March 15, 2020
What is a Christian? The word is used so loosely, it’s largely lost its meaning. It is interesting to note it’s actually used only three times in the NT – all in sort of a negative sense. In Acts 11, the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. It was said in derision – these disciples, these are followers of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. Then, in Acts 26, as Paul was giving his defense before King Agrippa, it was clear he did so with evangelistic intent. And Agrippa responded, hear it dripping with sarcasm, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” The third time is found in our book – I Peter 4, “but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed.” You see, then, you suffered if you were a disciple, a believer in this Jesus as the Christ. Peter says, don’t be ashamed of that shameful term.
And so the term was used derisively – sarcastically – negatively. But disciples of Jesus bore the name joyfully, even though it cost them. Fast forward to the present day, and claiming to be a Christian in our country will cost you…nothing. The word has become almost meaningless. Ask someone if he or she is a Christian, and the response is often something like, “Of course, I’m an American, aren’t I?” It is now devoid of its meaning of being a follower, a disciple of Jesus – and it is certainly devoid of any suffering.
Of course, that is changing. More and more, people are abandoning the term. Fewer today in the US say they are Christian than perhaps ever before. It’s become popular to say something like, “I’m spiritual, not religious,” and by that, many mean – I’m spiritual, but I don’t have much to do with organized religion like the Christian faith. And so again, the term has lost its meaning. Not for us, of course, as followers of Jesus – but the word has been so degraded as to mean, nothing. All that to ask two questions.
First, are you a Christian? Oh, please don’t answer the question too quickly. Don’t confuse being a Christians with:
- Going to church
- Being an American
- Being good
- Being raised in Christian family
- Being spiritual
- (Or even) Reading your Bible and praying
So, I suppose we should define what a Christian is. As I’ve already implied, a Christian is a follower of Jesus – a disciple of Jesus. First, it is to believe the gospel, or the good news about Jesus. That is, for starters, we are sinners, having rebelled against our good Creator and God. As such, we need a savior, since there is nothing we can do about our sinful condition. The truth is, no amount of good will compensate for our bad. And that’s the bad news – but the good news is, God loved us and did something Himself to save us from our sin, and bring us into relationship with Him. Namely, He sent His own Son in the flesh – that is, Jesus became a man so He could do what we could not – live a perfect life. And then, having done so, He died in our place, taking our sin in His perfect body on the cross, and dying for us. And by simple faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, for sinners, we can be saved. Forgiven, sins removed, and brought back into relationship with God. It’s not just good news, it’s great news.
But now, can I bring us back to that first time the word Christian was used? In Acts 11, we read the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. You see, it was disciples, followers of Jesus who were called Christians. Not just those who tipped their hats to Jesus. Not just those who believed that Jesus was the Christ. It was those who followed Jesus. Which brings me to my second question – what then does a Christian look like? It is true that the majority of people in the US – I’m not actually sure what the current numbers are – but the majority of people in the US consider themselves Christian. Do they look like it? How can you tell? What does a Christian look like? Peter tells us in our ongoing study of the book of I Peter. Read the text with me – I Peter 3:8-12.
What then does a Christian look like? In our study of I Peter, we are well into the main body of the letter, extending from 2:11 to 4:11. Let me briefly review for those who may be joining us for the first time. Peter is writing to a group of believers in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey – who are suffering for the faith. They are being persecuted, so he writes to encourage them. He started by reminding them of this incredible salvation they have. He then encourages them, and us, to live beautiful lives – with excellent behavior – so that in the very thing in which they slander us, they will, because of our good deeds, glorify God on the day He visits them with salvation.
What does this beautiful life look like – same question – what does a Christian look like? Well, we live beautiful lives of submission. He went through three relationships which involve those under authority, and encouraged them to submit. They were these:
- Believers and Unbelieving Governments – Peter called Christians to submit to their governing authorities. This, by the way, is one reason you’re in your living rooms right now. We’d love to be meeting together as we normally do, but our government, in proper concern for the spread of the coronavirus, strongly encouraged people not to gather in groups larger than 100. We also want to shepherd you well, and protect the most vulnerable among, our seniors – so we decided to not meet here at the church until this thing passes. We’ve sought to joyfully submit to our governing authorities, who have our best interest in mind in this case.
- Second was Slaves and Unbelieving Masters. You’ll remember Peter encouraged believing slaves to submit to their masters, even when those masters were cruel. Remember, we’re trying to make Christ and His gospel beautiful – attractive, winsome.
- Third, was Wives and Unbelieving Husbands. Peter made it clear that by living the Word before their husbands, focusing on internal beauty, and emulating holy women that wives can influence their unbelieving husbands – prayerfully to believe the gospel.
Then, very briefly last week, we saw Peter address husbands – to live with their wives in an understanding way, a supportive way, and an honoring way. Bringing us to our text today, where Peter sums up his thoughts to this point. Christians should live beautiful lives before each other in verse 8, before an unbelieving world that opposes them in verse 9, and then he quotes Psalm 34 for support. So that forms our outline, starting with a summation of what Christians looks like in verse 8. Look at it with me.
To sum up, or finally, Peter says Christians should look like the following five character traits. Notice first, Peter says all of you. This isn’t just for the spiritual elite – these are traits we should all pursue if we want to be fully devoted followers of Christ. Meaning also, this isn’t just for citizens and slaves and wives – those under authority. All of you, who claim to be disciples of Christ, be like this. We’ve seen what Christians believe, now we see, this is what Christians look like.
Now, you should know these were words widely used in the Greco-Roman world at this time. Many pursued most of these qualities within their homes – their families. Of course you want to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly and kind-hearted in your families. But when Peter applies these to believers – to us – this would have been surprising. You didn’t act this way necessarily in the world. But Peter says, Christians do. Because you see, we are a family. If we’re facing hostility in the world, we don’t that in the Christian community. This needs to a place family can come and find not further insult and injury, but care.
So, he says, this is how we act within the family to preserve our community. If you stop to think about it – to be the opposite would destroy community – to not be like-minded, that is, to not believe the same things, to be unsympathetic, to lack brotherly love, to not be compassionate, and to be proud – that would destroy community. Especially when the world is opposing us – when we are facing pressures without, we need these traits to preserve community within. So these are incredibly important.
First, be harmonious. The word is actually like-minded, or of the same mind. It speaks of sharing a common heritage of faith. In other words, as it relates to eternal truths, be like-minded. That doesn’t mean we have to all like the same things – we can’t all be Carolina fans – someone has to like Duke. We don’t all do the same things, but when it comes to the eternal truths of God’s Word, we are of one mind. In other words, while we don’t pursue uniformity, we do pursue unity by agreeing together concerning eternal spiritual matters. That’s one reason we spend our time studying the Bible – to conform our minds and actions to it.
One author pointed out this is the foundation value that binds us together; that unifies people from various races and former religions – now bound together by our faith in Jesus Christ – and committed to apostolic teaching.
Second, we should be sympathetic. You know, God made us emotional beings who have feelings. Christians should be people who enter into the feelings and emotions of other believers. Now, while we should be sympathetic to all people, most agree Peter is talking about being sympathetic toward one another. Paul said it this way – as members of one body, we should rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. We care about each so much that we emotionally experience what others among us experience. You are so important to me, that if you are rejoicing, so am I. If you are mourning, so am I.
Third, we are to be brotherly is what my translation has – but more literally, we are to express brotherly love. This one is right in the middle of the list – in this structure, Peter is making it central. We are to be people of brotherly or family love. I’ve said it this way many times, but let me say it again. You cannot say you love Jesus, but you don’t really like His church. That gets back to what I said at the beginning. You can’t say, I’m spiritual, but I don’t really have much to do with organized religion – like the church in Christianity. That’s not expressing brotherly love. We need each other – to love each other. To serve each other. Now, we often emphasize the love part of this, which is fine. But it is brotherly love. A further emphasis is since we are family – brothers and sisters in Christ, we love one another.
That’s also why I’ll remind us over and over not to get too comfortable with this live-streaming. This is a need, but it’s not meant to be a convenience. As soon as this health issue passes – that is, the coronavirus – we’ll be gathering again physically – because we need each other. I need you, you need me. We are to express our love to each other in practical and tangible ways.
Fourth, we are to be kindhearted. Again, that’s my translation, but the word is more literally, compassionate. It’s the word splankna, from which we get our word, spleen. Sometimes the word is translated bowels. You see, everyone knows that sometimes deep feelings of compassion or concern hit you right in the gut – in the pit of your stomach. Hence our word, spleen. To be clear, we’re not talking about pity. Pity is condescending and implies inferiority Rather, to be compassionate is to have such a caring concern for others in our community that you feel it right in your gut. You care so much that it is unsettling to you, even upsetting to you.
Which brings us to the last character trait. Now, this one would have been shocking. Christians are to be humble. That was a characteristic not pursued in the world at that time – in fact, it was despised. One says humility was a degraded social status – regarded as a sign of weakness and shame – an inability to defend one’s honor.
This was an honor-shame culture, where self-honor was one of the highest virtues. So, you were expected to be proud, and stand up for yourself. Humility is not much pursued today either. We have so much emphasis on self – on putting yourself first, of having a high self-worth and self-esteem. In fact, we hear a lot about self-care, which I suppose is fine. But the emphasis in community is humility and others. Now, please understand, humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s not thinking of yourself. It’s putting the needs and concerns of others first. Do you see how this would impact community? Paul said it this way in Philippians 2:
2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
So, in our community as a church family – this is what Christians look like. And can I say this gently? If you’re sitting there thinking, well, that’s the problem with the church. They aren’t very sympathetic, loving, compassionate and humble. I’ve been deeply hurt. I’m sorry if that is true. But can we lift our eyes from ourselves, and toward others. Be other’s focused as this text is calling us to be. The NT focus is not on rugged individualism, not on what I can receive – but it’s focused on the community, and what I can give. Karen Jobes writes of our Western society, even the church, “An individual whose needs are no longer met by a community terminates the ‘commitment’ and seeks a new and more obliging group. Such thinking runs counter to the qualities of I Peter 3:8.”
Now, that describes community within the church family – what about out in the world, especially as the world is becoming more hostile to our faith? Peter transitions to how to respond to the world, which by the way, will govern much of what he has to say for the next couple of chapters. Verse 9 says, to a community receiving much opposition and persecution, “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.
When we are mistreated, we want some payback. That’s what we want if our own honor is of highest value. When we are insulted, we want to say something back. That’s part of our fallen, human nature. But we’re called to something else. Don’t return evil for evil. Don’t return insult for insult. This is not only what Jesus modeled for us as we are seeking to follow in His steps, but it’s what He taught. In Luke 6, for example, we read, “27 But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
You say, how can I love my enemies when I don’t even like them? Our problem is we think of love as really, really like. But love here is expressed as acting rightly toward our enemies – toward those who even oppose us. Our hope, of course, is they will see our good deeds, and believe. But the point, we love them in action whether we feel an emotional attachment or not.
When everything in you wants revenge, the Christian response is not payback, trading barbs and insults – it’s allowing God to exact perfect justice. But it’s actually more than that. Jesus, and Peter following His teachings, go one very difficult step further. Not only do we not return evil and insults – instead, we give a blessing. That is very challenging. When we are wronged, especially for our faith, we are to return that wrong with good.
The word blessing literally means good words. When someone abuses you, mistreats you, we look for good ways to return that evil with blessing. While they slander us, gossip about us, attack us verbally, we speak well of them. We speak good words. We actually ask for God’s favor on them. That means certainly, at least, we can pray for them. But more, we don’t just clench our teeth when reviled and say nothing, we speak good words of them. Further, we return evil with good deeds. Remember how Peter began this main body of the letter? Keep your behavior excellent among unbelievers, so they see your good deeds, even when they slander you. We actually return evil with good words and deeds. One of my commentaries reminded me of a story I once heard.
A Christian soldier was living in the barracks with his unit. Every evening before bed, he would read his Bible and pray, to much derision from his fellow soldier right across the aisle. He would make fun of him, revile him for his faith. One night, he took the persecution a bit far, throwing his muddy boots at the Christian. The next morning, the boots were returned at his bedside, cleaned and shined, ready for inspection. The story says many of the soldiers in that unit eventually became Christians. I don’t know if it’s a true story, but it’s a great example of returning evil with blessing. So how can you do that – when reviled for your faith. You, Jesus, when He was mistreated and reviled, died for the very ones who killed Him.
You see, to this we were called – this giving blessing in return for evil – so that we might receive a blessing. Blessing in this life? Perhaps – but most agree Peter speaks more of our future blessing – our inheritance to be received. Which presents a bit of a challenge. So, we act this way – we give blessing, so that in the future, we will receive the blessing of eternal life and all it holds? That sounds like we do things to earn salvation – to earn our inheritance. Not exactly. But doing good things – that is, acting like a Christian – looking like a Christian – is proof that we are Christians, and will receive our guaranteed future inheritance. But if we say we just believe in Jesus, but don’t follow Him – be His disciple – seek to act like Him – we’re proving we don’t know Him, and we don’t have a future blessing coming. To be very clear – Christians act like Christians not to earn salvation, but proving that we are already saved.
Peter then quotes Psalm 34 to support his point. There is a difference here. David wrote it, desiring to see life and experience good days in this life. Peter, however points to the future. His readers were suffering greatly, and there is no promise things will get better – in this life. So he hold the promise of life and good days in our future inheritance. The one who desires life, to love and see good days must do some things. Again, these are not things we do to earn salvation, but these are things Christians do, because they have salvation. Because they have future inheritance, and our lives are not focused on the here and now, but on what God promises for the future.
He who desires the good days of future eternal life must, keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. We don’t speak evil or deceit to those who do the same to us. Remember, Peter has just encouraged us to not return evil with evil, insult with insult – but with blessing. So, the Psalmist says, keep your tongue from evil, even in the midst of suffering. Oh, and by the way, David wrote this Psalm when he was fleeing for his life from persecution from Saul. And David never insulted or did evil to Saul. He’s calling us to do the same to those who oppose us.
Instead, we must turn away from evil – and do good. You see, it’s not enough to just hold your peace – you must do good even to those who do you evil. Remember what Jesus said? He who slaps you on one cheek, turn to him the other. If someone compels you to go one mile, go another.
You see, we are to seek peace with all people – even those who oppose us. And by doing so, we prove to Christians. After all, we are reminded, the eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and He hears our prayers. Remember what we said last week, husbands – if you mistreat your wives, disobeying the command to live with them in understanding, supportive and honoring ways, your prayers will be hindered. We cannot live in evil, and expect God will hear us.
You see, His eyes are on His children who live like His children, and He hears and answers their prayers. but His face – a way speaking of His judgment – is against those who do evil. In other words, this is serious. I started today by asking, what is a Christian? And I suppose most of us would get the belief part right. We believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for sinners. And by simple faith in Jesus, you can be saved. And that’s true.
But to be a Christian is also to be a disciple of, a follower of Jesus. Yes, it is by simple faith in Jesus and His work that we are born again. But how then does a Christian act, proving we are His disciples? We passionately pursue peace in our community – living in like-mindedness, sympathy, brotherly-love, compassion and humility.
And toward those outside the community – who even oppose us – we bless. So that even when they slander us, they will see our good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits them with salvation.