April 10 – Living in a Hostile World

Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:12


You may not have realized it before, but living as a Christian in this world is like being a foreigner without a permanent home or citizenship. The apostle Peter referred to believers as “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11). You should consider yourself as a temporary citizen and abstain from participating in the world’s ungodliness.

That’s an important perspective to maintain as hostility toward Christianity mounts in our society. Many unbelievers treat immorality as an alternative lifestyle and believe man can solve his problems any way he chooses.

To live in such a society, you need to arm yourself with a trust in the power of righteousness to triumph over persecution and suffering. During times of hostility, you’re to have confidence and not get caught up in turmoil.[1]

Godly Outward Deportment

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. (2:12)

In order to effectively evangelize, Christians’ transformed inner lives must be visible to the outside world. Peter thus commanded his readers to keep their behavior (daily conduct) at a high level. Excellent translates a word (kalēn) rich and varied in significance, usually meaning “beautiful of outward form.” At least six other English words and expressions offer insight into its meaning: lovely, fine, winsome, gracious, fair to look at, and noble. The term connotes the loveliest kind of visible goodness. Gentiles (ethnos) refers to “nations,” or the unsaved world (cf. Luke 2:32; Rom. 2:14; 15:9–12, 16; 1 Cor. 5:1; 12:2, kjv; Gal. 3:8; 1 Thess. 4:5; 3 John 7). If Peter’s readers were to witness effectively among the Gentiles, it was essential for them to manifest behavior beyond reproach.

In the first century, the label evildoers (kakopoiōn) brought to mind many of the specific accusations pagans made against Christians—that they rebelled against the Roman government, practiced cannibalism, engaged in incest, engaged in subversive activities that threatened the Empire’s economic and social progress, opposed slavery, and practiced atheism by not worshiping Caesar or the Roman gods (cf. Acts 16:18–21; 19:19, 24–27).

In the very thing in which they slander, believers must live the opposite way, proving unbelievers wrong and demonstrating the validity of the gospel (Matt. 5:16; Titus 3:8). On the platform of such credibility, personal witness has an impact. Observing the exceptional life of such believers, some will believe, be saved, and glorify God in the day of visitation.

Day of visitation is an Old Testament concept (cf. Judg. 13:2–23; Ruth 1:6; 1 Sam. 3:2–21; Pss. 65:9; 106:4; Zech. 10:3) referring to occasions when God visited mankind for either judgment or blessing. The prophet Isaiah wrote of divine visitation for the purpose of judgment: “And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? to whom will ye flee for help? and where will ye leave your glory?” (Isa. 10:3, kjv; cf. 23:17). On the other hand, Exodus 3:2–10 tells of God’s visitation to announce Israel’s eventual deliverance from Egypt, which would be a blessing for His people. Similarly, Jeremiah prophesied God’s visitation to deliver the Jews from Babylon: “For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place’ ” (Jer. 29:10; cf. 27:22). The Old Testament records several other instances in which God visited people for blessing and judgment.

Usually in the New Testament visitation indicates blessing and redemption. In the immediate aftermath of John the Baptist’s birth, his father Zacharias prophesied, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people” (Luke 1:68; cf. v. 78; 7:16). On the other hand, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, Jesus said, “They will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44). Because the Jews rejected Christ’s visitation of salvation, it turned to a visitation of judgment (cf. Matt. 11:20–24; 21:37–43; Rom. 11:17, 20; 1 Thess. 2:14–16).

God’s redemption is inherent in Peter’s reference to the day of visitation. The apostle used the expression to show that because of observation of Christian virtue and good works in the lives of believers, some would be privileged to glorify God when He also visited them with salvation.

A stirring twentieth-century example of how godly living can influence the salvation of unbelievers comes from the events in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Philippines during World War II. American missionaries Herb and Ruth Clingen and their young son were prisoners of the Japanese for three years. Herb’s diary told how his family’s captors tortured, murdered, and starved to death many of the camp’s other inmates. The prisoners particularly hated and feared the camp commandant, Konishi. Herb described one especially diabolical plan Konishi forced on the Clingens and their fellow inmates near the end of the war:

Konishi found an inventive way to abuse us even more. He increased the food ration but gave us palay—unhusked rice. Eating rice with its razor-sharp outer shell would cause intestinal bleeding that would kill us in hours. We had no tools to remove the husks, and doing the job manually—by pounding the grain or rolling it with a heavy stick—consumed more calories than the rice would supply. It was a death sentence for all internees. (Herb and Ruth Clingen, “Song of Deliverance,” Masterpiece magazine [Spring 1989], 12; emphasis in original)

But divine providence spared the Clingens and others in February 1945 when Allied forces liberated the prison camp. That prevented the commandant from carrying out his plan of shooting and killing all surviving prisoners. Years later the Clingens “learned that Konishi had been found working as a grounds keeper at a Manila golf course. He was put on trial for his war crimes and hanged. Before his execution he professed conversion to Christianity, saying he had been deeply affected by the testimony of the Christian missionaries he had persecuted” (“Song of Deliverance,” 13). Effective evangelism flows from the power of a righteous life.[2]

12 The readers are further charged: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” If any in the Christian community misconstrue being the new Diaspora—i.e., “aliens and strangers”—to mean escapism or isolation, Peter dispels that illusion. In truth, responsible earthly citizenship struggles with how most effectively to “advertise” or bear witness to the transcendent values of the kingdom of God. The veracity of Christian truth-claims, one may infer from Petrine teaching, is demonstrated to the extent, and only to the extent, that the Christian lifestyle is ethically viable. This will entail translating Christian ethics in relevant ways to the pagan mind-set—ways suggested in the material that immediately follows (2:13–3:7).

The implication is this: Christian witness will be upheld by the quality of “goodness” unbelievers observe in the Christian community. Whether or not pagans convert to the Christian faith is in God’s hands, but this is not Peter’s immediate concern. Rather, he insists that, even if pagans malign or accuse believers wrongly, on the day of moral reckoning—literally, on “the day of overseeing” (hēmera episkopēs)—they themselves will have to acknowledge the qualitative difference among Christians, thereby “glorifying” God.

One might legitimately argue that doing good deeds that glorify God was the heart of Jesus’ teaching, based on Matthew’s representation (5:16): “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Peter, at least late in life, seems to concur: the essence of the Christian lifestyle is leading a virtuous life, demonstrating the Christian ethic in a manner that shows it to be qualitatively different.[3]

2:12 Not only must we exercise discipline in the area of fleshly indulgence, but we must also maintain our conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that is, the pagan world. In our day we must not pattern our lives after the world. We should be marching to the beat of a different drummer.

Almost inevitably we will be criticized. At the time Peter wrote this Letter, writes Erdman:

… the Christians were being slandered as irreligious because of not worshiping the heathen gods, as morons and ascetics because of refraining from popular vices, as disloyal to the government because of claiming allegiance to a heavenly King.

Such criticism cannot be avoided. But under no circumstances should believers give the world a valid reason for such reproach. All slanders should be refuted by an unbroken record of good deeds. Then the accusers will be compelled to glorify God in the day of visitation.

A day of visitation is any time the Lord draws near, either in grace or in judgment. The expression is used in Luke 19:41–44. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it did not know the time of its visitation, that is, Jerusalem did not realize that the Messiah had come in love and mercy. Here it may mean: (1) The day when God’s grace will visit the critics and they are saved, or (2) the day of judgment when the unsaved will stand before God.

Saul of Tarsus illustrates the first interpretation. He had shared in accusing Stephen, but Stephen’s good deeds triumphed over all opposition. When God visited Saul in mercy on the road to Damascus, the repentant Pharisee glorified God and went forth, like Stephen, to influence others by the radiance of a Christ-filled life. Jowett says:

The beautiful life is to raise men’s thoughts in homage to the glorious God. When they behold the Divine realized in the human, they too are to be wooed into heavenly fellowship. They are to be wooed, not by the eloquence of our speech, but by the radiance of our behavior. By the imposing grace of noble living we are to “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” and that silence will be for them the first stage in a life of aspiring consecration.

In the second interpretation, the thought is that unsaved people will be compelled to glorify God in the day of judgment. They will have no excuse, for they not only heard the gospel, they saw it in the lives of their Christian relatives, friends, and neighbors. God will then be vindicated through the blameless conduct of His children.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 115). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 139–141). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 319–320). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2262–2263). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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