Pastor Randy’s Top 66 – 1 Peter
“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”1 Peter 2:17
I picked this particular verse (and I will take it in context with the surrounding verses in a moment) because it’s probably not a verse that is talked about much, but it has a lot to say to all of us. Peter’s First Epistle or Letter was probably written from Rome around AD 62-63, just prior to the horrifying persecution by Nero. Nero died in AD 68, so Peter’s Second Letter was written while he was waiting for execution just prior to this date. For the most part, the vast majority of the Early Church Fathers say that Peter was crucified (many say upside down because Peter said he wasn’t worthy to die as Christ did) and that the apostle Paul was beheaded, both in Rome around the same time.
It’s important to understand the timetable and societal situation that Peter found himself in when reading his Letters because he has much to say about bearing with persecution; living holy lives; and respecting and honoring the government – even a tyrannical reign such as Nero’s.
Prior to our verse in 2:17 Peter had reminded the Christians that they were a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ in order for them to never forget – despite persecution – who they were as redeemed children of the King of kings (1 Peter 2:9). Shortly after this ninth verse Peter encouraged the Christians to ‘live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse them of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits them’ (1 Peter 2:12). This then led into the section where today’s verse is found, and Peter begins this part by telling the Christians to make sure they ‘submit themselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men’ (1 Peter 2:13).
This is important because in verse seventeen – our verse for today – Peter is blunt and concise with his recommendations for how the Christians ought to live as transformed and repurposed children of God. Again, Peter says,
“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers,
fear God, honor the emperor.”
Here Peter gives all Christians a ‘to do’ list of four important relationships. I’ve told the story before, but a lot of you haven’t heard it: very early on when I became a youth pastor I went to Los Angeles for a youth pastors conference. One of the breakout sessions was with a veteran youth pastor and the topic was something like “For Those Just Starting In the Youth Ministry”, and I figured ‘That’s for me!’ I sat in the first row with my yellow pad and pen, ready to write down every word of wisdom from this expert in the field; I almost felt like I was sitting at the feet of Jesus, just waiting for a glimpse of the ‘Answer’ to successful youth ministry.
So, he introduces himself and his opening statement was, “I am now going to write on the board the three most important things you ever need to know about the youth ministry. Get ready, here it comes”. I was probably giggling with excitement, as I was about to hear the truth from a grand master guru of youth ministry! So, with pen on the paper I waited….and this is what he wrote on the board:
Initially I was slightly let down because those three repetitive words weren’t saying much to me, but as he explained his thoughts to us it all made sense. And this truth isn’t just relevant to the youth ministry; but to the pastoral ministry; the Christian life; and to LIFE IN GENERAL!
We are all about relationships. How we relate to ourselves; how we relate to the Lord God; and how we relate to each other – it’s the crux of successful living.
Jesus proved this youth pastors view perfectly when He said in Matthew 22:37-39,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
There you have it: first, love the Lord; and of course, you can’t love the Lord until He first puts His love/life into us through regeneration (1 John 4:19). This relationship is paramount; if we don’t have the agape love of Christ within us, then we cannot agape love others. Oh sure, we can humanly love others (philios, eros, storge), but the unconditional, eternal, and selfless love that we are called to share with others can only supernaturally be imparted into us through our conversion to Christ.
Secondly, we are to love ourselves! Not in a proud, arrogant, and self-centered manner, but we need to be content with ourselves because we are not only made in God’s image, but as a transformed child of Jesus, we are indeed the righteousness of Christ. We have our defects and imperfections that need to be worked on as we mature in Christ, but once we come to faith in Christ we should be able to say “I love me because Christ loves me and plans on using me for His sake and glory, and for my benefit as well”.
And thirdly, we are to love others. Loving others with Christ’s agape love doesn’t mean that we approve of sinful behavior and compromise our biblically-based Christ-centered standards, but that we will love people with the love of Christ in hopes that they themselves will come to know of this amazing love of God.
With that foundation we can see what Peter is telling us in this one verse (that is connected to the verses I shared earlier that are before verse seventeen, as well as the verses that follow it).
Pete tells the Christians to first, show proper respect to everyone. He previously told us to respect the king or emperor or just simply to obey the governing authorities, which I’ll say more about in a moment, but here Peter is reminding us that it isn’t just our leaders that we need to respect, but that we need to show the proper respect, which means to be loving, considerate, kind, helpful, etc., to everyone that we come in contact with. In other words, we shouldn’t be saying (since the Spirit and love of Christ lives inside of us and drives/motivates us) that we don’t care for ‘those kind of people’, but rather ‘How can I love them in order for them to see the love of Christ within me?’ Again, I’m not implying that we approve of people’s sinful behavior or false religions, but rather we show them the respect that Christ implores all of us to show because EVERY HUMAN is made in the image of Christ.
Secondly, Peter tells us to specifically love the family of believers. I love my neighbors and would do anything I could to help them, but I am called to show my family a particular and special love that only I as their father/husband can express to them. The same holds true to our spiritual family. Anyone in Christ, despite their denomination – as long as they believe and trust in Christ and Christ crucified, and that we each come to faith in Christ by His grace and not our good deeds – is my brother and sister.
All who know Christ have the spiritual blood of Christ pumping through their veins, so they are family. We should be loving and caring for the needs of our Christian family, in particular, at the local church or body of Christ we have been called to. We are to take care of our personal family first, then love our local church family, then the universal Church family, and then love our neighbors. And as I just said, loving our neighbors (everyone outside of the body of Christ) is not with an inferior human love, but with the agape love of Christ, yet it is different because they are not my spiritual ‘blood relatives’. I hope that makes sense to you. We read in Galatians 6:10,
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Here the apostle Paul is saying almost the identical thing as Peter is telling us. We are to do good to ALL people, BUT especially to those who belong to the family of believers – in the local church, and in the universal church. And, of course, remember that when we are told to love the family of believers, that means the Baptist, Pentecost, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. who profess Christ as the Lord and Savior of their life.
Next Peter speaks of the third important relationship, which should be first, but hey, Peter’s in prison and about to be executed, so it’s okay if he puts things in a different order! But then again, Peter isn’t placing these relationships in a proper order of priority, but rather the order is based on what he’s focusing on. He’s primarily concerned with how the persecuted Christians will reflect the love of Christ upon the non-believers who are either persecuting them, or that they simply regularly interact with.
Anyway, Peter tells the Christians to ‘fear God’. On one hand, ‘fear God’ means exactly that: the Lord God is a holy, righteous, and just God and He is not one to be fiddle-faddled with. We are His children, but we are never to speak of the Lord in a disrespectful manner; we should never take the Lord’s name in vain or in an irreverent manner; we are not to abuse God’s grace and mercy by living any way that we choose; He is indeed the Judge of all the earth, and He could just as easily decide to take you or I out of the picture if I’m walking in blatant disobedience.
But in a related way, the ‘fear of God’ also speaks of you and I as believers living with a holy respect; constantly being in awe; and having a reverent attitude when we speak with Him and about Him. Oh of course He is our Father – our dad – but even a human child is told to ‘honor their father and their mother’ and treat them as adults, and as ones who are in authority over us. Which takes us to the last relationship that Peter mentions, that is really a part of the ‘first’ relationship mentioned ‘show proper respect to everyone’. When Peter (and Paul in Romans 13 and Galatians 6) tells us to ‘honor the emperor’ he does so because it would be quite natural for the Christian to say, “Oh yes, we are to show proper respect to everyone, but that doesn’t include those mean and awful pagan authorities over us, because it is their intent to kill or hurt us!”
Peter and Paul are telling us that we need to honor the position that the leader has over us because Romans 13:1 tells us,
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is
no authority except that which God has established.
The authorities that exist have been established by God.
The Lord has put those in authority over us for His good purposes, even if they are wicked and pagan. The Lord used Pharaoh, Cyrus, Xerxes, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Pilate, and many others – all pagan leaders – to accomplish His good purposes, so we are to obey our leaders. Unless they are telling us to do something that is contrary to God’s Word, then we have a right to stand against the law of the state, and do what we can to have it changed. And remember this: when Peter was writing this FROM PRISON, the notorious Nero – one of the severest persecutors of the church – was the emperor, and yet Peter tells the Church to ‘honor the emperor’!! Imagine that!
And of course, to make it absolutely relevant to today: you can disagree with President Trump, just as many others disagreed with President Obama, but we as Christians are ALL called to respect and honor the position; care for the person; obey them; not slander them, talk cruelly about them, or even hate them. And you know why? Get ready for this: Romans 13:2 CLEARLY says,
Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will
bring judgment on themselves.
Yoiks!! You can disagree, you can campaign against them, you can write your senators and representatives of Congress about the particular policies that you disagree with, but you are NOT to dishonor them. Keep that in mind when you are getting ready to make your next political post about ANYONE in authority over us.
And finally, regarding our leaders, we are to be continuously PRAYING for them – not that the wrath of God will crush them, but rather that they would come to faith; they’d surround themselves (and listen to the counsel) of godly people; and that they would lead us because they love us and our nation, and not because of their reputation or self-interests (1 Timothy 2:1-2; Jeremiah 29:7, and the above 1 Peter and Romans 13 references).
Peter goes on in the rest of this chapter to encourage all people – including employees, to submit to their employers so that things will go well for both of them.
So, the bottom line is that in those perilous times when the Christians were being persecuted, and even in our time when we – at this point we aren’t being fed to the lions for our faith – still realize that Christianity is not honored or respected as we would hope, but nevertheless, we are to make sure:
- Our relationship is first and foremost, right with the Lord
- Our relationship with ourselves is healthy
- Our relationship with others is positive
- Our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ is affirming
- Our relationship with those in authority over us is respectful and God honoring.
And I think that if we get these things in order, then we will be at peace with our God, and there’s a better chance that we will be at peace with others.