Adorning the Gospel
Topic: English Passage: 1 Peter 2:18-19
How many of you have already started putting up Christmas decorations? ... How many of you plan to do that soon?
Why do people do that? Why do you spend the money and the time it takes to decorate your house? Isn’t your house nice enough already?
I think a lot of you would agree that decorations don’t go up because you think your house is ugly. They go up because we generally like the idea of making things look attractive. Right? That’s why parties have centerpieces and balloons. That’s why people get a wedding dress and a tuxedo, most of the time. Decorations are a way of enhancing something. They make things more attractive.
Today, a major part of Christmas decorations are the lights. Thomas Edison patented his light bulb back in 1880, decades before most people even had electricity running through their house.
Well, as a consultant for the Automatic Telegraph Company, Edison hired a young inventor named Edward Hibberd Johnson. Johnson realized that while many people loved lighting their Christmas trees with candles, that was a fire hazard.
So, in 1882 he decided to set up a tree in his living room against the window facing the street. And instead of using candles, he strung light bulbs around the tree and placed it on a rotating pedestal, which was powered by a generator. Then he called a reporter. Let me read to you an excerpt from the newspaper:
“At the rear of the beautiful parlors, was a large Christmas tree presenting a most picturesque and uncanny aspect. It was brilliantly lighted with...eighty lights in all encased in these dainty glass eggs, and about equally divided between white, red, and blue... One can hardly imagine anything prettier.”
As you might imagine, crowds began to gather in the street at night to marvel for themselves. That’s the power of adornment.
A tree, or a house, all by itself can be impressive, but adornment increases the attraction. That’s the purpose. Adornment increases the attraction.
The world understands this principle; that’s why they sell fancy makeup and fancy cars and fancy clothing. Adornment, in itself, isn’t wrong. We just need to remind ourselves that God uses different criteria for adornment than the world does.
First Timothy 2:9-10 says a woman should be adorned with respectable clothing, with modesty and self-control. What makes her truly beautiful is not fancy hairdos or fancy clothes; it is her good works, her godliness.
First Peter 3 says a woman is adorned by her submissiveness, by her conduct, by her respect and her purity. Her adorning is her gentle and quiet spirit.
This idea of adornment isn’t just for women, though. Turn with me for a moment to Titus chapter 2. Here, Paul applies this principle to everyone in the church. We are all called to live a life that aligns with and adorns sound doctrine.
You see the aligning part in verse 1 of Titus 2. Paul says to Titus, “Teach what accords with sound doctrine.”
And then he goes on to address older men, older women, younger women, and younger men.
Down in verse 8, we’re told that we should pursue “sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”
This is the same principle we’ve been seeing in First Peter. Our holy conduct helps vindicates us from the slander of this world. And, on top of that, it can be used by God to bring people to salvation. Our life is an adornment for the truth of Jesus Christ.
One specific expression of that was the way Paul expected slaves to act toward their masters. Look at verses 9 and 10.
Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
Go ahead and jump back to First Peter 2 with me. Again, this is the same principle we’ve been seeing in First Peter. Look with me one more time at verse 9. First Peter 2:9.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
This is why God has us here in this world. To proclaim His goodness. If you have trusted in Christ, this is part of the core identity of who you are and why you’re still on this planet. We are here to proclaim the wonders of the God of light.
To use the words of Jesus, we are supposed to shine our light in the sight of others, so that they see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father.
And that’s exactly what it says in First Peter 2, verses 11 and 12. We abstain from fleshly desires. We keep our behavior honorable, beautiful, so that this world would see our good works and glorify God. Our life makes God’s truth attractive.
And to press this even further, I would say, this is God’s primary evangelism strategy. Sometimes, when Christians or pastors talk about how to do evangelism, they think of it in terms of programs or formal ministries. They might talk about a homeless outreach or a sport ministry outreach.
Those aren’t necessarily wrong. But they shouldn’t be confused with, or become a substitute for, the regular, normal evangelism of all Christians.
Let me say it like this: God’s primary evangelism strategy is not a program. It’s you who are part of this church. God intends to reach our communities by using you and me. Our lives are supposed to look different than the world. And that lays a foundation for our message. That opens up opportunities for evangelism. Our lives make God’s truth attractive.
I say all this because I want you to know that the passage we’re looking at today, verses 18-20, is not ultimately about being a good employee. That’s not the main point. Being a God-honoring employee is a means to an end. And that end is seeing people draw closer to God and live for His glory rather than their own.
You need to understand that. If all you take away from today is “I need to be a good employee,” you missed Peter’s point, and so, you missed God’s point.
In Christian theology, there is an approach known as moralism. Christian Moralism is the belief that we have a Bible simply to push us to behave better. This book is just a list of rules to follow. That idea makes a disconnect between faith and conduct. It focuses primarily on the external rather than on the internal.
No one is going to come out and say “I’m a Christian moralist,” but a lot of us can start to live that way. Parents and teachers and elders can be particularly susceptible because at times we just want to make sure the kids and the members obey. And so we focus way more on the outside than on the inside. That’s not what God wants. He wants us to know and then to grow in His heart. And as our heart changes, so will our conduct.
So, again, don’t look at today’s message simply as how to be a good employee. Look at it as another example of how your Christian life can shine for God’s glory and be used to bring people to Himself.
The specific application we’re looking at today is a slave, or a servant. Look at verse 18 with me. The Greek word Peter chose to use is a word that means a household servant. Based on the way historians estimate the population of the Roman Empire, and based on the ways the biblical authors addressed their audiences, it’s likely that a majority of the Gentile Christians to whom Peter is writing were slaves in one way or another.
A household slave could be a very lowly position, basically serving in manual labor. Or a household slave could be a much higher position, like a steward or even a doctor in the home. Some household slaves had an even better life than some freedmen.
The common denominator, though, was that these slaves were considered property. They lived in the homes or in the estate of a master, and they were assigned some kinds of duties.
Some slaves were able to save up enough of their own money to purchase their freedom. Others could not. Some slaves actually preferred to stay with a masters out of love or devotion, and because it guaranteed for them the basic necessities of life.
Well, that’s not really something that has a direct correlation to our life today, but we do have situations where people have to submit to the authority of others.
Unless you’re a maid or a butler living with a family, I think the closest examples in our culture would be employees who work for their boss, and teenagers or young adults who still live with their parents. I think that’s also a good analogy for this situation.
For you teens and young adults who live with Mom or Dad, you derive a benefit from staying there. They provide you with some basic necessities. You’re not at a point in your life where you would be able to live all by yourself. And living with your parents means you’ve probably got some responsibilities. There are things you’re expected to do.
So, as we talk about slaves in the first century, think about those relationships in your own life where you are, in one way or another, placed under the authority of someone else.
How should you, as a Christian employee, or a Christian young adult, respond to your boss, or to your supervisor, or to your parents?
Verse 18: Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect.
This is the same word Peter used in verse 13 for how we should submit to the governing authorities. Externally there is to be obedience. That’s the action. Internally, there is to be honor. That’s the attitude. Both the action and the attitude matter. That’s why Peter says submit to them “with all respect.”
Unless your employer or your parent gives you some instruction that would clearly violate a command or a principle of Scripture, you are called to obey them—and to do so with respect and honor, without grumbling or badmouthing.
Just because a Christian is freed from the penalty and the power of sin, doesn’t mean he is freed from his responsibility to submit to the government or to his earthly masters.
This is not a complicated command, but the difficulty comes when we start to apply it. Our sinful nature doesn’t want to submit. Our sinful nature looks for reasons not to be “bossed around” by anybody else.
In today’s culture, rather than talk about submission and service, what you see more and more of is an emphasis on personal rights. And what you get is a deep resentment toward anyone who has some kind of advantage or authority or privilege over you. This culture is basically lashing out against authority. It’s a war for power.
That’s why you get employees going on strike or pursuing frivolous lawsuits against their companies.
That is the exact opposite of what God wants from His people. God calls us to submission and respect those toward those in authority over us. He wants us to arrange ourselves under the authority of those above us, recognizing that ultimate authority doesn’t reside with the president or the governor or the mayor or the CEO. Ultimate authority belongs to God.
Our final focus is not on our boss; it’s on God. Let me read the instructions Paul gives to slaves in Ephesians 6. And I’d like you to notice how many times he mentions God or Christ.
“Obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or is free.
When you think about the tough situation you might be in with your mom or your dad or your boss or your landlord or whoever, you have a decision. You can focus on them as people, or you can focus on God as God. You can live for yourself, or you can live for Christ. Those are the options.
Submission to God, expressed through submission to earthly authorities is how God uses us in this world to make His truth attractive. It’s how people come to know who Jesus actually is.
When Peter called his readers to submit and to respect their masters, he would have anticipated those who would say, “Ya, but you don’t know my master. He’s an awful man. Surely, God would not have me submit to this man!”
Well, what does the second half of verse 18 say? Whom are we supposed to submit to? — “Not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.”
It’s a blessing to have a kind and considerate master or employer or parent. It’s nice to have someone show you mercy when you make a mistake. But that is not a condition for this command to submit and to respect. Even if your master is unjust, you’re called to submit—even if they are unreasonable or cruel or harsh, as other translations put it. This cruelty toward the slave may have even been part of the persecution for being a believer.
The Greek word here for a cruel master is skoliós, which is where we get the word scoliosis. Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of your spine. Skoliós, in Greek, means twisted. And so, metaphorically, it meant someone who was perverse or crooked.
You don’t have to raise your hands, but how many of you have ever worked for someone who was crooked? They cut corners. They are dishonest. They care more about their own gain than they do about others. That’s a tough person to work with and to work for. We all understand how difficult that is.
And yet still, we are called to submit to those kinds of bosses or masters or parents. Instead of focusing on our boss or on our parents, our focus should be on God. Submitting to someone who is unreasonable doesn’t mean you approve of what they’re doing. It means you trust God.
One commentator put it like this: “Christians must never seek revenge, no matter how bad the circumstances. The impulse for revenge comes from people who think that systems or bosses or powerful people are in control. Christians believe that God has ultimate power.”
Submission, in a difficult circumstance is an extension of faith and trust in God. It means you care more about who God is and what He thinks than what someone else is and what someone else thinks. And that’s the focus of verse 19.
Remember, this is all under the theme of living an honorable and attractive life to the glory of God, so that others might come to faith. So, in verse 19, Peter helps remind us that our attention should be on God.
Verse 19—For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
When Peter says “a gracious thing” he means something that invites God’s grace. It is something that God looks on with favor. In other words, it pleases God, it’s commendable.
We understand that some character qualities are attractive, right? We are turned off by spoiled, selfish, impatient children. And we are pleased and impressed with respectful, patient, and generous children.
Well, there are qualities that the world pushes against but that bring God pleasure. One of those qualities is the ability to trust Him in difficult times, rather than stand up for your own rights. That pleases God because it demonstrates that your attention and your love is on Him, not on this world.
If you have a harsh or unreasonable boss, what is the world going to tell you? “Don’t you dare let him treat you like that? That’s not a safe environment for you to be in! You go find another job! You ‘stick it to the man!’” This world calls for defiance in times of unjust suffering. What does God call for? What is it that pleases Him and makes us effective as ambassadors for Christ?
We’re called to two things in this passage. These are two God-honoring responses to unjust suffering.
Response number one is divine reverence. Divine reverence. That means you fear God. You respond more to Him than to the rest of the world.
Look again at verse 19, particularly at the phrase in the middle. This is what find’s favor—when we are “mindful of God.” Mindful of God. We are conscious of God, rather than forgetting about Him.
Lord willing, we’re going to talk more specifically about this next week in the upcoming verses. But generally, this is talking about what we’ve already been saying. You need to bring God into the situation. You need to remember that He is sovereign and that He is orchestrating all of this for our spiritual good and for His eternal plan. God is in this. And He is the one in charge of your boss and in charge of you. He is your true Master.
That mindset is something you have to train yourself to maintain. When your boss, or your mom or dad, gives you some kind of restriction that you think is unreasonable, the immediate reaction is to lash out. You either lash out at them, or you lash out at someone else because of them. You start finding people who will agree with you and who will support you in whatever kind of rebellion you’re planning. Don’t do that.
Bring God into this situation. Take breath, and take a moment to pray, “God, this is tough. You can see how unreasonable these expectations upon me are. But You can also see how much my sin lashes out. Father, help me respond with Your love and Your grace. Help me not return evil for evil. Help me be a faithful witness to the power and the love that is in Jesus Christ. This life is temporary, and I want to be useful for Your purposes. Help me, Father. Help me, Lord Jesus.”
God will answer that prayer. And He won’t necessarily answer it by taking away the pain. He will answer it by empowering you to endure.
This is the second component of pleasing God in unjust suffering. The first component was divine reverence. The second component is decisive endurance. Decisive endurance.
Look again at verse 19. God is pleased in times of unjust suffering when you are mindful of God and you endure sorrows. God wants you to endure.
The idea here is not that God enjoys watching us suffer. It’s not the suffering that pleases Him. It’s our endurance in the suffering. That’s what He wants, and that’s what His Spirit will equip us to do.
This Greek word that gets translated “endure” is very interesting. It’s only used 3 times in the New Testament, though the idea is common. The word is hupophéro. It’s a compound word. Hupo means “under,” and phéro means “to carry” or “to hold up.” This is the idea of continuing to hold something up, even though it’s heavy and difficult. You stay under this thing, and you continue to hold it up. You don’t quit. You don’t give in. You make the choice to endure. That’s decisive endurance.
And in this case, it means you endure by and in God’s grace. You continue to treat that master or that landlord, or that boss or parent, with respect and with humility and with obedience. You continue submitting—not because the master is worthy of it, but because that’s what God has called you to do for His glory.
In my final year of high school, and a couple years after that, I worked in an office, and my boss was an older German man, probably about 30 or 40 years older than me. On paper, he was probably someone people would have admired. He was a big guy who seemed like he was respected in social circles. He was a high-ranking official with the Masonic Lodge.
And yet, I still have images in my mind of seeing him absolutely lose his cool with someone on the phone. His face went bright red. His hands were waving in the air, and he was shouting and growling. What do you think that did for my perception of him?
On the other hand, around the same time in my life, I remember being in a situation with a group from church who had gone to volunteer somewhere. And the guy placed in charge over us was being, in my opinion, unreasonable. He seemed to be grumpy and upset at us for no apparent reason. He was barking out orders, talking to us like we were children.
And as he gave us instructions, I just felt myself getting angrier and angrier at him. But when he was done, the beautiful Rose Romo walked up to him with all patience and kindness and tenderness in her voice and basically said, “Thank you. We’re gonna work on it as best as we can.” That made such an impression on me.
You see, it is the pressures and the difficulties of this life that help reveal who we truly are. Our character shines best in tough times.
This life hurts. We all know that. And in terms of employment right now, it hurts even more. But this is an opportunity for Christians to stand out because we look different.
We will please God and we will be more useful in His purposes when we respond with divine reverence and with a decisive endurance.
We are here as a church family, not to shame one another when that doesn’t happen, but to encourage one another to continue in the faith. We are here to make Christ and His truth attractive.