“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”–1 Pet. 2:17
I’ve always been amazed at this passage. These few short sentences contain quite a punch. Because I’m a logical person, I’m going to start by examining the second and third sentences, and come back to the first and last, since they create such an interesting application when examined together.
“Love the brotherhood.” Those who know the love of the Father must show it to their brothers and sisters. Peter is reminding the church to love one another. What does “love” look like in the church?
In Acts 2:44-45, we read about the church having all things in common, and giving as each had need. Some have tried to use that verse to argue for a biblical affirmation of “socialism.” Far from a political statement, God speaks through Luke, the author of Acts, to tell us those who have come to experience the love of Jesus and find ultimate satisfaction in Him should have no problem loving others and sharing material needs, which ultimately come from God anyway. That’s not socialism–it’s a godly reflection of His love.
“Fear God.” If you drive down Interstate 65 southbound in Alabama, you’ll notice, on the left, a sign that says, “Go to church or the devil will get you!” Or at least, you used to be able to notice it…apparently the sign is now gone (one of my Alabama readers needs to clarify that for me). I’ve always laughed/cringed at the sign. There’s humor in it for sure, but I cringe at the thought someone put it there seriously, as if going to church makes the devil leave you alone. That’s a fear-mongering tactic to get “heathens” into pews. That’s not the kind of fear Peter is calling the church to hear.
The kind of fear Peter is calling the church to here is the kind of fear we exhibit toward our parents. We hopefully don’t run away scared from our parents, but, unfortunately, terrible parents are a reality in this sin-stricken world. But for good parents, we have a right respect that listens, trusts and seeks to honor. Even at 25, and 4.5 hours away from my mom, if she calls me, I listen, because she’s earned that. I trust her, because 99.9 percent of the time, she’s right about whatever she’s talking about. And I seek to honor her, because I wouldn’t be where I am without her, and everything I do rightly shows that I had a great upbringing that prepared me to be successful.
God calls us to “fear” Him as our perfect Father, who is never failing, and worthy of all honor and glory. So when I write a great story, I praise God by using my gifts in a godly way. When I have to ask someone some rather tough and possibly intimidating questions, I do it in a professional way that both affirms them as a person worthy of respect (more on that in a second), regardless of what they’ve done, and also gets my job done, the job I received from God and seek to do in a way that honors Him.
And when we fail, we “fear” God when we run to Him, not away from Him. We show we fear God when, instead of running away from Him in sinful fear, we run to Him in repentance and godly fear.
Now, for the first and last sentences: “Honor everyone.” “Honor the emperor.”
The last one makes sense, right? Regardless of your political beliefs, if you are an American, I hope you have enough decency to shake President Obama’s hand if you meet him. I would hope you would offer him a glass of water and call him “Sir,” because, again, like him or not, he’s an individual who is in a position of authority, which is what Peter has been talking about in this passage, and we are called to respect those people.
But it’s what Peter says in that first statement that we so often overlook. We jump to the last one, because again, Peter’s been discussing what it means to submit to God-given authority. But look what Peter does: He tells the church to honor everyone, and then says, “honor the emperor,” using the same.
Peter has commanded the church to treat everyone with the respect you would the emperor. This does away with all thoughts of “this person is beneath me,” or “this person serves me.” As a Christian, you are a servant to all, and master of none. If you are a Christian CEO of a Forbes 500 company, you serve your employees, not the other way around.
This is crucial. This impacts how we live on a day to day basis. Every now and then, I work at night, and I observe our night crew at the office, cleaning. I love seeing them, because it’s a chance to say hello, smile and say, “Thank you” for getting my trash, and cleaning up the newsroom. It puts a smile on both my face and theirs. They’re in casual clothes, while I’m usually in a dress shirt and pants, and many would say, “They’re beneath me; they’re minimum wage, etc.” But as a Christian, I must understand my “position” in life comes as a result of God’s grace, and before God, me and the janitor both stand in need of Christ, and thus, I have no reason to brag, and no reason to think more highly of myself than I do of this person.
So as you go about your day, remember that everyone you come in contact with, no matter how bad, no matter how “menial” their job may seem, is made in the image of God. I was reminded of that after writing a story about some lawmakers response to presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments about women. I am absolutely appalled at his comments, and don’t believe he is fit to be president. I believe his actions betray his childishness and immaturity. And yet, despite that righteous anger, I remembered that he, and Hillary Clinton, are both people made in the image of God, and they both stand in need of Jesus. How refreshing it was to step away from bashing them, however right I may be in doing so, and praying for their soul!
So, Christian, what should you do today? Love the brotherhood. Seek to meet needs in your church. Fear God. Trust and respect your heavenly Father. Honor everyone. Treat everyone as you would the emperor. And honor the emperor. Love and respect those God has placed in authority over you.
Lord, may we honor everyone. May we remember to meet needs in our churches. May we treat the world with kindness and grace that you may be glorified. May we not run away from the problems we see, but having fear and respect for you, be impactful Christians in the places you have placed us.