1 Peter 2:13-17
Good afternoon, my name is David, I serve with Matt, Ralph and Pete as the elders here at City Church.
If you've been away, or perhaps this is your first time here at City Church, we're part way in to our series looking at 1 Peter, which is a letter written by Jesus' friend Peter to the early church - and it's a really great book for looking at, when questions arise about who we are as Christians.
Today, we're going to be looking at how Christians are ambassadors for Christ and His Kingdom.
You might be disappointed to find out that as ambassadors we don't get to throw parties and dish out Ferrero Roche chocolates while standing around looking cool and it certainly doesn't mean that we get diplomatic immunity - but what it means is that in all things, we represent Christ.
1. Be subject for The Lord's sake
V13 of today's passage says: "Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority"
This is a tough verse to read in our political climate, isn't it?
Much like our politicians, I'm not exactly sure what's going on in our country right now.
We were in a position where I'd feel like I was asking a really personal question if I asked whether you voted 'leave' or 'remain', even amongst you my brothers and sisters.
Now, we almost seem to have a fragile unity in our country, the people united in frustration and dismay as we watch our leaders fumble negotiations with the EU and not deliver a solid Brexit plan - and now we have a delay for a few months.
"Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority".. that's a verse that we might want to skip past because our society has an attitude towards politicians and leaders, of mistrust, assumed incompetence or corruption and a belief that we aren't heard, we often are asking the question of politicians "What's in it for them? What are they after?"
Well, as we work our way through these verses, please try to put your prejudices against leaders and authority aside and hear what God has to say to us through this passage - because actually this isn't about the authorities, it's about you.
A few weeks ago when we started this book, Ralph took us through chapter 1, and verse 1 sets the tone for the book, flick back with me a few pages and read along:
(1:1) "To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance."
Peter is writing this book to the early church, to all the believers, the elect, the chosen - those who have been set apart to be obedient to Jesus Christ. Or to use another word from verse 1: To God's exiles.
At the end of your working day, whether that's studying at the university or working in an office or school, what do you look forward to doing?
Do you look forward to going home and flopping on the sofa and watch some TV, my particular choice would be something like 'Brooklyn 99', chilling on the sofa, is that where you look forward to being? Is that what resting at home looks like for you at the end of a hard day?
Because Peter opened the book with an important point that is true for all the believers here today: That is not your home. The sofa isn't your home. Your bed isn't your home. Your parents house isn't your true home.
You are an exile.
If you follow Jesus, one day you will return home, you'll go to God's Kingdom, but right now, you're not there. You're away. You're a foreigner, an alien.
And Peter reminds those first readers in the same verse, that their identity as exiles, as citizens of God's Kingdom, is a gift given to them because God chose them, before the world began - and he chose them so that, 'through the sanctifying work of the spirit'(v1) they would be obedient to Jesus Christ.
That is their identity: they are foreigners. Aliens. Exiles. Chosen by God. Equipped with the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ.
And Christian, that is who you are too - Ralph reminded us of our identity, didn't he?
This is what I often say: I'm married. I make videogames. I'm 38. I'm a Dad. An Elder. I like Metallica.
This isn't who I am. No.
I'm a chosen, spirit-filled, blood bought son, a follower of Jesus Christ looking forward to going home.
And that's true of every Christian: You are chosen, spirit-filled, blood bought children, followers of Jesus Christ, exiles in this world.
And last week we heard chapter 2 verse 9:
"..you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
And there's that word again in chapter 2 verse 11:
"Dear friends, I urge you as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul"
In 2017, Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual assault by a number of people including Star Trek Discovery actor Anthony Rapp.
Spacey had previously won the Oscar for best-supporting actor in 'The Usual Suspects', best actor for 'American Beauty', won numerous other awards and had seen huge success in the starring role of the Netflix drama 'House of Cards'.
Kevin Spacey is an amazing actor.
Accusations against him were made in October and before the end of the year, in just three months, he had been dropped from 'House of Cards', his character killed off. He'd made a new film 'All the Money in the World' with Ridley Scott, and when the accusations came out, Scott reshot all the scenes that had Spacey in it. He replaced him.
Kevin Spacey hasn't appeared in a commercial film or TV show since - and rightly so.
For role models, there's an expectation of decent conduct in our society. That people shouldn't be revered or looked up to if their life is dishonourable or immoral.
Sometimes working out what is acceptable and what might ruin a person's career is hard to measure but Kevin Spacey had failed to live his life in such a way that, I guess even his colleagues in the movie and TV business would say, that he had brought shame to their industry. He wasn't a credit to Hollywood. They didn't want to associate with him anymore, he wasn't part of their world. He wasn't an ambassador.
And now his work is forever tainted by his actions too. Personally I wouldn't encourage anyone to watch House of Cards anyway, but all of his work is forever affected by what he did.
We can't separate his work from his actions.
When we sin, when we act dishonourably or disgracefully, or we act in such a way that shows that God doesn't really matter to us, we are poor ambassadors.
This isn't a matter of bringing our salvation into question, it's that if we act inconsistently, those around us, our unbelieving family members, colleagues, fellow students and friends will notice and it will affect the credibility of the message of the gospel when you speak about it to them. They won't hear you. People won't separate your words from your actions.
We are exiles.
We are ambassadors.
And now, verse 13, "Submit yourselves for The Lord's sake, to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people."
Whenever we see a command in the Bible like this, there are some questions that come up:
Firstly, why is this a command? Commands aren't given for no reason - so what is the purpose of this command?
Secondly, knowing that Jesus is the sinless one, He must have done this perfectly so where can I see an example of Him doing this?
Let's take a look, please turn with me to John 18, you can find it in your blue church Bibles on page 1086.
Reading from verse 28, Jesus has been arrested and brought before the High Priest but is now going before the Roman governor, Pilate:
"Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, ‘What charges are you bringing against this man?’
‘If he were not a criminal,’ they replied, ‘we would not have handed him over to you.’
Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’
‘But we have no right to execute anyone,’ they objected. This took place to fulfil what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’
‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’
‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’
Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’"
Jesus has been arrested. If Jesus was like any other rebel, his followers would have been outside the gates with swords and torches, fighting to get him out. There would have been uproar! They would have been chanting and rallying against the governor, they'd be calling for Pilate to release Jesus - but they aren't.
Because, v36, Jesus' kingdom is from another place.
Obviously, we know, Jesus wasn't going to fight his arrest, and ultimately his crucifixion, because that was the plan all along - that Jesus would die to pay for the sin of all who believe in Him..
But this is a characteristic of Jesus' whole ministry isn't it, Jesus is never about showing who's kingdom is biggest and best and strongest and mightiest but showcasing something much more important and that's Himself, God.
Jesus' kingdom is from another place.
That's your real home and that's the kingdom you're an ambassador for.
So, in verse 13 of today's passage, when it says 'Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority': the important words there are 'for the Lord's sake'.
Christian, you are an ambassador for a kingdom from another place.
And good ambassadors act in a way that represents their land, they don't compromise on what is right or wrong, they don't conform to the kingdom they're visiting, but they represent their home kingdom in all places at all times.
And that means that the priorities of the homeland are more important than what the world around us tells us is important.
Stereotypically, I think the first thing that people assume about us Christians, is sexual purity. Unmarried Christians abstain from sexual conduct: the stereotype of Christians being people who think that sex is for a man and a woman in marriage, is born from our older and departed brothers and sisters who worked and fought hard to build such an image.
Those previous generations must have strived to live out verses 11 and 12, to abstain from sinful desire in order for Christians to gain a reputation of trustworthy, sexually pure and honourable people.
Nowadays, abstaining from sexual conduct can be seen as prudish. In fact, our society would say that not engaging in sexual acts is to deny ourselves a full human experience - my friends might even say that unmarried Christians are enslaved to Christianity by denying themselves in such a way.
And obviously, for the Christian, the inner-retort, the reason to stand firm in sexual purity is because that's how God wants us to live. And we know that because we read our Bibles.
"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority" - isn't a command to submit yourselves to the authorities in everything - it can't be - God knows that some governments will ask believers to yield to all manner of evil.
Obviously, if an authoritarian, evil, Government regime told citizens to go out and kill all, I don't know, all male children born in the 90s, we're not going to do that - and we're not going to use this verse as support for that - that would be crazy.
Why? Because the King of Heaven, the King of our real homeland, doesn't want us to live that way.
If I submit myself, verse 13, to every human authority, for the Lord's sake, who am I really submitting to?
I'm submitting to God because the reason I'd submit to a human authority is because God told me to and I can only submit when it's not contrary to how God wants me to live.
At City Church, we're blessed by having people from all over the world and speaking all manner of languages.
Would you mind putting up your hand if England isn't your home country?
Thank you, please put your hands down.
If I asked all of us to consider, what should an ambassador from your home country look like, what do you imagine? How should they behave? What should be their priorities? I think those are hard questions!
For an English ambassador, is it to be polite? To have a British stiff upper-lip? Thinking about World War 2, perhaps we as English people are about standing firm against aggressors? About not being bullied? I don't know.
But being an ambassador for Christ's kingdom is to live like verse 15:
"For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people."
That verse seems so rude to my ear that I find it a hard verse to read, do you agree?
But those words, ignorant and foolish, I imagine if I called you such things you'd be greatly insulted but when we think about what those words actually mean, they mean to be without knowledge. To not know. To be ignorant. To not act wisely, to act foolishly, to be foolish.
"It is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people."
It is God's will that by doing good you would silence those who stand against God's kingdom. Those who hate God. Those who don't know God. Those who live in ignorance of who God is.
Ambassador, you are to live in such a way, that those who don't know God can't accuse you or slander you because your good deeds have silenced them.
I think these verses are really, really interesting and instructive to us, for how should we live as Christians today - because the heart of the passage isn't about the 'Submit yourselves' command but it's about looking at who God is!
Did you notice that the instruction is not to submit yourselves to every human authority to silence those who don't know God?
(Heads-up, if that's what you're thinking it was saying, then I'm doing a bad job.)
Instead, we're to focus our eyes on God's character and to have God's priorities be our priorities.
God's priority is not for us to feed the homeless. God's priority is not for us to care for the elderly or fight injustice.
God's priority is that you would display his character, be an ambassador, that those who see you feeding the homeless, caring for the elderly or fighting injustice - that those people who see you doing that - would have nothing bad to say about you - and possibly, looking back to last week's passage, verse 12, they might glorify God on the day he visits us - that they might look at what you do and why you do it and come to faith.
What you do and why you do it, matters.
This brings me on to my second and final point:
2. Live as people who are truly free
Verse 16: "Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor."
In 1 Peter, the early church has started in a culture where slavery still exists.
Slavery, at this time, isn't the same kind of slavery that we think of when we think of African slaves in British and American history.
When Peter wrote this book, slavery was a common practice, where someone might have sold themselves into slavery because they don't have a home and they need somewhere to live, food, clothes etc, someone might sell themselves into slavery to pay a debt - and usually slavery was an agreement made for a set time.
I'm not saying that being a slave was a desirable position and certainly, it wasn't always a positive experience - you'll hear something about that next week - but being a slave was being a member of a person's household.
And in the context of verse 13, "submitting ourselves for the lord's sake to every human authority" - Peter turns to the free people, those who aren't slaves, and says: "Live as free people(!) but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves."
Crumbs, this a big subject - I'll try and be brief but if you want to talk about this, please come and grab me afterwards.
How might I use my freedom to cover-up evil?
In all kinds of ways. In all kinds of selfishness, in all kinds of "me, me, me".
Remember, what I said earlier about being an ambassador?
Well, if you're an exile, an alien, an ambassador for another kingdom, a citizen of heaven, here on earth..
It's okay if you want to buy those nice shoes. It's okay if you want to spend Friday night playing Apex or FIFA. It's okay if you want to save your money to go on a really nice holiday with your friends across Europe. It's fine if you'd rather spend Friday night by yourself doing what you want to do because frankly, you're tired and you don't want to have to entertain or put up with someone else. That is actually fine.
But take a long hard look at yourself, I mean it, take a real look at how you spend your time on the whole. Not just this week but on the whole. How do you spend your money? What do you look forward to doing with your time or resources?
Because verse 17 isn't there just to finish the paragraph!
"Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor."
When I arrived at the church weekend away, I was already tired before we had even got started, I want to unload the car, unload the family but I need to go to reception and find out where we're sleeping and figure out what's going on - and most importantly, what time we're having dinner.
So I walk into reception to find out: and I was astounded!
Two of our church members had spent their time, making really nice looking paper craft signs to highlight our church values to our entire church family, so that as we arrive for the weekend we'd be reminded of what those values are - it was amazing!
They didn't have to do that but they did!
I don't know if someone asked them to do it or if it was their idea but when these people considered what to do with their time, whether that was Thursday night or Friday morning or whenever they did it, they chose to love the family of believers - and by doing it together - they did it in double measure!
When Peter says don't use your freedom as a cover-up for evil, I don't think he's just saying, don't use your freedom to indulge in pornography or drunkenness or materialism - I think he covered that earlier in verse 11 when he instructed the exiles to abstain from sinful desires..
Instead, he's saying, no, live like this: "Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor."
Christians, if you talk about Jesus, if you talk about how salvation for eternal life is only found in following Him and that without Him, we're all headed for destruction in an eternal hell, you are going to be hated in this world.
You're going to be persecuted for following Jesus.
But you know, if you're going to be hated - let it be for that reason alone.
Let your love for others, let your heart be so modelled after Jesus, our master, that when others look at your life, they'll say "Man, that is a beautiful heart" - and if they take offense to you, it'll be because of Jesus not because you're rude, unloving or disrespectful.
Luke chapter 19 is one of my favourite stories from Jesus' life - when Jesus goes for dinner at Zaccheus, the Tax Collector's house.
Zaccheus was a man hated by his own people - he was a tax collector and he stole from his own people, profiteering from their occupation by Roman rule.
But Jesus went to Zaccheus' house for dinner. He, verse 17, showed proper respect for everyone.
My son Luke loves that story because Zaccheus is a short man who climbs up a tree so he can see Jesus - and his Bible has a pretty good picture of that in it - but the best part for me is that Jesus invites himself to Zaccheus' house.
Now we don't have the insight that Jesus does: Jesus looks at Zaccheus' heart and knows that to come to his house is to love him.
I can't say that if I invited myself to your house that I'd be able to achieve the same thing!
But the heart of Jesus is so beautiful: there was no-one beneath Jesus, no-one that Jesus wouldn't stoop down to love. No-one that Jesus wouldn't or didn't die for on the cross, no-one excluded - and no-one excluded from the opportunity of salvation.
And that's the heart of our God, that's the heart of our King. He's the one we are ambassadors for.
"Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the Emperor."
As I finish up, let me just say - in some ways, a passage of command can sometimes just look like a load of instruction.
I've been there. I've sat where you're sitting and I look at my own heart and I know that I'm selfish, self-centred, lazy, judgemental.. I could keep going.
There are no words that can come out of my mouth that will make your heart change - but if you want to know how to have the will to live like verse 17, to be a great ambassador: go home, put the phone away and open up a paper Bible. Let the distractions of the world fall away and take the time to read through one of the gospels. Marvel at Jesus. Ponder His words. Go through the journey of His ministry with Him, through Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
Look at the King and live as a citizen in exile, an ambassador because Christian, that's who you really are.