“Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (I Peter 2:17)
The Lord seems to delight in calling His disciples to do impossible things, actions which the flesh rebels against, the world scoffs at, and we sometimes question.
I expect He’s trying to shock us out of our comfort zone and into the freedom of the Spirit where obedience to Him is as natural as breathing and where we do our best work.
His is a big job. To our detriment, we find ourselves questioning most of our Lord’s commands and dragging our feet about obeying some in particular.
For most, the four brief commands of I Peter 2:17 rank among the least doable and most unpleasant. Nor are we allowed to dismiss them as “not from Jesus but from Peter.” We either believe in the inspiration of Holy Scripture or we do not.
Most of us do. And for believers–those who take their discipleship seriously–obedience to the Word is paramount once we decide that there’s no way to get around it (as not in the oldest manuscripts, a poor translation of the Greek, not intended for us, or given one-time and later countermanded).
These brief commands have one huge thing in common. They’re humanly impossible in the flesh. After all, the carnal man (one who has never awakened to the Spirit but who lives in and by the flesh) “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; he cannot understand them for they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). In the words of Romans 8, the mind set on the flesh is death, is hostile toward God, and consequently unable to obey.
What we have here are four commands of the Holy Word greatly needed in our day, four commands contrary to our liking and our instincts, four commands which may be obeyed and fulfilled only in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Honor all men.
We are fully willing to honor some men, even “those to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). But to honor everyone? Really? God wants this?
It’s a mind-set. It’s a predisposition to look past skin colors, costumes, dialects, and politics. It welcomes the stranger (foreigner), crawls down into the ditch with the fallen, and associates with sinners (Leviticus 19; Luke 10; Luke 15). It invites the downcast and outcast to its banquets, pleads the case of the afflicted and needy, and does not fear to speak truth to power (Luke 14; Jeremiah 22:16; Matthew 23). It has time for the blind beggar, for the mistreated fallen, and for the diseased outcast (Luke 18; John 8; Mark 1).
Such honor for all people is unnatural. And that’s the point. It can only be done by the Holy Spirit working in us, restraining the natural tendency toward prejudice and judgement from externals.
To honor everyone means to speak respectfully, to give the other the benefit of the doubt, to be Christ-like. Those who relate to others in this way will find themselves accumulating the most unlikely of friends and being rejected by some of the (ahem) best people.
But the Lord will be pleased. (Is that enough for us?)
Love the brotherhood.
All the family of God, the redeemed.
We are perfectly willing to love many people in the church: those who are like us and the ones who like us, in particular. But to love them all?
Our Lord said love among His disciples would be the badge of believers (John 13:34-35). Paul said we are knit together in love (Colossians 2:2).
My personal experience is that the evening when I, as an eleven-year-old, received Jesus Christ into my life, I fell in love with everyone in church. Over the years, I’ve learned both sides of that reality: The closer I am to Him, the more I cherish the family; and when I drift from that closeness and obedience, my love and appreciation for brothers and sisters in Christ are the first to go. My conclusion is that those calling themselves believers who do not love all the family of Christ are backslidden and should not be trusted.
We should never neglect to point out that biblically, to love means doing loving things. In the well-known “love your enemy” passage of Luke 6:27-38, Jesus gave four actions as constituting obedience to His command: doing good to them, blessing them, praying for them, and giving to them. These four activities–do good, bless, pray, give–are the four most basic acts of love which we do for everyone from our grandchild to our lover to everyone else in the world.
We are never commanded in scripture to feel anything. Feelings cannot be summoned by our will power. Love is an action. So, the command to “love the brothers and sisters in Christ” means to do loving things toward them. As Al Meredith and Dan Crawford pointed out in their wonderful volume “One Anothering,” there are at least 31 commands in the Word which believers are to do toward one another, such as loving, praying, helping, teaching, rebuking, and such.
Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, says numerous Scriptures (Job 28:28; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7).
The contrast in fearing God in the flesh and in the Spirit is stark. The first–the fleshly fear–is a dread, a phobia, a pulling back. This is the fear Scripture has in mind when it says “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). We think of the disobedient servant of Jesus’ parable who said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man…and I was afraid” (Matthew 25:24-25).
The good kind of fear is a holy reverence, an overwhelming awareness and respect coupled with a complete trust that He is love and can be trusted to do right. “The Lord is upright, He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:15).
Proper fear is seen when Peter was overwhelmed by the power of Christ and said, “Lord, depart from me; I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). It’s what Isaiah experienced when he saw the Lord high and lifted up, and in that reflection caught his own unworthiness (Isaiah 6).
Of a particularly corrupt generation Scripture announces, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). After that, nothing good happened.
Honor the king.
We are glad to honor the king–the president, the prime minister, the emperor, the queen–if he/she is someone we like, for whom we voted, who does good work. We are far less inclined to honor such a leader if they are immoral, unethical, and unlikeable.
The end of the political spectrum where I find myself in this year of our Lord 2016–the conservatives–seems to have a particular problem with this. Listen to the political rhetoric. The hostility toward Hillary Clinton is so thick you could cut it with a knife, and probably should. The other side is just as suspicious and untrusting of Donald Trump. Clinton called Trump’s supporters “a basket of deplorables.” He says if he were president, she would be in jail.
And yet, one of these is going to be President of the United States, and right soon at that. (This is being written on Wednesday, November 2. The election is next Tuesday. God save America.)
We are told in Scripture how we are to relate to our national leader–
–Obey the king (Romans 13; I Peter 2:13).
–Honor the king (I Peter 2:17).
–Pray for the king (I Timothy 2:1-2).
Much of the rhetoric coming from our pulpits is fleshly (even when couched in religious terms and driven by proper convictions) and unworthy of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s preachers must use great care and caution in urging people to respect one leader and disrespect another.
We should mention that at the moment the Apostle Peter penned this first epistle, Nero sat on the throne. Murderous, wicked, cruel Nero. Peter would soon become his victim. But Nero never had a more loyal servant than this fisherman of Galilee. It was to his detriment that he put to the death the jewels of his kingdom, the Christians. Nero brought great shame and trouble to his land. Christians were to honor him, not because he deserved it, which he did not, but “for Jesus’ sake.” “That we may live a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” is given as reason to pray for such leaders (I Timothy 2:2).
Whether the king deserves our honor and prayers and obedience is not the point. It’s all about the good of the land, the welfare of the people, and the sovereignty of God.
There’s more at stake here than just the momentary events…
God takes the long view. He is interested in the welfare of humanity for now and for always, not just in getting a point of view or a political agenda across. “He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4).
Some things we do, not because they seem right or feel good or were voted on. Some things we do “for Jesus’ sake.” This is made plain in texts such as Matthew 10:39; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Acts 9:16; Romans 8:36.
It’s all about obedience, what Paul called “the proof of you” (2 Corinthians 2:9). That does tell the story on us, doesn’t it? Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord if you’re not going to obey what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)