Well, I want to tell you about a situation that I'm sure nobody here has experienced. I want to take two imaginary kids who are ordinarily well behaved. Keep in mind that these are two completely hypothetical kids who don't exist in reality. They don't believe it's right to hit, but one day you catch one of these kids hitting the other one. You say, "Why did you just hit your sister? Don't you know it's wrong to hit?"
Can you guess the answer you're going to get? "Well, he did..." and you can fill in the blank. In other words, "Yes, it's wrong to hit, but..."
Has anyone experienced this? "Yes, it's wrong to do [blank], but because of this, I had no choice." In fact, I want you to take a minute and chat with someone around you and come up with a couple of situations in which someone might agree that doing something is wrong, but because of the circumstances it's right. Let me give you a couple of examples, and then give you a minute to come up with your own.
"It's wrong to cheat, but because the tax law is unfair, I have a right to pay cash and avoid paying taxes."
"It's wrong to gossip, but because my boss doesn't listen to me, I have a right to tell others what I think of him."
Try coming up with a few of your own examples.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of things that we believe are wrong. When push comes to shove, though, we sometimes feel like there's no choice, and that we have every right to do what's wrong because the other person is wrong. You know what I'm talking about?
If you were here last week, I think that you may have experienced one of those moments with me. Last week we looked at a passage of Scripture that said to obey authority, even when the authority is undeserving of our respect. So, if you have a bad boss, then the way to deal with that bad boss is to submit to them. If you, or your child, as a bad teacher or principal, then the way to respond as long as that person is in a position of authority is to submit to that authority.
This is an incredibly hard teaching, and I sensed last week that we all felt the tension. We all have questions about if this goes too far, and what if we become doormats. I'll tell you what was going through my mind, though, as I wrestled through this passage in 1 Peter: I don't want to submit to bad people. If someone asked me, "Is it right to submit to authority?" my answer would be yes. But, when push comes to shove, I would say, "It's wrong to not submit to authority, but because that authority is bad or incompetent or dishonest or whatever, I have every right not to submit."
In other words, I'm not so sure I want to do what the Bible says at this point.
Anyone with me? Am I alone here? There are some parts of the Bible that we wish we could obey. This is one of those parts we're not so sure we want to obey. We don't like what it says and we're not too excited about applying it.
What if I were to tell you that you aren't alone if you feel that way? In fact, what if I told you that the very person who wrote these words didn't always agree with them? What I want to do for a minute is to paint a picture of the author of the command to submit to bad authorities, and to show how his view changed. Then I want to ask you: what changed Peter's mind? And is it possible for whatever changed Peter's mind to change our minds as well? Is it possible that whatever made Peter want to obey the tough parts might make us want to obey the tough parts too? I want what Peter experienced. I want to be transformed so that I have a desire to obey the parts I like, as well as the parts I don't like.
So let me tell you a little bit about Peter. His name used to be Simon Peter. When you read the Gospels, he comes across as someone who didn't mind a little scrap. You could say that he had a tendency to attack when attacked. When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter is the one who was quick to draw the sword and attack a servant of the high priest. Peter's own experience was one that was full of rebellion and revolution and disrespect for those who were in authority.
So what changed Peter from a fighter to the writer of the words, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority" (1 Peter 2:13)? We're not talking a minor change here.
What would make a slugger change and say that slaves should submit to abusive masters? We read the passage last week. This is hard stuff for us to swallow. We don't like it. We're not sure we want to do what Peter says. And Peter isn't a spineless wimp who avoids fights either. You get the sense that Peter would enjoy a good altercation.
So what changes this man's character so deeply? And is it possible for us to experience a similar change ourselves? Can people really undergo radical transformation so that rebels become peacemakers, and revolutionaries lay down the sword for the sake of Christ?
Well, we don't have to guess what changed Peter. Peter tells us. Let's look at Peter's explanation for the change in his character. It's found in 1 Peter 2. In verses 18 to 20 he gives us the command. Let's read it, but as we do so, please keep in mind how out of character this response would be for Peter. This is not Peter's natural way of responding to an abusive master.
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if you bear up under the pain of unjust suffering because you are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
Picture a slave getting this who works for a difficult master. He gets this letter telling him that he's to submit to his master, even though his master is harsh. It's God's will that he endures unjust suffering; if he endures it, it pleases God. You can almost hear this slave saying, "Give me one good reason." Peter obliges. He gives us one good reason in verse 21. It's a reason that calls us to undergo the same type of change in our lives.
So give me one good reason why I should obey even when I don't feel like it? Peter gives that reason in verse 21: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."
Let that sink in for a minute. "To this you were called." To what? What he mentioned in the preceding verse: suffering for doing good, and enduring it. Think about that. I don't know if I've ever heard anyone preach on this. I've heard people say that they were called into the ministry or to be a missionary, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone say, "The Lord called me to a life of suffering for doing good. My calling in life is to endure it, even though it's unfair." But that is exactly what Peter is saying here. It reminds me of what the apostle Paul wrote in a different place: "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (Philippians 1:29).
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way: "I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may." Can I read that again? " The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may." Or, as someone else (J.I. Packer) has put it, "It needs to be said loud and clear that in the kingdom of God there ain't no comfort zone and never will be."
So that's the reason why we should submit to authority, even when the authority is unjust. It's because God has called us to a life of endurance, even when we face suffering that is unjust. God didn't just call us. He also gave us an example to follow. He doesn't ask us to do anything that he didn't already do. Peter says, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."
So here we're getting to the heart of why Peter changed. Peter was a rebel. But he was a witness to the arrest of Jesus Christ, and to at least part of the trial. Peter became an eyewitness to the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The example of Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who endured under suffering while doing good. Seeing Jesus suffer in this way changed Peter's entire perspective, just as it has for others. He is the supreme example of bearing up under suffering for doing good.
During World War I, a British commander was preparing to lead his soldiers back to battle. They'd been on furlough, and it was a cold, rainy, muddy day. Their shoulders sagged because they knew what lay ahead of them: mud, blood, possible death. Nobody talked, nobody sang. It was a heavy time.
As they marched along, the commander looked into a bombed-out church. Back in the church he saw the figure of Christ on the cross. At that moment, something happened to the commander. He remembered the One who suffered, died, and rose again. There was victory, and there was triumph.
As the troops marched along, he shouted out, "Eyes right, march!" Every eye turned to the right, and as the soldiers marched by, they saw Christ on the cross. Something happened to that company of men. Suddenly they saw triumph after suffering, and they took courage. With shoulders straightened, they began to smile as they went. You see, anything worthwhile in life will be a risk that demands courage.
The example of Jesus, Peter writes, is exactly what can give hope to a slave who is suffering for doing good at the hands of a harsh master. We don't exactly suffer for our faith in the same way, but the example of Jesus is what can sustain us when we are given a command we don't feel like obeying. Jesus endured to death; we can put up with a grumpy boss at work without blowing it. Anyone can fight back; it takes the example and power of Jesus to submit to God and obey him when it costs.
Peter says, "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example." The word example here means pattern. It was used, for example, of when a teacher would write the letters of the alphabet, and the children would learn these letters by tracing them with their own pens. We are called to copy the characters of Jesus' life, tracing over the lines that he left us. Someone (Bishop Stephen Neill) said, "We all have some dying to do. Jesus showed us how it should be done." Jesus has given us the pattern for how to endure when suffering unjustly.
So let me ask you this morning: what are you going through? What suffering are you enduring? What jerk of a boss is making your life miserable, so that you have a hard time submitting? What person in your life is acting so badly that you are tempted to compromise everything that you believe so that you can take your revenge?
In all of this, would a look at the example of Jesus give you any good reasons for holding up and staying faithful even when it costs? What look at Jesus do you need today so you can live faithfully even when its tough?
Do you need to look again at who Jesus is? Peter says in verse 22, "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." Jesus was the sinless Son of God. Unlike us, he never sinned against God. Even when he was tempted to retaliate, the perfect Son of God held up and he stayed faithful. Peter invites us to look at the sinless Son of God who obeyed on our behalf when anyone else would have given in.
Do you need to look at what Jesus did? Jesus left his life on God's hands and trusted God for the results. Verse 23 says, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." Jesus left himself in God's hands. Imagine how hard it must have been to trust God with the results as Jesus was arrested and tried. He knew what lay ahead, but he trusted God to judge.
When I am mistreated, everything within me wants to take the matter into my own hands. I know that God will judge and make everything right one day. No matter. I don't want to wait for God to take care of it one day; I want to take care of things right here and now. When this happens, I can look at the example of Jesus. He entrusted himself into God's hands even when it led to death.
I can look at what else Peter says that Jesus did. Verse 24 says, "'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.'" Jesus took our sins on the cross. But his death didn't just lead to forgiveness. By means of Christ's death on the cross, whoever comes to him ends his old life and begins a new one devoted to righteousness. Like the hymn says,
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
These slaves say, "Give me one good reason why I should patiently endure suffering for doing good." Peter says, "Let me give you one good reason. Look at what Jesus did for you on the cross."
Do you need to look at why Jesus did it? Peter gives us the reason why Jesus endured what he did on the cross. Verse 25 says, "For 'you were like sheep going astray,' but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." The suffering of Jesus was not purposeless. The death of Jesus is applied to the lives of slaves who are being mistreated, and to people like us. We, who were wandering far away, are now brought back to God, and he watches over us as we go through our lives. We do not suffer alone.
Why should we obey? Peter gives us one good reason: the example of Jesus. Let's look to the cross this morning.
[When I Survey/O the Wonderful Cross]
Warren Wiersbe writes:
Here, then, is the wonderful truth Peter wanted to share: as we live godly lives and submit in times of suffering, we are following Christ's example and becoming more like Him. We submit and obey, not only for the sake of lost souls and for the Lord's sake, but also for our own sake, that we might grow spiritually and become more like Christ.
The unsaved world is watching us, but the Shepherd in heaven is also watching over us; so we have nothing to fear. We can submit to Him and know that He will work everything together for our good and His glory.
My prayer for you is that you would live godly lives, submitting to God and others in times of suffering, patiently enduring even hardship. And as you do so, I pray that you would look to Christ and realize that you are called to follow in his footsteps. He came as our pattern, so we could "know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step" (The Message).
I pray that in doing so, you will become more like him, knowing that you have a Shepherd watching over you so you have nothing to fear, one who works everything together for our good and his glory.