“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:16–17, NASB95)
There is a big difference between having a freedom and using that freedom responsibly. The First “Amendment to the United States Constitution states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
As citizens of the United States we have a great number of privileges. Among them is the freedom to worship according to the tenets of our faith, to speak freely and to have a free-speaking press, to gather together peaceably, and even to request a hearing to address our grievances. But with these freedoms there also needs to be accompanying responsibilities. Notice that there is a responsibility specifically spelled out in how we are to assemble and this is “peaceably.” There is also the right to petition the Government for a remedy to our grievances, or the right to seek to properly work within the system to set things straight. In each of these to do otherwise is to violate this provision. Violent and unruly protests in the street would clearly violate the heart and purpose of these.
However, the freedoms of speech and the press do not seem to have any such limitation. It is probably for that reason that a series of laws have been put in place over the years to establish some form of limitation when it comes to classes or groups of peoples. But even here we find that the only way for these freedoms to operate properly is for those who have the freedom to exercise appropriate restraint in their exercise of that freedom.
Peter tells us to “act as free men….” Reading through the Scriptures we find that not only have we been set free from the bondage of sin, but that we have been given many freedoms in Christ. We are told that we have been set free (Romans 6:7) and that our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). But this freedom is not given to us so that we can then turn around and abuse it. Paul speaks to this extensively in Romans, where in part we read,
“knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:6–14, NASB95)
We are not to let our freedom be a cover for sin, but rather to let it be a place of strength from which we serve our God as those who have been bought by the price of His Son. Recognizing this we are to honor all people. Yes, he said “all” people. There are people who we clearly deem to not act honorably, and as such we justify that we cannot honor them. But, consider the truth that God is the Creator of every life and he is also their judge. This is not a power or right given to us. It is in recognition of His sovereign control that we in turn can entrust even our enemies to Him and seek to walk rightly before them. This means that even when we disagree with those in authority over us that we are to disagree honorably so that we ourselves do not become disqualified in the process and that God is always glorified.
Next, we are told to “love the brotherhood.” This instruction is specifically directed to our relationship with one another in Christ or with other Christians. Earlier in 1:22 we read that we are to “…fervently love one another from the heart,” (1 Peter 1:22, NASB95) There may be many things that we disagree on in regard to our understanding of Scripture and our preferences in worship, but we can never lose sight of the truth that every single person who has trusted Christ for their salvation is our brother or sister in Christ. We have been made a part of the one body which is His Church of which He is the head. On the night in which He was betrayed Jesus prayed to the Father in the presence of His disciples that we might be one even as He is One with the Father and the Spirit. This is a strong and enduring oneness that we are called to preserve, and the means of preserving and building it is our love for one another. It is this very priority that is expressed by Jesus when He gave it to His disciples. “A new commandment I 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, NASB95)
Thirdly, he says that we are to fear God. This is not third in priority, but critical to our framing of all that we do. As we approach our relations in life we are to do so in the context of our recognition of God for who He is and what He has called us to do. We are to make His ways our priority. Knowing who God is and what He has done for us, we are to respond by giving ourselves back to Him in full obedience. His great mercy has been extended to us, and our appropriate response is to walk in that mercy, full of grace and according to His truth. Fearing God is seeing God in His proper place and responding accordingly.
Then, in response to Him and His sovereign authority to give limited authority to those in human authority, we are to honor or give appropriate respect and submission to the king. The king includes all human authority as we see expressed just a few verses earlier. This is God’s will for us.
Notice that when it comes to those outside the church that we are called to honor, esteem, or respect others, whether they be in leadership or not. And with those in the church we are to love one another with the oneness that we have learned from our God who loved us and who has knit us together in His Son.