Suffering for Doing Good (1 Peter 3:13-17)Written by admin on Oct 14, 2018 in - No Comments
I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles once again to the book of 1 Peter. In our time together this morning we are going to cover 1 Peter 3:13-17. If you do not have a Bible with you today, I invite you to make use of one of the pew Bibles where you will find this passage located on page 1016.
As American Christians, we have had the fortunate experience of living in a time and in a place where Christians have experienced very little, if any, real persecution. We have been part of the so-called “Western World,” that has for hundreds of years now, been very friendly toward, if not supportive of, the Christian faith and those who adhere to it. We have not only been able to gather and worship without fear, but we have been able to openly express and live according to our beliefs without very much pushback or resistance from society. And, I’m sure you saw the news yesterday that an American pastor who had been imprisoned in Turkey for two years was released because our government got involved and pressured Turkey to set him free. Yes, we really are in living in a place that is, for the most part, pretty friendly toward us as Christians.
But, we also need to understand that this has not always been the case for Christian people, and will not always be the case—in fact, it is not the case now for large numbers of Christians living in other parts of the world. If we look in our Bibles—which while not intended to be a history book does contain a lot of historical information—we can see that God’s people have frequently faced resistance and persecution for their faith. If we look at the New Testament, we can see that the Church was immediately opposed and that its members quickly encountered violent persecution. And, if we look at the end of the New Testament, specifically in the book of Revelation, we can see that persecution is something that the Church of Jesus Christ will endure until the end.
Now, we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. We shouldn’t be surprised because Jesus himself told us to expect persecution. And as much as we don’t like it, it seems that the opinions and attitudes of many people in this country and in other parts of the world that have been friendly toward Christianity are beginning to change. Yes, it seems very likely that some of us may live to see the day where it becomes truly difficult for us to live as Christians even in this part of the world. In fact, some of us have probably already experienced the cold shoulders, the hostile attitudes, and the mocking words of people who are opposed to our faith in Jesus Christ. And who knows how much longer it will be before that sort of thing, and worse, becomes the norm for us.
Now, my aim this morning is not to scare us into action or anything like that. I also don’t want to be a “chicken little” who shouts that the sky is falling when we don’t really know how things are going to play out in the short-term. But it is also my responsibility to prepare us for the reality that hostility and persecution for our faith is something that we just might have to endure at some point in our lives. Maybe not to a degree as severe as what others have endured and are enduring now—I do think we are a very long ways away from Christians being systematically arrested and physically harmed for following Jesus in this country. But, I think we ought to get prepared for more ridicule and social isolation when we publicly admit to being a follower of Jesus. And if this is the case, we also ought to take some time to think about how we should respond when that sort of thing begins to happen on a more regular basis.
Well in our passage for today, Peter begins to focus in on that sort of thing. Yes, beginning in 1 Peter 3:13, the primary concern of Peter’s letter shifts toward an explanation of the appropriate, Christian response toward hostility and persecution. In fact, this is the primary reason Peter wrote the whole letter. He wrote it to help these Christians learn how to live as exiles among people who did not share their faith and, thus, viewed Christians as strange and different, and sometimes displayed hostile attitudes and actions toward Christians as a result.
And since, in all likelihood, we are on the backside of this time in history where Christianity has been seen as normal and worth protecting in many parts of the world, the question we need to consider today is: Are we prepared to suffer a bit for our faith? And do we know how to respond when hostilities are directed our way?
Well, this morning, I want to help us with these questions by looking at seven truths about persecution and our Christian response to it. So if you haven’t already, please turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Peter 3, and follow along as I read verses 13 to 17.
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13–17 ESV)
Truth #1: It is difficult to persecute those who are genuinely committed to doing good.
So the first truth Peter shares with us about persecution in this passage is that it is difficult to persecute those who are genuinely committed to doing good. Yes, even though Peter was writing to people who had already endured some hostility and ridicule and persecution for their faith, in verse 13 he suggests that it should be pretty uncommon to experience persecution if you are genuinely committed to doing good in and for society. And I think that is probably even more true for us today.
So, what this means for us as twenty-first Christians is that we ought to be serious about doing good in this world. Fortunately, there is a great deal of overlap in what we believe is good and what society at large believes is good. Again, that was true for the original recipients of this letter, and it is true for us today. Remember, in the fourteenth verse from the previous chapter, Peter described human authorities as people who “punish those who do evil” and “praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14 ESV). And, as I mentioned in my last sermon, God has placed within all people a general understanding of what is good and what is evil. And so, there is a lot of overlap between what we believe to be good as Christians and what society at large believes is good. We certainly shouldn’t think that Christians alone are capable of doing good in the world. And this is even more true for us since we are living in a society that has been influenced to a large degree by the Christian faith. And while true followers of Jesus are on the decline in this country, our situation is nothing like the situation of the original recipients of this letter. Christians in that part of the world during the first century A.D. made up a very, very small minority of the overall population while Christians today are still a pretty large segment of our population.
So, for the most part, we ought to expect to be looked upon favorably by our unbelieving friends and neighbors when we do things that the Bible tells us are good. And, the truth is, whenever we are looked upon favorably as a result of the good people see us doing in the world, it really does make it more difficult for them to persecute or ridicule us for our faith. That is the first truth about persecution we see in this passage. That’s what Peter means in verse 13 when he says, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?”
Truth #2: But, even so, Christians who are committed to doing good sometimes end up being persecuted for their faith.
But, it is also true that Christians who are committed to doing good do sometimes end up being persecuted for their faith. That is the second truth we find in this passage. And we find it in verse 14 where Peter says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” Yes, in this verse, Peter acknowledges that it is, indeed, possible to suffer for doing good. While in the previous verse Peter suggested that, in general, those who do good in society will not be persecuted for their faith, in this verse, he does admit that there are exceptions to this rule. And we know there are exceptions to this rule because Christians are being persecuted all over the world at this very moment. And some of us are even beginning to experience this sort of thing in small ways right here.
So again, while it is difficult to persecute those who are genuinely committed to doing good, Christians who do good still sometimes end up being persecuted for their faith. That is the second truth Peter shares with us in this passage.
Truth #3: God promises to bless those who suffer for living out their faith.
But we also know, that God has promised to bless those who suffer for living out their faith. And, that is the third truth about persecution that Peter shares with us in this passage. As we have already seen in verse 14, Peter says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” And again, it is no surprise that Peter would say this, because Peter’s teacher, Jesus Christ, taught him this very thing. In Matthew 5, beginning in verse 10, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
So, do you see the similarity between what Jesus said and what Peter said? They are both talking about persecution for “righteousness’ sake” or for doing what is right and good. And Jesus went on to say,
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12 ESV)
So again, while we might face persecution and ridicule for our faith in this lifetime, God has promised a blessing for all who have to endure it. According to Jesus, even though we are persecuted, we are blessed because we are heirs to the kingdom of heaven. And even though we are persecuted, just like all the prophets before us have been persecuted, there is a reward waiting on us in heaven. Yes, regardless of what we have to go through on this earth for our faith, one day we will receive a great blessing. Not to mention the blessings we receive in this life knowing that we are pleasing to God and our consciences are clear—regardless of what the world has to say about us.
So again, the third truth about persecution that Peter shares with us in this passage is that God promises to bless those who suffer for living out their faith.
Truth #4: We do not need to fear those who persecute us.
Now, the fourth truth we find in this passage regarding hostility and persecution is that we do not need to fear those who persecute us. In the last part of verse 14 and into the first part of verse 15 Peter says, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”
Now, the truth is, it is difficult not to fear those who can harm you—whether that be physically, socially, or economically. But as Christians, we must listen to Jesus when he says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 ESV). And so, instead of allowing our attention and focus to be consumed by those who can do us harm on this earth, we focus our attention instead on Jesus Christ. Yes, as Peter says, we don’t allow our hearts to be consumed with worry over what might happen to us, instead, we set our hearts and thoughts upon honoring Christ the Lord as holy, and upon what he has guaranteed will happen to us as a result of following him. And, just as he is holy, we remain committed to being holy no matter what threats come our way. Again, this is not easy, but as Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 1:7, God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit “of power and love and self-control.”
Brothers and sisters, God is ultimately in control of our lives. Before we were ever born, he had already written down all the details of each day of our lives. And so, no matter what we are facing today, we do not have to fear, because God has always been and will always be in control. He’s in control of all the details, and those details include a wonderful future with him. And what this means, is that we have nothing to fear from persecution, because no matter how bad it gets, the kingdom of heaven is ours and the reward waiting on us there will be great and wonderful. Yes, if the worst thing someone can do is kill us, then we really don’t have anything to worry about. And that is why the fourth truth about persecution in this passage is that we do not need to fear those who persecute us.
Truth #5: Persecution for our faith often leads to opportunities for sharing our faith with others.
Now, the fifth truth Peter shares with us about persecution in this passage is one that we might not expect. Because the fifth truth about persecution is that persecution for our faith often leads to opportunities for sharing our faith with others. Interesting, isn’t it?
But, in verse 15, Peter tells us to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” In other words, when you are enduring persecution or hostility or ridicule for your faith and good deeds, and when you do so in such a way that it stands in stark contrast to the way others in society endure this sort of treatment, you shouldn’t be surprised when someone asks you about the hope that is within you. In fact, this has been a very common occurrence throughout history. And this is why the church is always growing the fastest in those places where persecution is the norm.
And so, in addition to making mental preparations for harsh treatment and ridicule, it is also important for you to be making preparations to answer questions like: “How are you able to endure unfair treatment in such a gracious way? What is the reason for the hope that is in you—the hope that keeps you from despairing when it seems like you should?” Yes, friends, the truth is persecution for our faith often leads to opportunities for sharing our faith with others. And we better be ready when those opportunities present themselves.
BUT… we also need to be prepared to do it in the right way. Yes, while Peter wants us to be able to give a defense for the hope we have in Christ, he is also concerned that we go about it in the right way. His concern, as it has been throughout the letter, is that we live in such a way in front of the unbelieving world that they are drawn to God through faith in Jesus Christ. But, if we respond in ways that are harsh and rude (as it would be easy to do), when we are given the opportunity to make a defense for the hope that is within us, Peter knows we are only going to push people further and further away from God. And that is why, after telling us to be prepared to offer a reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ, Peter tells us to “do it with gentleness and respect.” Do you see that at the end of verse 15?
Friends, truth is, you can ruin a well-presented defense of your faith with nothing more than your attitude and your tone. Yes, the truth is, a weak defense for your faith is easier to believe if the person making the defense is gentle, respectful, and obviously sincere in their belief. Remember, even though Peter tells us to be prepared to make a defense, we are not defending ourselves against opponents, we are trying to rescue prisoners of war with a gracious and kind explanation about why we have hope when in their mind we ought to be despairing.
So, let’s pause here for a minute and get honest with ourselves. Are you prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you? Be honest. Are you prepared to tell others about the hope you have because Jesus is a risen savior? In other words, are you prepared to articulate the basic tenets of the Christian faith?
Now, no one is saying that you have to be able to answer every question that someone might have about Christianity. And no one is saying that you need to have a degree in apologetics to properly defend your faith. In fact, the only question Peter says that you need to be prepared to answer, is the question: “What is the reason for the hope that is in you?” And every Christian ought to be able to answer that. Every Christian ought to be ready to say, “My hope is in Jesus Christ and in the eternal life he has secured for me through his resurrection.”
But being able to answer, and being prepared to answer are two different things, aren’t they? Being able to answer means knowing that the reason you have a hope that the world doesn’t have is because of your faith in Jesus Christ and his promises. But being prepared to answer means making up your mind in advance that when the opportunity comes, you are going to share your answer, no matter what it costs.
So, I want you to think about where you are at on that today. First of all, do you really understand what we are hoping in as Christians? Can you articulate that clearly? And second, are you ready and willing to do it when the opportunity arises—an opportunity that may even come because of harsh and unfair treatment for your faith? Because the fifth truth about persecution that Peter shares with us in this passage is that persecution for our faith often leads to opportunities for sharing our faith with others. And so, we better be ready.
Truth #6: Suffering for doing good brings shame upon our persecutors.
Now, the sixth thing we learn about persecution in this passage is that suffering for doing good brings shame upon our persecutors. Yes, when we are slandered for good behavior, when we are reviled for good behavior—while we may feel shame in the moment—it will ultimately bring shame to our accusers. Maybe they will be rebuked by others for slandering the character of a person who doesn’t deserve it? Maybe they will be rebuked by their own conscience as they further consider the character of the person they are reviling? Maybe they will be rebuked by their Creator on the day of judgment, bringing eternal shame upon them. This shame can come about in a lot of different ways, but remember, as I said earlier, it is difficult to persecute those who are seriously committed to doing good. And so, often, people who may not even agree with your beliefs will come to your defense when they see you being misrepresented and slandered. Yes, often God will even use unbelievers to come to your defense and shame those who are speaking about you in unfair ways. And, ironically, the shame that comes from persecuting a good person might just be what leads our persecutors to recognize their own need for Christ. And remember, that is our goal, right? To lead others to Christ—even if that means we must endure persecution.
So whenever you find yourself as the target of someone’s slanderous words, remind yourself that God may use their harsh treatment of you as a way to bring eye-opening shame into their heart—eye-opening shame that may open them up to the gospel. Again, the point is not that we come out on top and they finish embarrassed and ashamed. The goal is that they recognize their treatment of you as inappropriate, and are drawn to Christ as they consider your gracious behavior during the midst of their verbal onslaughts.
Truth #7: It is always better to suffer unjustly for doing good than it is to suffer justly for doing evil.
Now the seventh and final truth Peter shares about suffering in this passage is that it is always better to suffer unjustly for doing good than it is to suffer justly for doing evil. Do you see that in verse 17?
This really doesn’t need much explanation. Peter’s point is that if you are going to suffer for your behavior, make sure you are suffering for good behavior instead of suffering for bad behavior. If you are suffering for bad behavior that is not persecution, that is just simply getting what you deserve. So don’t go around saying, “Woe is me,” and claiming to be experiencing persecution if you are only being treated in the way you deserve. What Peter is talking about in this passage is persecution for your faith, not harsh treatment for failing to act as you should. He is talking about being singled out because of what you believe about Jesus and how you conduct yourself as a result. He is not talking about suffering that comes about as a consequence of something inappropriate you have done. Again, that is not persecution. If you get fired from your job because you never show up on time, that is not persecution. If you get isolated from your friends because you gossip about everyone of them when they are not around, that is not persecution. Persecution is suffering for righteousness sake.
So, what we have seen in this passage are seven truths about hostile treatment and persecution. And these seven truths come straight from the pages of Scripture which means that we can count on them and incorporate them into our lives, trusting that they will help us whether we experience mild mistreatment for our faith or severe, systematic persecution by very evil people with very evil intentions.
As I said at the beginning, it is very likely that some of us will live to see the day where, even in this country, it will become truly difficult for us to live as Christians. We are getting glimpses of it now. We are starting to recognize that not everyone is a Christian and not everyone shares our view of the world. And so, it would be wise for us to begin thinking about what it means to suffer for righteousness sake. It would be wise of us to begin practicing biblical responses to the mild improper treatment we sometimes now receive, before the furnace really heats up and truly important things are on the line.
Now the truth is, none of us like to suffer—and particularly not for doing good. But, we must understand, that when we chose to follow Jesus, we made a decision to follow a Savior who suffered—a savior who suffered to bring salvation to those responsible for his suffering. And so, if we are going to follow in his footsteps, we as Christians must learn what it means to suffer as Jesus suffered, and to do so with a hope that draws others to God through faith in Jesus Christ. We must learn to suffer in such a way, that when others see, they desire for themselves the hope we have in Jesus. Yes, as Christians, our suffering is never pointless because God can always use it for good.