What does 1 Peter chapter 2 mean?How Christians live on this side of eternity does, in fact, matter. First Peter 1 established who we are as God's people, through faith in Christ. It described why believers are called by God to lead holy lives, different from those in the world around us. God has set us aside for a different purpose. Peter now begins to get specific about what that looks like in our day-to-day reality.
He begins by telling Christians to put away some specific negative attitudes and actions. Instead, we are to grow our appetite for the pure spiritual food available in Jesus. Why does that matter? Because Jesus is the long-prophesied cornerstone, or foundation stone, in the new spiritual house which God is building. Jesus is the chosen and precious one. Those who trust in Him are also living stones in this house. They are a holy priesthood, each one, serving in the house with a responsibility to offer themselves as spiritual sacrifices.
Those who reject Christ are destined to stumble over Him, but those who trust in Him will receive honor with Him. We have been called out of the darkness that all others remain in, and into God's light. So then, it matters all the more that we lead good lives now. Not because we might lose God's mercy—we will not—but because we represent Him to the world around us. Peter insists that we must change our understanding of where "home" is. We must begin to see ourselves as foreigners in the world, preparing to leave to be with our Father.
It's not easy to live that way. In Christ, we have been forgiven for our sin, and we have been freed from sin's power to tempt us to do evil. But we still want to sin. The desire to do wrong wages war against our souls. We must engage in the battle with ourselves, now that we have the ability to win it.
One aspect of that battle with ourselves is submission to human authorities. Peter's readers at the time must have felt they had legitimate reasons to rebel against human leadership. When Peter likely wrote these words, the Roman emperor was Nero, an evil man who brutally killed Christians, among others. Many of the early Christians lived as slaves in the Roman world, some wickedly mistreated by harsh masters.
Surely being free in Christ gave Christians the right to rebel against unworthy human authority, didn't it? Peter says no. To be free in Christ means that we have a higher authority, God Himself. God's will for His people is to submit to our human authorities—not out of fear of them or because of loyalty to a man or the state—but to freely give respect and honor to all for Christ's sake.
So Peter is clear: Christians must submit to every human authority, whether the emperor, the governor, or the slave master. This does not mean "obeying" all that human authority tells us (Acts 5:29). It does mean accepting the consequences of obeying God, rather than men. Nor does Peter endorse slavery or the mistreatment of slaves and servants. Rather, he tells Christian slaves how God wants them to endure unjust suffering.
Going further, Peter says that all Christians are called to suffer for doing good. That's what Christ, our example, did for us when He suffered on the cross. He did not retaliate or threaten. He endured the pain and sadness of His suffering and took our sins on Himself, dying the death we deserved. We didn't ask Him to do it, but we would still be lost sheep if He had not. Because He did, we are under the protection and care of our shepherd and Lord.