Beloved, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from the desires of the flesh, which war against your soul. Conduct yourselves with such honor among the Gentiles that, though they slander you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us. 1 Peter 2:11-12
Until 1 Peter 2:10 Peter is largely dealing with positional truths. He is largely dealing with the identity of his audience. They are pilgrims. They are God’s chosen exiles. They are God’s children through faith in Jesus. They are inheritors of an indestructible inheritance, and they greatly rejoice in this even though they face various trials. They are possessors of a salvation so amazing that the Prophets of old searched diligently in their own writings to learn about it. Even the angels long to investigate this salvation.
There are five commands that flow from the position truths in 1 Peter 1:13-2:3. Peter tells his original audience:
- You have been born again to a living confidence through Jesus’ resurrection, so set your confidence on the grace Jesus will bring when He is revealed (1:3, 13).
- You have been set apart by the Holy Spirit for obedience to Jesus and for sprinkling with His blood, so set yourselves apart to God in practice (1:2, 14-16).
- God is our Father, He has purchased us with the blood of His Son, and He will hold us accountable for how we live in the salvation He has given (1:3, 14, 17-21). Therefore, live in light of this accountability during the time of your exile on earth.
- We have been born again through the incorruptible Gospel, so we must love one another sincerely (1:22-25). (1)
- We have tasted that the Lord is good in the Gospel, so we long to taste more of this pure milk of the Gospel (1:25; 2:1-3).
Peter then goes into a long section of indicative statements (statements of fact) in 1 Peter 2:4-10. He gives no imperatives (commands) in this section. He instead tells them of their position in beautiful, Old Testament saturated truth. They are united to Jesus and as such they are God’s dwelling and priests. They are “…a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…” (2:9b). They exist “…to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9c).
Let’s not forget as we keep this letter in its context and remind ourselves of the original audience that these truths apply to us as God’s children through faith in Jesus. These realities should cause our hearts to soar to the heavens and enable us to greatly rejoice during the time of our exile. This is who we are in Christ.
This is where our new section of 1 Peter comes to our attention. This is the section where we learn how to make our theology (what we believe and know to be true) come out in our practice. Peter will be urging us to be who we are. We are not citizens of the world, so we should not act like citizens of the world.
In 1 Peter 2:11-12, Peter urges us as resident aliens and pilgrims to hold ourselves back from passions of our flesh which war against our souls. We are to keep our conduct honorable as we live among the Gentiles (2).
Desires of the flesh “…refers to any strong desire that is inconsistent with the will of God” (MacDonald 2353). While it is true that there are enemies from without in spiritual warfare, in this context the enemy is in us. This is an internal conflict, which is discussed in detail by Paul in Galatians 5:16-26 and Romans 7.
As Warren Wiersbe wisely illustrates: “Our real battle is not with people around us, but with passions within us. D.L. Moody said, ‘ I have more trouble with D. L. Moody than with any man I know’” (Wiersbe 404).
We are to abstain from these desires of the flesh. “Abstain (apechesthai) is literally ‘hold oneself constantly back from’” (Raymer 846). The good news is that these passions have already been stripped off of us in our position in Christ (1 Peter 2:1: “Therefore having put aside all malice, and all deceit, and hypocrisy, and envies, and all evil speakings” – Berean Literal Bible). We are commanded to hold ourselves back from picking up in practice what has already been removed in position.
The word translated “honor” means “attractively good; good that inspires (motivates) others to embrace what is lovely (beautiful, praiseworthy); i.e. well done so as to be winsome (appealing)” (HELPS Word Studies). Wiliam MacDonald points out, “A literal rendering is noble or lovely (Gk, kalos, cf. English calligraphy, beautiful writing)” (MacDonald 2378). We are to live in such a way that the lost world sees the beauty of our Gospel-transformed lives and glorifies God on the day He visits them in salvation or judgement. Our lives should be a story of grace written in beautiful handwriting that tells of God’s transforming power in His Gospel and draws the lost into God’s grace.
Not only should our lives attract, but they should also silence slander. Christians have always faced slander. From the beginning people have falsely accused believers of wrong. Unfortunately, many times the accusations are not false, and this should grieve us immensely. We are to live in such a way that any accusation of wrong is proven false.
Peter is now going to take us into a detailed explanation of a life that is honorable. The key word in the study ahead is “submit” or “subject” (2:13 – individuals to governing authorities; 2:18 – servants to masters; 3:1, 5- wives to husbands; 5:5 – younger men to the elders).
An honorable life is a life that willingly brings oneself into a place of service for another. A sacrifice pleasing to God through Christ is voluntarily bringing oneself into the service of others. A way of proclaiming God’s excellencies is by willingly submitting to others as an act of service to God.
The sections that come in 1 Peter will show us what proper biblical submission looks like in relation to God, government, employers, family, and church leaders. This all rests in the example of Jesus Christ who suffered for us and left us an example to follow.
1 Peter 2:11-12 serves a hinge where this letter swings into practical application of the doctrine we have been learning so far. We are not leaving doctrine behind. Doctrine serves as the basis of our actions. What we truly believe affects what we do. Peter is going to show us how to live out in practice who we are in position. He will provide examples of sacrifices pleasing to God and lives that proclaim God’s virtues.
- The Gospel is a message about God’s love for us which was most clearly shown in sending His Son to die for us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Such love should motivate us to love one another (1 John 4:11).
- “Gentiles” in this context is a general reference to the lost, not ethnicity.
HELPS Word-Studies. Helps Ministries, Inc., 2011.
MacDonald, William. “The First Epistle of Peter.” Believer’s Bible Commentary, edited by Art Farstad, 2nd ed., Thomas Nelson, 2016, pp. 2335-2379.
Raymer, Roger M. “1 Peter.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, Edited by John Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Victor, 2004, pp. 837-858.
Wiersbe, Warren W. “1 Peter.”The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2, Ephesians-Revelation, David C. Cook, 1989, pp. 387-434.
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