My dears, I appeal to you as sojourners and resident aliens in this world, to stay clear of flesh and blood cravings which wage war against your soul. Maintain a winsome way of life among the gentiles, so that rather than denouncing you as evildoers, they may give honour to God on the Day of his Inspection, from having seen your good deeds.
Be subordinate, for the Lord’s sake, to every humanly created authority, whether to an emperor as your ruler, or to governors whom he sends to punish evildoers and commend those who do good. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should muzzle the ignorant talk of fools. Live as free people, without using your freedom as a cloak for evil; but live as slaves of God. Respect all people; love the brothers and sisters; fear God; honour the emperor.
HOUSE CHURCH IN CHINA NOW
The author begins his ethical instruction by dealing with matters of citizenship. Much of what he writes would have been familiar to the Jewish diaspora in these places, as well as to the messianic house churches who had received much the same teaching from Paul. Although God is the ultimate authority, other authorities who punish crimes and reward good citizenship are viewed as agents of God’s peace if they carry out their duties justly. As there is no discussion of how to treat a persecuting ruler, we may assume that the author was not conscious of any persecution ordered by the emperor.
Although the believers are asked to behave well in the secular realm, they do so because they are citizens of heaven. Like all immigrants therefore they should make sure that they obey the law of their adopted country and gain the respect of their neighbours, while remaining true to their origins. They are to live disciplined lives giving no room for “flesh and blood cravings” – this phrase is my translation of the The Greek “sarkikon epithumion” which has been misleadingly translated as “passions of the flesh”. It means any strong desires which come from the natural constitution of human beings.
The word “winsome” is my effort to translate the Greek ” kalos” which means good, lovely, pleasing. The phrase “Day of Inspection” is a vivid way of referring to God’s day of judgement.
The instruction to obey “every humanly created authority” is an interesting variation on Paul’s dictum that “the powers that be are appointed by God”. It reminds the readers not to take Roman authority as quasi divine.The empire is a human creation, valuable only if it fulfils its function under God. The default attitude of believers should be respect for civic authorities. The author recognises that trust in Jesus sets people free, regardless of their civil status, but he cautions against any libertine behaviour. Under God, the messianic assemblies are to live as decent law-abiding citizens.
Is this the sort of advice that Jesus would have given to people who claimed to be his disciples? His original disciples were to announce God’s rule in the world and to heal the sick. There seems to be an inward-looking transformation in these instructions to the assemblies in Asia Minor, an emphasis on consolidation rather than adventure. Still, Jesus had given no advice about living the joyful news amongst the gentiles. This letter shows the creativity of the Jesus communities, as they established themselves as peaceful, multi- ethnic units within the vast empire. Theirs is a sober and for the church today, a sobering faith