Imagine everything that could possibly go wrong going terribly and horribly wrong all at once. Imagine trying to do what is right at all costs, only to have it blow up in your face. That is exactly what was happening to the people that Peter wrote the book of 1 Peter for. They had all become Christians after Jesus had already ascended into heaven. The church was booming! There were literally thousands of people putting their faith in Jesus every month, and they were changing their world. Their world was Jerusalem. They started as a rag tag band of outcasts, but as they continued to know God better, they continued to love each other better, and love their world better. Soon the intellectual elite and influential in Jerusalem were exploring Christianity, and many were joining up. Things were going great for the church, but then out of nowhere things went horribly wrong. The religious leaders in Jerusalem and the political leaders in Rome got nervous about this new way of life that was gaining traction, and they decided that Christianity and all followers of Jesus should be public enemy number one. In spite of the love and respect that these Jesus followers had shown for each other and everyone they met, they had become outlaws. They were persecuted. They were beaten. They were arrested. Jerusalem, the place where thousands of believers had grown and matured in their faith, was no longer safe for them. So they scattered all around the known world. Some began quietly practicing their beliefs in their new homes, and others were contemplating giving up on the whole Jesus thing all together. That is why Peter wrote this letter. He wrote it to encourage them to stand strong!
The people that Peter wrote 1 Peter for were used to being punished and persecuted for what seemed to be no reason at all. I’m sure that they were all angry, and some were probably ready to fight, but in chapter 2 Peter reminds them that standing strong can now can have an impact on their future, and the future of the church.
He starts out with a general reminder. “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:16-17 (NIV). He basically says, “Listen guys, I know times are rough, but that is no reason to mistreat other people.” This is basic golden rule stuff that you learned in Sunday school; treat people the way you want to be treated, even if they aren’t treating you the same way. But then he throws in something a little weird. He says, “live as God’s slaves…” Every time I come to this passage I have to read that line three or four times. We know that we are children of God, followers of God, Galatians even says that we are friends of God, but we typically don’t think of ourselves as slaves of God. In some ways slavery in the first century was similar to what we think of when we hear the word slave. Often times, slaves were bought and sold like furniture or cattle, not given a say on where they would go or what they would do, but there was a chance for some dignity as a slave in the Roman world. Slaves could serve as their master’s representatives and even be granted freedom. Peter is saying that these followers of Jesus are free to do as they will, but should remember that they are representing God in everything they do, especially to people who do not know Him.
Peter knew that the people who were reading his letter were being treated unfairly. He didn’t tell them that they should riot or protest. He didn’t tell them that they should demand fair treatment or even apologies. Instead, he reminded them that people were watching them to see what their response would be, and that they should stand strong and trust that God would make things right in His time. By not throwing fits or seeking revenge for mistreatment, these persecuted Christians were showing the world around them who they really were. When we stand strong, we honor Christ and we point others to Him.
Do you ever think about what the way you respond when you are mistreated? What would happen if you realized that the world was watching, and the way you respond says more about your character and faith than you could ever know? What could happen if you decided to stand strong?