Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Good Conduct, Good Deeds, Good Works (part 4)

So when Peter speaks of good conduct and good deeds, he is not necessarily speaking about refraining from activities that the Christian community looks down upon, but instead he is speaking the language of self-sacrificial love.  For that reason, as does Paul, in dealing with the ramifications of their substantial claim on Jesus’ behalf and of what is going to be learned through their table fellowship, Peter instructs this church (who are most likely hearing this letter read to them in the setting that would be most conducive to such things---the acted out messianic banquet of the church’s meal table) to “Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good” (2:13-14).  This is language that is practically identical to what is to be found in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, which is highly instructive when it comes to the church’s interaction with and for the world. 

Whether Peter was influenced by Paul or Paul was influenced by Peter, the point is that both were influenced by the demands of the reality of the kingdom of Israel’s God that was actualized at the Resurrection of Jesus.  In Romans, Christian love (along with concerns about the meal table) bracket Paul’s concern for interaction with governing authorities, as the church functions in its ambassadorial role, declaring “So now, you kings, do what is wise; you rulers of the earth, submit to correction!  Serve the Lord in fear!  Repent in terror!  Give sincere homage!” (Psalm 2:10-12a).  It is no different for Peter, with this fact continuing to demonstrate how incredibly large looms the meal table for the early Christian communities---as it should through all of time. 

Peter continues, writing “For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good” (2:15).  Taken together with the “those who do good” of the fourteenth verse, Peter is here reinforcing the need for public benefaction, as this is what such words implied when used in that day.  Most believers, with the overt suggestion and experience of Christianity as intensely personal (and it is, but the only reason for it be intensely personal is so that it may be intensely social in demonstration that the kingdom of heaven has invaded this world and that Jesus is its Sovereign), are accustomed to reading “good deeds,” “good works,” and “doing good,” as either the avoidance of that which is considered to be “bad deeds,” or in the Reformation-oriented paradigm of the doing of good works for the purpose of earning salvation. 

Therefore, an over-compensating reaction attempts to smooth out this supposed wrinkle in the Scriptural witness by saying “No, we don’t do good works to earn salvation, we do good works as a response to God’s having saved us” (which is true), with all of this colored by a mis-guided notion about what is meant by the “works of the law” and the way that those “works of the law” functioned in the days of Jesus, Peter, and Paul. 

It takes a bit of work to discover that the language of good deeds, in this context, is truly about seeking to do what is best for the communities in which the believers lives.  In general, believers have no problem extending helping hands “to those who belong to the family of faith” (Galatians 6:10b), but often forget the attitude that was basic for those who understood themselves to be the harbingers and representatives of a real and present kingdom, which was that “whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people” (6:10a), while finding that there is a natural inclination to do good for those with whom one shares a meal.  This is what truly allows the people of the Creator God to function as a light to all peoples, fomenting a desire to become aligned with this movement of cosmic reconciliation, and in so doing bring glory to the God of the universe. 

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