1 Peter Bible Study Notes, Week 8
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful [fleshly] desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good [fine] lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good [fine] deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority [institution]: whether to the emperor [king], as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.
Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect [honour] to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.
Additional reading: Galatians 5:16-26
Things to think about
Name some “desires of the flesh”? Are all desires of the flesh sinful? How do different translations translate “desires of the flesh”?
In what ways can you, as a Christian, make and maintain a good reputation among unbelievers?
In what ways can your church make and maintain a good reputation within your community?
Could you, or should you, honour and submit to leaders like Nero, Hitler or Idi Amin? What does the Bible say about this? When is it OK not to submit to someone in authority?
Foreigners and Exiles – 1 Peter 2:11
Peter appeals to his audience as “dear friends” (NIV 2011) or, more literally, “beloved”. He uses “beloved” (agapētoi) twice in his letter as a way of beginning or marking a new section. (cf. 1 Pet. 4:12.)
1 Peter 2:11 marks the beginning of the middle section, which is the heart of Peter’s letter. However, following on from the previous section, he reminds his audience that they are “foreigners and exiles”. Foreigners or sojourners (paroikoi) are resident aliens who have no legal status or rights. Exiles, or strangers (parepidēmoi) are temporary residents.
The phrase “foreigner and exile” is also found in Genesis 23:4 (LXX) where Abraham describes himself as a foreigner (paroikos) and a visiting stranger (parepidēmos). “With the allusion to Abraham, [Peter] reminds his readers that they stand in a long tradition of people who were chosen by God and called to be aliens and strangers in the places where they lived.” (Jobes 2009:168)
The Lusts of the Flesh, or, The Sinful Desires – 1 Peter 2:11
The true status of Peter’s readers was that they were holy people belonging to a holy God (1 Pet. 1:14-15 cf. 2:9-10). In view of this status, Peter tells his readers to abstain from sinful desires of the flesh. The term, “sinful desires” or “fleshly desires”, which Peter uses in verse 11, is common in Paul’s letters. Paul made several lists in his letters of fleshly desires and also of what constituted godly, spiritual conduct (e.g., Gal 5:19-21 and Gal 5:22-23). Peter, on the other hand, does not list what is fleshly and what is good. It seems that he expected his (Jewish?) audience to know the difference.
It is important to note that fleshy desires are not limited to sexual desire. It is also important to note that not all desires of the flesh are sinful, yet they have the potential to lead to excesses, selfishness, and sin. For example, the desire for food is a normal, natural response of the body when we haven’t eaten; however, it may lead to the excess of gluttony. Similarly, the normal and natural desire for sexual intimacy may lead to sexual immorality if not checked or directed appropriately.
When Peter and Paul speak about fleshly desires, they are speaking about sinful, selfish excesses. To capture this meaning, instead of saying “the desires of the flesh”, some Bible versions such as the KJV and the NASB use the phrase “the lusts of the flesh”. Other translations, however, avoid using the word “lusts”, however, because it may sound to some readers as if Peter is confining his comments to sexual sin.
Furthermore, instead of using the word “flesh” (which is an accurate translation of the Greek word sarx), some translations have translated this word as “sinful” or “sinful nature” to give a better, truer understanding of Peter and Paul’s teaching. The sins of pride and arrogance, for example, may be better understood for what they are when referred to as “desires of the sinful nature”, rather than “fleshly desires”.
The Flesh vs the Soul and Spirit – 1 Peter 2:11
Peter wrote that the desires of the flesh wage war with the soul. Paul understood this too, and wrote that sinful flesh, and its deeds, are the antithesis of the Holy Spirit and his fruit. Living by the Spirit—immersing yourself in God, his presence, his word, and his service—is the best antidote to succumbing to the temptations of the sinful nature:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. Galatians 5:16-17
In other letters, Paul wrote about the sinful deeds of the flesh and the good deeds of the Spirit using various contrasting concepts. In Ephesians 5:8-14, Paul contrasted the deeds of darkness to the deeds of light. In Ephesians 4:22-24, he contrasted the deeds of the old self to the deeds of the new self which has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. In Colossians 3:5-10, Paul contrasted the old, earthly nature to the new self. He also contrasted earthly thoughts to heavenly thoughts (Col. 3:2).
Rather than being earthly people with worldly thoughts and sinful fleshly desires, Peter wanted the Christians in Asia Minor to realise that they were strangers in the world and that they lived by a higher code. He wanted their behaviour to be pleasing to God, behaviour that would bring glory to God on the day of his visitation (Matt. 5:16). He wanted their behaviour to be governed by the hope that Jesus would soon return (1 Pet. 1:5, 7, 13). When Jesus returned, their hardships would be forgotten and their faith vindicated.
Good Behaviour and a Good Reputation – 1 Peter 2:12
The conduct or behaviour (anastrophē) of the Christians in Asia Minor is a key concern of Peter’s. He wanted their behaviour to be pleasing to God, but he also wanted it to be pleasing to other people. The word he used (twice) in verse 12 is kalos. This word is often translated as “good”, but it has a broader range of meanings which are closer in meaning to “fine”, “beautiful”, “proper”, “honourable”, etc. The NASB translates this word here as “noble”. The behaviour of the Asian Christians was to be evidently and outwardly appealing and respectable to the pagans. It was not to be just the inward pious disposition of goodness.
Peter wanted the Christians to live in such a way that their pagan neighbours could have nothing negative to say against them. He wanted the Christians to have self-control over their “flesh” (i.e. their sinful nature). Self-control that enables a person to abstain from desires of the flesh was a virtue that was highly valued by Greek moral philosophers as well as Christians. (Jobes 2009:171) Peter expected his readers to live in a way that would be recognised as virtuous and good, even by the standards of unbelieving Gentiles.
The challenge Peter presents to the thoughtful Christian is to live by the good values of society that are consistent with Christian values and to reject those that are not, thereby maintaining one’s distinctive Christian identity. . . . [Peter] does not advise a withdrawal from, or rebellion against, the roles of society but rather that Christians conduct themselves properly within those relationships. (Jobes 2009:171)
The reputation of the church is the reason behind several instructions in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 1 Cor. 10:32; Col. 4:5; 1 Tim. 3:7.) Sadly, both history and the present situation in the church seems to show that, broadly speaking, the church is not overly concerned about its honour or reputation among unbelievers.
Submission to Rulers – 1 Peter 2:13-14
In verse 13, Peter begins with the first of his instructions for submission. It is understandable that the Christians who were being mistreated and slandered would want to resist or even rebel against the pagan authorities. However, Peter’s instruction is for submission to governing authorities. (Submission is the opposite of resistance and rebellion.)
Peter believed that by respectfully submitting to, and cooperating with, the governing authorities, Christian persecution would be minimised. Peter’s advice was appropriate for that situation and time. In other situations, however, where authorities are unjust and ungodly, resistance and disobedience may be the appropriate response. We need to use wisdom and spiritual guidance in deciding when to submit and when to resist. The Bible contains accounts when godly people resisted and disobeyed ungodly or foolish leaders, and they were commended for it (e.g. Exod. 1:15-21).
It is important to note that Peter recognised that the authority of that day was exercising power justly, at least to some extent: “to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” His advice may have been different if the government was corrupt and brutal. In fact, several Roman emperors and governors were known for their brutal and unjust treatment of Christians.
Many New Testament scholars believe that Nero was emperor at the time of Peter’s letter. Nero, who died in 68 AD, was particularly savage and capricious in how he tortured Christians towards the end of his reign. The apostle Paul was just one of many Christians who may have been killed during Nero’s reign. Peter’s observation and advice, however, do not seem to support the idea that Nero was emperor at the time of writing.
I speculate that 1 Peter was written in the early 70s AD when Vespasian was emperor. It would have been difficult for Jewish Christians in Asia Minor to respect and submit to Vespasian as he had personally led an army of 60,000 Romans to quell an uprising in Galilee in 67 AD with the intention of continuing on to Jerusalem. Vespasian’s son, Titus, went to Jerusalem to finish off his father’s campaign. Titus is responsible for demolishing the Jerusalem temple in early 70 AD during Vespasian’s reign.
Image is a bust of the Roman emperor Vespasian. (Wikimedia)
Silencing Slander – 1 Peter 2:15-16
Slander is a prominent theme in 1 Peter. The behaviours and activities of Christians in Asia Minor (and elsewhere) seemed odd to their neighbours. Christians were mistrusted and thought to be subversive. They were rumoured to be atheists, incestuous, and even cannibals. [There is more about these rumours in the Introduction.]
By being submissive (cooperative) and respectful, and by “doing good”, however, Peter expected that the Christians would silence the rumours and slanders. “Doing good” (agathopoieō) occurs three more times in Peter’s letter (1 Pet. 2:20; 3:6, 17). “The same verb, agathaopoieō, is found on the lips of Jesus in Luke 6:35, where he instructs his followers to”do good” even to their enemies. (Jobes 2009:175)
Freedom and Service – 1 Peter 2:16
One of the most wonderful things about being a Christian is that we are spiritually free. This freedom includes freedom from the bondage of sin, guilt and death (John 8:31-36). However, the apostles warn us against using this freedom to live licentiously. In fact, we are exhorted to use our freedom to be servants, even slaves. This is one of the paradoxes of Christianity: that we are to use our freedom to be bondslaves of God. I like how the NASB translates 1 Peter 2:16:
“Act as free men [and women], and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” 1 Peter 2:16 NASB
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul tells his readers to use their freedom to serve others.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13
God wants us to serve him and serve others, but not from compulsion. He wants our love and service, and our “doing good”, to come from our freedom and our free-will. Love and service to God and others is our choice and our appropriate response to him.
Honour and Respect – 1 Peter 2:17
Peter’s letter comes to a pause in verse 17 with a summary statement that the Christians are to “Show proper respect [honour] to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.”
While there are only a few hints of censure in his letter, it seems that Peter felt he needed to emphasise submission and respect (or honour) to his readers. The instruction to show respect to everyone may seem unremarkable to us, but it was, in fact, profound. Peter expected Christians from the higher classes to treat lower class people and slaves with respect and equality. And even with love! This was not how first-century society operated. Furthermore, Peter wanted the Christians to treat those who were opposing them with respect.
Peter also reminds his readers to fear (or reverence) God. The respectful fear of God is a powerful force that motivates good behaviour. Not only does the fear of God influence our behaviour, it demands a higher allegiance than our allegiance to worldly leaders and institutions (Acts 5:29). Jesus taught that we should not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matt. 10:28). In the midst of the fearful uncertainties, slanders and threats from pagan society, Peter reminded his readers that God is the one the Christians should fear and reverence.
 The CEB translates “desires of the flesh” in 1 Peter 2:11 as “worldly desires”. The CEB translates the same phrase as “selfish desires” in several verses in Galatians.
 Luke used the term “visitation” in reference to Jesus’ incarnation when God visited his people through Jesus (Luke 19:44). It seems that Peter uses the term here either in reference to Jesus’ second coming, when God will again “visit” the earth, or in reference to the future final judgement.
 Peter used the Greek word anastrophē, which can be translated as “way of life”, “conduct” or “behaviour”, six times in his letter (1 Pet. 1:15 17, 18; 2:12; 3:1, 16).
 “But in a democratic state the keynote must not be subjection, but cooperation, for in a democratic state the duty of the citizen is not only to submit to be ruled, but to take the necessary share of ruling.” (Barclay 1973:244)
 Vespasian’s wife Flavia Domitilla is believed to have been a Christian, as was his daughter, also named Flavia Domitilla. Vespasian’s wife died before he became emperor. Their two sons, Titus and Domitian, would also become emperors. Under Vespasian’s order, it was Titus who led the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.
 The New Covenant ideal is a classless, caste-less society (Gal. 3:28).