2:17 Honor everyone. The exhortation is either to recognize the value of every person as a bearer of the image of God, or what is more likely in this context, to respect all those in positions of authority.
2:17 Honor all people All people are deserving of respect, for all are created in God’s image (see Gen 1:26–27 and note).
fear God Respecting God is the hallmark of wisdom (Prov 1:7; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 19:23; Eccl 8:12; 12:13).
honor the king Although the emperor may cause them to suffer, believers must respect his position. Like Christ, believers are to be respectful even in the face of insult and hardship, for this gives them the opportunity to show the true character of Jesus.
2:17 everyone. All people deserve the same honor and respect as the emperor. Only God is to be feared. Believers should have a tender love for each other as members of the same family.
2:17 Honor. Highly esteem is the idea, and it refers not just to obedient duty but inner respect. brotherhood. The church. Cf. 1:22; 3:8; 4:8; 5:14.
2:17 Honor all people: We need to treat all people with great respect. Love the brotherhood: We are to have a special relationship with those who are our fellow Christians (Gal. 6:10). Fear God: Our reverence for God should be the basis of our relationships with others. All people are created in His image, and He is the One who has placed some people in authority over us. Therefore, we should treat everyone with love and respect. Honor the king: We are to demonstrate great respect to those who are in positions of authority.
2:17. By the command honor all people, Peter is saying to show respect. To Love the brotherhood shows how Christians are to treat each other. Fear of God is expressed in a lifestyle of reverence for God. The king (or the president of a nation), too, is to be treated with respect, regardless of his character (cf. Romans 13).
2:17 No relationship of life can be left outside the sphere of Christian responsibility. So Peter here runs the gamut with four crisp commands.
Honor all people. We cannot always honor their words or their behavior, but we can remember that every single life is of more value than all the world. We can recognize that every person was made in the image and likeness of God. We must never forget that the Lord Jesus bled and died for even the most unworthy.
Love the brotherhood. We are to love all men, but we are especially obligated to love the members of our spiritual family. This is a love like God’s love for us. It is utterly undeserved, it goes out to the loveless, it looks for no reward, and it is stronger than death.
Fear God. We fear Him when we reverence Him as the supreme Lord. Glorifying Him then becomes our number one priority. We fear doing anything that would displease Him and we fear misrepresenting Him before men.
Honor the king. Peter returns to the subject of human rulers for a final reminder. We are to respect our rulers as officials appointed by God for the maintenance of an ordered society. This means we must pay “taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear” (Rom. 13:7). Generally speaking, the Christian can live under any form of government. The only time he should disobey is when he is ordered to compromise his loyalty or obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.
2:17. This section concludes with a four-point summary of Christian citizenship. First, Christians are to respect (timēsate, “honor, value, esteem”; cf. timēn, “respect, honor,” in 3:7) … everyone (cf. Rom. 12:10; 13:7). Believers should be conscious of the fact that each human has been uniquely created in God’s image. Second, Christians are to love the brotherhood of believers, their brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s family members should love each other. Third, Christians are to fear God. The verb “fear” (phobeisthe) here does not mean to be in terror, but awe and reverence that leads to obedience (cf. phobō in 1 Peter 1:17, phobou in 3:16, and phobon in 2 Cor. 7:11). One will never truly respect people until he reverences God. Fourth, believers are to honor the king. “Honor” is from timaō, the verb used at the beginning of this verse. The respect or “honor” due to all is especially to be given to those God has placed in authority (cf. “the king” in 1 Peter 2:13 and “governors” in v. 14; cf. Rom. 13:1).
2:17. Before returning to the subject of slaves in verse 18, Peter offered a summary word of counsel. Respect for everyone indicates that we should approach relationships with others with a positive point of reference. We should see others as having value or honor. In the culture of that day, this could easily have been missed. The Roman Empire included sixty million slaves. Roman law considered slaves not as persons but as commodities with no rights. In effect, Peter calls us to “remember the rights of human personality and the dignity of every person. Don’t treat people as objects.” With this as an operating principle, we have a special obligation to each other as believers: to love each other (cf. 1:22).
The next summary counsel is to fear God. This is the reverent fear that leads to obedience, introduced in 1:17. The last summary counsel concludes concisely the subject introduced in verse 13, adding that in our submission to authorities, we must do so with an honoring, valuing attitude. Otherwise, our submission is cheapened and it bears little positive testimony to the character of God.
2:17 “Honor all people” This is an AORIST ACTIVE IMPERATIVE, the first of four stark summary commands in v. 17. This means to recognize the worth of all humans in God’s sight and to live so as to attract them to faith in Christ.
“love the brotherhood” This is a PRESENT ACTIVE IMPERATIVE. Christians must continue to love each other (cf. 1:22; John 13:34, 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13:1; 1 John 2:7–8, 3:11, 23; 4:1, 11; 2 John 5). Love is the true evidence that we know God, that we have trusted Christ, and that we are guided by the Spirit. It is the family characteristic of God. Believers are to love all humans for the sake of the gospel and love other Christians because they are part of the family of God.
“fear God” This is a PRESENT MIDDLE (deponent) IMPERATIVE (cf. Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 15:33). We get the English word “phobia” from this Greek word. It is used in the sense of awe and respect. All believers’ actions must issue from their relationship with and respect for God!
“honor the king” These last two PRESENT IMPERATIVES may be an allusion to Prov. 24:21. Remember in Peter’s day that the Emperor was Nero (cf. 2:13).
Ver. 17. Honour all men.—
Various political duties:—
- Personal courtesy. It is our duty to make manners a part of religion. 1. Respect. 2. Consideration. Put yourself in others’ ways and plans and difficulties. 3. Kindness.
- Affectionate brotherhood. It is only reasonable we should “love the brotherhood,” for we are—1. Sharers of the same discipline. 2. Heirs of the same blessings. 3. Travellers along the same road.
III. Dutiful worshippers. “Fear God.”
- Sanctified loyalty. “Honour the King.” 1. Independently of the ruler’s character. 2. Independently of personal distinction. (1) Loyalty is the essential of national well-being. (2) Loyalty is the secret of national happiness. (3) Loyalty is the principle of national prosperity. (J. J. S. Bird, B.A.)
Honour all men:—First, the duty, what it is, and then how that duty is either extended or limited in regard of the object. The duties are honour and love. The first, by opening the duty, and what we are to do. The next, by inquiring into the obligation, and why we are so to do. The last, by examining our performance, and whether we do therein as we ought to do or no. And first of the former precept, Honour all men. Honour, properly, is an acknowledgment or testification of some excellency in the person honoured, by some reverence or observance answerable thereunto. Thus we honour God above all as being transcendently excellent, and thus we honour our parents, our princes, our betters, or superiors in any kind. The word honour in this place imports all that esteem or regard, be it more or less, which is due to any man in respect of his place, person, or condition, according to the eminency, merit, or exigency of any of them respectively, together with the willing performance of such just and charitable offices upon all emergent occasions as in proportion to any of the said respects can be reasonably expected. In which sense it is a possible thing for us to honour, not only our superiors that are over us or above us, but our equals too that are in the same rank with us, yea, even our inferiors also that are below us or under us. And in this latitude you shall find the word honour sometimes used in the Scriptures, though not so frequently as in the proper signification. You have one example of it in the seventh verse of the next chapter, where St. Peter enjoineth husbands to give honour to the wife as to the weaker vessel. It was far from his meaning doubtless that the husband should honour the wife with the honour properly so called, that of reverence or subjection, for that were to invert the right order of things and to pervert God’s ordinance. In like manner we are to understand the word honour here in the text, in such a notion as may include all those fitting respects which are to be given to equals and inferiors also, which is a kind of honour too but more improperly so called. And then it falleth in, all one with that of St. Paul (Rom. 13:7). “Render therefore to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour.” Now we see in the meaning of the words both what duty we are to perform and to whom. It may next be demanded upon what tie we stand thus bound to honour all men? I answer—there lieth a threefold tie upon us, to wit, of justice, of equity, of religion. A tie of justice first, whose most proper office it is to give to every one that which of right appertaineth to him. It is a thing not unworthy the observing that all those words which usually signify honour in the three learned languages do either primarily signify or else are derived from such words as do withal signify either a price or a weight. Now by the rules of commutative justice the price of every commodity ought to be according to the true worth of it. A false weight is abominable, and so is every one that tradeth with it; and certainly that man maketh use of a false beam that setteth light by his brother whom he ought to honour. The next tie is that of equity. “Whatsoever you would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” We care not how much honour cometh to ourselves from others, how little goeth from ourselves to others. Let every man therefore in God’s name take to himself that portion of honour and respect that is due to him, and good luck may he have with his honour. Provided always that he be withal sure of these two things—first, that he take no more than his due, for this is but just; and then, that he be as willing to give as to take, for that is but equal. He that doth otherwise is partial and unreasonable. And thus we are tied in equity to honour all men. There is yet a third tie, that of religion, in respect of that image of God, which is to be found in man. All honour is in regard of some excellency or other, and there is in man no excellency at all of and from himself, but all the excellency that is in him is such only as God hath been pleased to put upon him. And that excellency is twofold—natural and personal. The natural excellency is that whereby man excelleth other creatures. Personal that whereby one man excelleth another. Of the natural first which ariseth from the image of God stamped upon man in his creation. Besides this natural, God hath put upon man a personal excellency which is an effect of His Providence in the government of the world, as the former was of His power in the creation of it. And here first beginneth the difference that is between one man and another. We have seen hitherto both the duty and obligation of it. What are we to perform, and why? We come now to examine a little how it is performed among us. Slackly and untowardly enough no doubt as all other duties are. Are there not some first, who are so far from honouring all men as the text requireth that they honour no man at all, at least, not as they ought to do? No, not their known superiors? But how much less then their equals or inferiors? There are others, secondly, that may perhaps be persuaded to yield some honour to their betters (that may be but reason) but that they should be bound to honour those that are not so good men as themselves, or at the most but such like as themselves are they see no great reason for that. But there is no remedy; St. Peter here telleth them that must be done too. There is a third sort that corrupt a good text with an ill gloss as thus. The magistrate shall have his tribute, the minister his tithe, and so every other man his due honour, if so be he carry himself worthily and as he ought to do in his place, and so as to deserve it. In good time! But I pray you then, first, who must judge of his carriage and whether he deserve such honour, yea or no? But, secondly, how durst thou distinguish where the law distinguishes not? Where God commandeth He looketh to be answered with obedience, and dost thou think to come off with subtilities and distinctions? Least of all, thirdly, with such a gloss as the apostle hath already precluded by his own comment in the next verse, where he biddeth servants to be subject to their masters, not only to the good and gentle but to the froward also, and such as would be ready to buffet them when they had done no fault. Such masters sure could challenge no great honour from their servants. But tell me, fourthly, in good earnest, dost thou believe that another man’s neglect of his duty can discharge thee from the obligation of thine? Lastly, when thou sayest thou wilt honour him according to his place if he deserve it, dost thou not observe that thou art still unjust by thy own confession? For where place and merit concur there is a double honour due (1 Tim. 5:17). There is one honour due to the place and another to merit. (Bp. Sanderson.)
The honour of humanity:—It has been observed that more attention is commonly given to the specific than to the general precepts of Holy Scripture. Thus, in the verse there is a particular precept, to “honour the king,” which has attracted more notice than the wider principle “honour all men.” The reason is this: The vast field of action which opens before us, when contemplating a general precept, is so fatiguing to the imagination, that we are tempted to give up the task of considering it in something like despair. Nor is this the only reason for the practical disadvantages of general, as compared with specific precepts. As morality is too often taught, these general precepts are rested upon considerations too abstract to exert a real influence upon average men. A general precept, like that before us, must be based on an energetic conviction, in order to give it the needful vividness and force. Of this the precept before us is an eminent illustration. We only bring it down from the neglected region of moral proprieties, we only learn its living and working power, and give it a clothing of flesh and blood, when we place it in the light of the great Christian doctrines of which it is the practical and animated expression. What is honour? It is, first of all, a sentiment which prompts us to acknowledge, and to do homage to, some form of truth. It must spring from a sense of merit of some kind in the object which provokes it; and, therefore, it must begin from within. Honour, then, in the first place, is a genuine movement of the soul; but, secondly, it is often a substantial expression of that movement in the outward visible world of sense. Whether it be embodied in a gesture, or in a title, or in a gift of money, it is at bottom an acknowledgment of superior worth, attaching, it may be, to an individual, or to an office, or to an institution. It is a practical expression of the sentiment of honour, quickened into activity by a worthy object. When, then, St. Peter says that we are to “honour all men,” he means, no doubt, that if opportunity arises we are to give practical expression to the disposition to honour them. But he means, first of all, that this disposition should itself exist. And it is here that we reach the point at which the need is felt of basing the precept upon a conviction. Why should we thus be disposed to “honour all men”? It is clear that if man is left to himself, he is by no means disposed to “honour all men.” Why is he bound to make head against this natural inclination? Is it in deference to a sense of self-interest? to a belief that courtesy is a cheap thing, which if it does not make friends, yet keeps clear of making enemies? No! The honour which the apostle prescribes is not an insincere conventionalism, but a true expression of inward respect. Are we then to honour all men in deference to the mere instinct of race? You say that, at least, in this case man should honour his brother man as a reproduction of himself. Does then one brute, nay, the most intelligent of the brutes, honour other brutes? There is nothing in a second animal, who is a mere reproduction of my animal self, which properly commands this tribute of honour; while there is much in him which might incline me to refuse it. But here comes a teacher who repeats the injunction under a new formula. Humanity is the god of Positivist thinkers; man is the highest being whom the consistent philosophy of experience can consent to recognise. Man in his collective capacity, the organism “humanity,” is to be worshipped by each individual man. And from this new cultus, we are told, there is to flow forth a morality, which, in its spirits and its objects, shall be enthusiastically human; against which, as we are further assured, the inferior ethics of Christendom, weighted with the dogmatic teaching of the creeds, will struggle in vain for supremacy in the Europe of the future. But what is the real meaning of this cultus of humanity? Taking humanity as an actual whole, it is to worship that, in which the immoral decidedly preponderates over the moral, the false over the true, the bad over the good.
- What, then, are the motives which should lead a Christian to honour all men? 1. The first is, that all men are made in the image of God. “God created man in His own image, after His likeness.” This image and likeness consist in the fact that, first of all, man is an intelligent being, conscious of, and able steadily to reflect upon, his own existence; and, next, that his will is free. In each of these respects he is unlike any one of the lower creatures; in each he is like God. All men are endued with an immortal, conscious, self-determining principle of life. Or rather that principle is each man’s true self, around which all else that belongs to him is clustered, and to which it stands in the relation of a property, or it may be of an accident. 2. Our Lord’s death upon the Cross is a second reason for honouring all men. His death was indeed a true sacrifice offered to the justice and majesty of God, but it was also an act of homage and honour to the worth of the human spirit. It was to enlighten the conscience of man, it was to purify man’s soul from the stains, and to free it from the burden of sin, it was to restore man to his true and native dignity among the firstborn of creation, that our Saviour died. 3. From these two motives a Christian will gather a third, which must lead him to honour all men, both in feeling and in act. I refer to the capacity of every man, be he who or what he may, while in this world, for improvement, for goodness. This generous faith in humanity is a creation of the gospel. The glory, the sinlessness, the ineffable majesty of the ascended Christ is the measure of the hopes of man. And from that throne of His in the highest heavens there descends upon the race which He has ennobled, and which He yearns to glorify and to save, an interest, a radiance in Christian eyes, an inheritance of a title to honour, which has made the precept of the apostle one of the main factors of the moral life of Christendom.
- But is the precept to be understood literally? Does “all men” mean all members, all classes of the human family? Let me ask, in return, Why not? Let us look at some of the barriers which have been raised against man’s universal right to honour by the prejudices of man. 1. There is, first of all, and, morally speaking, lowest of all, the barrier of wealth. Wealth honours wealth; income pays respect to income; but it is wont to cherish, in its secret heart, an unmeasured contempt for poverty. To believe that a man with £60 a year is just as much deserving of respect as a man with £6,000, you must be seriously a Christian. 2. A second barrier is the spirit of station or of class, founded whether upon success in life, or upon the circumstances of birth. That an aristocracy has, in God’s providential government of society, distinct and great functions to perform, is a position which is not for one moment to be denied; since the experience of history seems to show that society creates a higher class by a natural process, and we in England know how largely such a class may, if it will, serve its country. But when it develops an exclusive spirit, which divides humanity into two sections, those within and those without the imaginary barrier, it comes into collision with the teaching of the gospel. The Divine image, expressed in man’s intelligence and freedom; the atoning blood, giving the measure of man’s preciousness in the eyes of God; the glorified manhood of Jesus, revealing to man his capacity for glory;—these are the privileges of no class or station; they are the right and the possession of humanity. 3. A third barrier is that of race or country. Patriotism, no doubt, has its providential purpose; and the instinct of race is but an expansion of the instinct of the family. Both are based upon a natural foundation and have a Divine sanction; but in their exaggeration both may foster sentiments which are crimes against humanity. When we hear of the African savage who a few months since floated his canoe in a lake of human blood, that he might fitly observe his father’s obsequies, we may for a moment look hard at the precept to honour all men. Yet, all crime being, in the eyes of absolute justice, strictly relative to opportunities, it may well be that this pagan prince stands higher before heaven than do you or I, when we lose our tempers in conversation, or say our prayers without thinking of the solemn work in which we are engaged. 4. The absence of intelligence is often held to constitute a fourth barrier against this honour of man as man. To make intelligence, in the sense of cultivated intellect, the real test of a claim to honour, would secure such honour to Voltaire, and (may we not add?) to Satan, while denying it to the apostles of Christ. To make intelligence, in the sense of the common faculty which is capable of reflecting on self and of knowing God, the ground of that claim, is to own that a debt of honour is due to the whole human family. The precept before us, however, is not adverse to our recognising the specific titles to honour which individuals or classes may possess. It only insists upon a broader basis of such right to honour than that which any of these titles suggest. It is entirely in harmony with the honourable recognition of moral worth, because moral worth enriches and intensifies what is best in humanity, namely, the freedom and power of man’s will. It does not force us to condone either the wilful propagation of error or the guilt of crime. It does not imply indifference to the interests either of truth or virtue.
III. The practical bearings of this suggestive precept are so numerous that it will be necessary to confine ourselves to the following, by way of conclusion. 1. “Honour all men” is a fitting motto for the spirit of much of our study. 2. Here is the Christian rule for social intercourse. Honour high station, honour authority, honour genius, honour courage, honour even success, if you will; but do not limit your honour to these things. If you honour the representative men of humanity, those who embody and intensify its great qualities or interests, do not forget that that which you honour in them is shared in a measure by all. 3. Lastly, in this precept we may discover the true spirit of Christian works of mercy. All the plans which Christian charity really devises and sets on foot are based on the principle of respect for man. Christian charity relieves poverty, not as conferring a favour, but as satisfying what is in some sense a right—the right of humanity to live, and to ask in God’s name at the hands of property the means of livelihood. (Canon Liddon.)
The honour due to all men:—There is no need of argument to prove the kindliness of Christianity, compared with every other system of belief. Its regard for life and its sympathy with human weakness may be seen upon the surface of every Christian land. To this we owe our hospitals and refuges, and all the multitude of charitable institutions which mitigate human suffering. But it is by no means sufficient merely to notice this as a fact. It is of great moment that we search into the principle from which it springs, and that principle is shortly but forcibly brought out in the precept of St. Peter—“Honour all men.” Now it is important that we should see why this precept was confined to Christianity. It was so, first, because its teaching made it for the first time possible, truly, and with reason, to fulfil it. Before this, dark shades rested upon the nature of man. Different qualities of man might be honoured, but right reason could scarcely honour man—poor, fallen, wretched, debased man. So it was of old. But so it was not after Christ our Lord had come upon the earth. His incarnation has dispelled this darkness. For it clearly showed that the sin which dwelt in man and mocked him, by pretending to be a part of himself, was no true part of himself. For in that very humanity, the Son of God had tabernacled without spot of sin. But besides this Christianity alone made all men brothers. Its blessed communion makes all equal, not by putting down the distinctions of earth, confounding the ranks of society, but by raising the manhood in each of us to its true worthiness, by teaching the master to treat the servant “not now as a servant” but “above a servant,” as a “brother beloved”; by showing all that as “partakers of the benefit,” as members of Christ, they have a unity which the petty distinctions of earth cannot dissever; a true dignity, which its seeming degradations cannot obscure. See, then, how great a part of Christianity is contained in this precept. How growth in its spirit is a necessary and certain accompaniment of growth in true, living, practical religion, as it stands opposed to the sickliness of sentimentality. But to see this still more clearly, look at the example of our Master, Christ; see in Him the perfection of this grace. How did He look at man? Who ever saw so far into all the feebleness, uncertainty, and wickedness of those who came around Him, as He did whilst He walked up and down this crowded wilderness? Who ever read the hidden evil of men’s hearts as He did? Yet, how did He look upon all? Was there one over whom, as being a man, He did not yearn; was there one sharer of humanity whom, as man, He did not honour—one lost one whom He did not “seek,” and was not ready “to save”? And this was the secret of His deep tenderness towards sinners, His unwearied forbearance—His most compassionate love, His sympathy with every one of the fallen but redeemed race. And we, if we would have these graces in our measure, must seek for their spring head—we must strive for this great power of “honouring all men”—of seeing in all the true manhood; seeing in all the true value of life; earnestly believing that in all is that which Christ our Master took unto Himself, and in taking to Himself sanctified and purified and made capable of a true and real worthiness. And if we would make any progress in this high grace, we must not hide from ourselves the difficulties which will surely beset its exercise. For these are many and great and will be too much for us, if without counting the cost, we endeavour to encounter them. First, there is selfishness, that deep root of inner corruption which is the absolute antagonist of such a spirit—for this, which leads every man to “mind his own things,” to grasp at everything within his reach, to rate himself, his own plans, his own pleasures, first, must of necessity rob him of the power of “honouring others.” But besides selfishness, there is the whole current of worldly society to be withstood. In spite of the great healing which the gospel of Christ has wrought, its waters are still bitter and turbulent, and they flow for the most part right against the stream of heavenly things. 1. Then let me say, if you would “honour all men,” begin by truly honouring yourselves. A true Christian honour of ourselves leads us to feel most deeply the taint and degradation of the sin which dwells in us, which is so unworthy of our redeemed station. Instead of feeling self-sufficient, we see that only in Christ, only as one of the ransomed family, as dwelt in by Him, as justified through Him, can we have hope. And thus we join ourselves to our brethren in Christ; we and they are one in hope, only we know more of our own loss and misery than we can know of theirs: and therefore we are lowly, and honour them in Christ, their God and ours. So also does a Christian honour of ourselves oppose itself to vanity. How to such an one can the ignorant applause of his fellows be anything but a mockery? Again, his reverence for the redeemed manhood in himself makes him fear lest sensuality should cloud it; lest it should be turned into the heaviest curse by separation from Christ. This makes him most tender of the welfare of the souls of others—he yearns over them; he would “eat no meat while the world lasteth,” rather than make “a brother to offend.” 2. And as honouring ourselves is the first rule that I would give, so the second is—seek to practise yourselves in honouring others. God has so formed us that our spiritual and moral cure is to be wrought by the blessing of His grace upon our practical efforts. We must gain tender, sympathetic hearts, hearts which indeed honour our brethren, not by cultivating abstract sensibilities, but by practising kindly actions. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
Honour all men:—“Honour all men.… Honour the king.” It is the same word in both cases. Honour is the thing due to king and to man. But in the Greek the tense is different; honour all men as various occasions arise for it; but in the other three cases the object and the occasion are known; give present love and fear and honour to a visible brotherhood, and a present God, and a known ruler. It is as though the apostle prefaced the special precepts with this more general one. Honour all men everywhere; nothing is to annul this, the charter of the whole redeemed race; but specially love the Christian brotherhood, and fear the God so visibly present among them, and honour the appointed king. 1. Man is honourable among the creatures of God for his knowledge and power of thought. By the light of God that is in him, man sees God in the world of matter and life. The finger-point of the most wise Artificer is upon every part. 2. But that which is at once the glory and the shame of man, is his power to choose, his will. 3. And this power of action is also a power of obedience to the law of God. 4. And, lastly, man is immortal. “God is not the God of the dead but of the living.” We are immortal, for the hope of a future life, awakened and fostered by our Lord, cannot be meant to end in a delusion. Honour all men, then; honour those to whom God has given the discerning soul, and the deciding will, and the guiding conscience, and the inheritance of eternal life. (Abp. Thomson.)
Honour all:—This was one of the rules which St. Peter gave to the Christians of his day. They were placed in the midst of Jews and heathens, On every side there were enemies, slanderers, persecutors; they were surrounded by foolish men living in fleshly lusts, froward and hard tempered—and yet with all this they were to honour all men. These were not excluded. It is a common thing for men to say that the rich and the clever despise the poor, ignorant, hard-working classes below them. Often that way of speaking is false. There are many exceptions to it. But often, we must confess with pain, it is true. Younger men among those classes have their favourite words of contempt by which they try to set themselves up above others, and to mark off those who are as much heirs of God’s kingdom as they are themselves, as people to be laughed at or insulted. And so they do not honour all men. And this want of the will to honour affects all relations of life. It disturbs the peace and happiness of families. No position of life affords greater opportunities for exercising kindness than that of the master or mistress of servants—the employer of workmen. And yet everywhere we find the duties of that position neglected. Men do not “honour” those who are thus placed, by the providence of God, in dependence on them. Do not think that this commandment is easier for one class of men to perform than for others. Those who look up to most other men as being above them in rank and riches, are just as faulty in this matter as the haughtiest and highest. Many of you must feel in your heart of hearts that all the time when you have seemed outwardly most respectful, there has been no reality, no truthfulness in it. You have honoured not the man, but his money, or his station, or his opinions, or you have hoped to gain some thing from him, or you have been afraid of his displeasure. And that want of true honour which we note in these instances is seen yet more in the acts and the speech of poor men, too often even towards each other. Go into the streets and courts of any of our great cities; listen to the disputes which are to be met with at every corner, and what strikes one most is the abuse and scorn which men of the same class, who are fellow-workers often, and have a common interest, pour out upon each other. They show no respect, no consideration, no “honour.” One step further we must go to reach the worst form of the evil. In all ranks of society you will find men who ought to know better, who pride themselves on reading their Bibles, and keeping out of the sins of their neighbours, and caring for their own souls. They, we might think, will surely “honour all men,” and that not with a false show of honour, but in earnest. A man’s knowledge of the Bible may serve not to make him truer, better, severer in judging himself, but to give him greater cleverness in picking out texts against his neighbours. He loves to think of himself as chosen, saved from hell, and sometimes seems almost as if he liked to think also of other men as going the wrong way, so that he sees them led captive by the devil without any effort to save them, without doing anything to gain their affection and respect. I do not say that this evil is universal. Can you not imagine what a man would be in whose soul the words, “honour all men—all without exception—the youngest, the poorest, the most sinning,” had been traced as with the finger of God, never to be blotted out? Would there not be in such a man an unequalled courtesy, a gentleness and yet openness of speech which would win all men’s confidence? I can think of such an one in any station of life, as a man himself to be loved, trusted, honoured. Read St. Paul’s Epistles, take that single letter even, which he wrote to Philemon, and tell me if you do not find there precisely such a character as that which I have tried to describe. See how he behaves to governors and kings and centurions, and captains of ships and gaolers and peasants, and everywhere you find the same freedom from all violence and selfishness and rudeness. And this, doubtless, was the secret of the wonderful power which he had over the hearts of other men, winning their respect even in spite of them, gaining affection and love from the roughest hearts which seemed at first dead to all such feelings. But there is a higher example in this matter, even than St. Paul’s. Was there not in Jesus of Nazareth one Who was meek and lowly in heart, taking upon Himself the form of a servant that He might save all who were willing to come to Him? Here then, once for all, is an example of the width and depth of this commandment of God. And this which supplies the example furnishes also the motive. Do not think that St. Peter would have enforced the rule of honouring all men on those grounds on which we sometimes try to persuade our children or our dependents to be respectful. It was not because that was the way to lead a quiet life, to get on in the world: to gain the favour of the great, to avoid persecution and ill-will; but much rather because Christ had taught him to think of a Father in heaven, who was inviting all men to become His children; because he believed that Christ had come to redeem all men, to manifest Himself as their brother and their friend. How could he despise those whom the Lord had not despised? How could he refuse to honour one for whom Christ had not refused to suffer and to die? (Dean Plumptre.)
No man to be despised:—No nobler tribute could be paid to a memory than that which was written of the martyred bishop, Pattison, by one of his simple converts in the Southern seas—“He did not despise any one, nor reject any one with scorn, whether it were white man or black man; he thought of them all as one, and he loved them all alike.” (Canon Duckworth.)
The respect due to human nature:—Among the many blessings of Christianity, I regard as not the least the new interest which it awakens in us towards everything human, the new importance which it gives to the soul, the new relation which it establishes between man and man. Christianity has as yet but begun its work of reformation. Under its influences a new order of society is advancing, surely though slowly; and this beneficient change it is to accomplish in no small measure by revealing to men their own nature, and teaching them to “honour all” who partake it. The soul is to be regarded with a religious reverence hitherto unfelt. There is nothing of which men know so little as themselves. Men have as yet no just respect for themselves and of consequence no just respect for others. The true bond of society is thus wanting, and accordingly there is a great deficiency of Christian benevolence. It may be said that Christianity has done much to awaken benevolence, and that it has taught men to call one another brethren. Yes, to call one another so, but has it as yet given the true feeling of brotherhood? Do we feel that there is one Divine life in our own and in all souls? Here is a tie more sacred, more enduring, than all the ties of this earth. Is it felt, and do we in consequence truly honour one another? Sometimes, indeed, we see men giving profound respect to their fellow creatures; but to whom? To great men; to men distinguished by a broad line from the multitude. But this is not to “honour all men,” and the homage paid to such is generally unfriendly to that Christian estimate of human beings for which I am now pleading. The great are honoured at the expense of their race. They absorb the world’s admiration, and their less gifted fellow beings are thrown by their brightness into a deeper shade, and passed over with a colder contempt. To show the grounds on which the obligation to honour all men rests, I might take a minute survey of that human nature which is common to all, and set forth its claims to reverence. But leaving this wide range, I observe that there is one principle of the soul which makes all men essentially equal, which places all on a level as to means of happiness, which may place in the first rank of human beings those who are the most depressed in worldly condition. I refer to the sense of duty, to the power of discerning and doing right, to the inward monitor which speaks in the name of God, to the capacity of virtue or excellence. This is the great gift of God. We can conceive no greater. Through this the ignorant and the poor may become the greatest of the race; for the greatest is he who is most true to the principle of duty. The idea of right is the primary revelation of God to the human mind, and all outward revelations are founded on and addressed to it. He in whom the conviction of duty is unfolded, becomes subject from that moment to a law, which no power in the universe can abrogate. He forms a new and indissoluble connection with God, that of an accountable being. He begins to stand before an inward tribunal, on the decisions of which his whole happiness rests; he hears a voice, which, if faithfully followed, will guide him to perfection, and in neglecting which he brings upon himself inevitable misery. We little understand the solemnity of the moral principle in every human mind. Did we understand it, we should look with a feeling of reverence on every being to whom it is given. I proceed to observe that, if we look next into Christianity, we shall find this duty enforced by new and still more solemn considerations. This whole religion is a testimony to the worth of man in the sight of God, to the importance of human nature, to the infinite purposes for which we were framed. Men viewed in the light of this religion are beings cared for by God, to whom He has given His Son, on whom He pours forth His Spirit and whom He has created for the highest good in the universe, for participation in His own perfections and happiness. I estimate political revolutions chiefly by their tendency to exalt men’s conceptions of their nature, and to inspire them with respect for one another’s claims. (W. E. Channing.)
Honour all men:—Honour in a narrower sense is not universally due to all, but peculiar to some kinds of persons. Of this the apostle speaks (Rom. 13:8). We owe not the same measure of esteem to all. We may, yea, we ought to take notice of the different outward quality or inward graces and gifts of men; nor is it a fault to perceive the shallowness and weakness of men with whom we converse, and to esteem more highly those on whom God hath conferred more of such things as are truly worthy of esteem. But unto the meanest we do owe some measure of esteem, first, negatively. We are not to entertain disdainful thoughts of any, how worthless and mean soever. We are also to observe and respect the smallest good that is in any. Although a Christian be never so base in his outward condition, in body or mind, yet they who know the worth of spiritual things, will esteem the grace of God that is in him, in the midst of all these disadvantages, as a pearl in a rough shell. The Jews would not willingly tread upon the smallest piece of paper in their way, but took it up, for possibly, said they, the name of God may be on it. The name of God may be written upon that soul thou treadest on. It may be a soul that Christ thought so much of, as to give His precious blood for it; therefore despise it not. Wheresoever thou findest the least trait of Christ’s image, if thou lovest Him, thou wilt honour it. Or if there be nothing of this to be found in him thou lookest on, yet observe what common gift of any kind God hath bestowed on him, judgment, or memory, or faculty in his calling, or any such thing, for these in their degree are to be esteemed, and the person for them. Or imagine thou canst find nothing else in some men, yet honour thy own nature, esteem humanity in them, especially since humanity is exalted in Christ to be one with the Deity. Account of the individual as a man. The outward behaviour wherein we owe honour to all, is nothing but a conformity to this inward temper of mind; for he that inwardly despiseth none but esteemeth the good that is in the lowest, or at least esteemeth them in that they are men, will use no outward sign of disdain of any. He will not have a scornful eye nor a reproachful tongue to move at any, not the meanest of his servants, nor the worst of his enemies; but, on the contrary, will acknowledge the good that is in every man, and give unto all that outward respect that is convenient for them and that they are capable of, and will be ready to do them good as he hath opportunity and ability. (Abp. Leighton.)
The duty of honouring all men:—All mankind are to be honoured—1. Because all men are the children of one Almighty Father, and were made originally in His glorious image. 2. Because all men were made of one blood. 3. Because all men are gifted with the same common immortality. 4. Because all men have been redeemed by one common Saviour. 5. Because all men are susceptible of the same spiritual and everlasting life. (H. Stowell, M.A.)
The honour due to all men:—
- To different classes. 1. Superiors. (1) In office. (2) In rank and station. (3) In talent and attainments. 2. Equals (Rom. 12:10). 3. Inferiors. I remember to have heard a friend once say, after passing and noticing a poor man, “When I meet a human being I always wish to consider that I meet a brother.”
- To different characters. 1. The good. “Go and do likewise.” You cannot honour a good man more than by treading in his steps. 2. The bad. (1) By sincere pity and kind concern. (2) By advice and counsel. (3) By your prayers. (4) By readiness to do them good.
III. Different ages. 1. Old age. The ancient Spartans were famous for the respect they paid to the aged; so that it was not unusual to say, “It is a pleasure to grow old in Lacedemon.” Let this pleasure be enjoyed by the aged among us. 2. The young are to be honoured by tender and faithful solicitude for their welfare; by a concern for the right formation of their characters, and the fixing of right principles in their minds. And if they are yet under authority, by affectionate care of them, their persons, their morals, their company, their habits, and especially their souls.
- Different situations and circumstances. 1. The afflicted. Bear one another’s burdens. Mutual sympathy is mutual honour. 2. The prosperous. You will honour yourself, as well as your neighbour, when you rejoice in his prosperity, and feel your own happiness increased by witnessing his. 3. The perplexed. Feel for and assist them. 4. Relations and strangers, countrymen and foreigners, those who belong to our own party or denomination and those who belong to others, all have some claim upon us. More especially let us honour an upright conscience wherever it exists, although its conclusions may be different from our own. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The value of man:—Both creation and redemption teem with evidences that God sets a high value on His creature man. All the relations and uses of minerals, plants, and animals have been arranged for man’s benefit; for no other creature is capable of observing or turning them to account. But the grandest evidence of the value which God sets on man appears in the mission, ministry, and sacrifice of Christ. So high in heaven was the estimate of even ruined man, that when no other price could buy the captive back the Son of God gave Himself, the just for the unjust. Value highly immortal beings made in their Creator’s likeness, and capable yet of living to His praise. We act according to our estimates. Estimate humanity aright in the habit of your hearts, and your conduct will fashion itself naturally accordant, as a river finds its way to the sea. Value the whole man, and not merely a part. In particular, and for obvious practical purposes, value his soul as well as his body, and his body as well as his soul. So did Christ; and therefore so should we. The body’s sufferings did not occupy His attention to the neglect of the soul’s sins; the soul’s sins did not occupy His attention to the neglect of the body’s sufferings. (W. Arnot.)
Value all men:—There is no respect of persons with God, and there should be none with men. When you fail to value aright any man or class of men, you are fighting against God, and will certainly be hurt. Nothing is gained by a false estimate of the value of any man. The circles of Providence, like the celestial bodies, correct aberrations, and right themselves as they go round. Value the young. How precious these germs are! They will be the men and women of the generation when we become children again. Value the poor and ignorant. In that state Christ valued you, believer. He did not pass you because you were worthless. Value the rich. He is as precious as the poor, and will be as worthy, if he is redeemed, when he walks with his Redeemer in white. Value the vicious. Although they wallow in a deep mire to-day, they have fallen from a high estate, and may yet regain it. That poor staggering drunkard is worth more than worlds, if he were won. They who hope in Christ should not count any case hopeless. Value yourself. Do not hold yourself cheap, ye who may have Christ for your brother and heaven for your home. (Ibid.)
Honour all men:—1. As made in the image of God. 2. As capable of heaven. 3. As having some special talent to trade with. (J. Trapp.)
The poor—two ways of treating:—Dr. Joseph Parker says there are two ways of accosting a poor man—one which tells him he is a man, and another which only tells him he is poor.
Dignity of man:—M. Boudon, an eminent surgeon, was one day sent for by the Cardinal du Bois, prime minister of France, to perform a very serious operation upon him. The cardinal, on seeing him enter the room, said to him, “You must not expect to treat me in the same rough manner you treat your poor miserable wretches at your hospital of the Hotel Dieu.” “My lord,” replied M. Boudon with great dignity, “every one of those miserable wretches, as your Eminence is pleased to call them, is a prime minister in my eyes.” (J. Percy.)
Respect for manhood:—It is said of Burns the poet, that walking along the streets of Edinburgh with a fashionable acquaintance, he saw a poorly dressed peasant, whom he rushed up to and greeted as a familiar friend. His companion expressed his surprise that he could lower himself by speaking to one in so rustic a garb. “Fool!” said the poet, with flashing eye, “it was not the dress, the peasant’s bonnet and hodden gray, I spoke to, but the man within—the man who beneath that bonnet has a head, and beneath that hodden gray a heart better than a thousand such as yours.” (J. C. Lees, D.D.)
Honour all:—At this time the great majority of human beings was neglected and despised by the wise and learned, as well as dishonoured and oppressed by the rich and powerful and governing classes. With feelings of reverence and awe the traveller gazes, not only on the crumbling shrine and hallowed dust of Iona, but on the ruins, accursed and hopeless though they be, of wicked Nineveh and proud Babylon. But here is a ruin in which God once dwelt, and in which He desires yet again, and eternally, to dwell. Surely it is not for those whom grace, and grace alone, has saved from a like degradation, to exult over the desolation, or even to pass it by with indifference. “Honour all men”—if not for what they have made themselves, at least for what the Creator and Redeemer designed them to be. Honour that kindly thought of God toward them by striving, as best you may, for its realisation. And, when all your efforts seem to prove abortive, still honour it, and the objects of it, by your prayers and tears. (J. Lillie, D.D.)
Love the brotherhood.—
Love the brotherhood:—As the clouds which soar in the air are to the universal mass of waters, so are the brotherhood of God’s renewed children to the whole human family. Of mankind these brothers are in origin and nature; but they have been drawn out and up from the rest by an unseen omnipotent law. 1. Love to the brotherhood is an instinctive emotion. It is not an accident, but a nature. It springs in renewed hearts, as love of her offspring springs in a mother’s breast. It is the result not of an artificial policy, but of a natural law. The new creature exercises instincts as well as the old. 2. The Lord Jesus was not satisfied with the measure of this affection which existed among His followers during His personal ministry. “That they all may be one,” was His prayer; “Love one another,” was His command. 3. Those who are destitute of this affection themselves are acute enough to observe the want or weakness of it in Christians. 4. Brotherly love among Christians, when it really exists, honours the Lord and propagates the gospel. It has convinced many who resisted harder arguments. 5. It is the most pleasant of all emotions to the person who exercises it. 6. Love of the brotherhood is the command of God, and, consequently, the duty of men; but another thing goes before it to prepare its way. Before you can love the brotherhood, you must be a brother. It is the new creature that experiences this hallowed affection. (W. Arnot.) The brethren and the brotherhood (with chap. 1:22):—There is a great difference between loving “the brethren” and loving “the brotherhood.” “The brotherhood” is the society of “the brethren”—the Church. Each needs the other. “The love of the brotherhood” divorced from “the love of the brethren” will always lead to superstition, to an undue reverence for form and custom, to some sort of tyranny. “The love of the brethren” separated from “the love of the brotherhood” will always minister to foolish divisions, to confusion of faith, to ecclesiastical anarchy. St. Peter, who said “Love the brotherhood,” said also “Love as brethren.” 1. We ought to love the brethren. Religion is for men. The mission of the Church is to help everybody who needs help. There is constant need of humanising the work of the Church, that is, of emphasising the supreme purpose for which the Church exists—to make the world better. 2. On the other hand, while we ought to love the brethren, we ought also to love the brotherhood. Christ Himself directs us to “hear the Church.” The customs of the ancient society, the ways of the Church, ought not to be readily laid aside. The probability is that the brotherhood is wiser than any of the brethren. (Bp. Hodges.)
Love the brotherhood:—Now of the obligation of this duty there are two main grounds—goodness and nearness. 1. We must love the brotherhood for their goodness. All goodness is lovely. There groweth a love due to every creature of God from this, that every creature of God is good. Some goodness God has communicated to everything to which He gave a being: as a beam of that incomprehensible light, and a drop of that infinite ocean of goodness, which He Himself is. But a greater measure of love is due to man than to other creatures, by how much God hath made him better than them. And to every particular man that hath any special goodness in him there is a special love due. He that hath good natural parts, if he have little in him that is good besides, yet is to be loved even for those parts, because they are good. He that hath but good moralities only, leading a civil life, though without any probable evidences of grace appearing in him, is yet to be loved of us, if but for those moralities, because they also are good. But he that goeth higher, and by the goodness of his conversation showeth forth the graciousness of his heart, deserveth by so much a higher room in our affections than either of the former, by how much grace exceedeth in goodness both nature and morality. Since then there is a special goodness in the brethren in regard of that most holy faith which they possess, and that blessed name of Christ which is called upon them, we are therefore bound to love them with a special affection. The other ground of loving the brotherhood is their nearness. The nearer, the dearer, we say; and there are few relations nearer than that of brotherhood. But no brotherhood in the world is so closely and surely knit together, and with so many and strong ties, as the fraternity of Christians. 1. We are brethren by propagation. Children of the one eternal God, the common Father of us all, and of the one Catholic Church, the common mother of us all. And we have all the same elder brother, Jesus Christ, the firstborn among many brethren. 2. We are brethren by education—foster brethren; as Herod and Manaen were. They that have been nursed and brought up together in their childhood for the most part have their affections so seasoned and settled then that they love one another the better while they live. 3. We are brethren by covenant, sworn brothers at our holy baptism, when we dedicated ourselves to God’s service as His soldiers by sacred and solemn vow. Do we not see men that take the same oath pressed to serve in the same wars and under the same captains? 4. We are brethren by cohabitation. We are all of one house and family; not strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God. Lastly, we are brethren by partnership in our Father’s estate. Co-partners in the state of grace; all of us enjoying the same promises, liberties, and privileges whereof we are already possessed in common; and co-heirs in the state of glory, all of us having the same joy, and everlasting bliss in expectancy and reversion. Having all these obligations upon us, and being tied together in one brotherhood by so many bands of unity and affection, I presume we cannot doubt but that it is our bounden duty thus to love the brotherhood. There remaineth now no more to be done but to look to our performances that they be right. Not but that we may make a difference between one brother and another in the measure and degree of our love, according to the different measures and degrees, either of their goodness considered in themselves or of their nearness in relation to us. (Bp. Sanderson.)
Love the brotherhood:—No one will deny that these emphatic words express a great leading principle of the gospel. But in order to respond, in heart and conduct, to this teaching of St. Peter we must understand what the brotherhood is; we must know something of its institution; we must be assured of its continued existence; we must be instructed in the purposes which it has to fulfil, and in the powers and privileges with which it is endowed. On all these points the first Christians had a more perfect, because a more practical, knowledge than Christians in general have now. To them the brotherhood was not an abstract speculation, but a thing of life and reality. They were required to consider it, act towards it; and they did so. But now the case is different, In the present state of the Christian world the generality of Christians have no practical acquaintance with the brotherhood as such; at least they are not conscious of any. It is to them a thing invisible, inaudible, unapproachable; and so indeed they call it. They cannot therefore act towards the brotherhood as a whole, but only towards individuals. When they see a man leading a holy life, sound in the faith, they love him as a brother in the Lord. And they do well. But it is one thing to love a brother, or a number of brethren, as individuals, and another thing to love the brotherhood itself. And the difference is most important. For on the one hand, though we should love numberless individuals, on account of their personal graces, yet this would never lead us on to the love of the brotherhood as such; whereas if we begin by loving the brotherhood, then our love will manifest itself towards all those who belong to it. But we are to observe another vast difference, in a practical point of view. Consider the many good offices which Christians are encouraged to seek at each other’s hands, and of which they stand so greatly in need in their present condition as strangers and pilgrims upon earth—exhortation, admonition, edification in the truth, guidance, governance, consolation, reproof, intercession, co-operation. All these most necessary offices would, if faithfully discharged, keep alive in us a constant sense of mutual dependence, and quicken mutual love. But how lamentably are they neglected. And why are they neglected? We think of each other not as members and representatives of our holy brotherhood, but as individuals. The feelings of love which would lead us to seek whatever help we severally require, are not indeed destroyed in us; but for the most part they now spring from nothing deeper than our own opinion (based on our own limited experience) of each other’s character; and therefore one while they are powerless, bearing no fruit at all, and another while they are mischievous and their fruit unwholesome. What, then, is to become of those strong affections which are ever seeking some object whereon to rest in peace and security? He who knows our wants has also abundantly provided for them. He has taught us not to place our hope of guidance and protection in this man or that, or in any number of men; but to seek a nobler alliance, and make a more exalted choice. It is not the might, nor the multitude, nor the wisdom, nor the talents, nor the piety of men, which He hath set before us as the best object of our present love and confidence; but it is communion with Himself our Heavenly Father, and with the holy angels, and with the spirits of the just made perfect, and with all good men on earth, by the Holy Ghost, in the mystical body of Christ. Here is an object worthy of our hearts, and able to satisfy their wants; here is the brotherhood which St. Peter bids us love—the great Christian brotherhood, the communion of saints, the Church of the living God. But this brotherhood being so high and holy a thing, how and where can it be seen on earth? The first Christians loved the brotherhood in its outward and visible parts—in its members, its ministers, its sacraments, its ordinances, and its laws; loved it, I say, and sought it, revered, believed, obeyed it, for the sake of the Awful Presence which they knew to be dwelling in it, and acting by and through it. In its weak, despised, and suffering appearance, they saw the marks of the Lord Jesus, the humiliation of His Cross; in its energy and holiness, its victories and conversions, they beheld the power of His resurrection. Him they beheld in all its ways and works; and therefore all its ways and works were precious in their sight. No wonder that they loved the brotherhood; for in its prayers, its sacraments, its ministry, they heard the prevailing intercession, the pardoning voice, the life-giving truth—they saw the dispensing hand, the protecting arm, the all-judging eye, the gracious yet most awful form of their ascended Saviour. In a word, they saw in it His chosen representative—the Apostolic Church, by which He completes on earth His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King. So when those early believers came themselves to be admitted into this glorious brotherhood, though men were the instruments by whom the gate of baptism was opened to them, yet were they well assured that their election was of God. Well might they set themselves in earnest to follow their heavenly profession, knowing the grace to which they had been called, labouring to make their calling and election sure, trembling at the bare imagination of letting slip so great salvation. For truly they found themselves in the midst of heavenly sights and heavenly sounds, which many prophets and kings had desired to see and hear, but had not seen or heard: they found themselves called to the enjoyment of those promises which the saints of old had seen afar off. Such was the Christian brotherhood to the first followers of Christ, when its members were few, its outward condition weak, despised, oppressed. Now it has gone forth into all lands, and gathered into itself many people, and it is oppressed no longer. Is it then to us the same inestimable treasure which it appeared to the first Christians? Alas! far otherwise. The world, in drawing near to it, has too often flung over it the shadow of its own bad principles and unrighteous practices, and thereby has partially obscured its brightness. Many even of its own children regard it rather as a useful instrument of man than as a great unsearchable mystery of God. But still, we humbly trust, the presence of the Lord abideth in it. Still it has peace and plenteousness for those who will repose in it with calm believing hearts. Only let us have faith to use the light and strength which yet remains—and more may perhaps be given us. Only let us “love the brotherhood” in the day of its humiliation, and show our love by eschewing those things that are contrary to our profession, and following all such things as are agreeable to the same; and then, unworthy as we are, we may even be allowed to contribute something, if it be but a prayer, towards the renewal of its life and vigour. (R. Ward, M.A.) Fear God.—
Fear God:—There are two principal species of fear, as we may readily perceive by consulting our own emotions—the fear of apprehension, and the fear of respect. The first has for its foundation that evil which he who is feared can inflict; the second arises from the high idea we have of him for whom we entertain this sentiment. The first is exercised towards a being who, we suppose, has the will and the power to hurt us; the second is felt when, apprehending nothing from his anger, we entertain esteem and veneration for him. 1. Let us commence with the fear of respect. This is always felt by the true believer. Can he avoid feeling it, when he views on one hand the splendour of the perfections of God, and on the other his own littleness and baseness? 2. With respect to the fear of apprehension, which has as its foundation the evils which God can inflict on us, it is of two different kinds; we may fear to offend and displease God, and we may fear to be punished for it. When the former is the motive of this fear, it is called filial fear, because it is the sentiment of an affectionate child towards its parent. This fear has as its source love and gratitude. 3. With respect to the other kind of fear of apprehension, that which is founded only on the dread of future punishment, it is (considered absolutely and in itself) neither morally good nor evil. Not morally good, since we see it every day felt by the most wicked, and since the devils themselves tremble under it. Not morally evil, since it is a sentiment that reason would require; since God has used the threatenings of this punishment to deter men from sin. It becomes morally good only when united with filial fear. It is morally evil when accompanied with love of sin, with distrust, and despair. It then acquires the name of servile fear. (H. Kollock, D.D.)
The fear of God:—1. There is, first of all, a fear of God which to me appears to be a reproduction, measure, or colour of the national life, different as the nations differ. I believe it to be impossible to bring a Frenchman and a German, or a Scotchman and an Irishman, or any two men that reach back into a radical difference of race, to regard God in the same way. 2. But, in our own nation, where so many nativities centre, the idea of God and the consequent fear of God differ very greatly. The first and lowest form is a fear of God as a gaoler and executioner, who stands and waits until that sure detective, Death, shall hunt the criminal down and bring him into court. The pagan, on this plane of belief, is wiser than the Christian. He says boldly that the doer of this is the evil spirit, and so he tries to be on good terms with him. But wherever such a fear has a real place in the soul of man or woman, African, Indian, or Saxon, in that soul the love of God, or even a true fear of God, is utterly out of the question. It destroys every fair blossom of the soul; it leaves nothing to ripen, nothing beautiful even to live. 3. Then, to the eye of the resolute Christian thinker—who dares not, as Coleridge has said, “love even Christianity better than the truth, lest he shall come to love his own sect better than Christianity, and at last himself better than all”—there is another form of the fear of God, not the best by far, but far better than this utterly slavish fear. I mean that in which God becomes the embodiment of pure bargain, exacting from us to the uttermost penny whatever is due. Here God appears with tie guards and sanctities of the law about Him, self-imposed and self-respected. The man need not contract the debt if it does not please him, but if he does contract it he must pay, or another must pay for him. Then the Son of the Great Creditor gives His own body to the knife, and bears the intolerable agony instead of the debtor. Now there is a touch of sublimity in this conception. Yet when we come to question the system it will not stand. The moment you open the idea with the master-key of the Fatherhood of God you begin to see that it cannot be true. 4. But a far higher fear of God is to fear Him as we fear the surgeon who must cut out some dreadful gangrene in order to save the life. Such a fear as this really touches the outskirts of love—it is love and fear blended. When I went to Fort Donelson to nurse our wounded men, it was my good fortune to be the personal attendant of a gentleman whose skill as a surgeon was only equalled by the wonderfully deep, loving tenderness of his heart, as it thrilled in every tone of his voice and every touch of his hand. And it all comes up before me now how he would come to the men, fearfully mangled as they were, and how the nerve would shrink and creep, and how, with a wise, hard, steady skill he would cut to save life, forcing back tears of pity only that he might keep his eye clear for the delicate duty, speaking low words of cheer in tones heavy with tenderness; then, when all was over, and the poor fellows, fainting with pain, knew that all was done that could be done, and done only with a severity whose touch was love, how they would look after the man as he went away, sending unspoken benedictions to attend him. Now a fear like this is almost the loftiest fear of God that has come to the human soul. 5. Then, finally, there is a fear of God which is more of love than fear—a fear that has no torment. There is an inspiration by which our duties rise up before us, vested in a nobleness like that which touches the landscape for a great painter. The true artist works ever with a touch of fear. He stands at his task, his heart trembling with the great pulses of his conception. He is fearful exactly as he sees the perfection of the thing he is trying to embody. Now, believe me, God hides some ideal in every human soul. At some time in our life we feel a trembling, fearful longing to do some good thing. (R. Collyer, D.D.) Honour the king.—
Good subjects:—For the coherence of these words with the former, note—1. That the duties to God and our neighbours, the duties of the first and second table, are to accompany one another; they must not be sundered (1 John 4:21). (1) This rebuketh such as make show of great zeal in the duties to God and of His worship, but in the meantime make no conscience of deceiving, oppression, falsehood, backbiting, idleness, &c. (2) This rebuketh also such as are very civil and just in their dealings, sure of their word, and kind neighbours, and yet make no conscience of the duties of the first table. 2. That the knowledge and fear of God is the fountain of all our duties to men in their several places. None can be a good servant, one to be entrusted with business of weight, with hope of blessing, but such a one as feareth God; so no man can truly honour the king and be an absolute good subject except he fear God. Uses: 1. Let all that fear God show it in their several places by the performance of their duties to men, especially of subjection to their governors, that so they may bring the same in esteem, and procure credit thereto. 2. Would any be good subjects, let them begin at the right end, perform their duties in the right manner, even for conscience sake, as being required of God. 3. Magistrates are to trust those most which do most fear God, and accordingly to use them kindly and countenance them as being indeed their most loyal subjects; yea, to further the gospel what in them lies, whereby people may be brought to fear God. (John Rogers.)
A royalty free from dispute:—The most unreasonable things in the world become most reasonable because of the unruly lives of men. What is less reasonable than to choose the eldest son of a queen to guide a State? For we do not choose as steersman of a ship that one of the passengers who is of the best family. Such a law would be ridiculous and unjust, but since men are so themselves, and ever will be, it becomes reasonable and just. For would they choose the most virtuous and able, we at once fall to blows, since each asserts that he is the most virtuous and able. Let us then affix this quality to something which cannot be disputed. This is the king’s eldest son. That is clear, and there is no dispute. Reason can do no better, for civil war is the worst of evils. (Blaise Pascal.)
17. Those who would live ‘as servants of God’ (v. 16) have differing obligations to all men generally, other Christians, God, and the emperor. The first phrase, Honour all men, may be taken as one command among four (rsv, nasb) or as a summary statement to be explained by the other three statements (niv: ‘Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king’; similarly neb).
For several reasons the niv’s understanding of it as a summary statement is unpersuasive. (1) The categories ‘believers’, ‘God’, and ‘the king’ do not include ‘all people’ (Gk. pantas), for unbelievers are omitted, and in the very context where relationships to unbelievers are prominent (vv. 12, 15). Thus, on this reading the following three statements do not fully explain the first, as they ought to do. (2) On the other hand, it would seem somewhat unnatural to include God in the same category as men in the Greek pantas (‘all persons’)—no example like this is found in the 1,244 instances of ‘all’ in the New Testament. (3) The verb honour (timaō) does not seem to be so wide in range as to mean ‘proper respect of various sorts’ and include both ‘love’ and ‘fear’: one might well ‘honour’ or ‘show proper respect’ to a weak and evil king, for example, without either loving or fearing him. Moreover, this interpretation must give timaō a different sense at the end of the sentence than it has at the beginning, something unlikely if the first instance is meant as a summary of the second.
It is better therefore to take this verse as four separate commands. Honour all men means ‘honour all people’; ‘men’ is not in the Greek text. ‘All’ (pantas) is common in reference to all people generally (cf. Matt. 10:22; Luke 2:3; John 1:7; Rom. 3:23; Jas 1:5). Consistent with their good conduct among unbelievers (vv. 12–16), Christians should be courteous and respectful to all people. This principle condemns much of man’s treatment of his fellows both in the political and in the industrial world’ (Stibbs/Walls, p. 112).
Love the brotherhood indicates a higher obligation to fellow Christians (note ‘brotherhood’ also in 5:9), not only to respect them but also to show strong, deep love to them (see note on agapaō, ‘love’, at 1:22).
Fear God indicates a still higher obligation. Christians are not only to honour and love God (1:3, 8; 2:5, 9); they are also to fear him, something they should not do toward unbelievers (3:14) or toward other believers (see note at 1:17 on fear of God).
Peter now returns to ‘honour’, the same word with which the verse began: Honour the emperor. In what is apparently mild irony Peter has put the emperor on the same level as ‘all people’. The progression seems to be as follows:
Love the brotherhood.
Honour all people. Honour the emperor.
While positively affirming the obligation to honour the emperor (consistent with vv. 13–15), he also subtly implies that, contrary to the claims of Roman emperors to be divine, the emperor was by no means equal to God or worthy of the fear due to God alone. Christians have obligations to the state, but their obligations to God and to the brotherhood of believers are higher.
17. This is a summary of what is gone before; for he intimates that God is not feared, nor their just right rendered to men, except civil order prevails among us, and magistrates retain their authority. That he bids honour to be rendered to all, I explain thus, that none are to be neglected; for it is a general precept, which refers to the social intercourse of men. The word honour has a wide meaning in Hebrew, and we know that the apostles, though they wrote in Greek, followed the meaning of words in the former language. Therefore, this word conveys no other idea to me, than that a regard ought to be had for all, since we ought to cultivate, as far as we can, peace and friendship with all; there is, indeed, nothing more adverse to concord than contempt.
What he adds respecting the love of brethren is special, as contrasted with the first clause; for he speaks of that particular love which we are bidden to have towards the household of faith, because we are connected with them by a closer relationship. And so Peter did not omit this connexion; but yet he reminds us, that though brethren are to be specially regarded, yet this ought not to prevent our love from being extended to the whole human race. The word fraternity, or brotherhood, I take collectively for brethren.
Fear God. I have already said that all these clauses are applied by Peter to the subject he was treating. For he means, that honour paid to kings proceeds from the fear of God and the love of man; and that, therefore, it ought to be connected with them, as though he had said, “Whosoever fears God, loves his brethren and the whole human race as he ought, and will also give honour to kings.” But, at the same time, he expressly mentions the king, because that form of government was more than any other disliked; and under it other forms are included.
A Summary of Christian Duty
1 Peter 2:17
Honour all men; love the brotherhood; fear God; honour the king.
Here is what we might call a four-point summary of Christian duty.
(1) Honour all men. To us, this may seem hardly needing to be said, but when Peter wrote this letter it was something quite new. There were 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire, every one of whom was considered in law to be not a person but a thing, with no rights whatever. In effect, Peter is saying: ‘Remember the rights of human personality and the dignity of every individual.’ It is still possible to treat people as things. An employer may treat employees as so many human machines for producing so much work. Even in a welfare state, where the aim is to do so much for their physical welfare, there is a very real danger that people may be regarded as numbers on a form or as cards in a filing system.
John Lawrence, in his book Hard Facts: A Christian Looks at the World, says that one of the greatest needs in the welfare state is ‘to see through the files and forms in triplicate to God’s creatures who are at the other end of the chain of organization’. The danger is that we fail to see men and women as persons. This matter comes nearer home. When we regard people as existing solely to minister to our comfort or to further our plans, we are in effect regarding them not as persons but as things. The most tragic danger of all is that we may come to regard those who are nearest and dearest to us as existing for our convenience—and that is to treat them as things.
(2) Love the brotherhood. Within the Christian community, this respect for every individual turns to something warmer and closer; it turns to love. The dominant atmosphere of the Church must always be love. One of the truest definitions of the Church is that it is ‘the extension of the family’. The Church is the larger family of God, and its bond must be love. As the psalmist had it (Psalm 133:1 from the Metrical Psalter):
Behold, how good a thing it is,
And how becoming well,
Together such as brethren are
In unity to dwell!
(3) Fear God. The writer of the proverbs has it: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’ (Proverbs 1:7). It may well be that the translation should not be that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge but that the fear of the Lord is the principal part, the very foundation of knowledge. Fear here does not mean terror; it means awe and reverence. It is the simple fact of life that we will never honour one another until we honour God. It is only when God is given his proper place in the centre that all other things take their proper place.
(4) Honour the king. Of the four instructions of this verse, this is the most amazing—for, if it was really Peter who wrote this letter, the king in question is none other than Nero. It is the teaching of the New Testament that the ruler is sent by God to preserve order in society and must be respected, even when that ruler is a Nero.
2:17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. Of these four parallel phrases, the first and the last use weaker terminology, that of “showing proper respect” and “honoring” (both use the same word in Greek). The middle two phrases use stronger terminology: “love” and “fear.” While Christians show proper respect to all humans because every living person is created in the image of God, Christians’ responsibility toward other believers is characterized by sacrificial love. This is not to say that Christians are free from loving non-Christians, but it is similar to Paul’s command in Galatians 6:10, where Christians do good to everyone, but they are to go above and beyond with others of the household of faith.
Likewise, Peter uses the stronger term of “fear” to describe Christians’ responsibility toward God, in contrast to the weaker term of “honor” for his readers’ relationship to the governing authorities. (On the fear of God, see the comments on 1 Pet. 1:17.) While it can be said that Christians should fear governmental authorities (Rom. 13:3–5), believers have a stronger obligation, allegiance, and response to God than to the state. This leaves room for the rare occasions of civil disobedience, in which Peter himself engaged (e.g., Acts 4:19; 5:29).
Because “honor” is used for both everyone and the emperor, the idea is to treat those in leadership the way that everyone should be treated: with respect; avoiding slandering, gossiping and being divisive; and treating them as you would want to be treated if you were in a position of leadership.
2:17 / Show proper respect to everyone (pantes timēsate). The Greek imperative is in the aorist tense, yet it is followed by three present imperatives, love … fear … honor. The meaning seems to be: Take up once for all (aorist imperative) as a permanent stance the attitude of respect for all. In practice this works out as continuously (present imperatives) loving the brotherhood of believers, fearing God, and honoring the king. Christians may increasingly appreciate their special status and privileges as children of God, but that is no reason for looking down on others. All that believers are and can become is solely by God’s grace. To guard against such false suppositions of superiority, they are to make sure that they show proper respect to all. Respect is due to others as fellow human beings irrespective of any particular position they may hold. And, in any case, what right has one person to judge the spiritual condition of another? “Trample not on any: there may be some work of grace there that thou knowest not of” (Leighton, vol. 1, p. 367).
17 Rulers are to be honored, but Peter nuances this command carefully as he sums up his section on government. We find here two double statements, the two pairs bound together by “honor” on either end, a beautiful literary summation (i.e., a chiastic A B B A pattern). The first pair is “honor everyone; love fellow-Christians.” Not just the king but every human being is due honor, from noble to slave, for all are created in the image of God (cf. Jas. 3:10–12). “Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He that learns from all men.… Who is honored? He that honors mankind, as it is written, For them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” This Jewish saying surely expresses Peter’s thought as well.But in contrast to non-Christians who are to be honored, fellow-Christians are to be loved. Peter alone in the NT uses the specific term found here for “fellow-Christians” (translated “brotherhood” in many translations, cf. 5:9), but love for community members is a constant stress of the NT (John 13:34–35; Rom. 12:9; Eph. 1:15; Phil. 2:2; etc.). While nothing in this passage should be construed to deny the demand to love one’s neighbor, whoever he or she might be (Matt. 5:43–46; Luke 10:25–37; Rom. 13:8–9), the NT is very aware that the church (a term never used by Peter) is family, brothers and sisters, and therefore has a call upon the Christian’s love in a way others do not.
Having reached a high peak with love, Peter continues at that level with “reverence God,” before dropping to “honor the king.” This pair may in fact stem from Prov. 24:21 (“Fear the Lord and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious”), but if so, Peter has made a change, for he makes it clear that only God is to be reverenced or feared, for God alone is ultimate, a belief that was not shared by non-Christians of that age, who honored the Caesar (or other monarch) as at least semidivine.
In contrast to the reverence to be accorded to God, Peter ends on a lower note with “honor the king.” Jesus also made a distinction between God and Caesar (Matt. 10:28; Mark 12:13–17), but this did not mean a disdain for Caesar. While Caesar is only put on a level with “everyone” here, he still receives his honor. The Jews were aware that God controlled history and used even pagans to do his will. This did not mean that God approved of their means or would not punish them, but it did mean that they were not outside his purpose (Isa. 1:20; 5:23–29; 10:5–11; 45:1; Jer. 5:15–17; 16:3; 21:4–7; 25:9; 27:6; 43:10). As a result, even though the Jews in general believed that the Messiah would come and destroy their Roman rulers, they offered sacrifices and prayers for the Emperor (Philo, Legatio 157.355-56; Josephus, Wars 2.197; C. Ap. 2.77). Even Roman order was better than anarchy. Christians also followed this pattern, as Matt. 22:21, 1 Tim. 2:1–3, and Tit. 3:1 show. But, while due appropriate honor and rightly to be prayed for, the Emperor was human and therefore neither to receive blanket approval nor ultimate reverence, both of which were reserved for God alone. This balance made the church of the next few centuries refuse both revolution (e.g., the Jerusalem church fled Jerusalem rather than take part in the war against Rome in a.d. 66–70) and participation in the army; she would also both speak respectfully and appreciatively of Roman order, and refuse to give even a pinch of incense to the Emperor in worship (their equivalent of the practice of saluting the flag in the United States). Pagans would think them foolish for their obedience to law in general (which they often tried to avoid), and more foolish for their disobedience to the command to take part in a simple and relatively meaningless patriotic ceremony of worship. But it was that balance that Peter felt best expressed the truth to which Christians bear witness.
The Application of Submission
Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (2:17)
Peter summarized his demand for submission to all authority—his citizenship theology—into four practical, applicatory dimensions of life. First, believers are to honor all people. Every person was created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26; 9:6b; James 3:9b; cf. Ps. 100:3a) and therefore is due some degree of respect. In the first century, most people viewed slaves as nonpersons with no rights. But Peter told his readers they were not to treat anyone that way (cf. Col. 4:1). Christians are not to discriminate against any class of people because of race, nationality, or economic status (cf. Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:8–9; James 2:1–9). That does not mean they ignore different levels of authority and social structure or that they engage in a mindless tolerance for everyone’s conduct, but it does mean they show proper respect for everyone as individuals made in the image of God.
The second application is that believers love the brotherhood. They are to show the world that they love their fellow believers. The apostle John also wrote of this principle a number of times:
A new commandment I [Christ] give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35; cf. 15:12)
This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. (1 John 3:23; cf. 4:7, 21)
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. (1 John 5:1)
Third, believers are to fear God (Deut. 13:4; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; Eccl. 12:13; Heb. 12:9, 28; Rev. 15:4), which includes trusting Him in all circumstances (Ps. 36:7; Prov. 3:5; 14:26; 16:20; Isa. 26:4), no matter how difficult they are (cf. 5:7; Ps. 34:22; Prov. 29:25; Nah. 1:7; 2 Cor. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:12). Christians must worship Him as the sovereign One (Matt. 6:33–34; Rom. 8:28; 11:33) who orchestrates everything according to His perfect will (1 Sam. 2:7–8; Ps. 145:9; Prov. 19:21). Such fear also encourages believers to submit to all earthly authorities, because they have the utmost respect for the One who has commanded them to do so.
Finally, believers are to honor the king, which brings the issue full circle, back to the basic command of verse 13. This application again echoes Paul’s teaching in Romans 13, particularly verse 7, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” As God’s agent for carrying out the purposes of government, the monarch, president, premier, or prime minister is worthy of the respect God mandates.
When believers obey the principles of this passage, it gives genuine credibility to their faith. Submission to civil authority is an implementation of what might be called “evangelistic citizenship,” along the lines of Jesus’ declaration in the Sermon on the Mount:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14–16)
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