THE SHORT PARAGRAPH 1 PETER 2:13-17 is filled with moral admonitions found elsewhere in the New Testament. In today's meditation I shall briefly clarify the main points and observe the supporting themes around the paragraph.
First, like Paul in Romans 13, Peter tells his readers to submit to every properly constituted human authority, and to do so "for the Lord's sake" (1 Pet. 2:13-14). Implicitly, Peter acknowledges that such human authorities were set up by God, and their proper function (or at least one of them) is to foster justice. Second, it is always God's will that Christians by doing good "should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men" (1 Pet. 2:15). Behavior stamped by courtesy, respect, and integrity is not itself preaching the Gospel, but it wins a hearing for the Gospel, simultaneously preparing a way for it and authorizing it. Third, our freedom from the law-covenant must never become an excuse for licentiousness: "live as servants of God" (1 Pet. 2:16). Finally, it is always right and good to show proper respect to everyone. Everyone is made in the image of God. But what "proper" means may take on different overtones with different ranks: "Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king" (1 Pet. 2:17).
The surrounding verses provide support for this outlook. (a) Christians are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God," their very existence designed to declare the praise of the One who called them "out of darkness and into his wonderful light" (1 Pet. 2:9). The transformation of Christians' conduct is the attestation that they really do belong to God (1 Pet. 2:10, 25). (b) This also means that we no longer belong to the world. Here we live "as aliens and strangers" (1 Pet. 2:11). If we do not think in those terms, but are frankly comfortable with the world and its ways, we ought to question whether or not we really belong to the "people belonging to God." This is the assumption Peter makes when he writes, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Pet. 2:12). (c) If any of this involves hardship or suffering---as it especially did in the case of slaves who belonged to cruel and unjust masters---we can never forget that we follow a Master who himself suffered most unjustly. No moral value attaches to suffering what we deserve; we show ourselves to be followers of Jesus Christ when we suffer unjustly and endure it faithfully. "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1 Pet. 2:21).