1 Peter 2:11-12

1 Peter 2:11‑12  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 12
The exhortation at the beginning of the chapter is founded on being born again of incorruptible seed through God's living and abiding word. Therefore were they, and all other Christians of course, to lay aside all malice and all guile and their accompaniments or effects, and to desire earnestly the pure milk of the word, that thereby they might grow to the salvation of glory ready to be revealed. Here it is another exhortation no less general and necessary, based on those high privileges of priesthood, holy and kingly, which distinguish the Christian already, though to be displayed in glory by-and-by, as declared in Rev. 1, 4, 5, & 20. What Israel lost in rejecting the Christ was theirs, only in a more eminent degree and with even a far higher sphere in God's sovereign grace. This leads the apostle to press corresponding probity.
“Beloved, I exhort [you] 1as strangers and sojourners to abstain2 from the fleshly lusts such as3 war against the soul, having your behavior comely among the Gentiles; that in what they speak against you as evil-doers, they, as observing,4 may from your comely works glorify God in [the] day of visitation” (vers. 11, 12).
For the first time the apostle addresses these saints as “beloved,” for there is no ground for adding “dearly” though it be common enough with the A.V. It should be here, as the word is rendered in chap. 4:12; and in the Second Epistle, 1:17, 3:1, 8, 14, 15, & 17. The endearing term is as appropriate to this entreaty against carnal desires, as farther on against quailing under fiery trial. On either side danger lay; and the respective exhortations came from his heart to theirs.
But he appeals to them also as “strangers (or, pilgrims) and sojourners,” not in the more literal sense of chap. 1:1, but in the deeper and more spiritual view of 1:17. If grace called them to heaven, what were they to do with the objects and pursuits and interests of the earth? They were waiting for the revelation of the Lord Jesus in glory, called to be holy in all manner of behavior, as is He who called them, and while free to invoke Him as Father who judges impartially according to the work of each, bound to pass their time of pilgrimage in fear, yet in a fear not of distrust but of confidence; for it is based on the conscious knowledge of divine grace in their redemption at infinite cost and worth. Here he had been telling them of their invaluable nearness and dignity before God when Israel for the present had manifestly lost all. It was their blessing as Christians, not their calamity as Jews, which called them to walk through the wilderness world as pilgrims and sojourners. These too give the greater force to their present estate of strangers, that they abstain from fleshly desires such as war against the soul. Even what is lawful must be used with measure in God's sight.
How striking is the different way in which grace uses spiritual privilege as here, and the sanctioned principle, as well as ambition, of the world-church! Babylon is now clothed in purple and scarlet, bedecked with gold and precious stones and pearls, with a gold cup in her hand full of abominations and the unclean things of her fornication, mystery written on her forehead, and withal drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. Present exaltation on earth, universal power and visible glory, the grossest idolatry, the most wanton and corrupt betrayal of holy separateness to Christ, and the murderous hatred of God's saints and of the witnesses of Jesus: such are her horrible, indelible, and unmistakable features to all taught of God.
What a contrast was even the first hankering after outward honor and authority with our Lord's warning to the twelve! “Ye know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not thus shall it be among you; but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever would become first among you shall be your bondman; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28). From the beginning of His ministry our Lord had laid down for such as heard Him that they are to love their enemies, to do good to those that hate them, to bless those that curse them, to pray for those that despitefully use them. So teaches Peter in this very Epistle, and so he lived: blessed, if we suffer for righteousness' sake, and if we share in Christ's suffering, we rejoice now, that in the revelation of His glory also we may rejoice with exultation. The Catholic system, long before the world-dominion of Popery prevailed, was but the mystery of lawlessness developed; flesh rampant in and after the world to Satan's delight, as far from Christ known by the Holy Spirit as a theater or circus is from heaven. But greater abominations than these were to come, till the signal and final judgment which slumbers not, when strong is the Lord God who will then surely judge Babylon forever.
According to the mind of Christ the high privileges of faith were but to strengthen the believer's delight in God and vigilance as “strangers and sojourners” in holding aloof from the fleshly lusts such as war against the soul. It is not now the unamiable and bitter feelings of fallen man, as in ver. 1, but the self-indulgent and licentious. How often through lack of prayer and watchfulness fleshly lusts spring from sincere esteem and pure affection unawares gliding into carnality; as the Galatians' fall from grace was from going on to perfect in flesh what they had begun in Spirit! How readily little fond familiarities follow by degrees, in the intimacy of Christian love ripening into unhallowed freedom, if not the worst evil. So might lust take other direction and form, as covetousness or any other indulgence alien from Christ. These fleshly desires, many of which men praise as doing well to self, war against the soul and are an abomination in God's sight. How contrary to the new and eternal life we have in Christ, and inconsistent with God's wonderful light in which we walk! How mischievous and debasing to the Christian! They grieve the Holy Spirit, dishonor Christ, and fight against the soul.
Hence the call is to have their behavior comely (καλὴν) among the Gentiles. For there were these Christian Jews interspersed. Though the spring of conduct is the faith that looks to and calls on the Father, it is also an obligation to win the unbelieving and unfriendly by practical consistency with Christ, without affording occasion to those that seek it. For men of the world suspect the motives and the ways of the faithful, yet have a strong if not intelligent sense of their responsibilities, and are ever on the watch for their halting and failure. Therefore is the apostle earnest in urging “that in what they speak against you as evil-doers, they, as observing, may from your comely works glorify God in the day of visitation.”
It was an early and common reproach among the Gentiles that Christians must be atheists, because they turned from idols; and no image of gold, silver, stone, or wood, nor picture of man's device, met the eye of man in their assemblies. The Jews well knew that this was just because a living and true God had won them from such vanities to serve Him. But bitterly jealous were they themselves that Christians did not become proselytes of the law, instead of believing in His risen Son, Jesus the Deliverer, and waiting for His coming again from the heavens; and still more furious were they, that any of the stock of Abraham should have the same faith and hope as the uncircumcised.
Among Greeks and Romans again the service of the state was a cherished object: and he who did not take his share of its burdens or value its ambitions had no end of contempt. To have here no abiding city but to seek the coming one, to declare that the Christian commonwealth is in the heavens from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, seemed to both Jew and Greek rank folly and odious in itself.
Love too, as the bond of perfectness, laid them open to the shameless suspicion of ill-wishers, who put an evil construction on the new brotherhood which astonished the world, embracing women emancipated by the faith of Christ from being the mere drudges and playthings of the other sex, and now in a near and common relationship where Jew or Greek cannot be, bond or free, male and female; “for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is easy to understand what men think and say of what is only known to and by faith, opening the door, as they in their ignorance of grace and truth judge it must, to indiscriminate license and uncleanness. But the apostle exhorts that, from observing the comely works of those addressed, even such as spoke against them as evil-doers might rise above their prejudices and glorify God in the day of visitation.
The apostle put no commendation of themselves before them. Christ bade them beware of such praises as dangerous. But He did more to the like effect as here in Matt. 10:16: Let your light (i.e. in confessing Christ) thus shine before men, so that they may see your comely works and glorify your Father that is in the heavens. Our apostle adds “in the day of visitation;” but hardly in the sense of being visited with the same light and grace which Christians knew, still less of a day when the Gentiles should have a clearer preaching of the gospel than then. It appears rather to look on to a day when God shall judge the secrets of men, when the Lord shall come who will also both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of hearts; and then shall each have the praise from God.