1 Peter: Lesson 7: How the Christian Lives


Peter earlier explained how our faith-life derives from, and is lived in, Christ.  Because Christ is the living Stone, we become living stones (1 Peter 2:4).  With Him as cornerstone of the House, the Church, we are incorporated into His Church (vs. 5-6).  Since Jesus, this Cornerstone, is the source of honor for believers, we will not be shamed (vs. 6-7).  Since Jesus delivers God’s mercy, Christians become a chosen race, a King’s priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession (vs. 9-10).  We are “Israel” as God originally intended us to be, where His entire people serve as His priesthood (Exodus 19:6).

Peter finished contrasting two groups: “unbelievers” and “you who believe” based on Christ, the “chosen and precious Stone” (2:6).  Non-believers are on their way to “stumbling” and shame, believers to “honor” and vindication.  These two groups and their interaction will now fill the rest of his epistle.

Earlier, Peter began an entire section of thought by starting with “beloved”: 1:13-2:10.  Now, he begins another, using another “beloved,” where he will explore the contours of an honorable Christian life.

How the Christian Lives


Read 1 Peter 2:11

  • What does Peter urge?

“I urge you as strangers and sojourners”: parakalo hos paroikous kai parepidamous: Through alliteration (repetition of the “p” sound) and words similar in sound, Peter draws attention to the start of this section.  This is typical of Peter’s Asiatic style of Greek.  He did something similar in 1:4, 10, 19, and 2:4.

“sojourners”: paroikos: The Septuagint uses this to denote a “resident alien,” a foreigner who lives somewhere without full national or civic rights.  For example: Exodus 2:22, 12:45; Leviticus 22:10, 25:47; Deuteronomy 23:7; 1 Chronicles 5:10.

  • Major Premise: Abstain from what wages war against the soul.
  • Minor premise: The desires of the flesh do this.
  • Conclusion: So stay away from fleshly desires.

“the passions of the flesh”: In 1 Peter, sarx, “flesh” is always associated with being separated from God (1:24, 3:18, 4:1-2).  We are to avoid whatever turns our focus away from faith in God, our works of service to our neighbor, so the sinful self does not rule (see Romans 7:14-20, 8:1-8; Galatians 5:16-21).

“soul”: Peter uses “soul,” psyche, in the Jewish way, referring to one’s entire being, not in the Greek philosophical way, as the immaterial part of a person.  The outcome of faith is the salvation of the soul (1:9), which includes both body and soul.

Read 1 Peter 2:12

“honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds”: kalen [honorable]… katalalousin [speak against]… kakopoion
kalon [good deeds].  Again, Peter uses alliteration to reinforce his point, hammering home the need to do the good and avoid the evil.

  • Based on how the Christian lives, what may result through his words and deeds?

“see”: Not a common word for “see,” such as blepo or horao.  Peter uses epopetuo, “notice” or “observe,” a verb found only here and in 1 Peter 3:2 in the New Testament.  This is seeing and noticing what is happening, like one’s eyes are opened to something not seen before.  Peter’s train of thought is: The unbelievers’ slander of the Christ precedes their observing and noticing the Christian’s good works, followed by their glorifying of God on the Last Day.   

Earlier, Peter made clear that one’s status before God is all God’s doing.  Here, Peter is not focusing on that but on how God works His will in people’s lives—through people.  In this case, by His use of the Christian’s good works to help convert the unbeliever.  In 1 Peter, “glorifying God” is an act of worship performed specifically by Christian believers (1 Peter 4:14b, 16).

“glorify God on the day of visitation”: This is non-believer after being brought into the Church.  “The Day of Visitation” is when Christ returns and is revealed (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:4).  This recalls Jesus’ teaching in Matt 5:16: “Let your light so shine before people so they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

In the Septuagint, the “day” or “time” or “hour” of visitation is God acting in human affairs.  This can be for judgment and wrath: Isaiah 10:3; Jeremiah 6: 15, 8: 2, 10:15; and Sirach 18:20, despite its mention of forgiveness.  This also can for blessing: Wisdom 3:7.

Since suffering is a major theme running through 1 Peter, Wisdom 3:6-7 applies within the general context of the epistle but also specifically to unbelievers coming to faith:

God tested them like gold in a furnace and accepted them as a whole burnt offering.  In the time of their visitation, they will shine forth, and they will run like sparks through stubble.

Peter starts with the first and most immediate conflict is within the Christian believer: between “the passions of the flesh” and the “soul.”  Before the Christian can effectively “battle” in the greater world—as a Christian!—the “battle” within must be taking place within him on God’s terms.

Greek Septuagint 1 Peter What Peter Does
  1 Peter 2:11   Beloved This is more than a way to show a new section is starting.  “Beloved” is also consistent with and demonstrates his encouragement to have an “unhypocritical, brotherly love” (1:22).    This is a principal feature of Christian fellowship, of being brought into God’s family (1 Peter 1:1, 3).

Psalm 39:12   Do not be silent to my tears, for I am a stranger [paroikos] before You, and a sojourner [parapidamos], like all my fathers.   Genesis 23:4   I am a stranger [paroikos] and sojourner [parapidamos] with you
1 Peter 2:11   strangers [paroikous] and sojourners [parepidamous]   Peter joins these two related words to describe one thing, their alien status in this word.  By using two words, he emphasizes and increases the separation of the Christian to the world.   Like Abraham was to be distinct from all the others peoples, so are Christians.
  1 Peter 2:12   conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles   In the Old Covenant, “the Gentiles” referred to those who lived outside Torah.  Peter taps into this understanding of his Jewish-Christian audience, but uses “Gentiles” to refer to all who are not in the New Covenant.
  1 Peter 2:12   though these Gentiles malign [katalaleo, speak against or slander] you as evildoers   Though not really “evildoers,” Christians were slandered as such because they were different and their lifestyle was at odds with the greater society.

Social and Civic Duties for the Christian (2:13-17)

Read 1 Peter 2:13-14

Jeremiah 29:4, 7:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.…  Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

“Be subject”: hupatasso, A passive imperative.  The meaning is closer to “be subordinate” which includes recognizing one’s proper place and acting according to that.  Though a command, the ability for the Christian to do this does not derive from himself.  Peter provides the answer: “because of the Lord.”

The flow starts with everyone being below God.  Then, each person lives and serves in relation to others.

  • To whom is the Christian to be subordinate?

“every human institution: ktisis: Creation, what is created, with God as the actor.  So, if Peter means “human institution,” he means God is the creator of these institutions, though indirectly.  More likely, Peter uses ktisis to mean “creature” (see Romans 8:19-23; Colossians 1:15, 23; Mark 16:15).  The idea is the Christian serves everyone according to his station (hence “subordinate,” being properly ordered). 

The next four mentions Peter makes are all people: “emperor,” “governors,” “those who do evil,” and “those who do good.”  Thus, Peter is listing specific people who are part of the totality of “every human creature.”  Peter’s appeal to “be subordinate” to the Emperor is part of his appeal to “be subordinate” to every human creature. 

  • What is the role of the government?
  • How are Christians supposed to interact with secular authority and why?
  • What does Peter imply about Christians living publicly in a way where they may receive praise for doing what is right?

Read 1 Peter 2:15

  • What are Christians supposed to do and why?

“… do good.  doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people”: agathopoion [do good]….  aphronon [doing good]… anthropon agnosian [foolish people].  Alliteration again, emphasizing doing good instead of repaying evil with evil.

Read 1 Peter 2:16

“servants”: doulos.  This is the normal word for “slave.”

  • Discuss in what way Christians are “free.”

Peter is not speaking about political or social freedom (he will next deal without how slaves should relate to their masters).  The freedom Peter has in mind is freedom in Christ from the “ignorance” (1:14) or “darkness” (2:9) of unbelief.  This is the result of being “redeemed” with the blood of Christ.

  • How do Christians live and why?

Sandwiched between “free” and “slaves [servants] of God” is “not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil.”  Because Christians are “slaves of God” and “answer” to Him, they are not use their freedom in Christ as an excuse to despise their detractors and slander them back when they are slandered.

Read 1 Peter 2:17

Peter now unleashes a series of four commands!   The first and fourth deal with outsiders; the second and third, relating to those in the Church.

Here is the progression is Peter’s argument:

  • First, he introduces his topic: “I urge you as strangers and sojourners to abstain …”  “Abstain,” however, is not a command but an infinitive, a result of God making them His people (1 Peter 2:9-10).
  • Next, he tells them from what they are to abstain: “the passions of the flesh.”
  • Third, is his rationale: the fleshly desires “wage war against the soul.”
  • Fourth, Peter explains more: what the Christian does is because his life flows from God:

God The Christian
Because of who the Lord is Be subordinate, based on one’s station, to every human creature
It is God’s will To do what is right, to silence the ignorance of the foolish
Because you are slaves of God live as free people but not as an excuse to do evil

Because of everything Peter said leading up to this point, he concludes: “Honor everyone.  Love the family of believers.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.”

Peter reveals the “middle ground” where the Christian lives, in the world but not of it (John 15:19).  So, we don’t cloister ourselves off into monasteries but neither do we let the world shape us.  As God’s own in the world, we do our good deeds based on who we are in Christ. 

In the public arena, we live honorable lives, which help bring honor Christ and silence naysayers.  We do not to revile if we are reviled, nor retaliate if we are abused.

Though similar to what Jeremiah said to the Israelites living in Babylon as exiles, Peter includes an evangelistic motive for our behavior.  Christians are not just called to be good and honorable neighbors, we are also called to be confess Christ through our words and reflect Him in our actions. 

Christians are to honor everyone but love is for fellow believers.  Adapting Proverbs 24:21 from the Septuagint, (“fear God, my son, and the king), “fear” is now reserved for God alone, though the ruler is to be honored.  “Fear,” phobeo, is a profound reverence and respect, with the implication of awe bordering on fear.  Peter’s shift in language shows God is above all, to whom the emperor is also supposed to be subordinate.  The Christian only worships God, not the emperor.

Link to the next Lesson.

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