“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”1 Peter 2.12
On July 19, A.D. 64 an urban fire broke out in Rome causing widespread devastation. It was finally contained after six days, only to erupt again with a vengeance and destroy ancient landmarks and homes. A significant portion of the population was left homeless. The citizens were upset and bitter. They took to the streets in protest because they knew who was responsible for the fire. Though eventually, the Christians would become the scapegoat, the Roman citizens initially looked to Nero as the guilty one who started the fires. It was even reported that Nero hindered the attempt to extinguish the flames.
Why would Nero want to burn down his own capital? Historians tell us that Nero had a passion for building. The population knew this to be true and that the fire was started by him with the effort to rebuild Rome in his image. Because the prosecution against him was so damning, Nero needed a scapegoat. And he had the perfect one, the Christians as noted by the Roman historian, Tacitus.
William Barclay offers a number of reasons why Christians were picked by Nero as his scapegoat:
By blaming the fire on the Christians, Nero was able to deflect the hatred towards him onto the Christians. A savage outbreak of persecution erupted like the fire in Rome against all Christians across the empire.
Nero’s persecution was brutal. For example, Nero had Christians rolled in pitch and then set on fire while they were still alive and used them as living torches to light his gardens. He also would sew them up in wild animal skins and then set his dogs loose and watch them tear the Christians from limb to limb. Tacitus records that this persecution was not legal.
It is in this setting that Peter’s letter is written. It was a letter sent out to the churches scattered throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). The letter was sent to provide hope, encouragement, and instruction to believers undergoing persecution. It was a letter that called on all believers to stand firm in God’s grace in the midst of fiery trials.
Peter informs his readers they are “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2.11) to this world. They were set apart by God as…
“a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you [they] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”1 Peter 2.9
Because of this, they would be “aliens and strangers” in a world that would not understand them. Sojourning as aliens in this world, they would experience ongoing conflict, not only from others but also their own personal flesh which would wage war against their souls.
To this, Peter offers this instruction (1 Peter 2.11).
This means to back off. Do not give in to the things that set its desire against the Spirit of God. Paul list a number of these (Galatians 5.19-21)
All these things cry out to your flesh. They entice your desires. You know this to be true because you probably have experienced this tugging at your heart, enticing you to act in sinful ways that are not honorable to God.
“My son, if sinners entice you,Proverbs 1.10-15
Do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us,
Let us lie in wait for blood,
Let us ambush the innocent without cause;
Let us swallow them alive like Sheol,
Even whole, as those who go down to the pit;
We will find all kinds of precious wealth,
We will fill our houses with spoil;
Throw in your lot with us,
We shall all have one purse,”
My son, do not walk in the way with them.
Keep your feet from their path,”
Therefore, heed Peter’s instruction to stop acting on fleshly behavior. Do not give into your passions. Do not let sin be your master. Practice self-control and you will conduct yourself in a way that is good and honorable before God as His child and citizen of heaven. Do not be enticed by others and join in with their cause.
Peter’s first point to abstain from fleshly lust is similar to Paul’s instruction to “put off the flesh” (Ephesians 4.22). Likewise, Peter’s second point is like Paul’s message to “put on the new nature” (Ephesians 4.24).
Peter is essentially saying the same thing by stating to his readers to “keep your behavior excellent” among those who do not believe. Why is this so critical? He explains by stating, “so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” – 1 Peter 2.12
What Peter is saying is this, “listen, they are accusing you of burning down Rome and other things…if they observe that your behavior is excellent, their accusations do not have a leg to stand on.” Thus, do not give others a reason to accuse you of doing wrong, for there are no laws against doing right.
What does Peter mean by “excellent behavior”? He means “good conduct.” It is that conduct that is fair, honest, honorable, and treasured. It is doing what is right. It is a behavior that is even commendable among the pagans.
We know how brutal Sadam Hussein was as a leader in Iraq. Most of that was against Muslims of a certain sect. In talking with Christians from Iraq after Sadam was ousted and executed, many of them said that Christians were free to worship, do business, own land, and other things because Sadam could trust them. They were not a problem for him. He knew where they stood and their actions and behavior provided freedoms that some of the Muslims did not have.
This is the type of behavior that Peter wanted from his readers as they sojourned as aliens in a world that could not understand what and who they were.
When Christians behave the way that God instructs, that behavior brings glory to Him. This is the goal of the Christian. To walk and live in such a way that their lives bring glory and honor to God. As the pagans observe the way Christians act, that behavior becomes an honorable action being observed.
What areas are being observed?
Do these areas of your life bring glory to God. When people observe your marriage, is it holy? Do you as a Christian couple live as one flesh in a way that pleases God? As a Christian, are you co-habitating before marriage? Is there any conflict about what the Bible says how you should behave verses how your premarital relationship is being observed by others?
What about what you post on the social media? Do you chime in defacing, demoralizing, tearing down people and circumstances by simply pasting others’ posts? What about your purity? Is your purity in check on the web?
What about your emotions? Do you have an anger problem? Do you lash out at people? Does it make you feel good that you can make someone feel small? What is being observed about you by others and God says alot about your faith and walk in Christ.
Peter’s instruction for Christians is timeless. Our excellent behavior should persevere all the way until Christ comes again. This is what he means by “in the day of visitation.” Christians will be under scrutiny and observed by all until Christ returns. Then God will receive full glory as every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2.10-11). What a glorious day that will be. But in the meantime, let Him receive some of that glory now by how we conduct ourselves in this world.
There is a great temptation to get caught up in what takes place in this world. Conflict with our culture is not won by aggressive behavior towards it. It is won by “good conduct” or “good works’ that are in accordance with God’s will and His gospel. Peter’s vision for all Christians is that their exemplary behavior will change the minds of their accusers and in effect ‘overcome evil with good, making the gospel and Christ a more pleasing witness (cf. Acts 2.47).
These are important questions to ask ourselves in days when there is much chaos, emotion, and fear in the world. I pray your desire is to live as a citizen of heaven who is a temporary resident in this world. By doing this you bring glory to God as you await His return.
Grace and Peace! – GT