As Christians, we are are first and foremost citizens of God’s Redemptive Kingdom; we have submitted ourselves to Christ’s rule, and our mission is to bring others into that citizenship through evangelism and discipleship. But as human beings, we are also still citizens of the universal Common Kingdom along with every other person in the world. We are living in this world as citizens, but also as exiles, very similar to how the Israelites lived in Babylon.
So while our mission as citizens of the redemptive kingdom is clear—make disciples, we still need to carefully consider what the Bible teaches about how we Christians are to live our lives as citizens and exiles in the common kingdom of this world.
Peter especially addresses us as Christians from this perspective.
Remember Who We Are
Notice how Peter describes who we are in 1 Peter 2:9–10:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Peter is emphasizing our status as citizens of the redemptive kingdom—we are a new people for God’s own possession. We are still citizens of the common kingdoms of this world, as he will focus on in a moment, but we are set apart from the other non-redeemed citizens of the common kingdom because we have received God’s mercy—we are God’s unique people.
In light of that reality, he begins verse 11 by describing us as “sojourners and exiles.” We are resident aliens. We are in this world—God has left us here for a purpose, but in reality, this world is not our home; we’re just passing through. We are sojourners and exiles.
This is important for us to remember: In a passage in which Peter is going to focus primarily on how we ought to live in God’s common kingdom along with every other person on the face of the earth, he begins by reminding us of our true citizenship. The implication here is that everything about how we live in society and interact in culture must flow out of our ultimate citizenship. There is no divorcing of the sacred and “secular” for the Christian in this sense. We cannot simply say, “Well, I’m saved, heaven is my true home, Christ is going to come back one day and defeat all of his enemies, and so really nothing I do in this life really matters. Our mission as the church is to make disciples, so we ought to just preach the gospel and go to church and not really care about anything that happens in this world.”
Wrong. The whole point of Peter’s book is that, in light of the fact that your citizenship is in the redemptive kingdom, in light of the fact that you are a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, you must live in a certain way in God’s common kingdom.
So how ought we to live as sojourners and exiles?
How We Live
Through the rest of his letter, Peter addresses all sorts of aspects of the common kingdom of God, topics that are not unique to Christians. Unbelievers have to deal with government and work and family and other cultural matters as well. These are all matters that God has instituted as part of the common kingdom for the common good of all humankind.
But look at what he says in verses 11 and 12, right before he moves into that discussion:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.1 Peter 2:11–12
Peter is about to address these topics from the perspective of people who are sojourners and exiles—we are still part of the common kingdom, but because of God’s mercy now—because we are citizens of the redemptive kingdom, we have new beliefs and values that will impact how we live and what we do in the common kingdom.
What Peter says in verses 11 and 12 of chapter 2 applies to everything else Peter will talk about with regarding to government and family and vocation. In all of those things, we ought to be characterized as those who live by the Spirit and not according to the passions of the flesh. This sets us apart from the other citizens of the common kingdom. This makes us holy in all our conduct, as God is holy, just like Peter admonished in chapter 1.
So already we can see that although our citizenships in the redemptive kingdom and common kingdoms are in a sense distinct, they are also very much related. How we live in the common kingdom should be in light of our citizenship in the redemptive kingdom, and that alone serves as a witness and helps us to accomplish our mission of making disciples, of gathering more citizens into Christ’s redemptive kingdom.
Model Common Kingdom Citizens
But then Peter continues by specifically addresses what that will look like. How should our redemption impact our lives in the common kingdom?
Submission to God-Appointed Authority
First, Peter addresses the issue of human government.
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.1 Peter 2:13–17
As citizens of the common kingdom, we ought to submit to the human institutions that God has appointed. These human institutions are God’s institutions. The common kingdom is God’s kingdom. God established common institutions like family and government for the purpose of providentially ruling and sustaining humanity in a sin-cursed world.
However, there are limits to this submission. Jesus said, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Often, these two commands do not conflict. But if they do, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). We ought to recognize that the institutions God appointed for the common kingdom have been given specific jurisdictions, and that is where their authority ends.
We also need to consider the fact that we do have a somewhat unique situation in a constitutional republic. We do not have a king. The president of the United States is not the equivalent to the emperor—the president has been elected by the people and has sworn to uphold the Constitution. In reality, the Constitution of the United States is the equivalent to the emperor in Peter’s admonition here.
So if the Constitution is our “emperor,” what would it mean for us to honor the emperor? It would mean to uphold it. It’s not perfect but the emperor in Peter’s day was not perfect, either, to say the least. Our political situation is far better than what Peter’s audience had. We have the privilege of participation in our governmental system that Peter’s audience did not have. So in our situation, to honor the emperor means to vote, to be active in the political system, seeking to support candidates whose political policies will best accomplish what God has appointed as the purpose of government.
We can’t just sit back and say, “We’re citizens of another kingdom; so politics don’t matter.” No, because we are citizens of another kingdom, we must honor the emperor that our King appointed. So vote, stand for morality in our society, and be active in the political process for God’s glory and, as Peter says in verse 17, for the honor of everyone and the love of the brotherhood.
Second, Peter addresses the subject of human vocation.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.1 Peter 2:18–20
Very similar to human government, we ought to submit to our authorities in our human vocations. Here Peter addresses the servant/master relationship, which is obviously the most extreme kind of employee/employer relationship. But in a sense, that makes his point even stronger. If Peter tells a servant to be subject to his master, how much more ought we who simply have a supervisor or manager over us submit to them? Arguing from greater to lesser, Peter’s primarily point here is simply that in our human vocation, we ought to submit to our authorities, whatever form that might take, again, as long as they do not tell us to do something that God forbids, or unless they exceed their jurisdiction.
The point is that what we do in our human vocations matters. It matters for God’s glory, but also, God has instituted human vocations for the good of the common kingdom. When we work hard to produce goods and services that are helpful to our fellow-man, we are doing what God intended to help preserve peace and prosperity in the common kingdom. That is worthy work because it is what God intended work to be.
Third, beginning in chapter 3, Peter addresses the human institution of the family. Wives are to be subject to their husbands. This is not because women are somehow inferior to men; rather, for the ordering of society, even before the fall, God established at creation a certain order: he made Adam first, and then he made Eve out of Adam as a helper fit for him. On the basis of this creation norm, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that the head of a wife is her husband, and thus wives ought to submit to their husbands, which is a voluntary ordering of herself under his leadership. So again, the purpose of this command is for the good of society within the common kingdom.
In verse 7, Peter commands husbands, likewise, to live with their wives in an understanding way, and elsewhere Paul says husbands ought to love their wives as Christ loves the church. This is a sort of submission, too, not a submission to the wife as a leader, but leading through a loving submission to her needs. A husband should arrange his own desires and needs under the needs of his wife as a weaker vessel.
The point here is that the family matters. The family is another institution that God created for our good in this present world. For the glory of God, the salvation and sanctification of our own children and others around us, and for the benefit of society in general, it matters how husbands lead and how wives submit, it matters how we discipline our children, it matters how we educate our children. Don’t underestimate the deep importance of rearing godly children. As sojourners and exiles, we ought to do all of these things in light of the fact that we are the people of God.
Finally, in verse 8 Peter sort of “bookends” this discussion with themes similar to how he began in chapter 2. He urges us to strive to be the kind of people who dwell in unity, sympathy, brotherly love, tenderness of heart, and humility. As Paul says in Romans 12, we ought to strive to live peaceably with all. He says in 1 Timothy 2 that our goal in society should be to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” If we do that, if we live as good, faithful citizens, then chances are we’re going to have a positive impact on society at large because we are living in the common kingdom as God intended when he instituted it in the garden.
That ought to be our goal as citizens of the common kingdom, but because of sin, and because we are distinct from the other citizens—because we are ultimately exiles—we should not expect to be entirely comfortable. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And that is really the context for Peter’s letter. The Christians to whom he was writing were beginning to experience persecution, and so he urges them to live godly lives, live in harmony with all, keep their conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that (verse 16), “when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Live for the good of all people in society, expect the possibility of persecution for your faith, and don’t give them any legitimate reason to condemn you.
Look at how Peter further describes our lives as Christians in the world in chapter 4:
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 4:7–11
And notice how he ends the book:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 5:6–11
Ultimately, our hope is not in this present world. Our blessed hope is the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.