March 22, 2020
I have been saying it for some time now – and I don’t actually have to say it – you know it, likely have experienced it. We are living in an increasingly hostile culture. And by that, I mean increasingly hostile to the Christian faith – our faith. Peter has been telling us – do good deeds in the name of Christ – even though it will cost you. That truth slapped me in the face this week.
Most of you know we are privileged to have Samaritan’s Purse in our community, and many Samaritan’s Purse or SP people are part of our church. Now a disclaimer – I am a huge SP fan. I believe the work they do around the world in the name of Christ, with the gospel at the forefront, is extraordinary. Whether it’s Operation Christmas Child, International Projects, World Medical Mission, North American Ministries, Franklin Graham’s Festivals and Decision America Tours – everything they do is with the gospel out front – and I’m deeply thankful for that.
And so, maybe you saw on our local news or social media this week, they deployed an emergency field hospital to Italy in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic. Italy actually has more deaths from the virus than anyone else, to include China. Their healthcare system is overrun, and they need help. So, Samaritan’s Purse loaded their DC8 and went to Italy last week – right into the midst of danger. Of course, we know they did the same thing in the two Ebola crises – one in Liberia, another in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There was a movie made about Liberia – appropriately named, Facing the Darkness. That’s what the church does – that’s what Christians do. We run to those who need help, regardless of potential personal harm.
So, this news was posted on social media and local news outlets, and you think there’d be a celebration – expressing gratitude for the people, largely medical, going to care for hurting patients – in the midst of danger, in the name of Christ. I read through the comments, and was largely encouraged, but also stunned. Let me read a couple to you – I’ll leave out any names to save them embarrassment.
When the first Watauga resident, an SP employee, tested positive for the virus, one reader posted, “Of course it’s the fundies (I guess that’s fundamentalists) and anti-science people who love spreading the disease.” There’s so much wrong with that statement I hardly know what to say, but let me remind us, it was SP who scientifically and medically helped in the recent Ebola crises. And are helping in the current coronavirus crisis.
When the second Watauga resident tested positive, and after SP sent the hospital to Italy, one commented, “Samaritans Purse took off to Italy yesterday. Leave them over there until this thing is over and don’t let anybody else go to places like that.” Really? I’ll leave the acute selfish nature of that comment just hang there.
There were a few other comments attacking the ministry of SP – largely selfish, like, stay home and take care of our own. Others questioning the integrity and transparency of the ministry. I am suggesting this is exactly what Peter is talking about – do good works in the name of Christ, and you will be slandered, maligned, attacked and reviled for it. So I want to say, good job, SP – keep up the good work in the name of Christ and His Gospel.
You see, we arrive today at the main purpose for which Peter wrote his letter to these suffering believers in Asia Minor – suffering for the cause of Christ. It will occupy his thoughts for most of the rest of the book. He’s referenced it a few times already, but now it gets his full attention. Now, this passage has the verse with which most of us are most familiar– being ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope you have. It’s a great verse, but in its context – it’s even better. Read the text with me – I Peter 3:13-17.
This is an incredible text. Did you notice those words like suffer, intimidation, slander, revile, harm? This is what we can expect as followers of Jesus – especially as we seek to do good and speak the good news. So, how then do we respond? We try to do good, and they call us names – fundies, anti-science, bigots, racists, intolerant, narrow, hateful, judgmental. They question our motives, slander us, seek to do us harm. How then do we respond? I know how I want to respond in the flesh – to defend myself, to attack back. Peter has already told us how to respond in several previous verses:
2:12 – 12 Keep your behavior excellent (beautiful) among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
2:15 – 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
2:20 – 20 …But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
2:21-23 – (citing the example of Christ) 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; (that’s how we respond, just like Jesus)
3:9 – 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead…
Do you think Peter is trying to get a point across? Maybe he’s trying to say, don’t be like me when I drew the sword and chopped off Malchus’ ear. We are so subject to defensiveness, counter-attack, slander, gossip and the like. But he is calling us to something much higher. To be like Jesus. In fact, he’ll return to that thought next week, but for now, let me give you the brief outline of our text today. Very simply, there is:
- Suffering for Christ (13-14)
- Responding in Christ (15-17) – not in the flesh, in Christ – as Christ would do.
Peter starts with a rhetorical question, which requires a negative answer, and he actually begins with the word, and. He’s just said, don’t return evil for evil, insult for insult, then quoted Psalm 34 for support. So now he asks, “And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?” The implied answer is, no one. No one can hurt you. You say, wait, what about Nero, what about ISIS, what about the coronavirus and Ebola? You do understand all the promises of Scripture are true. We are God’s children, the best is yet to come, what can people do to us? What can a virus do, except perhaps speed our trip to heaven? Peter is asking this question ultimately. Yes, he’ll say in verse 14, we may suffer, but what can people ultimately do to us? Paul asked it this way in Romans 8:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;
34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.”
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is great news for followers of Jesus. Who then can do harm to us if we are zealous (eager) for what is good? Now again, a couple years after this letter was written, if this question was posed, the people could have answered, Nero. He’s one who can harm us. Really? Can Nero or any of his minions – can any who oppose you really harm you? Do your worst – it will ultimately not prevail.
I’ve shared this quote with you before, but when the early church father Ignatius, under the persecutions of Rome, was facing imminent death, he said, “May the wild beasts be eager to rush upon me. If they be unwilling, I will compel them. Come, crowds of wild beasts; come, tearings and manglings, wracking of bones and hacking of limbs; come, cruel tortures of the devil; only let me attain unto Christ.” Do your worst, you cannot hurt me.
I want to remind us, the best is yet to come, and there is nothing anyone can do to us to prevent our coming glory to be united with Christ. And so, verse 14, even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness – doing good – you are blessed. Not only are we to be a blessing if we are reviled and slandered – if evil is perpetrated against us – but we are blessed. Peter no doubt has the words of Jesus in mind from the Sermon on the Mount, 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great;”
How are we blessed? Jesus said in two significant way – number 1, we prove that we are children of God, and ours is the kingdom of heaven. Heaven is our home – so what’s the worst they can do? We are reminded – this is not all there is – the best is yet to come, and it’s ours – as followers of Jesus. And not only that, number 2, our reward from the Father is great. We are laying up treasures in heaven. I’m not worried about a crashing stock market – I’ve got treasures laid up no one can touch.
So, even if you should suffer – that’s an interesting way to say it. Both Jesus and Paul tell us that we will suffer – we will be persecuted, opposed. What does Peter mean when he says, even if you should suffer? Simply this – we don’t suffer all the time. It is ours to suffer – he makes that clear throughout the book – but not all the time, everywhere, and in every way. That’s certainly been true in our own country. We’ve enjoyed a period of relative peace. But, even if – or maybe better, even when we suffer, we are blessed.
And so, he quotes Isaiah 8. It’s very interesting – in Isaiah, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was facing imminent attack from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, who had teamed up with Aram, or Syria. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was fearful, so God says, don’t be afraid of them. I am with you. Here, Peter applies it to his readers. Yes, there are those who will attack you, oppose you, persecute you. Don’t be fearful of them and their threats – don’t be troubled by them.
Rather, point 2, verses 15-17, let me tell you how to respond to such threats and harsh treatment.
Instead, sanctify – it literally means to set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts. Now, just a quick theological aside. Peter is hear paraphrasing the next verse in Isaiah – 8:13. And there, Isaiah has said, don’t fear them, rather, it is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy, or set apart. It is God – Yahweh you should fear. Here, Peter paraphrases it and says, instead of fearing those who oppose you, set apart or treat as holy – who? Christ. Do you see, he readily switches from Yahweh, God, to Christ. Because you see, Christ is God.
So, set apart Christ as Lord. That doesn’t mean we make Him Lord – He already is. But we recognize Him as the Lord of our hearts. Now, the heart was the center of their being – all they were – emotion and will. Set apart Christ as the Lord of all you are. You don’t need to fear what people will do to you. How can they ultimately do any harm to you, with Christ as Lord.
Now, this verse is usually used to support the ministry of Christian apologetics. In fact, the word defense is the word apologia, from which we get our word apologetics. Apologetics is the Christian discipline of defending the faith, of answering objections, of giving reasonable and rational answers to questions and objections to the Christian faith. You’ve likely heard of some great Christian apologists, like Ravi Zacharias, J. Warner Wallace, Norm Giesler, or Josh McDowell. To be clear, these are great thinkers, and there is a place for Christian apologetics.
And it doesn’t do violence to the text to use it to support giving a defense or an answer to objections to the Christian faith. That works. But in the context, Peter is talking to suffering believers. He’s talking to us – don’t just leave the job to the apologists. And he’s instructing them, us how to respond to suffering because of our faith. And when we respond rightly, the implication here is people will want to know why. That’s what he’s been saying – live such beautiful lives among unbelievers that even though they slander you, they will because of your good deeds, glorify God on the day He visits. Don’t return evil for evil, insult for insult, instead, be a blessing.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine what people would think when they mistreat us, that we turn around and bless them instead? That’s the idea. They’ll want to know, what gives here? So you always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account, to give the reason for such unusual hope. Hope is one of Peter’s favorite words for the hope of the gospel. Here you are, being persecuted, and yet, you remain hopeful. You remain kind, and generous. You’re actually blessing the very ones who oppose you. How can you do that? Well, let me tell you about the gospel. By the way, this also suggests Christians don’t withdraw – that is, isolate themselves from unbelievers. We are living among them, even though it may cost us.
So you be prepared. I want to practically say to us, as we have been prepared to do good works – that’s what Christians do – we do so in order to care for people, yes, but also to share the gospel. We don’t just do good for good’s sake – we do, but it’s more than that. I’ve heard it said this way – we do good works to build bridges of love that support that weight of truth. So, we reach out into our community, during times like these and all the time, do good, and then share Jesus – even when reviled. Insulted. Persecuted. Oppressed.
Further, Peter says share your hope with gentleness and respect. A couple quick ideas about that. Gentleness is that word we looked at a couple weeks ago. It’s the praos, which could be translated gentleness or meekness. We are not defensive, even when wronged – instead, we are gentle and meek. We’re kind, we’re gracious. Remember, it’s doesn’t mean weak – rather, it’s power under control. We are meek. Let’s make sure we understand this. Christians by their character are not to be offensive. The message of the gospel is offensive because it understands all to be sinners. But we, by our behavior, are not to be offensive.
And we respond with respect. Certainly, respect toward people. But, this is another of Peter’s favorite words – usually directed toward God. It’s the word fear. He’s already told us, don’t fear people, fear God. So, when we respond with gentleness and fear, it is most likely reverential fear toward God. It is our reverential submission to Him that causes our gentle defense of the faith.
He goes on in verse 16 and 17, very quickly, talk more about how to respond. First, we keep a good conscience – we do what is good – good deeds – rightly, with good motives to keep a clear conscience before God. So that, notice, so that in the very thing in which they slander us, and even revile our good behavior – they will be put to shame.
A couple of different possibilities there. Yes, they may be put to shame or ashamed in this life when they revile us for, of all things, good deeds like going to Italy. Perhaps, like Peter said in chapter 2, when they see our good deeds done with excellent or beautiful behavior, they will be shamed, and eventually come to faith in Christ. That is our prayer and hope, is it not? Again, building bridges of love to support the weight of truth.
But a second possibility is this – and one which is intended to encourage suffering believers. You keep your behavior excellent with a good conscience – not returning evil for evil, but blessing instead. And ultimately, at the consummation and the judgment, those who have opposed you will be shamed. God, the one who judges rightly will rightly take vengeance. They will get theirs – from Him – not from us.
And with a final word this week, he reminds us in verse 17 – make sure your suffering is not for doing evil, but for doing good. Of course – he said that back in chapter 2 when speaking of slaves. Yes, you will have unjust masters who will treat you harshly. But make sure the harsh treatment is a result of doing what is right, not doing what is wrong. That’s clear enough.
But here’s what I want you to notice in this verse as we close. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right. That’s a challenging verse. The implication is that God may will it so that you suffer for doing what is right. This goes back to chapter 1, where he said, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.” If necessary – the idea being, as God wills it so.
Paul said the same thing in Philippians 1, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” How is it God’s will that we suffer? Lots of reasons, but in Peter, he brings two primary reasons to the forefront:
First, it matures us, and makes us more like Christ. It perfects us, and purifies us. It’s for our good, and for His glory.
And secondly, as we’ve seen today, as we live beautiful lives in the midst of suffering, people will ask about our hope. And we are then prepared to give an answer for the hope we have. So our suffering is not only for our maturing and good, for His glory, but for the good – through the good news of the gospel for others.
So can I encourage us, don’t waste your suffering. Respond with blessing, good deeds, and speak of your hope. And let’s watch God do what He will do.