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1 Peter 2:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
16 Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a cover for evil, but live as slaves of God.
Live as free men. That is, they were to consider themselves as freemen, as having a right to liberty. The Jews boasted much of their freedom and regarded it as a birthright privilege that they were free, John 8:33. They never willingly acknowledged their subjection to any other power but claimed it as an elementary idea of their civil constitution that God only was their Sovereign. They were indeed conquered by the Romans and paid tribute, but they did it because they were compelled to do it, and it was even a question much debated among them whether they should do it or not, Matt. 22:17. Josephus has often referred to the fact that the Jews rebelled against the Romans under the plea that they were a free people, and that they were subject only to God. This idea of essential freedom the Jews had when they became Christians and everything in Christianity tended to inspire them with the love of liberty. They who were converted to the Christian faith, whether from among the Jews or the Gentiles, were made to feel that they were the children of God; that his law was the supreme rule of their lives; that in the ultimate resort, they were subject to him alone; that they were redeemed, and that, therefore, the yoke of bondage could not be properly imposed on them; that God ‘had made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth,’ (Acts 17:26;) and that, therefore, they were on a level before him. The meaning here is, that they were not to consider themselves as slaves or to act as slaves. In their subjection to civil authority, they were not to forget that they were freemen in the highest sense and that liberty was an invaluable blessing. They had been made free by the Son of God, John 8:32, 36. They were free from sin and condemnation. They acknowledged Christ as their supreme Head, and the whole spirit and tendency of his religion prompted to the exercise of freedom. They were not to submit to the chains of slavery, not to allow their consciences to be bound, or their essential liberty to be interfered with; nor in their subjection to the civil magistrate were they ever to regard themselves otherwise than as freemen. As a matter of fact, Christianity has always been the friend and promoter of liberty. Its influence emancipated the slaves throughout the Roman Empire, and all the civil freedom which we enjoy and which there is in the world can be traced to the influence of the Christian religion. To spread the gospel in its purity everywhere would be to break every yoke of oppression and bondage and to make men everywhere free. It is the essential right of every man who is a Christian to be a freeman—to be free to worship God; to read the Bible; to enjoy the avails of his own labor; to train up his children in the way in which he shall deem best; to form his own plans of life, and to pursue his own ends, provided only that he does not interfere with the equal rights of others—and every system which prevents this, whether it be that of civil government, of ecclesiastical law, or of domestic slavery, is contrary to the religion of the Savior.
Yet without using your freedom as a cover for evil. Marg., as in Greek, having. Not making your freedom a mere pretext under which to practice all kinds of evil. The word rendered maliciousness—κακία—means more than our word maliciousness does, for it denotes evil of any kind, or all kinds. The word maliciousness refers rather to enmity of heart, ill-will, an intention to injure. The apostle has reference to an abuse of freedom, which has often occurred. The pretense of those who have acted in this manner has been that the freedom of the gospel implied deliverance from all kinds of restraint; that they were under no yoke, and bound by no laws; that, being the children of God, they had a right to all kinds of enjoyment and indulgence; that even the moral law ceased to bind them, and that they had a right to make the most of liberty in all respects. Hence, they have given themselves up to all sorts of sensual indulgence, claiming exemption from the restraints of morality as well as of civil law, and sinking into the deepest abyss of vice. Not a few have done this who have professed to be Christians, and, occasionally, a fanatical sect now appears who make the freedom which they say Christianity confers a pretext for indulgence in the most base and degrading vices. The apostles saw this tendency in human nature, and in nothing are they more careful than to guard against this abuse.
But live as slaves of God. Not free from all restraint; not at liberty to indulge in all things but bound to serve God in the faithful obedience of his laws. Thus bound to obey and serve him, they could not be at liberty to indulge in those things which would be in violation of his laws and which would dishonor him. See 1 Cor. 7:22; 9:21.
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews
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