We are so affluent that most of us don’t really expect to suffer much. It is easy to think that suffering comes from poor decision making, especially in the financial realm. But when it comes to being a Christian, suffering comes with the territory. In fact, if you suffer for being a Christian it shows you are right where you need to be, doing what you were called to do. I do think we have to draw a line between suffering as a result of living out our faith and suffering because we are being obnoxious. I am not so sure the Lord looks favorably on the second. We live in a difficult time for this because we have heightened anxiety levels when people disagree with us. Many people work very hard to be agreeable even to the point of compromising their faith. That is unfortunate but I understand the pressure.
Here is how Peter wrote it,
“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
11 They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.“
I would love to be able to teach my kids that if you do what is right, good things will happen. Unfortunately that is not the case. Our oldest son talks about how he is the only well behaved boy in his classroom and that there are times all the boys will get punished when he wasn’t doing anything out of line. Doing right doesn’t mean you will go unscathed in this world. If we followed the impersonal rules of Karma we would do what is right and good so that good would come back around to us but the world doesn’t work that way. The spiritual forces in the world are not impersonal. They are personal and some of them have you in their cross-hairs if you are doing what is right.
Peter tells us how to respond to those who persecute us when we do what is right. we offer blessings where we receive insult. We keep our words from speaking evil or deceitfully. We “must seek peace and pursue it” because God is watching, listening and will be attentive to us. Out of all of this comes blessings (3:14).
I wish I could say this was easy and I wish I could say that every time a bad thing was about to happen to a child of God that the arm of God would swoop down and block the danger. God doesn’t operate that way. He allows us to endure much, even in the name of doing something good. Here is what he writes next,
“15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.“
Whatever suffering you go through, know that Jesus went through it first. He doesn’t ask us or expect us to go through anything he exempted himself from. We are to live from the perspective of Jesus Christ being Lord. When you know that you will have an answer ready for anyone who asks you about your hope. This questioning can be taken in either or two ways. Sometimes we take this in an adversarial manner (because of 3:16-17). Here you are doing good and those who oppose you finally break down and ask you how you can endure as you do. In a more positive light, though, it seems that there will be people in the world who are seeking answers and when they see something in you they don’t see anywhere else, they will seek to find out what it is all about. I don’t know about you but I have had this happen in my life on a number of occasions.
The one caution I have with 3:15 is that it changes the directionality of evangelism. It puts us in the passive seat on the seeker in the driver’s seat. That can and should happen but it shouldn’t be our “go to” where we live our lives and just hope someone will think to ask. Evangelism will most often come from our initiation not the initiation of non-believers.
When it happens, notice how we are to give our answer, “with gentleness and respect.” This is often far too lacking among Christians. Some only know how to engage the world from a posture of arrogance and abrasiveness. That is not at all what God wants from us. Go back to 3:9 where we return blessing for insult. What would happen if Christians truly embraced a posture toward that world that was a posture of blessing…of gentleness and respect? Often we think we can only offer gentleness and respect to those who agree with us but here Peter shows us that is not true at all.
I don’t have time to get into Jesus preaching in hell. You can read more on that here. I do want to close by talking about how our hope (based on Jesus being with God with all authority – 3:22) should enable us to endure harsh treatment and respond with blessing. We have been washed. We have been saved. We know our Lord is in heaven and that all things are in submission to him. This understanding allows us to open ourselves up in a vulnerable way to those who need Jesus the most because we know that ultimately Jesus gets the final say and we don’t have to fear anything or anyone (3:14).
So be bold about your faith. Live out loud. When you do some will question you about it seeking. Others will question you about it and give you an even harder time. But don’t give up because Jesus has saved you and He is in charge so keep doing what he told you to do and watch Jesus work everything out!