God is with you - Part 23
1 Peter 3v13-14a
Who is going to harm you?
25th August 2017
1 Peter 3v13-14a
This letter follows quite a clear trajectory. In the first section, Peter explains all that God has done for us, and all the goodness in which we now live: the standing we have as God's chosen people, His royal priesthood, His holy nation. In the second section, Peter writes about Christian ethics, the ethics of humility and submission, ending in the words of Chapter 3 verse 8, "Live in harmony with one another. Be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble". This is a lovely summary of the Christian heart.
And then in verse 9, Peter, moves from the Christian heart to Christian behaviour. He says something that's really hard, but really important, for us all, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing". Just as Christ did not curse his persecutors, but prayed for them, we are not hurt or curse those who hurt us, but to pray for them. That can be really difficult, but it's really important, for them but particularly for us; Peter continues, "to this you were called, so that you may inherit a blessing".
God wants to bless us, but God shows mercy to the merciful. He's kind to the kind. He forgives the forgiving. When we were dead in our sins, He died for us, so how can we not love other sinners, even those who sin against us and our loved ones?
Christian living is a high calling, but to this we are called as children of God.
Then in verses 10-11 Peter says "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep him tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it", even if he's just been sinned against, whether he's feeling good, or feeling got at. It's a huge difficulty for us all, never to answer back, especially when justice is on our side. Don't answer back, because Jesus didn't. Repay unkindness with blessing, because Jesus did.
In verse 12, Peter says, "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." God wants to bless you, so do good so He can, don't do evil so He won't, even when people are doing evil against you.
This is the height of Christian ethics and Christian practice: submission even to those who would hurt us, is the highest Christian virtue. Love those who hate you, pray for your enemies, bless those who persecute you.
And then, in a thought that carries on from these, Peter talks about how we handle suffering as Christians. He asks:
1 Peter 3v13
That's a question, not a teaching, so I think we're allowed to think about what the answer is. And the answer is "Lots of people".
Lots of people will harm you if you're eager to do good. Ask the church in Iraq or Syria. Some people there will shoot your children, and crucify you, if you're eager to do good. The people harmed Jesus. They crucified Him, and He only ever did good.
"Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?" sounds like a rhetorical question to which the answer is supposed to be "No-one", but we know that's not true. Paul wandered around the Middle East and eastern Europe, and they kept throwing him into jail. They stoned him and beat him with rods. As Paul says in 2 Timothy, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life will be persecuted".
Some people claim that what Peter means here is, "Yes, you will suffer but not as much as if you behave badly". I'm sure that's true, by and large. In a reasonably civilised society, those who behave badly will, on the whole, suffer more than those who behave well. But Peter didn't say that. He didn't say "Try to be nice so you'll suffer less". He asked the question, "Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?"
He's already spoken about people doing evil to you and insulting you, so we know we are going to be harmed. Because this is a continuation of the same thought, I think what he's really saying is this: If somebody sins against you, and you retaliate, and you get your revenge, then you will cut yourself off from God's blessing. Who will harm you? You will.
I must admit there are plenty of commentaries which don't say this, but that's what I think Peter means. I think he's saying you will be treated unjustly sometimes, not just by ISIS but sometimes by your husband, or your children, or your friends, or your church. And if you choose to ape their behaviour, to behave badly towards them because they behaved badly towards you, then you will end up in as bad a spiritual state as them. Who will harm you? You will.
But if we respond to insult and injury with blessing, then we will not hurt ourselves. If you remain eager to do good, even when you're being persecuted, then you will not hurt yourself. You will be blessed.
Romans 8v28 says "God works all things together for good". There are other translations of that verse, but the basic idea is that, for a Christian, whatever happens is for your good. Do we really believe that?
When someone is cruel to you, when you're sacked to make way for the boss's favourite, when you're ostracised from a social group, when you're treated cruelly in any environment, is it possible to believe that that's good for you? Well:
Do you want to be a mature Christian? Do you want to be complete? Do you want to lack nothing? Then you must experience perseverance. You must experience so much perseverance that is has time to finish its work. And you will not learn perseverance unless you experience testing and trials.
I'm asking you to believe something very difficult. I'm asking you to believe that every time somebody is cruel to you, if you handle it right, it's good for you. It's not good of itself; it's sin. But it's good for you. There is a difference between "good" and "good for you".
If we can accept by faith that trials are sent to us by God, for our good, and if we can so study scripture and pray that God teaches us how to respond to trials, it will purify our hearts. It will draw us closer to Jesus. It will mature us in our faith and in our lives, and we will become more mature, more complete Christians.
Is that too hard to believe? You may be thinking "Really? I'm not sure I'm up for that", but it is the truth.
We must be aware of one caveat here; Jesus did say, "If you're persecuted in one place, flee to another" (Matthew 10v23). There's a case to be made that if you're being persecuted in one job situation, get another job. If you're sufficiently domestically abused, find another home. If you're persecuted in one church, find a healthy one. If one social group is horrible to you, find another. There's a point at which we have to do that. But up to that point, if we're able to believe by faith that the difficulties and unkindness are good for us, then stick with the programme and let it do its job. And whether the time has come to decide the abuse is so bad that you need to flee, is your decision alone, before the Lord. Pray it through and decide, have I had enough? and act accordingly.
The old-fashioned word for perseverance is "long-suffering". We all prefer short suffering but, sometimes, in order to make us perfect, God will send us long-suffering. If you're able to receive it, then embrace it and endure.
Every trial, whether it be a sickness, or an unkind pastor, or a bad employer, or a difficult parent, or whatever it might be, either you should just get out, or you should allow it to mature you as a Christian. But if you respond in kind, repaying unkindness for unkindness, insult for insult, injury for injury, it will take you further from Jesus.
We get this choice every time somebody is horrible. For some of us, that happens quite often. And for some of us, the abuse is very painful.
Respond as Christ responds, and you will grow into Christ.
1 Peter 3v14a
If you do the right thing, and pay a price for it, if you try to live in righteousness and love, and people are unkind to you as a result, God guarantees He will bless you, although not necessarily immediately.
The highest good you and I will ever know is a closer relationship with Jesus. Everything else will be stripped away over time, if only on your deathbed. You'll lose everything else, but a closer relationship with Jesus will be yours for all eternity. It's worth taking some rubbish for. It's worth putting up with some horrible moments for, because Jesus loves you. Jesus is committed to you. Jesus will never abandon you.
God has promised that one day you will be like Jesus. That's worth any price. It's certainly worth smiling at the person who's shouting at you. It's worth praying for the person who's lying about you. It's even worth praying for the terrorist maniac who's killing your children. It's not easy, but it is worth it. Whatever hurt you've had, forgive it. Whatever injustice you've suffered, let it go. Be like Jesus, because God so wants you to be like Jesus.
God has an eternal destiny for you, and this unjust suffering is part of the process of preparing you for glory. God wants you to be as ready as possible to live in heaven, with as perfect a character as He can work in you during your time on earth. God wants you to have as much treasure in heaven as possible. And that depends on us doing the right thing on earth.
Sometimes it's so hard to do the right thing, especially when the person in front of you is doing the wrong thing, but it's always worth it. God is for you. God believes in you, more than you believe in Him. And God is prepared to send trials our way to make us perfect and mature.
Are you up for it? Some days it's really hard. On the days you fail, say "Sorry Jesus" before you turn the light out and try again tomorrow, because He will continue this process of sanctifying us through trials, every day we live on this earth.