Honor all men. Love the brotherhood.
Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17)
- Of all the practical advice given in the New Testament, very few readers have noticed the four items listed in 1 Peter 2:17: Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
At first glance we think we know what these four things are. Still we must ask, what does it mean to honor all men? Why does he say to love the brotherhood instead of love the church? Why should we fear God, the one who loves us and sent His Son to die for us? How do we honor the king?
- Once the company I worked for sent me to Singapore to do some work. At the end of my time there, the branch manager wanted to honor me, so he took me to his favorite seafood restaurant. He selected the best fish, which was carefully prepared according to his direction and brought to our table. He smiled broadly as he graciously offered me the best part of the fish – the head. Fortunately for me, my host’s elderly mother was also at the table, so I was able to transfer the honor her. Her eyes lit up and she ate the fish head with delight.
We honor men when we give them our best. The best my host could think to offer me was a fish head. We do the same every time we try to honor others by offering them hospitality or some gift. Our best is Christ, and if what we give is less than Him, it is only a fish head.
Peter’s own experience taught him how to honor all men. When the lame man at the door of the Temple encountered Peter and John, he asked them for alms. Peter had no money, but he had something much better. He honored this man with the gospel, saying “Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Act 3:6) This man received much more than he expected. He met the living Christ and entered the Temple walking, leaping, and praising God!
Later in Acts 10, Peter was sent by the Lord to the house of Cornelius. This man was an unclean Gentile. Under normal circumstances Peter would never have entered his house. However the Lord told Peter to not consider Cornelius as unclean. Peter honored Cornelius and his entire household by visiting them, bringing with him the gospel of salvation.
We meet people every day and usually have very little feeling about them. However Peter admonishes us to honor all men. We do this by giving them our very best. While they may seem poor, lame, and unclean to us, they deserve our best, and the best we have is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Honoring all men represents the cold gospel. We contact people every day that we will likely never see again. We have only that one chance to honor them. Like the lame man and Cornelius, we have no idea how the Lord has prepared them for this encounter. No one is too lame or unclean to be unworthy of our Christ. This is why Peter tells us to honor all men.
- Although Peter lists this as the last of his four items, honoring the king is closely related to honoring all men, so we will address it second. This is the warm gospel, the gospel to those who know us well.
In the context of Peter’s writing, the king represents the government, which establishes the laws for the society in which we live. He sets the rules and he enforces the rules. Peter says we should honor the king by living as good, law-abiding citizens. This kind of living becomes a testimony to those around us, who see us in our daily life.
The hardest ones to share Christ with are those who know us best: our relatives, co-workers, and friends who see us every day. They see how we drive, how we react to daily pressures, and how we handle offense. They hear what comes out of our mouths. They know what we value. We cannot hide from them or pretend we are holier than we really are. In some ways they know us better than we know ourselves.
It doesn’t take much to harm our Christian testimony. But if we honor the king in our normal human living, that living itself will often open people to the gospel. While we may feel pressed to immediately share the entire gospel with a stranger who will soon no longer be with us, we should feel no such pressure toward our relatives, co-workers, and friends. Time is on our side. If we are careful to honor the king, they will see our living and eventually open to us. If we have been in prayer for them, we will recognize such opportunities when they come.
- Peter is the only New Testament writer who uses the word brotherhood like this. The word brotherhood is sweeter than the word church, because it reminds us that the church is not some cold institution or organization, but it is real people, often with real needs. To love the church can be objective, but to love the brotherhood is very subjective.
The apostle John wrote, “But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? My Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)
James writes similarly, “If a brother or sister be naked and in lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (James 2:15-16)
It is normal in the church that at any given time some will be in need. Only those who love the brotherhood will be aware of it. These are the ones who watch the saints, who are with them, and have genuine care. One measure of this kind of love is the number of anonymous personal offerings that pass through the church’s offering to the less fortunate among us. Where this is missing, that church has become cold.
In the first and second centuries, the unbelievers noticed the believers’ care for one another. It was markedly different from the lack of concern found in their society. This love for the brotherhood caused many to turn to Christ in spite of the very real danger of persecution and martyrdom. This too is the gospel.
- According to the parable in Matthew 25:14-30, God has given each of us at least one talent. Those who invest this talent and get a return will receive the Lord’s blessing. Those who bury their talent will receive His wrath. Christians have no fear of the final judgment, as do the unbelievers, for their sins are all forgiven. But we should fear disappointing the Lord and missing His blessing.
What is the talent we have received from the Lord? Many Christians spend their entire lives trying to answer this question. They assume that their talent is some mysterious power or gift that will turn them into super-Christians. If this is the case, then most of us will end up experiencing the Lord’s wrath, because most never discover such a super-gift. We never turn into God’s super-heroes. Instead we should develop the common gifts God has given to every Christian. These include the Bible, prayer, and the anointing spirit.
The Bible doesn’t seem like a super-gift, but those who spend time in it know otherwise. It contains words that are able to change our lives. It contains words that are able to comfort those around us. It contains words that enable us to know God. It contains words that enable us to overcome the enemy. Without it we are left to our religious imagination. Many godly men sacrificed their lives that we could have the Bible today. No wonder the Lord will be displeased if we do not invest ourselves in it. It does not take very long to read a book such as Galatians or Ephesians. If we read it enough times, we will know what is in it, and we will receive the blessing.
Prayer also seems common, but most do not pray. They make no investment in prayer. Perhaps this is because we think we must pray lengthy prayers at set times. When the disciples asked the Lord for a lesson on prayer (Luke 11:1-4), he did not give them a lengthy prayer or tell them to set up a prayer schedule. The model prayer that He gave, which most know as the Lord’s Prayer, takes less than a minute to repeat. The Lord was telling them to pray short, instant prayers. Whenever something comes to our mind, we should pray for it that instant. This overcomes our short memory, for we might not remember to pray for that item if we wait for our set time of prayer. It also fulfills Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17). Once this is our habit, if we add up all our time spent in instant prayers, we may find that we actually pray many hours in a day.
Finally we come to the anointing, which many find mysterious and hard to understand. But 1 John 2:20 says, “Ye have an anointing from the Holy One,” and verse 27 says “And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you; concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him.” Every Christian has been given the anointing Spirit. It abides in us and teaches us to abide in Christ. It is every Christian’s responsibility to nurture this mutual abiding relationship by learning how to follow the anointing.
The Bible is God’s objective word to us. Prayer is how we go to God subjectively. The anointing Spirit is how God comes to us subjectively. These are the common talents God has given every Christian. If we fear disappointing God and want to win His smile, we will invest ourselves in each of them.
With this understanding, 1 Peter 2:17 is a good verse to print out and hang on our refrigerators. We all need such a daily reminder: Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.