In 1949, after watching the national socialism of Hitler wreak havoc on the world and beginning to see the Marxist Communist destruction of Stalin, George Orwell wrote his last novel entitled 1984. He died less than a year later. This dystopian novel became required reading in many schools throughout the Western world. Orwell is still held up as a prophetic hero, interestingly, by a variety of groups. Political progressives hold him up as a hero because at one point he called himself a national socialist, and political conservatives hold him up as a hero because he was a fanatical, a defender of free speech.
The main character in the novel 1984 is Winston Smith. He is thirty-nine. He works for the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history to conform to Newspeak, which is the official language of Oceania. Who controls the past controls the future, Winston is taught. Every move he makes is under the watchful eye of Big Brother, the leader of the Thought Police. Posters are everywhere — “Big Brother is watching you.” Even in his home the tele-screen is always on. This is 1949. The tele-screen is always on. It’s not allowed to be turned off. It can be dimmed. But Winston never knew when someone would be listening or watching him. People who questioned the party simply disappeared, vaporized in body and memory. Inconvenient truths were placed in the “memory hole,” gone forever.
The story of 1984 basically revolves around Winston’s longing to find other people who have a hunger for freedom as he does. He stumbles into a relationship with Julia, who works for the Fiction Department. They begin to meet secretly. They use an upper room provided by a sweet old man named Mr. Charrington, and through a trusted coworker named O’Brien, they join the Brotherhood, which is a secret revolutionary movement that supposedly will unite them with other people who hunger for freedom. But during one of their secret meetings, they are arrested, and they find out that Mr. Charrington is actually a member of the Thought Police, and that O’Brien does not belong to the Brotherhood, a group that probably doesn’t exist, but he is actually a leader in the inner party, who tortures Winston until he eventually loves Big Brother.
The story ends with Winston and Julia betraying one another and living in compliance with the party. It’s a happy tale. No, it is not. It is a very dark, hauntingly hopeless story, but its primary message is quite obvious — Beware of totalitarianism. Never take your freedom for granted. And the value that Orwell places on things like history and speech and meaning are still relevant for us today. Let me just give you one example.
Not long ago, there was a Twitter war where several Harvard Ph.D. candidates were trying to convince the world that 2 + 2 could equal 5. Their goal was to counter racism, and they were assuming that the truth that 2 + 2 = 4 is actually part of the hegemonic narrative, the dominant narrative that oppresses and is just an imperialistic relic. And the goal is if you can get people to question what they think they know is fact, then you can get them to believe anything, if 2 + 2 can equal 5. During this Twitter war, someone reminded them that George Orwell predicted this exact scenario, that the Thought Police would try to convince you and even said 2 + 2 = 5. The Ph.D. candidates said this was unfortunate.
But beyond warning against the dangers of totalitarianism, 1984 also provides a less obvious warning against what I would call “fake freedom.” Let me give you an example from the book. Winston and Julia’s relationship is held up as a rebellion against the all-encompassing authority of the party. So, they begin to meet secretly, and they make clear that their relationship is not based on love, but, in Orwell’s words, animal instinct or simple, undifferentiated desire. Their sexual relationship is actually described as a political act in the name of pursuing freedom.
Now, I think Orwell is trying to illustrate that totalitarianism contaminates everything. But purposely or inadvertently, he also is illustrating the way … When we feel out of control, we try to do something that gives us a sense of control. Anybody have a toddler? You say, “You need to share your toy,” and there are some toddlers that would rather break their toy than share their toy. “I’ll show you. I’ll break it.” And as we get older, we do the same kinds of things, controlling what goes in our body or out of our body, eating or not eating, controlling what we do in secret, what we read, what we imagine, creating worlds where we’re in control.
Peter is writing to a group he defines as exiles, a group of people, Christians who certainly did not feel in control. And what he’s doing in this section is showing us a better way, a way to respond that doesn’t just lead to more bondage, but a way to respond that actually leads to true freedom. How do we know he’s doing that? Look at verse 16, 1 Peter 2:16.
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
Now, that word “freedom,” “eleutheria,” is only used two times in Peter’s letters. Let me show you the other time he uses it. In 2 Peter 2, in verse 18, he describes the false teachers as enticing
“by sensual passions of the flesh,”
and then verse 19, here is our word,
“They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that, he is enslaved.”
Peter is saying there is a way that has a billboard called “freedom” that actually leads back into bondage. And there is a way toward true freedom that actually liberates soul and ultimately body.
Remember last week we saw how Peter is training the exiles to know what it means to be truly free, truly who he made us to be. Quick review if you didn’t get to see that. Four questions exiles ask, chapter 2:9-12, “Who were we?” And in these four verses he answers, darkness, we were darkness, we were not a people, we had not received mercy.
“Who are we?” We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own position. God’s people receive mercy. We are called beloved.
“Where do we belong?” As sojourners and exiles, we do not pretend that this world is our home.
Number four, “What do we do?” To stay faithful and free, we do three things. Verse 9, proclaim his excellencies; verse 11, wage war on sinful passions; and verse 12, live honorably and generously. Verse 12,
“that they may see your good deeds and glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Now, that raises a huge question. That’s where we ended last week. And you could imagine the exiles saying, “Peter, you make it sound so easy. Oh, yeah, just do good deeds. People will see the good deeds, and they’ll glorify God. Right. Do you realize how corrupt our politicians are? Do you realize how unjust our society is? My slave master — many were slaves — my boss … Do you realize how hard friendships, marriages are to maintain in this culture?”
And so, what Peter is going to do, having described, this is our calling as exiles! This is who we are, he’s going to now give case studies in real life. In the midst of real difficulty, how do you live this out? He’s going to give us the key to living this out as exiles. How do we live good lives in the middle of so much bad?
Before we look at that answer, let’s look quickly at structure. Where is he heading? He seems to use a chiasm. I’ve adapted this from Joel Green. A chiasm is a literary device, basically the left side of an X, where you have instruction for everyone, specifically focusing on politics in 13 through 17, then instruction for servants, focusing on work, and then the heart of this. And that’s where the chiasm goes to the central point, the example of Jesus and then back out to instruction for couples (it’s focusing on the home) and then instruction for everyone living in this culture. So, Lord willing, we’ll cover the first three today and then the fourth next week and then the fifth the following week.
Now, at first glance, Peter seems to be capitulating, advocating totalitarianism. Look at the commands. Verse 13,
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust.”
He almost sounds like O’Brien in 1984, where O’Brien made the statement,
“Submission is the price of sanity.”
If you want to keep your mind, you must submit. Is that what Peter’s saying? No. How do we know?
The key to understanding these commands … Please, get this, or the rest of the message will not make sense. The key to understanding the commands are the qualifying statements that surround them. Let me show you a few examples. Verse 13,
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake.”
“for this is the will of God.”
I don’t do this often, but I actually highlighted all of these in these sections because it goes all throughout this whole section, for the Lord’s sake. Verse 15, “for this is the will of God.”
“living as servants of God.”
“when mindful of God.”
“in the sight of God.”
“for to this you have been called.”
By whom? By God. And then he gives the example of Christ as the basis, and then he just keeps going. He does this all the way through marriage and then to everyone. We’ll see this as we work through this.
Quick comment on mindfulness. Mindfulness, the word “mindfulness,” is quite fashionable today, and it typically has two components: awareness and acceptance. Awareness — when people talk about mindfulness, usually they’re saying, “Be aware of your breathing, of your body, of your emotions, of your thoughts, and be where you are. Be present.” You know how many of us … We’re somewhere, but we’re imagining, “Can’t wait till this. Want to be here. Wish I didn’t do this.” We have a hard time — this is mindfulness arguing — we have a hard time being present. So, then it is acceptance. It’s awareness and then acceptance. In other words, non-judgmentalism — try to be where you are without critiquing or constantly regretting.
This first came through Buddhist philosophy, through the idea of detachment that culminates in enlightenment. But in the 1970s, the medical community morphed this into a stress-reduction technique, often called MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction). But today you’ll hear everybody — athletes, educators, business leaders — talk about regulating emotions and increasing awareness. Now the Bible emphasizes the importance of self-awareness. It constantly warns us against thinking you are something you are not, the danger of not truly being aware, warnings against delusion and self-deception. And it also calls us to … Usually the word is contentment. Be present and content with what God has given you.
But the danger with the mindfulness movement as a whole is it is self-referential. It begins and ends in itself and therefore is delusional ultimately because it’s acting as if you are an entity here, who created yourself and will ultimately be accountable to yourself. That’s delusion. You were not made by you. You were made by your creator, and you will ultimately give account to your creator. So, true mindfulness, yes, includes being aware and being content.
But it goes far beyond that. For example, in Psalm 139,
“You discern my thoughts.”
The reason I can know my thoughts is because they are known. I am known. And the most precious thing about me is what God thinks, not what I conjure up. So, it’s completely flipped, biblical mindfulness.
And I believe the Spirit has a message for us today from 1 Peter 2 and 3 that will flow into the next few weeks that we could call “Christian mindfulness.” And that’s what Peter is getting at in verse 19, “when mindful of God” and many of these other references. And he’s going to use two of the most difficult situations you could imagine to communicate what it means to live Christian mindfulness.
So, two case studies. Number 1 is political leaders. And the goal is to see the difference between a kind of submission that leads back into bondage and a kind of submission that leads to true freedom and how Christian mindfulness is the intersection that will determine which way you’re going to go.
1 Peter 2:13,
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”
Who was in charge of Rome when Peter wrote this letter? Anybody have any ideas? Nero. Now, Nero began reigning when he was sixteen. He died at thirty. He reigned from A.D. 54 to 68. When he was thirty, the Senate declared him to be a public enemy, and so, he committed suicide. Although he accomplished some great building feats, he is generally known as an extremely cruel, erratic ruler. He executed his own mother, killed two of his wives. There are many other horrific, immoral things he did. We don’t know how many of those we can believe because he was the last of his dynasty. So, the dynasties after that did paint him, probably if it’s possible, in a worse picture than he actually was. But what we know is bad enough.
So, this raises huge questions about these commands. Look at verse 13. Focus on the commands, “Be subject.” That’s a tough one for Americans. Verse 17,
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Why is Peter calling Christians to submit to and honor corrupt leaders like Nero? Is he promoting totalitarianism? Was Peter part of the Thought Police? No, he explains why. Look at verse 15,
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
So, Peter is saying if you’re in exile, you’re going to be surrounded by, and he uses the word “ignorance.” In the Greek “agnosia” is where we get our word “agnostic” from. It’s not a slam on anybody’s intelligence. What it is is a lack of spiritual perception.
Paul amplifies on this in Ephesians 4:17-18, and Peter is arguing that when you live free, respecting leaders you don’t necessarily agree with without losing your conscience, you are undermining the best argument agnostics have against you. What does he mean by that? Contrary to what is often said, most spiritual agnostics are not in the place they are because they lack intellectual argumentation. You just got to get a zinger, and they’ll be convinced! Peter said, “no, no, no.” He is saying there is a way of living that will help tear down their arguments faster than a way of speaking. Now, he’s not against speaking or using logic. You’ll see. Look, for example, in the next chapter, verse 15,
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
But he can’t even leave this out, even when he’s talking about making a defense, look what he adds,
“yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
In other words, the way you live and the way you talk will help tear down the arguments of spiritual agnostics faster than anyone.
I have been super blessed by a man in our church who has served faithfully in our military, loves our country. In 2017, he became a follower of Jesus. And he began to feel the tension that all followers of Jesus will experience between his passionate patriotism and his worship of Jesus. And he describes what that tension looks like and also the tension he began to feel toward other Christians who hold different political views than he holds and how that causes deep confliction. You think, well, what do I do in that situation? Listen to what he wrote recently.
“In order to deal with this personal conflict, I start with prayer.”
Now, stop. Don’t just skim over that. That’s what Peter is talking about. You’re in the midst of this situation that feels very wrong. Where do you begin? When mindful of God, I start with prayer. I go to God first.
“Acknowledging that God’s plan is perfect, I rest in the fact that He is in control of all people, all countries, and all governments. As I grow in my faith, I feel my response is first, show the love of God to people. My hope comes from knowing God is in control, and his plan is perfect.”
That is what Peter is talking about. Now, don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t mean you don’t have any political convictions. “I don’t care if we have slavery in our country. I’m a Christian.” Or “I don’t care if babies are killed. I’m a follower of Jesus. I don’t get involved in that.” No, that’s asinine. You don’t flush your convictions. But where do you begin? What Peter is saying is if you don’t begin being mindful of God, whatever response you have, no matter how patriotic it may be, it’s going to be wrong, and in the end, it could cause far more damage than benefit. When mindful of God. This doesn’t mean you flush your political convictions. It doesn’t mean you’re not politically engaged. It doesn’t mean you don’t confront evil. It changes the way you do it.
Now, I want us to all just for a moment to imagine this because there’s a kind of freedom here that some of us have not tasted, but it flows directly from what we talked about last week. When you feed on, you wake up in the morning to the steadfast love of Jesus, and you realize what it’s like to not be a people and now be a people and not have received mercy and now receive mercy. Then you can look at people whom you differ with on almost every major issue, and you can honestly from your heart say, “there is nothing you can do that can make me not love you.” Nothing. Look what Jesus did for me! What a jerk! I should be in hell right now. How can I not love you? How can I receive that kind of love and not show it no matter how we differ? It doesn’t mean I’m not going to communicate my political convictions. That’s not what Peter is saying. Peter is not saying submission means abandon truth. No! But there is a kind of freedom when God’s people realize nobody can make me not love them. I wouldn’t recommend saying, “Try.” But no one can make me not love them. That’s case study number 1.
Case study number 2, he talks about unjust masters. Verse 18,
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust. [Notice he’s getting rid of all the wiggle room.] 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.”
Now, this passage raises huge questions like “Is the Bible pro-slavery?” Years ago, when we were doing Ask a Pastor videos, someone sent in the question, “Does the Bible condone slavery?” and we did a little video, just about seven minutes. So, to save us a few minutes, you can tap into that QR code or whatever those are called, and there’s the website below. So, doesn’t answer everything, but it gets at some things we’re not going be able to touch on this morning.
But I want us to focus in on this part of that question. Why does Peter command servants to respect their masters? Slavery was everywhere in the Roman Empire. There were really poor slaves. There were really wealthy slaves. Many slaves in that culture were professionals. People often sold themselves into slavery in order to pay off debts. Slavery was not race based, nor multigenerational, but it could be horrific, and often in Rome there were more slaves than free people. And so, slave revolts were common.
Shortly after Peter wrote these words, Spartacus, this is about eight or nine years later, Spartacus led tens of thousands. [Picture of movie character shown] It’s an actual picture of Spartacus. He led tens … I think the estimates are between fifty and ninety thousand slaves in revolt. I mean, they set up their own mini cities and created their own weapons and, horrifically, went throughout the countryside just raping, pillaging, murdering people — such a tragic example of fighting injustice with more injustice! But they defeated several Roman legions, but eventually they were crushed. Thousands of them were slaughtered. Six thousand of them were crucified.
Right before Peter wrote this letter, a slave in Rome killed his master, and there was a law in Rome that if a slave killed the master, all the other slaves were required to protect the master’s life. If they didn’t, they would be killed as well. So, in that one household, there were four hundred slaves. Most of them didn’t even know what was happening, and they were all killed.
So, as Peter’s writing these exiles, many of whom might be slaves, he could be Spartacus. I mean, he knew how to wield the sword and cut off an ear. He could have come from that approach, but he didn’t. He is saying, “I want to create a kind of slave revolt that is actually transformative.” Look at verse 19.
“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God”
God is up to something here. Verse 20,
“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
This is what we mean when we talk about Christian mindfulness. It doesn’t mean you never go and look for a new job. It doesn’t mean you ignore abuse at work, or you never report an abuser. That is not what he’s saying. This isn’t advocating a kind of vocational Stockholm syndrome. (What is Stockholm syndrome? When someone develops positive feelings toward their abuser.) This is not what this is talking about.
What is Peter getting at? You could say it this way. There is no calling for a Christian that doesn’t include some kind of suffering. Or put it in a question. Do you see suffering as a calling? Every kind of calling will come with a particular kind of suffering. Christian mindfulness actually transforms suffering into a calling. Verse 21,
“For to this you have been called.”
And I know there are perversions of this. I’m not talking about those.
Paul Tripp in his book Lead — our elders are going through that slowly this year at the beginning of our elder meetings, just kind of looking at our own hearts — he has a section where he talks about the call to ministry is the call to suffer, and he quotes James 3:1,
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
And then he writes this:
“In reality, when God gives you ministry and leadership gifts, he is calling you to be willing to suffer. Because of your gifts … You will suffer a kind and severity of temptation that others don’t face. You will suffer dangerous adulation and harsh criticism. You will be tempted to neglect your personal devotional life. You will be tempted to neglect the private ministry of marriage, family, and friendship. You will be tempted to be demanding, irritable, and impatient with people … who happen to be in the way of what you want. You will be tempted to confuse your giftedness with your level of spiritual maturity.”
And the point here is not oh, the call of ministry is way harder than any other calling. No, every calling carries with it different kinds of suffering. Think of any calling. Moms … There are intense sufferings that come with each kind, and blessings, that come with each calling. And that suffering that comes with that calling can either lead toward crushing defeatism, hopelessness, bondage, or it can lead into real freedom that is not dependent on your circumstances or how well things are going. And the thing that makes the difference is what Peter is talking about, Christian mindfulness.
Well, we’re left with the question, “Well then, how do we do this?” And here at the end, Peter, in the middle of what he’s talking about, says our calling is both illustrated and activated. First, illustrated, verse 21,
“leaving you an example so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but he continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
That’s just another way of saying he was mindful of God.
And Jesus is not saying to us this morning, “Hey, I gave you an example. It’s your turn now to prove yourself.” No! Look what he goes on to say. This kind of living is not just illustrated by Jesus. It is activated by Jesus. Look at verse 24,
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
Jesus is saying I’ve washed you clean. In me, you have died to live. You have been healed. And now I Peter 1:22. You are empowered to love earnestly.
Where do we go from here? This week, I want you to wrestle with one question — What’s on your mind? What’s on your mind? When you read a news story and you feel your body temperature going up, be aware. When you feel anxious, fearful, when someone at work is trying to convince you that 2 + 2 = 5, when political leaders say things that are not true and do things that you feel like are going to bring great harm, when your boss has done something that is not fair. Next week we’ll bring it even closer in the home. Here’s what we mean by “what’s on your mind?” — where does your mind go first? Now, we all know where our minds go first naturally. Peter’s calling us to a new way of thinking and living. And so, to do like I quoted earlier, I want to learn to pray about that news story before I respond. I need your grace, Lord, to be mindful of God. Some of us, our political lives are completely divorced from our walk with Jesus. Some of us, our vocational lives, at work, we’re a different kind of person. It’s no wonder agnostics say, “Hmm. Really? Really?”
So, Christian mindfulness is, yes, you’re in tune with your fears and your anxieties, you’re aware of your thinking — you want to take someone out, you want to straighten them out, you want to give them a piece of your mind — you’re aware of all that, but you don’t stop there. You notice what happens when I’m aware of God’s presence. For the Lord’s sake, for this is the will of God, living as servants of God, fear God. Fear God means you’re taking all of your big things in your world and you’re bringing them into his holy presence, being mindful of God, praying first, loving first. You cannot do anything to make me not love you. Let’s pray.
Father, our work is cut out for us. We just want to acknowledge we can’t do this. We can’t live this way. And so, we present ourselves as living sacrifices to you, Lord. You are the way to true freedom, and we need you. Help us now. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.