Saturday 14th August
1 Peter 2: 11 – 17
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.
For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor.
This passage is one that I wrestle with. Peter reminds us that we are aliens and exiles. It is easy in the hubbub of life to forget the big picture that our home is with God and we are therefore called to live in a way that is different, as Peter states “honourable”. If we are going to live honourably, that means we need to be authentic and have integrity, it also means we need to follow the golden rule to love our neighbours as ourselves. The bit that becomes difficult is when Peter tells us that we need to accept the authority of every human institution…this is the bit that many commentary writers have focused on, and all the ones I read came to the same conclusion – that we just need to obey the government, but I disagree.
Sometimes our government makes decisions that do not align with our faith and how God wants us to treat one another, at these times if we do not protest or make a public stance against the government, then we become complicit in unjust practice. We must think about other places in the world like Myanmar where those in authority have no regard for the people. I do not think we can recognise those authorities as being of God. Now I am aware that at the time Peter was writing Nero was emperor, and yet Peter still said what he did, but I wonder how much of it was about preservation and not putting people more at risk by encouraging them to subversive action? I also wonder whether Peter was ensuring that we understand that we are all created by God, even those who abuse their authority, and as much as we might want the government to honour every person as valid and equal, we also have to recognise that those who harm are children of God too…maybe we need to be critical of practices but ensure that we don’t resort to seeing the people in authority as other or inhuman, because that is when we stop honouring God.
You are the one who made all life.
You made us,
You tasked us with caring for the world You created and one another.
We are sorry we use power and authority to hurt and abuse,
Forgetting that the real power is Yours.
Help us recognise You in every person,
Make us brave to challenge unjust practices,
Remind us that those in power are children of God too.