Menu Close

“The ABC's”

1 Peter 2:11-17
Bob DeGray
September 9, 2012

Key Sentence

Attitudes breed Behaviors which create Consequences.


I. The ABC Principle (1 Peter 2:11-12)
II. The First Application (1 Peter 2:13-17)


I strongly suspect most folks at Trinity have long forgotten most of the sermons I’ve preached. I know I have. But there are a couple of exceptions, big ideas or key phrases or sermon texts that have somehow. The key sentence I’m preaching this week is one of those that has stuck with me, partially because it stuck with someone else. Melina Kingry, who was just a young teen when Trinity started, told me years later that she’d always remembered and benefitted from the ABC key sentence that I taught from this text.

This elementary lesson of Christian living could be learned from Proverbs, or from the Prophets, or from Jesus in the Gospels. We’ll touch on those, but since we’re in 1st Peter, we’ll learn it from Peter, who gives us this lesson in a particularly positive form. He says: Attitudes breed behaviors which create consequences. ABC. Attitudes breed behaviors which create consequences.

Before we jump into the Scripture, let me give an example to make the principle painfully clear. While we were in seminary in Illinois we sold our home here in Camino South, thinking we’d be called to a church far from Texas. The contract on the house was less than we needed, then they kept asking for more money for repairs and stuff. One day we got a fax saying they wanted us to lower the price another 1000 dollars for something. And I got irritated.

Just then Gail came home to drop off some groceries. We only talked for a second, then she had to go out again. So I’m putting away groceries, fuming about the house. And we had one kitchen cabinet that wouldn't stay shut. So I shut it, and it popped open, and I slammed it, and it popped open. And finally I whammed it with the side of my fist. Which I instantly regretted - I think I broke a bone in my hand. It was weeks before I could use it normally. That's an example of attitudes, what's going on inside me, leading to behaviors, some external action, which creates consequences, some long term effect.

I. The ABC Principle (1 Peter 2:11-12)

We’re going to look at these ABC's this morning in 1st Peter 2:11-17. The first two verses establish the principle, and the other five are the first of many real life applications Peter makes of the principle. If you’re only going to memorize two verses from 1st Peter, I recommend 1st Peter 2:11-12: Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Your attitude is your internal state of heart, will and emotions. Peter says this attitude should be free of ‘the passions of the flesh,’ free from sinful desires. This is really important to Peter: Look at how he starts the verse. Beloved, he says, or 'dear friends', or 'loved ones.' He addresses his readers, most of whom he has probably never met, from a heart of concern and love. Then he says I urge you, I beg you; the King James has ‘I beseech you.’ If you were one of the original recipients of this letter, you would read these two phrases, and think “Oh man, he's really getting serious now.” And he is.

Loved ones I beg you as sojourners and exiles. He reminds his readers that we aren’t at home in this world. At times we get so used to this world's customs, it's standards, it's morality, we forget we’re pilgrims, and our home is still ahead of us. After my daughter Abbie was here this summer, she went back to Nepal and experienced tremendous homesickness and culture shock, the disorientation you feel when adjusting to a radically different life situation. Peter is telling us is that we ought to feel culture shock in our own culture. and we not adjust to it, but to retain the standards of our heavenly country.

So, he says, abstain from the passions of the flesh, worldly desires. The word 'abstain' is interesting: it might best be translated 'have enough of.’ It was the word used in commercial dealing to indicated that you have received full payment. So it means have enough of sinful desires. Be done with them; they wage war against your soul. Harboring the desire to sin, harboring anger, lust, greed, dishonesty or cruelty does damage to your soul, damage to your spirit. Peter said in chapter 1, verse 14, not to conform to evil desires, Now he says live like you’ve had enough of these compulsions.

You see, most of our problem with sin, is not with sins that we do, but with sins that we desire. We experience these sinful desires far more often than we act them out. When I talked about slamming the cabinet earlier, that was a behavior that resulted from an internal attitude of extreme irritation. And everyone struggles at times, with anger, or bitterness, or greed, or lust. It builds up and builds up, until you feel like you are a bomb, about to explode. And Peter says, have enough of sin, at this level, of internal attitude.

The implication is that by grace, through faith, as Peter has taught, such desires are not uncontrollable, but can be consciously nurtured or restrained. And you know that's true: you can feed evil desires, think about them, toy with them, get preoccupied with them, or you can starve them, delight in other things, seek God and delight in Him. It’s called ‘the expulsive power of a new affection.’ Have enough of worldly passions by embracing and intending to rejoice in what is good and beautiful and right, especially in God himself.

That’s the attitude question: will I embrace these passions, these attitudes of desire which war against my soul, or by God’s grace will I have had enough of them. And since this is a positive presentation of this ABC principle, Peter’s assumption is that you and I will embrace the positive attitude, and that this attitude will breed godly behavior which will have wonderful consequences.

He goes there in verse 12: “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” The behavior is described both as honorable conduct and as good deeds. The consequence is that unbelievers see the good deeds and glorify God. Jesus said something very similar in the Sermon on the Mount: “you are the light of the world: let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Peter heard him say this and he totally agrees.

But many of us find this intimidating. We shy away from the idea that God intends our good lives to actually make a difference. We say: ‘Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.’ We say: Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven. I say ‘we’re all broken; we all walk with a limp.’ All that is true, but it’s not the whole truth. God intends us to be visibly changed. Francis Schaeffer used to say Christianity offered substantial healing: not perfection, but real healing of a person's thought life, characteristic sins and relationships.

But sadly, we don’t see that in the statistics. Studies have shown for years that behaviors of professing Christians are hard to distinguish from unbelievers. Ronald Sider, citing Gallup, Barna and others, calls this the Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: We are little different from unbelievers in our divorce rates, in our giving, in our attitude toward the poor, in empirical measures of racism, in our sexual morality or in ethics.

Some of these studies could be more sharply focused, but they shouldn’t have to be. If Christianity means anything at all, it should result in changed lives: Your life, mine. Change is hard, but God is equal to this need: he can change our attitudes, our behaviors, and bring himself glory. I’ve seen him do it: I know alcoholics who’ve been sober twenty years. I know marriages torn apart by sin and rebuilt by grace. I know people’s whose harsh anger has become mature Christlikeness, people whose quick judgmentalism is now careful wisdom. There is hope here. And a simple ABC formula can help: Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.

Remember we are living among unbelievers, just as those early Christians were among the Gentiles. In our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces, our politics, and in our media, we are among unbelievers. And they will accuse us of being evil: the structure of the verse appears to make that inevitable. There are so many examples. We heard the testimony of Peter Surovcek while we were in Slovakia. When he grew up under communism, people known to be Christians were seen as a threat to the state. Therefore, though he was drafted with his peers at age 17, he was put into a labor battalion instead of an army battalion. And God used that, but that’s another story.

In our own country, crude repetition has convinced 90 percent of non-churchgoers that Christians are hypocritical, judgmental and homophobic. As we’ve just seen, if we delight in worldly attitudes, the accusation may be true. As for me, I certainly, and sadly, don’t live without fault. But often we are accused without evidence, or when we’re simply trying to live Biblically. That happened to Gail and me 5 years ago when we first tried to get approved for adoption. More than one agency turned us down because, with our own kids, we refused to give up the right to discipline in a Biblical way. I can still remember the horror with which the social worker greeted our stand.

In general people get away with saying things about Christians they could never say about any other group. But Peter says we need to live so honorably that when they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your good deeds, and glorify God. This is the consequence: saying ‘enough’ to worldly passions breeds a behavior of living honorably and the result is that God is glorified.

I’ve been reading a book this week about the orphanage system in the Ukraine, which has apparently retained a Communist, and therefore atheist way of thinking about things. The author is a Christian apologist who often debates famous atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hutchins.

He’s also an adoptive parent who spent weeks in the Ukraine waiting to adopt Sasha from an orphanage there. He describes the orphanage as incredibly bleak. He has a picture of it in his book: concrete, no greenery, chained dogs, miserable. But inside he found touches of color and some personal belongings and toys. He was told by many that it was Christians who came and did these good things - that no Ukrainian, no atheist would ever think of doing such things, but many had noticed the good the Christians did.

As we live good lives before a watching world, even those who persecute us may have to recognize that we are doing good. And they will glorify God for his work, which is probably the main thrust of Peter’s ‘in the day of visitation.’

The classic Scriptural example of this is the three young men in the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar had set up an image of himself. which he commanded all men to worship. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship, He was furious with rage, and he told them he would throw them in the furnace: ‘then what God will be able to save you from my hand?’ But when they had been thrown into the furnace, and saved by the angel of the Lord, he gave God the glory: ‘No other God can save in this way.’

So we are called to exhibit Godly conduct, even in the face of opposition. Maybe you’ve had half-lies told about you; maybe you’ve been misrepresented to disguise your intentions and motives. But the answer to this is not debate, argument, recrimination or bitterness. The answer is an attitude of godliness leading to good behavior that may well lead to God glorifying consequences. Peter Rask gave a testimony in Slovakia about going to working on a movie set, encouraged by Christians who were part of the production. He then discovered that some of the content was really bad. To make a long story short, his passion to honor God led him to quit the movie despite a signed contract. He doesn’t know what impact his resignation had on the set - but I know his integrity had an impact in Slovakia.

Attitudes breed behavior that creates consequences. This principle is found all through Scripture, not only positively as Jesus and Peter have taught it, but also negatively, as the Old Testament often portrays it. Think of the cycle in the book of Judges: the people did not fear the Lord; everyone did what was right in his own eyes, and God sent judgment. Every chapter of Proverbs teaches this principle. Proverbs 1: Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, 30would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, 31therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way - their behavior - and have their fill of their own devices.

II. The First Application (1 Peter 2:13-17)

In the rest of 1st Peter, the author applies this principle to specific life situations. The first of these is found in verses 13 to 17: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Attitudes, behaviors and consequences are woven together in these verses. Verse 13 is an attitude that leads to a behavior: be submissive and actually submit to every authority instituted among men, literally ‘every human creation.’

And the consequence is clear, because these institutions punish those who do wrong, and commend those who do right. This ought to be the normal relationship with our government, with the company we work for, with our schools, with our coaches, with our churches: If I do wrong, I will be punished, If I do right, I will be commended.

Paul and Peter agree remarkably well on this: In Romans 13, you will find Paul saying “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.”

Here you are, driving along the interstate, and all of a sudden these pretty red and blue flashing lights appear behind you. You look down at your speedometer, and see that you’re doing 65 - the speed limit. Whew! Feeling of relief: you have nothing to fear. Next week, pretty flashing lights again, but when you look down - 75. ‘Oh no. I hope he won’t pull me over.’ General principle: do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority - do right.

Now I need to stop here, and take a little two minute side trip, because the question immediately comes to mind: What about a bad government, what about a bad coach, what about a bad boss? The principle can be stated very simply: obey except when commanded to sin. Obey except when commanded to sin.

Examples abound in the Bible of the application of this principle: we’ve already talked about the three young men who would not bow to the idol - but rather faced the fiery furnace. Peter himself is forced to this: When he stood before the Sanhedrin - the human authority in Israel, he said: ‘We must obey God rather than men.’ One of my favorites is Queen Esther, who broke a no-trespassing rule to stand before the King and ultimately to plead for her people. Daniel; Joseph; Jeremiah; Stephen; Paul; the Revelation martyrs: all these stood against the government, when it engaged in or approved sin.

And we ought to also. As peacefully, as humbly, as submissively as possible: we obey, except when commanded to sin. If the government says ‘buy health care that funds abortion, we ought not buy that health care.’ If it says admit those who oppose your group’s beliefs or lose your college funding, maybe we forego the funding. If it were to say, which it hasn’t yet, that a pastor could not speak out about homosexual marriage or abortion or even political issues, then your pastors would have to obey God rather than men.

But let's not lose sight of the basic teaching of this passage: The ABC's Our attitudes breed behaviors which create consequences. Peter virtually repeats the principle in verse 15: “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” This is such a powerful, positively stated principle: by doing good you silence criticism.

I’m intrigued by the possibility of participating in the Family Promise ministry that we heard about last week. I’m blessed by the organization of the Mosaic Road ministry to help those trapped by human trafficking. Why? because I believe that to the coming generation dulled by overexposure to words, acts of mercy, justice, love and compassion will be a powerful witness, and our church and God’s church needs that kind of witness to reach this generation.

But this outward behavior has to flow from inward attitudes. Verse 16: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” You’ve been set free from the penalty of sin; you have been set free from its guilt, and from the need, the compulsion, to sin. So, Peter says, don’t use that freedom as a excuse to sin. Have you said to yourself, when you were on the brink of sin, or when those worldly passions were piling up "Well, God will forgive me." It's true, but it’s no excuse.

And it doesn't need to be that way. Peter gives a practical alternative when he says "Live as servants - or slaves - of God". Paul agrees with this in Romans 6: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” This is a powerful principle for overcoming sinful desires: live as slaves of God. Devote yourself to pleasing your master, and you will experience fewer and weaker sinful desires. But notice that even here it starts with your attitude; it you consider yourself a slave to God, his servant, then your attitude will be one of not pleasing yourself, but Him, and that will change your behavior, and that will have consequences in the world around you.

Verse 17 gives us a few last attitude and behavior checkpoints: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Peter just talked about the attitude we should have toward those in authority - we are to honor them by submitting to them. He says ‘love the brotherhood of believers,’ and he has already talked about that in chapter 1: ‘love one another deeply from the heart.’ And fear God. He’s already said that too: ‘live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.’ These attitudes breed godly behavior: if I’m living in fear and awe of God, if I’m loving my brothers and sisters in Christ, if I’m honoring others, I’m going do things that bless people and glorify God.

Throughout the letter Peter is going to tease out the thought that godly attitudes leading to good behaviors are a powerful witness to everyone who sees them, believer and non-believer alike. A godly attitude toward authority; toward employment; toward marriage; toward suffering; toward critics; all of this will lead to the consequence of God’s glory. Stay tuned; don’t miss this in the coming weeks as we walk through this text.

Peter’s simple ABC is that attitudes breed behaviors which create consequences. “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”