Peter makes a rather interesting statement in 1 Peter 2:12. He says, 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. As I read that verse recently, I struggled to understand what Peter was saying due to the difficulties surrounding the meaning of “good works”. What did Peter mean?
To start negatively, let’s try to understand what Peter did not mean. Despite what my traditionally conservative south might want, “good deeds” does not mean abstaining from dancing, secular music, tobacco or alcohol. These are not, and should not, be considered Christian distincives. That’s not to say arguments might not be made as to why a Christian should abstain from certain things. There certainly are contexts and times that deem abstinence from any number of things wise. Rather, what I’m trying to say is that there are “good deeds” southern Christianity emphasizes which do not cross an unbelievers mind as unique. There are non-Christians who refrain from alcohol, dancing, or whatever else you might think socially questionable for many reasons. That’s nothing shocking. On the flip side, there are Christians who understand their liberty in faith in such a way that allows them to drink alcohol, dance, etc. My point here is to refocus proper understanding of “good deeds”.
Peter probably doesn’t mean religious “good deeds” either. Let me explain. Could Peter mean law keeping? Do you think the world sees Sabbath observance as reasons for glorifying God? Does the world see honesty, honor of parents, control of anger, etc. as a reason to glorify God? I would think not. I bet you are like me in that you know some really honest, honoring and self-controlled non-Christians. Even religious ideas are not in view here. So, what is?
What work could these “good deeds” be except love for our neighbor, whether friend or enemy? I’d say especially our enemy. This is the “good deed” that’s centrally important. One reason I believe this is so is because the letter gives a significant clue earlier in 1 Peter. 1 Peter 1:22 says,”Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart…” Notice the flow? Obedience to something for what purpose? Answer: sincere brotherly love. This should not come as a surprise. God is love (1 John 4:8). God’s love absolutely includes enemies (Rom. 5:1-9). Jesus said the world will know we are His disciples by the way we love (John 13:35). And, Paul said without love, we are nothing (1 Cor. 13). Love, for friend and foe, is the supreme Christian ethic.
Writing this is convicting because I don’t love like Scripture calls Christians to love. I know this to be true. I think I act more like an “ingrown” Christian. My pastor preach Jonah 1 today in a way I have never heard it put. He described how easy it is for God’s people to get their eyes off the need of the world (most important need being the gospel!) and on to “doing religion.” Religion, after all, is safer than loving the world. The world is a dangerous place. You can get seriously hurt in the world. Yet, that’s exactly where we are called to go. Whether we are called to go to Nineveh, a major city in the Assyrian empire (a not so popular empire amongst the Israelites), Thailand, Honduras, NYC or Tennessee, the call of the Christian is to make disciples. In order to make someone a disciple, they likely are currently a “non-disciple”. That means they may be outside the walls of the church. And that means we can’t worry anymore about “doing religion”. I’m becoming more convinced that programs, building amenities, sound of the band or whatever else churches might have as an advantage are not what really draw people. I think it’s the people, and they way they love their neighbors.
The way we love is central to our confession of Christ to the world. The world is not impressed by theological in-fighting, name calling, sheep stealing, or whatever term you can think of. The world will glorify God when we love in such a way that no other explanation than the grace, mercy and love of God can be found.
May the Lord do what only He can do. May He by the Holy Spirit love us so much that our natural response is to love others as we have been loved.