PREPARATION FOR PERSECUTION
1 Peter 3:8-17
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 1, 2013
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 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 hope 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. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
-- 1 Peter 3:8-17, ESV
All of life, especially the Christian life, is about preparation. Football teams prepare nine months for a three month season. Dancers prepare nine months for a three hour recital. Preachers prepare ten to twenty hours for a thirty minute sermon. All Christians have all of this life to prepare for the very moment when we meet God, face to face.
There are many things we have to be prepared for in this life. Among these things is persecution. Persecution may be well defined by a phrase in the closing sentence in this text, “to suffer for doing good.” Suffering for doing bad things is punishment. Suffering for doing good, godly things is persecution. Given that Christians will do good and godly things with their lives, we all must be prepared for persecution.
Simon Peter bravely faced the first wave of persecution against Christians from the Jews. It dissipated as Judaism and Christianity separated into two very distinct religions. As he writes his epistles, near the end of his life, he is facing the second wave of persecution against Christians, this time at the hands of Emperor Nero and the Roman Empire. If the Jews threw a rock, the Romans fired a cannon.
Why must Christians suffer for their faith? How are we supposed to respond? What will be the consequences of a proper or inadequate response? What will be our reward for doing right? These questions and more must be considered as we prepare for persecution.
Christians are Persecuted Because of Our Character
Peter does not run the gamut of Christian character in this text, but he leads with five virtues that characterize a close follower of Jesus Christ and responsible member of His church: “... unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” These traits are in keeping with the present context of the epistle, namely the meek and submissive character of a Christian. They stress conformity over independence, surrendering happiness to hurt with others, caring for others, having compassion for others, and a mindset devoid of pride. While all of these should be common for Christians, they truly have another thing in common. To the outside world, they all appear as weakness.
I’ve seen footage of lions attacking a herd of antelopes. Which ones do the lions attack? The ones who appear to be the weakest or slowest or out of step with the rest of the heard. The devil and his associates who attack Christians do the same thing. They tend to attack believers who are exhibiting true belief and Christian character, those who are meek and submissive, those who exemplify the virtues listed in this verse. We know that meekness is the opposite of weakness, but the world does not. So, if you are living out the gospel with Christ-like character, get prepared for persecution.
Counter Opposition by Doing the Opposite
George, the putz of the cast of Seinfeld, had only one really good show. Since almost all of his decisions and actions landed him in rejection and humiliation, one day he decided to just do the opposite. Whatever he felt like saying or doing, he decided to say or do the opposite. This is actually very good advice for Christians having to respond to opposition or persecution.
What do automatically want to do when someone throws something evil or reviling at you? When they say something mean to you or, heaven forbid, assault you in some way, what is the automatic human response? We want to talk back, tell them off, or meet force with force. What does God want us to do? The opposite.
Now God Himself is not against self-defense when self-defense is absolutely necessary. But the attacks in question in this context seem to be verbal, not physical (note the use of the words reviling, tongue, speaking). The opposite of evil, reviling speech is blessing (literally eulogy, or “good words”).
God did not say for us to say something good if we feel like it, for we won’t. He did not say to say something good in order to make them stop, because they probably won’t. He simply said, in this text (based on Psalm 34:12-16) to bless, say something good in return. Otherwise, we become as dirty as the dirt being thrown at us. And we can do this, for we are not afraid of them.
Persecutors Are Not to be Feared
Persecution is never pleasant, but as far as persecutors go, have no fear of them. They are a twisted minority to be feared by their followers. We don’t follow them so we don’t fear them. They are unrighteous and unholy, which is why they attack people who are different from them. Like racists who attack people of different races, misogynists who attack the fairer sex, or religious nuts who attack other religions, a persecutor hates what he cannot understand. Unbelief does not understand belief. Arrogance does not understand meekness. People going to hell are jealous of people confident of the hope of Heaven. They should not be feared, but pitied, prayed for, and witnessed to.
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy. In other words, if you properly fear God, you will never have to fear any man, not even a persecutor. If you are possessed with a sincere faith and good conscience before the Lord, no amount of trouble can make you lose your hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your witness for Christ, in word and in deed, will stand up against any persecution. Persecution ultimately shines a spotlight on the gospel, making it better and brighter in the world in which we live. At the end of the day, or the end of days, our gentleness and respect will cause those who have persecuted us to be decidedly put to shame.
Be Prepared for Persecution
Christians are not masochists. We don’t enjoy pain and we shouldn’t go looking for suffering. It is always better not to suffer. But in a fallen world, suffering is part and parcel of the human condition and it comes even to we who are Christian.
As a matter of fact, it is God’s will. All mankind and all Christian people, because of our own propensity to sin and sin’s ramifications, will suffer, either for doing good or doing evil. But which is the better suffering?
Consider some companion texts like John 16:33, Acts 14:22, 2 Timothy 3:12, and others. God is sovereign, and He has sovereignly appointed times of suffering, tribulation, and persecution for His children. It serves to strengthen our character, gain us blessings and rewards, spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, and remind us that God is faithful and true.
Tertullian, an early church father, wrote “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” It reminds us of a time when Christians were actually killed for the simple reason they had a simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. These killings, or martyrdoms, have been faced by some of our choice brothers and sisters for two thousand years. Because of their faith, courage, and obedience, the church has grown and the gospel has gone forth all over the world.
You will not likely be killed for displaying Christian character or sharing the Christian gospel in your church, family, school, or place of work. But you will be persecuted, by your own church members, family members, schoolmates, and coworkers, if you are unashamedly committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is a good thing. It is God’s will. It is what brings other people to Christ. It causes the church to grow.
Keep your Christian faith and character intact. Let it rise above any persecution that seeks to bring you down. God will be pleased, people will notice, and you will be vindicated in the day and hour that matters the most.
PREPARATION FOR PERSECUTION
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org