“If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything”
Please read 1 Peter 3:8-22 from your favorite Bible, then read this article.
Unfortunately, taking a stand can cause you to become a target. It is rather like what happened to “BW,” which stood for Beluga Whale. For reasons known only to her, BW left her pod and took up residence in the harbor at New Haven Connecticut. This gentle giant (BW was 10 feet long and weighed 950 pounds) amused and amazed the humans in the harbor by nuzzling boats, tickly swimmers and performing self-taught tricks.
It came as a shock to learn one morning that someone had fired four .22 caliber bullets into BW. This harmless whale had befriended a community and, in the process, made herself a good target for evil.
Undoubtedly you have observed a much more common but similar occurrence. You have seen how school bullies have a sick sixth sense about who to victimize. They somehow know who the weakest is, the shyest; the person most likely to be hurt by their misdeeds. They can pick a good target out of crowded hallway and make them miserable.
In other parts of the world and at various points in history, being a Christian made you a good target. Persecutions and martyrdoms happen because true disciples of Christ are too good for this world. No matter how they may try to avoid the spotlight, evildoers still find them out and make them suffer because they are Christ’s.
What do we do when we are in the crosshairs of evil? How should a disciple respond when facing this situation? This was not an academic issue with the recipients of Peter’s letter. It was personal and immediate. Peter wrote to counsel them on a godly response to persecution. We share their hope. To the degree that we also share their sufferings, this letter is for us.
Take your stand for Jesus on higher ground.
1. Do not return evil for evil. (vs. 8-12)
It is a fact: disciples of Jesus Christ are called to a higher standard of conduct. We serve a Savior who showed us a radically different lifestyle than what the world of His time or ours values as “good.” When Christians come together, their fellowship should be marked by love and the intentional occupation of the highest moral ground imaginable. Peter details six particulars in verses eight and nine. (Cf 1T 5:15.)
One – LIVE IN HARMONY WITH ONE ANOTHER. Believers are to live and worship together in unity. This is not uniformity, but a sublimation of self-interest. We hold God in first priority and others in second; self last. People who do this find harmony a much more accessible quality.
Two – BE SYMPATHETIC. “Sympathy” is sensitivity to others, the ability to perceive what is going on in the lives of others. Similarly, the more our love is devoted to God and others before self, the easier we will find it to be sensitive to others, to listen to them and care about what is happening. Self-centeredness interferes with sympathy. Additionally, sympathy that is only felt is only half-done. Sympathetic people do acts of kindness based on what sympathy reveals about others.
Three – LOVE AS BROTHERS. LOVE is what people exchange in relationships that are holy and moral and right. Love motivates the other five virtues Peter sets forth in these verses. The qualifier to the best kind of love is AS BROTHERS. The NT consistently sets forth the highest standard for believer’s treatment of one another. That is part of the reason we feel sharp disappointment when church people act as bad or worse than unbelievers.
Four – BE COMPASSIONATE. “Compassion” is simply caring enough about others to be willing to inconvenience yourself. It is love manifest in helpful self-sacrifice. The greatest enemy of compassion is not hatred, it is apathy. This virtue requires effort and cultivation – it must be worked at. It is not weakness. Just the opposite – it is the determination and strength of purpose to transcend my “rights,” my own convenience and comfort to see another human being benefited.
Five – [Be] HUMBLE. Humility is not self-hatred or merely external acts of self-denigration. It is true self-knowledge. Humility does not exaggerate or minimize our human powers and failings. We simply know who we are. Because we accept God’s grace, we do not have to live to impossible (or improbable) standards, nor does anyone else. Humility allows us to love others – it is the emotional maturity that makes the other five virtues possible. Humility makes all this genuine.
Six – Bless those who curse you. Human nature is to seek revenge when wronged. But it is Christ’s nature to forgive and not take revenge. That is why we do not “fight fire with fire,” as the world says, but bless those who insult or do evil to us. We repay them with BLESSING. We do this out of an enlightened self-interest – SO THAT YOU MAY INHERIT A BLESSING. Because we know better than merely worldly people, we trust that our BLESSING enemies will result in our being blessed. Either in this life or the next, God will see to it that we are rewarded for our trust in Him and good deeds.
Quoting Psalm 34:12-16, verses 10-12 show the contrast between the man who merits the Lord’s favor by doing good and the man who merits the Lord’s disfavor by doing evil. This is Peter using Scripture to show that the point he made in v. 9 is the Lord’s will and not his opinion. It shows the consistency of God’s Word and the higher moral standing to which God calls His people. God’s people not only turn away from doing evil; they go farther, seeking the good and doing it.
2. Instead, respond with righteousness. (vs. 13-17)
There are three kinds of suffering in the world. One, suffering that is part of life. Through no direct human agency, painful things happen. Most illnesses are examples of this. Two, suffering that is self-inflicted. Because of poor choices or accidents or deliberate acts, people sometimes hurt themselves. Three, suffering inflicted by one person on others. Peter writes about this kind of suffering, specifically, the kind that unbelievers will inflict on believers because they are “good targets.”
In v. 13, Peter is effectively asking a rhetorical question, “Who in their right mind would want to hurt you because you do good?” The answer, of course, is no one in their RIGHT mind. But there are plenty of people in their wrong mind, people who would so completely oppose your faith that they will attempt to bully it out of you.
But Peter writes, regardless of such people, God intends to bless you. In v. 14, Peter shows that suffering persecution for doing right is one of many situations in which God wants to bless you. Peter again borrows from Scripture – Isaiah 8:12 – to give evidence of this remarkable truth. Knowing God’s intention to bless us through suffering can make us fearless – we do not submit to bullies of any kind; we do not descend to their level – we fearlessly do what Jesus did and commanded.
Continuing to develop this line of reasoning, Peter shows in v. 15 that the opposite of fear is faith. Faith is an inward commitment to discipleship – IN YOUR HEARTS SET APART CHRIST AS LORD. Faith takes our eyes off ourselves and fixes them on Jesus Christ. Seeing Him, we recognize we have reason to hope. We are not limited to our present pain. We have a future, a secure future that is founded on Christ.
Faith is not merely a private decision, an inward state. It is a social, relational thing as well. Peter counseled, ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO GIVE AN ANSWER TO EVERYONE WHO ASKS YOU TO GIVE THE REASON FOR THE HOPE THAT YOU HAVE. This is not about winning arguments, but winning souls by making friends. It is being prepared to give a verbal response to questions posed by people who notice that you do not return evil for evil, but good. Worldly people will be curious how you have the resolve to withstand the bullying, how you stay faithful despite what you suffer.
This REASON is to have three important qualities. One, GENTLENESS = the quality of having faith that is positive and considerate of others. This is an expression of the character set forth in vs. 8+9. Two, RESPECT = Christians are never haughty. I am too often guilty of prejudice myself, so I know this attitude of RESPECT does not come automatically or even easily. Three, with a CLEAR CONSCIENCE. This means that our witness and our living really match. We do not have a fake faith and we do not live a life that denies the obedience we claim to have. We will have a CLEAR CONSCIENCE only in the circumstance that both faith and practice are in obedience to Christ. This will have the added benefit of shaming anyone who slanders you.
Remember the three kinds of suffering? Peter shows us that the BETTER kind is what we suffer because we are in Christ (v. 17). It is BETTER in the common sense that such suffering has a reason, an obvious and higher purpose. We can more easily accommodate ourselves to suffering that extends the Kingdom of God that suffering that is self-inflicted or apparently random. It is BETTER in the theological sense that in suffering for doing good, we are truly following the example of Jesus. There was nothing wrong in Him, but He suffered horribly at the hands of sinners, to accomplish eternal life (v. 18).
3. The grave is not the final answer. (vs. 18-22)
In fact, it is unlikely that whatever you and I must suffer because of our faith, that we will suffer to the point of death, as Jesus did. But even if martyrdom is our destiny, we know for a fact that the grave is not the end, any more than it was the end of Jesus (vs. 18-20). Jesus conquered the grave. In fact, He conquered death so thoroughly that even the saints of the OT times – the days before His crucifixion and resurrection – were saved by His sacrifice. They were “grandfathered” in!
Those saved in Noah’s ark are an example of our own salvation. We are saved BY THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST, a fact attested by our own baptism (vs. 21-22). Notice that Peter once again refers to a GOOD CONSCIENCE, which is something we can only possess as we live in the truth. I believe that a good portion of stress in our lives comes from falsehood, from hypocrisy, from claiming one thing in church and living another thing at work or at home. The value of a GOOD CONSCIENCE is not to be taken lightly.
One final and important reason for our HOPE – Jesus is not only raised from the dead, but He is also seated in the place of authority – AT GOD’S RIGHT HAND. All the powers of the spiritual world are IN SUBMISSION TO HIM. He can help those who suffer in His name. Jesus exercises this power in behalf His true disciples.
Take your stand for Jesus on higher ground.
If there is anyone who would qualify for the title of a “good target” it would be Mike Maryn. In a 1977 newspaper article, it was reported that the Chicago native had been mugged EIGHTY-THREE times in FIVE years! He had no idea why this kept happening to him. Mike’s attackers had been young boys, teenagers, men, and several women. The attacks took place at night and in broad daylight.
We know what makes a disciple a good target. The world and the hordes of darkness consider a disciple an enemy. Those who do deeds of darkness do not want the light to shine upon them and will occasionally resist forcibly.
Your personal experience of persecution may be nothing more than some teasing. We are blessed to still live in a country that practices freedom of religion, so what we must face is slight in comparison to what our brothers and sister elsewhere face. Regardless, this passage holds forth hope and instruction for us. We will continue our examination of this passage next week. For now, ask yourself, “If I’ve never had to take a stand for my faith, what kind of faith am I standing on?”