The “builders” rejected God’s “cornerstone,” which became to them a “stone of stumbling” (1 Peter 2:6–8). This stumbling occurred because they “disobey the word” (v. 8). However, the obedient were found to be “a people for his own possession” (v. 9). Thus, Peter instructs them on how to live as the people of God in a pagan world (vv. 11–17). “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” (v. 12). Gentiles (Gk., ethnos) refers to people groups who do not worship the true God (Deut. 32:8, 9).
Believers are to live life in keeping with God’s reputation. That is what it means to be honorable (Gk., kalos, “powerful,” “vigorous,” “excellent”). To be kalos is to have everything in proper order; thus, to reflect God’s character. This is important when believers are maligned as offenders. The accusations come because Christ is offensive to pagan principles. If one claims to be a Christ follower but is not spoken against, he is not living the Christ-life. The obstruction to his witness may be that his soul has surrendered to his fleshly passions, obscured his calling (v. 11). The Lord gave the Holy Spirit to believers in order for them to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in every situation of life (Gal. 5:22–26), especially when they are reviled (1 Pet. 2:23; Matt. 5:11).
The obligation of God’s people living among the pagans is to be a witness against them on judgment day because those being judged will have no excuse. They will have seen a Christ-like proper response (Gk., kalos ergon, how one does excellence) to their malicious accusations, forcing them to “glorify God”—to reluctantly admit that the Lord is just in their condemnation.
What follows in the next verses is instruction on how to live honorably in an evil culture. First, believers must be law-abiding citizens. They are to submit to every God-ordained human institution for the Lord’s sake, and this submission includes authorities at every level (v. 13). God instituted human authority for the welfare of the race by encouraging good behavior in a fallen world (Rom. 13:1–7). Remember, Peter wrote this instruction during the reign of Nero and with considerable personal experience in persecution (Acts 4:19; 5:29). The principle here is that authorities must be obeyed except when they claim for themselves what belongs only to God.
It is God’s will that believers’ doing good—properly responding to reviling—foolish ignorance (used only twice in the NT, meaning the willful rejection of the Word of God, 1 Cor. 15:34) will be silenced. The foolish are those who deny God any place in their scheme of life (2 Pet. 3:5, 8). The truth is self-evident but is overlooked when people refuse to investigate the facts (Acts 26:26).
Second, believers are to live free by not covering up evil (v. 16). Freedom is not the absence of restraint but willing submission to God’s plan to restore true liberty in Christ. Ironically, this freedom is enjoyed by those who become the slaves of God, not self (Rom. 6:16, 17).