“Duty of Man”
I Peter 2:17, “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”
This morning, people spend tremendous sums of money for professional help to answer basic questions like “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” There are doubtless cases when people are truly confused about the meaning of basic things in life as psychiatric depression is as real an illness to the mind as diabetes or cancer is to the body. However, many today look for an “out” for not doing something they know they should do, and some want to smooth over and cover their laziness. Society today almost fetes laziness sometimes hiding behind the curtains of “I just didn’t know.” Sadly, God’s children can fall victim to this mindset as well. True story: a minister visited a couple on an occasion to talk to them about some behavior in their decorum that could bring a reproach upon the church. After laying out the problem, the minister was accosted verbally by the wife with, “Preacher, if you would just preach on this, we wouldn’t do it.” While softly trying to express that these concepts were declared and expounded regularly from the pulpit, the woman got madder and madder as her “cover” for their slackness was falling to pieces. Our duty is not a hard concept to understand, but regrettably, we fail to accept and follow it a lot of the time.
Our study verse is structured as 4 simple sentences, and when collectively considered, the whole of our decorum can be vividly seen. While each sentence is a subject unto itself, the collection defines our duty easily and succinctly. Before we consider these individual parts, we first need to understand that Peter’s main course through this portion of his epistle is to show that our example – Jesus Christ – is supreme in all aspects of decorum. Verses 21-24 declare our Example’s conduct as clearly as our study verse shows the duties of our conduct. Therefore, we will frame these individual parts against the backdrop of Him in all things.
“Honour all men.” Peter’s first declaration is to give all men the respect befitting of our graciousness in the Lord. The word “honour” here literally means to give value or estimation to something or someone. Now, it is plain from Scripture that there are people in the world that are not part of God’s family that will spend an eternity in shame and contempt through punishment. Matthew 25 describes these people as goats that the King will tell to depart from Him. These people have no goodness in them, and faith is an alien concept, action, or thing to them. (II Thessalonians 3:2) So, if there are people in this world that are not good at all, how could we fix any estimation or value to someone (honour them) as is our duty to do? Excellent question! Consider the steps and conduct of the Master. Though He will one day judge them in righteousness and banish them from His glory and blessings to utter ruin, He still gives them “types” of honour here.
One example would be found in Matthew 5:45. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ encourages His disciples to do good to others, particularly emphasizing those that are evil. Why? Even our Father sends natural blessings and honours unto the unjust as well as the just. They get sunlight every day, rain in due season, and can live in nations that are blessed by the providence of Almighty God. No doubt there have been goats a plenty living in America since her founding a couple hundred years ago. Yet, they have enjoyed the liberties and privileges that we as God’s faithful believe come to us by God’s blessing. If God can so give natural honour and goodness to these men, so can we. If in need or having lack, we should be ready and willing to provide the blessings we can should the opportunity arise.
“Love the brotherhood.” Though we should be faithful and honourable to all people and live in peace as much as possible with them (Romans 12:18), there should be something special about certain people in this world. Peter here calls it the brotherhood, and the term is synonymous with Scripture’s reference of “brethren” or “brother.” These are considered our kin, and in respect to Christ, the kinship goes beyond and further than natural ties and bonds. The brotherhood should be the most special people on earth. Paul showed this contrast in Galatians 6:10 when he exhorted the brethren to do good to all men but especially the household of faith. While we should be willing to distribute and help our fellowman when he is in need, how much moreso should we do with the brethren?
To put it in the form of a natural illustration, I love children, and though people probably think I have lost my marbles from time to time, I like talking to the babies, toddlers, and young children particularly at church. Sometimes they laugh at me, sometimes they draw up at my ugly countenance, but I still enjoy it. However, with other people’s children, I am more reactive in my approach to them. If they want to ignore me, that is fine. If they want to interact, that is fine too. I try not to press it. However, with my own children, I take a very proactive approach. If I call them, I expect them to answer. If I talk to them or ask them something, I expect a response. Why? They are my children while the others are not. When we honour all men, the approach may be a reactive one (if we see something or a need that we can help), but with our own brethren of the kindred in Christ, we should be proactive to them and with them. Love does not wait to be asked to do something, but rather, it seeks objects of that love. When I met the woman that would become my wife, I did not wait to talk to her or see if anything came up. I went after her! When it comes to Christ’s kindred in this world, our love should go after them to sacrifice ourselves for them as we can.
“Fear God.” Many times we can get in trouble when we read a word as the same thing every time. People confuse themselves terribly when they read “saved” or “salvation” the same way in Scripture every time. While saving is a deliverance, there are many types and situations, which must be drawn from the context. The word “fear” in Scripture is that way. Oftentimes, Scripture declares fear as something good that we should do (like this verse, Psalm 111:10, Ecclesiastes 12:13, and others) while it is a bad thing at other times (I John 4:18, II Timothy 1:7). How do we reconcile this? Bad fear is literally a mortal dread and anxiety that can grip and paralyze us. Such a fear we should seek to avoid, knowing that we have a merciful God in heaven that takes care of us. The good fear in the Bible literally means respect, reverence, and obedience.
The fear of God that we should exhibit as our duty on earth does not mean cowering in the corner hoping He does not kick us on His way by. That is what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden after the fall. The fear of Him that gives wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and instruction indicates that we have such respect for Him and His ways that we desire to please Him in all things. If He commands it, so be it. If He forbids it, so be it. This is the same kind of fear that children should learn and show for their parents since the parents are charged with their care and upbringing. That kind of responsibility deserves and demands respect, and how much more for our Father in heaven for all the care and responsibility that He has taken for us! Surely one that has done so much and held us so dear deserves all the respect and reverence that our being can display!
“Honour the king.” One might wonder why this commandment is included as it would seem to be understood in the first command in the verse of “Honour all men.” Though honouring the king is a subset but included in honouring all men, the Bible will from time to time emphasize something for our benefit. As fallen, broken creatures, we need reminding about different things and some things more than others. We could be told to honour all men, but by emphasizing the king, Scripture gives us reason to think that honouring the king might be more difficult from time to time than the general command. Hence, the emphasis. Consider that bad rulers have plagued human history, and will likely continue to do in the future. It would be far easier to help someone in need that you had never seen act poorly than it would be to honour an earthly ruler or magistrate whose sins had been evident for all to see. We have a tendency to hold and harbor ill feelings to those that we feel personally wronged by. Ruling over people is difficult in this way even for those that try to rule well. Your shortcomings are more manifest than others, making you the repeated target of grudges, abuse, etc.
When considering Paul’s openings to his epistles, there is a slight variation between “church epistles” and “minister epistles.” In all the church epistles, Paul includes “grace and peace be unto you” within the opening greeting. In the minister epistles, he says, “grace, mercy, and peace be unto you” as Paul well understood that the minister needed a dose of mercy as he tried to lead and guide the sheep of God’s heritage. In that sense by watching over their souls (Hebrews 13:17), Paul knew that they would come under fire and criticism. Hence, he begged mercy for them as well as grace and peace. Whether someone is under the rule of a wicked or righteous magistrate, honour is still the command. In the last few years, I have heard upset but misguided people say comments like “he is not my president” and “I’ll pray for the office but not the man.” Whether someone likes their rulers or not, they are still the rulers, and here we are commanded to honour the king not the kingship (man not just the office). Scripture may emphasize this command for the office’s sake, but the man is to be prayed for.
Friends, much more could be said about each of these commands, as we have mentioned them being whole subjects to themselves. However, we have tried to skim the high points to line out the fullness of the bounds that Peter here considers. Against the backdrop of Christ, we see where He honours all men, even those that rose up against Him. He was willing to heal the ear of Malchus in the Garden of Gethsemane after Peter struck it off even though Malchus was part of the mob coming to arrest Him. He chose Judas as one of the 12 though He knew that Judas was a devil that would betray Him. Christ showed the highest order of love to His brethren by laying down His life for them and also by displaying it in every step while He walked this low ground. Christ showed His Father respect at every turn always doing those things that please Him, and praying to His Father often while doing His Father’s business. Finally, Christ abode as a good citizen even to the point of avoiding a revolt that would have made Him an earthly king. He also paid taxes to avoid offending others, while also not assailing the high priest even when the high priest was wrong for trying Him in the kangaroo court brought against Him. His conduct was pristine, even when those around Him were handling Him wrongfully. Friends, why should we seek for less? Let us be up and about in the Master’s good way.