A Godly Response to Evil
Passage: 1 Peter 2:11-12
2005 was a year of incredible joy for Heidi and I, but it was also the most challenging year of our lives. It was joyful because we got married and of course that was wonderful. But it was also a year of several major transitions, and transitions can be very exciting, but they also create a lot of stress. Getting married is a major transition. You think you know each other, and you think you know what you are getting into, but for most couples, it’s a big transition that involves a major learning curve. But while we were making this transition, we also began several other major transitions. We had both been dependents on our parents before getting married, but now we had to learn how to be financially independent on a very limited income, something that was pretty new to both of us. This transition created a lot of stress. As well, we made a major social transition. Just a couple of weeks after we were married, we moved to Detroit where I would begin seminary. We went from very comfortable and full social settings in a Bible college where we lived with hundreds of godly peers to living in a new city, being in a new church, with only a handful of friends that we only saw occasionally. That’s very different from living in a dorm together or being at home with family. Facing all of these transitions at once was pretty challenging. In comparison, this move has been much easier. There has been pressure, but it has been much simpler because we are only dealing with a couple of transitions rather than a complete overhaul of our lives. Spiritual warfare tends to be the same way. Generally, we can handle one form of temptation, even a strong temptation pretty well, but we struggle when Satan attacks us from multiple angles. In our text for today, Peter encourages his readers to endure in the face of two very different kinds of pressure that were working together to create tremendous spiritual pressure. They were pressured from the inside by their own flesh and on the outside by a hostile culture. Peter challenges them to respond well to both pressures, and in so doing he provides us with a powerful and thought-provoking challenge we all need to consider.
Before we dive into this text, it’s important to note where it fits within the flow of 1 Peter. Most scholars see our text as beginning the second major section of the book, which includes 2:11–4:11. The first major section has a strongly theological tone and is concerned with maintaining holiness in our relationships with God and each other. This section is primarily consists of practical exhortations regarding our relationship with an ungodly world. Our text for today introduces this section by putting a cap on the first section and by providing the basic principle that is to guide our relationship with an ungodly world. I’ll describe how it does so as we go.
Peter begins v. 11 by addressing his readers as “beloved.” In keeping with the emphasis in the first section on love among believers, Peter states his deep regard for his brothers and sisters in Christ. And based on his love for them he gives an earnest appeal. He says, “I beg you.” What Peter is about to say in these two verses is of tremendous significance. He wanted them to listen up and heed his urgent appeal. I trust that we will do the same because the two challenges that follow are of tremendous importance.
The first challenge is to…
Resist the flesh (v. 11).
In contexts like this where the flesh is described as the enemy of godliness, it is basically another name for the sin nature, which expresses itself in evil desires that oppose godliness and holiness. And so v. 11 urges us to resist the sin nature and the evil desires that come with it. Now, I doubt anyone here is disagrees with this appeal, but I know that we all struggle to obey it. It’s simple to understand, but not easy to do. But Peter gives some practical help for resisting the flesh that I’d to summarize in three principles.
Resistance begins with a proper mindset. Peter frames his command to abstain with the reminder that Christians are “sojourners and pilgrims” in this world. Peter has already used both of these terms. The term translated “sojourners” appeared in 1:17, where Peter commands us to “conduct ourselves in fear during the time of your “stay” or “sojourn.” And Peter opens the book in 1:1 by calling Christians “pilgrims.” There’s no significant difference in meaning between the terms, and together they drive home the fact that Christians are temporary residents in this world. This is a helpful picture because we all understand that you behave differently in a temporary residence versus your permanent home. When you move into a house where you plan to live for years, you work to make yourself feel comfortable. As we are doing with our house, you might make major renovations. At the least you will probably paint, hang pictures, and carefully arrange your furniture. You invest hours and sometimes lots of money in making yourself feel comfortable. But you have very different goals when you stay at a hotel. You may not love the furniture or the colors, but you don’t care a whole lot and you certainly aren’t going to spend money to change it because you are only there temporarily and you don’t mind putting up with minor frustrations for a night or two. And Peter says that we should view life in this world similarly. We are merely passing through on our way to our ultimate home in heaven. Yet very often we are too concerned about feeling at home in this world. We want life here to be comfortable, and we invest a lot of time, money, and affection in feeling at home. We want the best entertainment the world can offer. We long for wealth or the best toys money can buy. We crave the acceptance of people and to satisfy the desires of our hearts. We invest very heavily in making this world our home. We may not be investing in things that are necessarily sinful; the problem is that we value the comfort of this world so highly. We are investing highly in renovating a hotel room where we will only stay for a short time. And when we value this world too much, we are going to struggle with the flesh. That’s why the perspective Peter offers is so important. Resisting the flesh requires a proper mindset. We’ve got to work intentionally to remember that heaven is my home and my hope so that we keep a proper perspective on the pleasures of this world. Let’s take a moment to reflect on our own value system. Where have you lost sight of your eternal home and where are investing too heavily in this world? Once you notice it, correct it; otherwise, your flesh will continue to win and holiness will continue to look unattractive. Resistance begins with a proper mindset.
The second principle is that…
Resistance requires appreciating the battle. We see this principle in the statement that the flesh “wars against the soul.” The word soul is used several different ways in the NT, but in this context, it refers to who I am as a person. It’s striking that Peter says the flesh is at odds with my soul. Galatians 5:16–17 gives a similar challenge, and v. 17 warns that “the flesh lusts against the Spirit (speaking of the HS), and the Spirit against the flesh.” Galatians 5 describes an intense struggle between my flesh and the Holy Spirit, but Peter says this struggle is also between the flesh and who I am as a new creature in Christ. The implication of saying that the flesh wars against the soul is that my flesh and the sinful desires of the flesh are not who I am; rather, my flesh is an unwelcome intruder. But even though the flesh is an intruder, it is causing an intense war within me. War is never friendly. War is about destroying the enemy and forcing him into submission, and Peter states that this is what the flesh is trying to do to the new nature. It is out to destroy. In recent months, ISIS has earned a lot of attention for its brutal murders and now in the last few weeks for organizing large scale attacks in Europe. And a great concern that many Americans have had in the ongoing battle with ISIS has been the seeming hesitation among some political leaders to acknowledge the evil of this organization. We don’t want our leaders to sugarcoat ISIS as misguided; we want them to call ISIS evil, and we want them to address ISIS accordingly. But sadly, we also often react to the flesh very weakly. We refuse to admit how evil it is and its destructive power. We make excuses for why it’s not that bad and for why we can tolerate some influence from the flesh and follow some of its pursuits. We need to wake up to how evil the flesh is. When a Christian coddles the flesh, it is as much of a betrayal of who he is in Christ as it would be for a political leader to put his arm around the leaders of a terrorist organization. Folks, we are in a terrible war, and the worst thing we can do is to ignore it or pretend the enemy isn’t real. We must appreciate the battle. Before I go on, I want to encourage those who might feel discouraged by the intensity of their struggle with the flesh. It might be that you feel overwhelmed by how strong the flesh is pushing back at your pursuit of godliness. You feel like a spiritual loser, and you want relief from the struggle. My response is that this struggle is not a sign of sickness; it’s actually a sign of health. The flesh is at work in all of us whether we sense it or not. The fact that you sense its pull is actually a good sign that you have the new nature and that you are working hard to resist. Don’t be discouraged. You are a new creature in Christ, and you can be victorious. So keep battling.
The final principle about resisting the flesh is that…
Resistance requires complete intolerance. Peter commands us to respond to our evil enemy the flesh by abstaining. In other words, don’t give in. Resisting the flesh is at the core of pursuing holiness because as long as we have a sin nature, we are going to have to resist evil impulses and sometimes resisting will be incredibly difficult. That’s not to say that there’s no hope that certain temptations can’t be weakened. Spiritual growth is transforming. And we can also weaken the influence of the flesh as we build the proper mindset that we talked about earlier and as we build spiritual disciplines. But no matter how much we grow, until we are glorified, we must do the daily work of abstaining, or saying no to evil desires warring against the soul.
Battle Plan: And I think it’s important to back up a step and add that if you want to be successful in abstaining from the flesh, you’ve got to be honest about how you are feeding fleshly desires and failing to feed the new nature. When we drink thoughtlessly at the well of godless entertainment, for example, we shouldn’t be surprised when we crave sinful things or when our hearts are not filled with love, joy, and peace. When the loudest voices in our minds are pushing ungodly, temporal values, we shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t think like strangers and exiles. We’ve got to resist the flesh, but we need to work smarter, not just harder. Consider your life, your struggles against the flesh. Consider what contributes to your struggle and then build a battle plan. If you want help building a plan or if you need accountability, then ask. There are many people here who love you and would love to help. We must resist the flesh.
The second challenge is …
Overcome slander with godly conduct (v. 12).
As I already mentioned, this verse picks up the subject that Peter will consider in the next couple of chapters. The issue is how do we respond to people who mistreat us unjustly?
Again, I would like to unpack this challenge using three principles from this verse. First…
Evil men will oppose God’s people. Peter refers to the opposition these churches were facing from “the Gentiles.” But since Peter’s readers were themselves Gentiles, we can assume that Peter is not referring to the ethnic class of those who are not Jews but to all who are outside of Christ—unbelievers. This verse is about how we are to live among lost people and specifically about how we are to live among them when they “speak against you as evildoers.” This is a reference to slander. It doesn’t seem that Peter is thinking about any sort of governmental evil but rather of the general public opinion and conversation about Christians. It’s interesting to read how pagan contemporaries viewed the early church. For example Tacitus states, “They were hated because of their vices,” and Suetonius described Christians as “a class of people animated by a novel and dangerous superstition.” This widespread dislike of Christians is what allowed Nero to turn violently against them not long after this book was written. Why were Christians so disliked? It seems that the primary cause was that Christians separated from the pagan practices that were so central to Roman culture. Being separate from the center of culture set Christians up for distrust and skepticism. Added to that it seems that pagans commonly misunderstood Christian beliefs and practices. And when skepticism and misunderstanding are combined you end up with ridiculous assumptions. For example, pagans misunderstood the Lord’s Supper as cannibalism, the Christian rejection of idols as atheism, and their rejection of emperor worship as disloyalty to the state. And of course, you can imagine how these assumptions would lead to all sorts of speculation and slander and ultimately to hatred and harsh treatment. And we can see some of those same patterns today. If you homeschool your children or put them in a Christian school, some people will assume that you think you are too good for the public school system. When you decline to go to a bar with your coworkers or to talk freely with them about crude subjects, they may see you as arrogant or rude. Of course many people perceive our rejection of homosexual marriage as hatred and bigotry. Of course, when people have these perceptions, they are going to talk, and sometimes when they talk they will exaggerate the situation or make ridiculous assumptions. They will slander us and spread their hatred. This is very troubling. No one wants to be disliked, and it is especially frustrating when dislike is rooted in false assumptions and hypocrisy. But we shouldn’t be surprised by it. As we said with vv. 4–8, if the world rejected Christ, we ought to assume they will reject us. But how do we respond?
The second principle regarding slander is that…
We must respond with consistent godliness. Verse 12 opens by commanding us to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles.” This is a command to live a life of consistent godliness, virtue, and integrity. Later in the verse Peter mentions “good deeds,” which probably has special reference to treating others with love, honesty, and kindness. And so Peter says that our primary response to slander must be to live with consistent godliness. This idea will be a prominent theme in this section for a couple of reasons. For one, Peter wants to emphasize that if people are going to mistreat you, you better make sure it’s not justified. This is a very important point because Christians are sometimes guilty of adding legitimate fuel to the fire of hatred. I’ve been around Christians who will run their mouth all of the time about their faith at work, but then they show up late, they do poor work, and they are unkind to others. That guy dishonors the Lord, and he needs to keep his mouth shut until he can live with consistent godliness. It’s also very sad how Christians oftentimes go about standing for social causes. We ought to oppose abortion and other evils, but when Christians do so with hateful speech and posters, the world is partly justified to call us hateful. Folks, if we ever endure slander, we better make sure it is not justified by our sinful behavior. But as well, Peter brings up this challenge because the best way to correct people’s misperceptions is by living God’s Word openly before them. God has given all people a conscience, and biblical virtue will appear honorable to most people. Therefore, if someone has heard their whole life that Christians are hateful hypocrites, the best way to overcome that is to show them godliness in action. You love them, you respond with grace, you walk with integrity, and you serve others. Not everyone will change, but an honest person is going to recognize that maybe all of the things they have heard aren’t actually true. They may not agree with your beliefs, but they will respect you as a person and their hatred will diminish. A consistent life will get you much further in overcoming misperceptions than a debate or loud speech ever will. Do you live this kind of consistent life? Do the unbelievers in your life see in you a consistent walk that demonstrates genuine spiritual life? Do they see his love, do they see joy, do they see a peacemaker who gets along with people? Do they see faithfulness and discipline? When you fail, do they see someone who responds in humility and is committed to change? Do they see the character of God in how you live? The most important step we can take to overcome misperceptions is to live with consistent godliness.
The final principle regarding slander is…
God will be glorified through the salvation of some. This principle is dependent on how you understand “day of visitation.” Some have argued that this is a reference to God’s final judgment of the lost. Those who take it this way would say that unbelievers who have observed a Christian testimony will affirm God’s glory before being sentenced to hell. The problem with this view is that “visitation” is used of judgment and blessing in the NT. In Luke 19:44 Jesus describes his deliverance as the “day of visitation.” And the rest of the evidence points toward a visitation of blessing. For one, the idea of people glorifying God more naturally fits believers than unbelievers. Revelation 16:9 states that even in the face of awful judgment during the Tribulation, unbelievers will refuse to glorify God. And it is most natural to assume that Peter drew this statement from something he heard Christ say. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” The context of that statement is our witness in the world, and the glory Jesus describes is clearly coming from those who respond in repentance. Therefore, I believe that’s what Peter is referring to also. When evil men slander us, we need to respond with a consistent godliness that will point them to the true nature of our God and lead them to salvation. This is exactly what Peter tells wives to do who are married to unbelievers (1 Peter 3:1–2). When people slander us, our first concern must not be to defend ourselves or to put them in their place. Rather, we should be filled with love for their souls, and we should recommit ourselves to manifesting the character of God before them so that they will be saved. As well, when people slander us, we must not respond by withdrawing from them and curling up in a defensive ball. This is a point worth parking on for a minute because for many of us this is a lot more natural than fighting back. We just run the other way, and we huddle in a corner with nice people. But Peter doesn’t say to run and hide; rather, he says to maintain the relationship and win them through consistent godliness. The worst thing Christians can do in the face of slander is to hide. It only increases misperceptions and it gives us no hope of reaching people. We’ve got to live among people and let them see our Savior, and we’ve got to believe that Christ is able to change hearts and to save souls.
My challenge today is this. Overcome the pressures of an evil world by remaining pure on the inside and maintaining a godly testimony on the outside. Before I close, I want to speak to anyone who is hear that maybe doesn’t feel ready to meet the Lord. Maybe you harbor some of the questions about Christians that I mentioned earlier. You’ve seen inconsistencies in Christians and you wonder if this is all real. There may be a teenager who has grown up in one of our families who is asking this kind of question. My response is that none of us are perfect representations of our God. We are sinners, and we will let you down. But the God of the Bible is perfect, and by his grace he is changing those of us who know him. God is real, he is good, and you must get right with him. I hope that you will talk with me afterwards or talk to someone who brought you about how you can have a relationship with God.
Let’s stand and sing #661 “O Church, Arise.” Let’s sing this song today with the resolve that we will go forward into the world with confidence in God’s ability to sustain us and to use us to reach the world for Christ.