Summary: The Christian, unlike the world, should use his liberty to demonstrate his virtue, not to justify his vices.
I Peter 2:13-17 “Liberty as Virtue”
Intro—Last week, we looked at Peter’s discussion of the church as “sojourners and pilgrims” in the world—Peter calls on the church in 2:11 to “abstain from fleshly lusts,” and we talked about how we need to abstain from those fleshly lusts for two reasons—first, because they tie us down to this world, a world in which we are only “sojourners and pilgrims,” and second, because the world, the world that we are trying to win to Christ, judges us by our conduct—and verse 12 tells us that we want them to glorify God, not speak against us as evildoers.
Peter then anticipates, in verse 13, that his readers will have a question about another aspect of being a sojourner or pilgrim in this world—“What about government? Our primary allegiance is to God and to our home, heaven, and not to the governments of any man or men, so how should we conduct ourselves toward our earthly government?” This was an important question to the early Christians, because the government they lived under was not Christian, and in fact was virulently anti-Christian, and was beginning to persecute Christians for worshipping a God different from the Roman pantheon of gods and the emperor.
This question— “How should we conduct ourselves toward our earthly government?” —has not become simpler to answer in the intervening 1900+ years since Peter wrote this letter. In Peter’s day, there was no public education, no social security, no welfare or unemployment compensation, no graduated system of federal income tax, no publicly-supported funding for the arts, no Federal student financial aid, no Political Action Committees, no “soft money” or “hard money” going to political parties, no Code of Federal Regulations, no EPA, no FDA, no FAA, no Surgeon General or Director of Homeland Security...in short, there was just a lot less government around with which to interact! So it’s important (keeping in mind that we are not here as permanent residents, but as “sojourners and pilgrims,”) that we know how God desires His people to interact with all these layers and levels and twists and turns and rules and regulations of government…
Now some people would look at the task of figuring out, from the Bible, how a Christian is supposed to act towards all these different parts of government that we have today, as absurd...how could a fisherman, living 1900+ years ago, tell you today how you ought to deal with government in the 21st century? For those people the Bible is a man-made document, and what’s in it is either obsolete and useless to modern man, or it somehow has to be made to “evolve” with the times—in other words, we can change the Bible to suit ourselves as the need arrives.
For the Christian, however, the Bible is not obsolete—it is God’s living word, and is as real and useful to us today as it was to its readers two millennia ago. As we look at our passage this morning, Peter gives us two principles that are as true and useful today in dealing with government as they were in his day, and I want to look at them now…
I. The first principle that we should see as we read verses 13-17 is the principle of freedom or liberty in Jesus Christ…Peter has just told his readers, us, in verse 9, that we are a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, (God’s) own special people...called...out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” Does God call people out of darkness and into His marvelous light and then shackle them with heavy burdens and order them to enter lives of drudgery and pain? NO!
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” God wants to free us from burdens, not crush us with them. We are really the most free people in the world...we have eternal life and know that, although our lives here are just like a vapor—we appear for a little time and then we vanish away—we are going to live forever and nothing that any man or any government can do to us can change that truth. That is the ultimate freedom, the ultimate liberty, in this world.
Peter recognizes our ultimate freedom in verse 16, where he tells us that we should act “as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice….” Peter realizes that the Christian, knowing his own freedom, may face the temptation of acting in ways that are not honoring to God. Any freedom carries with it the danger of abuse...many of you may have seen the reports in the news this week about Jayson Williams (STORY)…Peter wants Christians to be careful that their liberty does not lead them to vice, but rather that their liberty leads to virtue.