COMMENTARY ON SECOND PETER
"2:17Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
18Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully." NKJV (1 Pet 2:17-19)
Our text continues to develop the impact faith has upon our lives in the world. Although we are "strangers and pilgrims" in the world, faith does not free us to live as though we have no relationship to its civil responsibilities. Faith removes our primary citizenship from this world, and places it in heaven. However, it does not make us anarchists like Barabbas. Under the government of our faith, earthly relationships are not ignored, even though they are not viewed as fundamental or primary. There is a tendency in professed believers to think that secondary things have no relevance to life in Christ. This is not the case, as our text will prove. Faith is versatile, enabling its possessor to live in this world while holding primary citizenship in heaven. What is more, God is glorified in this arrangement. That is because it is accomplished while serving only one master. Our lives in this world are lived unto the Lord-both in word and deed (Col 3:17). While this does incur the hatred and opposition of the world toward the believer, it is unjust. Faith never causes injustice or insubordination in the child of God. Rather, it makes one a peacemaker who "does good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). The world is the better because of the people of God, and never the worse. Our text summons us into conscious conformity with these realities.
HONOR, LOVE, AND FEAR
" 2:17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king." KJV The breadth of the faith life is challenging to consider. Too, the believer does not require a lot of detailed instructions, or "how to" procedures. This sharply clashes with much contemporary religion, showing it to be false and inhibiting, rather than corrective, as is often affirmed. Here is a level of thinking that must be brought into our hearts and minds. Each of these four statements is large, but faith will come to the proper conclusion concerning them. These are not listed in the order of their priority.
HONOR ALL MEN. Here we are challenged to view "men" from the highest viewpoint. They are to be "honored" because there bear the Divine image. As it is written, "But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be" (James 3:8-10). The best among us will struggle with the tendency to speak derisively of men, not considering their origin, need, or that Christ died for them. With great solemnity the Spirit says, "speak evil of no one . . . be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men" (Tit 3:2). "Evil speaking," as declared earlier in this chapter, is to be "put away" (2:1). The idea here is to promote peace and friendship among men-"all men." "Honor," in this case, does not mean to set men on a pedestal of glory, but to be respectful that they are the "offspring of God" (Acts 17:29).
LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD. There is a difference between our attitude toward "all men" and the saints of God. We do good "especially" to them (Gal 6:10). They bear a more precise image of God, created in them in regeneration (Col 3:10). The expression "the brotherhood" does not refer to our particular group, as though the Spirit has said "OUR brotherhood." Unfortunately, there is altogether too much of this kind of thinking in the Christian community. "The brotherhood" refers to ALL those who are in Christ Jesus. By virtue of their union with Christ, they are related to one another. Some of them are "weak" (Rom 14:1). Some are in need of repentance, and need to be recovered (Gal 6:1). Some are novices (1 Tim 3:6; 1 Cor 3:1). We are not only to love the strong, the victors, and the mature, but all of "the brotherhood." It is not enough to love only those of our group, or those with whom we most frequently fellowship. Our "love" for them is based upon their relation to Christ, not their theological persuasion. We "love" them for precisely the same reason God loves us. This will require wisdom and discretion, but it is to be done. Sectarianism has greatly complicated the expression of such love.
FEAR GOD. Our faith produces familiarity with the Living God, but it does not remove the fear of Him. As long as we are "in the body" (Heb 13:3), we are subject to detracting influence that can cause us to ignore and even despise God. These can be resisted, praise the Lord, but not without discernment and effort. Fearing God involves being alarmed at the thought of offending Him, disobeying Him, or becoming guilty before Him. This type of fear does not cause us to draw back from God, but press the closer to Him. It is produced within the framework of an acute consciousness of God. He is the dominating consideration of life, compelling us to fulfill these very exhortations. When the impenitent thief chided Jesus on the cross, the other thief replied, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?" (Lk 23:40). Even in spiritual infancy, he knew that fearing God impacted upon the way men speak and live. Jesus once said, "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!"NKJV (Lk 12:5). That is always in order.
HONOR THE KING. We give respect to ordained authority, which the king represents. It is interesting that this form of government is generally despised by men. Yet those under it are told to give honor to the king. Should they sin, holy men will rebuke them like John the Baptist did Herod (Matt 14:4). Jesus called Herod a "fox," yet did not dishonor him by fomenting a rebellion against him (Lk 13:32).
WHAT SERVANTS ARE FREE TO DO
" 2:18Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh."KJV Once again, the versatility of faith is seen. Unregenerate men would consider this an unreasonable request-to be submissive to inconsiderate and harsh masters. But faith thinks differently. Slavery, while not ideal, did exist in those days. Thus considerable instruction was given to slaves who had turned to Christ. Such were not to conclude that new life in Christ would suddenly bring an end to their enslavement. "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free" (Eph 6:5-8). Colossians says much the same thing, adding, "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ" (Col 3:22-25).
Timothy was reminded to teach the same thing, with additional reasons being given. "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort" (1 Tim 6:1-2). Note, it is assumed that the "masters" knew of the conversion of their slaves. If the slave's religion caused him to disrespect his master, not giving them "all honor," it would result in the master blaspheming the name of the Lord, as well as His teaching. Also, if the slave was blessed to have a believing master, he should not take advantage of the situation, supposing that less would now be required of him. Rather, he should serve with even more diligence, bringing a great blessing to his master, who was also his brother.
Titus was also told of these things. "Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things" (Tit 2:9-10). The believing servant was to strive to please his master in everything, leaving no area in which he could be justly criticized. Neither, indeed, was the slave to "answer again," being argumentative, or talking back. He was to respect his master's goods, not "purloining," or pilfering, taking small things from his master, thought to be inconsequential or without worth. Their irreproachable conduct would "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior," proving it to be precisely what it affirms.
Why are servants told to be subject to their masters even if they are "harsh," "froward,"KJV "unreasonable,"NIV or "overbearing?"NRSV This is irrational to the flesh, but not to faith. God does not promise His people congenial masters and pleasant surroundings in this world. Remember, we are "strangers and pilgrims" here, and will soon be at home with the Lord. Whatever wrong a person does, whether master or slave, he "shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons" (Col 3:25). Those in the service of others are not to take matters into their own hands as though there was no God. God can make Potiphar favor Joseph the slave (Gen 39:1-4), or the prison keeper give honor to Joseph the prisoner (Gen 39:21-23). The Lord can move Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius to exalt the captive Daniel (Dan 2:48; 5:29; 6:2-3). It is a principle of the Kingdom of God that we commit the keeping of our souls to Him in "well doing" (1 Pet 4:19). Thus we entrust our case to Him alone.
These principles can be applied to those who are not slaves, yet are employed by others. Such should learn to be exemplary employees, not arguing, causing trouble, or taking what is not theirs. In so doing, they confirm the truth of the Gospel and show forth the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. Much in our society contradicts these things.
SOMETHING THAT IS COMMENDABLE
"2:19For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully."KJV Spiritual life not only differs from life in the flesh, it is diametrically opposed to it. In this expression we have another confirmation of this fact. In the world, it is commendable when we take what is coming to us, doing so without rebelling or complaining. But this is not commendable to God. Nor, indeed, is it laudable to simply endure undeserved suffering without voicing a complaint. Faith takes us farther than that. It always brings God into primary consideration.
Something that is "commendable" is "thankworthy"KJV, bringing delight to the Lord and imparting loveliness to the sufferer. It brings the "favor"NIV of God to the individual. Such a person experiences the "approval"RSV of God, and receives "credit for"NRSV the "grief" that is endured. It is as though a log is kept in heaven of all wrong doing against the people of God. It will all be corrected in due time, and is therefore to be patiently endured.
The word "grief" speaks of the hardships through which the saints pass. It is when Job loses all that he has, or Joseph is thrown into a pit and sold as a slave to the enemies of God. It is when Daniel is thrown to the lions, Peter is put into prison, or Moses despised by his brethren. It is when Stephen is stoned, or Paul placed into prison. Ultimately, it is when Jesus is led as a sheep dumb before the shearers. It is when "a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly."NASB This is when believers do what is right, yet are treated as though they were wrong. What is the "commendable" thing to do when this occurs?
Here is where faith comes into the picture. It produces a consciousness of God Himself, so that the "grief" is seen differently. It is perceived as "light affliction, which is but for a moment," and "is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17). The idea is that we regard God in our sorrow, not those who have wrongfully inflicted it upon us. That is why Stephen could pray for those who took his life: "Lord, do not charge them with this sin"NKJV (Acts 7:60).
This is a circumstance where God is served in suffering-a strange concept to many. It devastates the idea of being angry or upset with God when we taste of the bitterness of life. Such a frame of mind is neither excusable nor acceptable. Far better to let the Spirit so minister to us through our faith that we are able to say with Paul, "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong"NKJV (2 Cor 12:9-10). This can only occur when we have a "conscience toward God."
The person who lives with a primary concern toward men is thrust into a life of unbelief as well as misery. In that posture, he is cut off from the mercy of the Lord, and thus robbed of recourse to Him. No person will trust in the Lord who has no conscience "toward" Him. The conscience must be tutored by the Word of God, motivated by the promises of God, and fortified by faith in God. This is a "good conscience" (1 Tim 1:5), and one "without offense toward God and men" (Acts 24:16). This is another view of living by faith (Gal 2:20) and walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:25).
Whenever we "suffer wrongfully," we must remember how merciful God has been toward us. "He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities"NKJV (Psa 103:10). The recollection of this will help us to bear up under the unjust criticism and treatment of our enemies. It is still true, "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared"NKJV (Psa 130:3-4). Further, we should not expect to dwell in a foreign land without incurring maltreatment from its citizens.
Lastly, this is the suffering in which we have fellowship with Christ-the "fellowship of His sufferings" (Phil 3:10). It is what qualifies us to reign with Christ (Rom 8:17). The presence of such "grief," while not of itself pleasant, does confirm to us that we are in a foreign land, and that our citizenship is in heaven-and those are pleasant thoughts. There is grace to "endure grief wrongfully," and we are free to obtain it in liberal measures.