“Godly Living in an Ungodly World”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

The older you get, the better able you are to see the changes around you.  I find that this is increasingly true for me, even though I’m only middle-aged.  I remember what it was like to be alive in the 1980s and 1990s, and when I look around now, I see that things are very different.

These differences are perhaps most striking when it comes to the moral decline of our society.  Sins that I didn’t even know existed when I still was in high school now are openly promoted and celebrated.  For the first time in many years, most Americans are not associated with some house of worship, whether church, synagogue, or mosque.

Though this new world may be unfamiliar territory for us, it is not foreign to the experience of the people of God.  In fact, the climate of the first century was much like the climate of our time.  Most people back then were ungodly and immoral too.  As a result, Scriptures that may not have mattered much before now are increasingly relevant.  This morning, let’s look at one such context from 1 Peter to see how we can live godly in an ungodly world.

In this context, Peter gives three basic commands to Christians.  The first of these is to ABSTAIN.  Let’s read from 1 Peter 2:11-12.  Here, we see Peter’s famous admonition to abstain from fleshly lusts.  It’s tempting to read this as being about sexual desire only, but I think we need to read it more broadly than that.  We need to watch out not only for thoughts that are impure, but also for thoughts that are bitter, contemptuous, greedy, and self-righteous.  If it wasn’t in the Lord’s heart, it doesn’t belong in our heart either.

Next, we need to consider Peter’s call to excellent behavior.  Notice, though, that he has a particular kind of excellent behavior in mind.  It’s excellent behavior in the areas where the people of the world slander us.  In other words, in order to apply this passage, we must listen to our enemies.

What kind of things do they say about us?  They say we’re judgmental and vicious.  They say we care more about politics than we do about Jesus.  They say that we hypocritically condemn sin in our political enemies while overlooking it in our political friends.  They say that we covertly support white supremacy and don’t care about the plight of black and brown people.  Make no mistake, brethren!  There are people who used to worship here who never will return because they believe these things about us.

It’s tempting to fire back when we hear things like this, but that’s not what Peter urges us to do.  Christians don’t reply to slander with angry rebuttals.  We reply to slander with good deeds.  We use our lives to show Christ even to our enemies.

This means that today, we must be people who are quick to show mercy because we have received mercy.  We must spend more time with the Bible than we do with cable news.  We must apply the standards of the Bible to everyone without partiality.  We must prove by the way we treat others that we care about everyone with a soul.  On the other hand, if we aren’t willing to do these things, we reveal to others that maybe those slanders aren’t slanders after all.

Second, we must SUBMIT.  Consider Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:13-16.  As always, it’s worth noting that our political system is very different than that of the Roman Empire.  Christians then had zero influence in selecting their political leaders, but today, we can vote and even advocate for the candidates we believe are best.  There’s no sin in doing any of those things.

However, when the election is over, our role is clear.  We are to submit to the government, whether our candidates got in or not.  We don’t have to agree with the decisions the government hands down, but we have to obey them anyway.  The only exception, of course, is when the laws of the government require us to disobey the law of God.

Interestingly, though, Peter’s reasoning here is different than Paul’s in Romans 13.  Rather than being concerned with submission to God, Peter tells us to submit in order to silence the ignorance of the foolish.  Here again, this has a strangely modern ring.  Aren’t people right now slandering Christians because they claim we won’t submit to the government?  Once again, our response is clear.  We silence them by doing right.

Finally in this section, let’s consider Peter’s warning against using freedom as a covering from evil.  For the past year and a half, I’ve shied away from talking about vaccines and masks, but this is a place where I believe I would not be honest with the text if I didn’t discuss those contentious issues.

In recent days, I’ve heard a lot from Christians about their freedom to refuse masks and vaccines.  As long as earthly authorities like governments and employers allow us that liberty too, there’s no Biblical issue with that.  However, when those governments and employers start mandating masks and vaccinations, we must use our freedom to submit.  If we insist on being free from those things instead, that’s not heroism.  It’s ungodliness.

I’ve heard Christians say that their conscience does not allow them to mask or vaccinate, so the obeying-God exception applies.  The problem is, though, that our conscience is not equal to the commandment of God, and there is no divine commandment about masks or vaccines.  Obeying God by submitting is the right thing to do, and if our conscience says otherwise, we have to squash it.

Lastly, we must HONOR.  Look at 1 Peter 2:17.  The first thing for us to notice here is our responsibility for honoring the king. As I said earlier, it’s lawful for Christians to participate in political discourse and advocacy, but when we are participating, we must participate in godly ways. 

Unsurprisingly, the way the world does politics is ungodly.  Commonly, we see political partisans attacking elected officials with sarcasm, slander, and lies.  Every mistake is an occasion for mockery.  Every policy decision is an opportunity for misrepresentation and distortion.

Because this bad behavior is so common, it’s easy for us to conclude that it’s acceptable.  It isn’t.  We are free to express disagreement, even strong disagreement, with our nation’s leaders, but we always must do so in a respectful way that honors them and honors God.  When we adopt worldly words to express our contempt and amuse our friends, we dishonor the name by which we have been called.

Note also that the king isn’t the only one we are supposed to honor.  Indeed, Peter says we are supposed to honor everyone.  We are supposed to speak to everyone and about everyone with courtesy and respect, always. 

This is hard!  As you know, I have a snarky sense of humor, and when somebody irritates me, I want to react by turning that snark on them.  It’s satisfying in the moment, but it also makes me blend right in with the snarky, meanspirited world.  If we want to stand out instead, if we want to shine as lights in the world, we do that by taking the high road.  When we are kind and respectful, even when others would not be, we show others the value that God places on everyone.