THE FIRST LETTER OF PETER - PART IV
WORLD BY GOOD EXAMPLE
I . Verses 11 and 12 of chapter 2 sets up the theme for the second major part of the letter, which involves giving good example to the world.
A. The verses once again refers to Christians as aliens and sojourners in this world. But it also adds a martial analogy to the passions as warring against the soul. The image is of the passions trying to gain control of the soul and the battle to conquer them.
- The fact that the passions are enemies does not mean that they are evil any more than the fact that the world is an enemy means it is evil. Rather, the passions must be converted and brought under Christ,.
B. Verse 12 then gives an additional motive for good conduct, that it may bring Gentiles (here the term for all outsiders) to glorify God. This idea is a theme from the Sermon on the Mount, i.e., that while one should not parade ones good works for personal credit, one should allow them to shine in the darkness. See Matt. 5:16.
- Outsiders may still
speak ill of Christians, but the evidence will be against them.
- The letter speaks
of conversion on "the day of visitation," which in general means
the day of the coming of the Son of Man and of judgment. Wis.
3:7; Luke 19:44. There seems to be a reference to conversion possibly
at the last moment because of the good witness of Christians.
Or, possibly, there is a notion of the Christians bringing judgment
to nations as they are bringing the Gospel, insofar as the nations future
is decided by its acceptance or rejection of the Gospel.
II. Having said that Christians should be free of passions and of fear of persecution, the letter then says that there is a rightful obedience "to every human institution" because their authority comes from God.
A. This idea that
authority comes from God reflects the words of Christ. See John
19:22. Jesus also said that there should be acceptance of
rightful civil authority, but always under the authority of God.
See Matt. 22:15-22.
B. As with a similar
passage in Romans 13, the idea is not that all commands of all human
powers should be obeyed, but rather that human authority, even if imperfect,
is legitimate, and there are obligations toward it.
C. It is assumed that the authority is "human" and, therefore, in the end from God, whether the ruler knows this fact or not. There is perhaps a subtle implication that authority can be from evil forces as well. See Rev. 13, 17-18.
- The letter
does seem to indicate that the current Roman government is legitimate.
D. The hope is again that good citizenship will make it obvious that opposition to
Christianity is folly. See St. Justin, First Apology ch. III.
E. The letter supports
freedom, presumably both from passions and from excessive social burdens,
but for the sake of serving God more effectively. Freedom not
used for God is wasted.
III. Having addressed the good and goal of freedom, the letter then turns to the difficult subject of slavery.
A. The slaves at
the time were not always in poverty, nor were legally free people always
really free. Nevertheless, the slaves could not leave their masters
and had few legal rights.
B. The letter does
not directly comment on whether slavery is acceptable or not, but rather
assumes it in the background. However, in comparing slaves to
Christ, it is affording them a certain dignity, and certainly by implication
indicates that those who mistreat (e.g., beat, insult, etc.) slaves
are acting like those who crucified Jesus. See Matt. 25:31-46.
C. As a practical matter, for slaves to run away or start of revolution was unfeasible at the time of the letter (probably the 60s.) Thus, the letter gives the best advice possible, to reverence the masters for the sake of God, rather than out of fear. See also Eph. 5:5-9; Col. 3;22-25.
- There is a message
for any employee who is the subject of injustice, that Christ is there
with the oppressed.
D. The letter then takes up the theme of Christ's sufferings as one of hope and strength in several ways.
1. First, if
the master is unjust because the Christian is just, the Christian will
gain merit before God. See Matt. 5:10-12. There is also
an implication that some masters are going to be insulting and harsh
regardless, so the Christian may as well give good example so that the
punishment is unjust and the blame belongs to the master, with credit
going to the slave.
2. Second, suffering for justice is an expected part of being Christian, and in fact, draws one closer to Christ. See, e.g., Matt. 16:24-26; Mk. 10:30; Luke 14:25-27; John 15:18-25.
- The letter quotes
a prophesy of Isaiah regarding the suffering servant. See Is.
52:13-53:12. It says that we are called to follow in the footsteps
of Christ. Thus, we gain confidence in the midst of injustice
by the fact that Christ is there with us and that, as we follow Him
in suffering, we are also following Him to glory.
- The letter does
not say that one should never respond to injustice, but rather that
the response should be Christ-like, in accordance with what will bring
about justice, not simply satisfy anger.
3. Again referring to the Suffering Servant prophesy, the letter also reminds the
readers that Jesus
suffered for our sins. There are at least two implications.
First, if we have been forgiven of sins in a manner that gives us vastly
more than what is just (nothing less than unmerited access to heaven
and the company of the angels) we can bear with some injustices.
See, e.g., Rom. 5:1-11. Second, it is a show of thanksgiving and
repentance to Christ to join with Him in His sufferings.
4. The passage
summarizes its idea with the image from Isaiah and Jesus Himself of
Christ as the Good Shepherd going after us, His lost sheep. See
Is. 53:9; John 10:1-18 See also Ps. 23, 80: Jer. 23:3; Ez. 34; Mi. 7:14-15.
IV. The letter then turns to wives especially of pagan husbands and then to Christian husbands.
A. As with the issue
of obedience to pagan political authority, the idea is to insist on
what is most important (i.e. the faith and good conduct) and give way
on the lesser matters.
B. There is an almost
exalted role of the Christian wives to bring their husbands to the faith.
(That role would be played out in many instances, including the conversion
of the kings of the Lombards, the Franks, the Visigoths when they came
back from Arianism, and many of the English kings.)
C. Wives are also
called upon to defy social standards by refusing to emphasize fancy
dress. This notion is the concluding theme of the Book of Proverbs.
See Prov. 31. In Wisdom literature, the lady Wisdom is portrayed
as a matron or maid who teaches and provides a good household.
See Prov. 9:1-11; Wis. 8:2-16; Sir. 4:11-19. By contrast, in the
Book of Revelation, the woman riding the beast, the symbol of decadence
and oppression, is dressed in extravagant fashion. See Rev. 17-18.
D. The letter then gives Sarah as the model of a loyal wife. Without complaint, she went with Abraham to the Promised Land (and thus away form the wealth and prominence of Ur) and became the mother of the Chosen People.
- The passage does
brush aside the fact that, when Abraham was first promised a child,
Sarah came up with the idea of him having a child through her maidservant
Hagar. The child Ishmael would later be rejected by Sarah when
she had her own son. The message, however, is the same in the
reverse direction. When she pursued an agenda on her own without
consulting God, she got what she pursued, but it was not what was really
- As Abraham is a father
in faith, so Sarah is presented here as a mother of good works especially
when intimidation may be at play.
E. The letter then turns to husbands. In these marriages, both spouses are presumably Christian.
- Like Ephesians and
Colossians , the letter gives complementary advice to husbands and wives,
focusing on aspects that may be more difficult to carry our. In
Ephesians and Colossians, St. Paul focuses the call to obedience more
towards wives, who would be at home and thus more involves and desirous
of running the home; the idea is that they should be willing to give
way to their husbands plans. See Eph. 5:22-24; Col 3:18.
The call to love is more directed towards husbands, who would be more
inclined to think that providing the income and defending the family
is enough; here, St. Paul is calling for them to go further and show
love especially in self-sacrifice. See Eph. 5:25-31, Dol. 3:19.
- St. Peter likewise
calls for wives to be willing to give way to their husbands plans for
lesser things, as long as the faith and good works are preserved.
He calls for husbands to show understanding and honor to their wives;
the alternative would be treating them as objects or trophies, or trying
to satisfy them by such things as the expensive clothes and jewelry
that the letter has just condemned.
- The letter indicates
that husbands need their wives for their prayers to be unhindered.
This notion would have been rather contrary to both pagan and Jewish
- In referring to women
as "the weaker sex" (or more literally the "weaker vessel")
the letter probably means having fewer social rights, or possibly have
less physical strength. It certainly does not mean morally weaker,
for the previous section has just referred to women as converting their
F. This section concludes that husbands and wives are "joint heirs to the gift of life."
- The letter emphasizes
that living in the Christ-like fashion gives us an inheritance with
Him. Here it emphasizes that the husband and wife are meant to
inherit this life together, bringing each other to holiness. See
Catechism 1641. Thus, while the marriage itself is no longer in
force in heaven (or rather has been fulfilled in the wedding feast of
the Lamb), see Matt. 22:23-33, a man and wife do still join in some
way in their everlasting inheritance.
V. This section them concludes with unity, equanimity of spirit, and carefulness in prayer and speech.
A. As the concluding
section in Romans does, this section begins by calling for a unity and
mutual concern for others within the Christian community. See
B. Also as with Romans,
it calls for blessing those who curse one. See Rom. 12:14-21;
see also 5:43-48. The idea is that, as one bestows a blessing
on those unworthy of it, one receives unmerited blessing from heaven.
There is a call to act in a Christ-like fashion in order to draw more
grace from Christ.
C. The section finally ends with a quote from Psalm 34 indicating that purity and peacefulness of speech makes one's prayers more worthy of Christ. That Psalm begins as one of delight in the Lord, and confidence in his protection. It thus serves as a good introduction to the next section, which calls for a delight in taking on the opposition of the world, for that proves one's worthiness in the faith.