“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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 hopy that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” 1 Peter 3:13-17
When we go through trials of injustice, we often can lose hope and direction. Hope becomes shallow and jaded and direction becomes relative and blurred. Pastor Peter encountered this with a few churches in his day. Here are a few observations from how he addresses these people in their troublesome time:
- Suffering in trials of injustice are opportunities to show and speak Jesus’ gospel. We often talk about wanting opportunities to share the gospel, well, here’s one of them. Albeit, it’s not the first choice of an opportunity, but it is an opportunity nonetheless. Don’t waste your suffering.
- Do not fear. Do not worry. As Peter just reminded them by Psalm 34 (3:10-12), God is near to his children and blesses them in their enduring obedience. And God will wreak havoc upon those who hurt his own. Therefore, do not fear. Do not worry.
- The state of your heart is most important to God. When Peter centers the discussion on the heart, he removes all pretending. Christians’ hearts are to be pure – without fear and without hate. Since God is near to his children, and since his children are to represent Jesus’ holiness, our hearts need to be pure in the trial and outside the trial.
- Honoring Christ looks like loving people – even those who hate you.
- During persecution, be ready to make a defense for your loving endurance. The word needs to explain the act so Jesus’ power can be known. People need to see the link between your behavior and your heart. They don’t have psychic abilities. You must make it known to them. Show them Christ. Speak to them Christ.
- In your defense, breathe love. Words about Jesus spoken in bitterness and manipulation waste the opportunity we have been given to point to the most holiest and humble person. So give your defense with gentleness and respect.
- Loving works explained by loving words creates loving worshippers. Here, Peter gives the hoped for outcome of loving works and words – that persecutors “may be put to shame.” This shame may be condemning, but hopefully it would instead cultivate a fertile opportunity to point the person to Jesus.
- Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean these kinds of opportunities will happen to you all the time. Peter makes this concession in verse 14. This dispels the adage hounded by many well-intentioned, but misguided preachers, “If you are not suffering for the gospel, you are not doing something right!” Not all are given to suffer this way. Some are given to suffer this way until their death or martyrdom. And some are given to suffer this way in different seasons of life.
- Since you are a Christian, this will happen sometimes and could happen many times. God’s will, which is good, is to magnify Jesus – since he is the only one worthy of being magnified, as he is the true Rescuer of the world. As such, in order to magnify him and rescue his people, you and I will need to suffer at times so that opportunities to display Jesus’ love and power can be created and seized. The emphasis here is not on “you need to suffer!” but rather on “Jesus needs to be known!” If it is by our blessing, God be praised. If it is by our suffering, God be praised.