Honor, Love, Fear.
“Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” 1 Peter 2:17
I love that verse. It’s in the middle of a section where Peter deals a lot with submission. Submission to government, submission to masters, submission of wives to their husbands, and so on. And I love this verse because in 11 words we’re told basically what we need to know in order to live our lives in a godly way.
“Honor all people.” Do we do that? No. We judge people for the simple fact that they are different than us. We condemn people because of their outward appearances. We call people -who God created- ugly; or refer to them as a “waste of air.” Really? Is that congruent with how the Bible would speak of us? Genesis 1:26-27 talks about God doing what? Making man in His own image. And in verse 31 He refers to that as “very good.” Interesting. God has declared that man being made in His own image is very good…and I call it ugly. Now obviously, you can bring up the fact that in Genesis 3 man sins and the image of God in us is marred (Colossians 3:10 says it is being renewed in Christians). But even at that, in our sinful state the Psalmist would still affirm that each of us is knitted together by God in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). We are still, each one of us, a unique creation of God. A creation so valued an loved by Him, that in spite of our sinful rebellion and hatred of Him which made us His enemies (Romans 5:10), He loved us enough to send His Son to die in our place (John 3:16). So if everyone is created by God…in His own image…and loved by Him so much that He sent His Son to be killed for them-what right do I have to despise those whom God has loved? Do we confront sin in people’s lives? Absolutely. Do we have any right to do so in a condescending way? No. To do that simply makes you a Pharisee, for whom Jesus had some pretty harsh words. We need to share God’s heart for this fallen and sinful world. That is, not one of condemnation, but rather one of love and compassion. Honor people so as not to be a stumbling block between them and the cross.
“Love the brotherhood.” If we’re bad at honoring people, then we’re awful at loving the brotherhood. The old joke is that Christian firing squads align in a circle. Sad, but true. We are far from the exhortation of Paul in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each not look out only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” God loves everyone, but we see pretty clearly throughout Scripture that He has a special love for His people (Deuteronomy 10:14,15; Malachi 1:2,3; John 10:25-29; Ephesians 2:4,5; Revelation 21:3). We need to look out for our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are the people for whom Jesus loved so much as to bear the wrath of God on their account (Isaiah 53:7). And I get mad at people and break fellowship because I don’t agree over what kind of music to play in church? I judge my brothers and sisters for wearing sweatpants to church? I get upset over the carpet being a little mud stained instead of being glad that the person with muddy boots is part of the fellowship? We are no better than anyone else! We all are wretched sinners and deserve the wrath of God; yet Christ took that on the cross for us…this should be the basis of our fellowship and our joy in each other! In the book of Philippians, Paul’s most personal letter, we see a man who loves the ones he is writing to. He has a deep, genuine affection for them. Why? Philippians 1:5 tells us it is because of their fellowship with him in the gospel. Jesus is what unifies us. The church so often looks like the world. Our friendships are based on common interests and experiences. We hang out with people because we like the same things or do the same things. Be it football, baseball, hunting, fishing, knitting, sewing, cars, beer, photography, gossip, coffee, technology, of course this list could run on for days. But all of these things change. Our interests change. Our experiences change. Where we live can change. All of these superficial basis’s of commonality and friendship are shifting and will change. (Which, I believe is perhaps one of the strongest arguments against age-segregated Sunday School, Bible studies, etc….but that will wait for another day). What doesn’t change? God. And what He has done for us, in Jesus. That is the only constant, firm, unmoving foundation for our relationships. We need to love as Christ has first loved us. And this must first extend to the body of believers.
“Fear God.” This echoes Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Now I could not tell you how many times I have heard it said that this doesn’t mean fear, but simply “respect” or “awe.” So, in light of that, a few years ago I decided to bust out the old concordance and check out both the Greek and Hebrew words…and I found out this really funny thing…the both meant “fear.” Could respect and awe be included? Absolutely. But the basic meaning was to have a real and literal fear. Should we not? Correct me if I am in error, but if I-a small, tiny, miniscule creation-have offended the Almighty, Omnipotent, Sovereign, Creator God of the universe…I have reason to fear. Especially in the knowledge that He is just and hates sin. Now, I also know that Christ has died for me, propitiating God’s wrath towards me (Romans 3:25), and because of this there is no condemnation for me (Romans 8:1), and I can boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). But I still ought to be working out my “salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). I need to be ever mindful of both my sinfulness and God’s mercy. And aware of the fact that His mercy has given me not the ability to sin freely, but to freely follow Him (Romans 6:1-2, 14; 1 Peter 2:16).
“Honor the king.” The rampant absence of this among the “Christian right” is quite honestly a very shameful thing. People bomb abortion clinics, slander the President, bash homosexuals, and chastise as unpatriotic or un-American anyone with whom the disagree (there recently has been the development of the “Christian left“ as well…they are present at protests such as Occupy Wall Street, etc…this group another set of problems equally as great. Perhaps I will address those at another point). All of this under the guise of “protecting Christian values.” Do not get me wrong. I am in no way for apathy, pacifism, or sitting idly by while the government grows out of control. We have a very unique situation in our country where we have not only the opportunity, but truly the responsibility to stand up for what is right and to work for the changes which may be necessary. We can elect people to office who agree with our values, and we charge them with the responsibility to carry out their duties in a way that represents us well. What I am saying is that to disrespect and slander those who are in authority is totally, completely, categorically, and undeniably unbiblical. You cannot look at Romans 13, 1 Peter 2, and other places and with any intellectual honesty say to dishonor or disobey authority is “okay.” (There are some obvious exceptions, such as in the case that we are told not to preach the Gospel…but we’d have to be doing that before anyone would be telling us not to). God Himself has established authority. At times to bless a nation, at other times to judge it. Does that make them good? No. Does that mean that just because he is President now I will be voting for President Obama’s reelection in 2012? Nope. But we need to get over the idea that we are the center of the universe and anything we disagree with or think is wrong is okay to be slandered, ripped to shreds, or disrespected and dishonored. The people writing the Bible lived under some of the worst dictators in the Roman empire. Peter himself was executed under Nero. Yet, he is the one saying “Honor the King.” We need to bear these things in mind.
In summary, I think the big point is that we are to follow our God. We are to reflect His character. We are to esteem Him above all else, and others above ourselves. Do we call out sin? Yes. Can we do so in what at times is a mocking way? I think there is a time and a place for that, sometimes even Jesus’ used satire to illustrate the absurdity of our sin. Should we work for social reforms and desire godly leaders for our cities, states, and countries? For sure. But of far more importance is the message of the Gospel. Christ and Him crucified. God reconciling man to Himself on account of Jesus. We need to be lights to this dark world. That starts by loving God, pours out into loving His people, and overflows into loving this world that so desperately needs Him.