times.  Peter says suffering is essential to Christianity. The Prophets predicted it for Christ (1 Peter 1:11) and Christians must now share in the shame and glory of the cross (1 Peter 4:13). Hence suffering is within the will of God (1 Peter 4:19) though Satan may try to gain an advantage by it (1 Peter 5:8). Even so, God gets glory from suffering (4:16) through our purified characters (1:7). Peter advises us to embrace it cheerfully (4:13), the more so as it will be brief (5:10).

J. Vernon McGee provides this outline which I have slightly modified:
1 Peter 1:1-9: Suffering and the Security of Believers produce joy (see 1 Peter 1:6). 1 Peter 1:10-25: Suffering and the Scriptures produce holiness (see 1 Peter 1:15). 1 Peter 2: Suffering and the Suffering of Christ produce Separation (see 1 Peter 2:11) in our individual lives (1-3); in the church (4-12); in the state (13-17); and in society (18-25). 1 Peter 3: Suffering and the Suffering of Christ produce Christian Conduct in the Home (1-7); in the Church & Society (8-17); in Noah=s and our Day (18-22). 1 Peter 4: Suffering and the Suffering of Christ produce obedience to the will of God. 1 Peter 5: Suffering and the Second Coming of Christ produces service and hope (1-4), humility and patience (5-14).

Key Truth: Peter wrote 1 Peter 2:13-17 to teach believers that as citizens they are to be submissive to authority, to cherish goodness and freedom, and to show proper respect to God, church, and country.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about Christian citizenship.
Key Verse: 1 Peter 2:16
Pray and Read:  1 Peter 2:13-17

Sermon Points:
1.   Citizens should be submissive to authority (1 Peter 2:13-14)
2.   Citizens should cherish goodness and freedom (1 Peter 2:15-16)
3.   Citizens should honor God, church, and country (1 Peter 2:17)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   The believers to whom Peter writes were living in a strongly centralized state, with Roman governors and local kings subject to the Roman emperor. This was not a benevolent monarchy. It was a dictatorship ruled by the insane demagogue Nero, who was notorious for his wickedness and cruelty to Christians. This command of submission to the state might have arisen from the temptation to rebellion brought on by persecution. Should the Christians take up arms and resist such a government. Peter said no. Why? Because the Bible nowhere promotes anarchy. The believer was not put on earth to overthrow governments on a whim but to establish a kingdom in the hearts of men and women that is not of this world.
b.   Submit – the word is a command hupotasso, “Be subject to” or “Fall in behind” a military term that means to fall into rank under authority.
c.   Every authority – literally “every human institution.” The state (2:13-17), the household (2:18-25), and the family (3:1-7). Wherever a Christian finds himself, he must behave in accordance with his high calling. He must pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2) and live honorably under their domain (Romans 13:1-3).
d.   Christians are called to be citizens who submit to the governing authorities “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Pet 2:13). The aim of Peter’s statement is to bear witness for Christ and to avoid giving grounds for accusations against Christianity as subversive to the state. God’s name must not be brought into disrepute by the actions of his followers.
e.   ILLUSTRATION: I know of a church in South Carolina that was building a new building, and the city inspector came out to check it. Everything checked out except the grading for water runoff. He issued a notice that it be fixed, but it added over $2000 to the building plan. Instead of going to the inspection office and trying to work out the issue, the church called a prayer meeting to ask the Lord to change the inspector’s mind. It got a lot of laughs at city hall. They made a mockery of Christ by trying to keep from being responsibly submissive to the governing authorities.
f.    APPLICATION: Believers have a responsibility to remember Whom they represent. It is not comfortable sometimes, but it is a fact. When you identify yourself as a Christian, people expect you to live like one. When the trooper pulls you over, demonstrate respect for the officer. For all he knows you might want to kill him, so don’t expect him to be Mr. Customer Service as he writes your ticket. When you apply for a permit, be respectful. When you address a politician in a phone message, an email, or a letter, we need to be respectful. When you have an opportunity to serve those who govern, do so. That is why we offer to provide human trafficking training for local agencies. If you don’t like something about your government, we have a unique setup in this country that has not been around for 8000 years – we can run for office or elect someone to change the law because the people in the end have decision-making power in the state.
a.   Peter teaches that freedom and goodness are to be cherished, but we are not to abuse our freedom by doing wrong, engaging in sinful activity, or being rude to others (1 Pet 2:16; Gal 5:17).
b.   There were rumors bandied about in Rome about these people, the “Kristens,” rumors about their secret meetings where they ate flesh and drank blood, their subversive ideologies, their loyalties to another kingdom, their plans to infiltrate and indoctrinate society at every level.
c.   “Live as free men” – Peter, co-opting a familiar phrase of ancient philosophers, also makes the point that while Christians are free from the tyranny of the state (because we are citizens of heaven – Phil 3:20) they are also free to uphold the law of the state as God’s servants. Freedom to serve Christ rather than be slaves of sin. They not only have liberty to do as they please but also liberty to pursue virtue. Note the juxtaposition of free men and slaves/servants here.
d.   Christians’ lives were to be such that even when they are gossiped about or falsely accused, the accusation will not stand because of their character.
e.   ILLUSTRATION: The church training local law enforcement and agencies in human trafficking.
f.    APPLICATION: Our responsibility as Christians is to use our freedom to serve others, not lording over others and not using our freedom to become slaves of sin or enslaving others.
a.   The OT associates honoring God with honoring those in authority (Exod. 22:28; 1 Kings 21:10; Prov. 24:21) because God is ultimately sovereign over rulers (Prov. 16:10; 21:1).
b.   We submit to rulers because we are submitted to Christ their sovereign. Peter rejects the absolute right to rule and points to an authority above the ruler for whose sake submission is given. (Thus, submission could not include anything which the Lord would not want, either). Peter also indicates the divine institution but the human origin of government.
c.   APPLICATION: Christians are called to the grace of honor. Honoring others above themselves instead of pushing themselves in front of others.