Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled. 1 Peter 3:13-14
Peter is writing to the church at a time of great persecution and suffering. Throughout his letter, he seeks to encourage the believers to continue to find hope in the resurrection and to live in light of the resurrection (1 Peter 1:3). While we, as Christians in America, may not be experiencing “persecution” in the same way as Christians in the first century, our fighter verses are just as relevant.
Persecution Around the World
First of all, there are Christians all over the world that are suffering and dying for their faith. We must let it sink in that more Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. The weight of this must grieve us. Our brothers and sisters around the world are not just being criticized for claiming the name of Jesus, they are being tortured, beheaded, and even crucified. This is absolutely horrific. And yet we must ask ourselves why would they endure so much pain and suffering?
I believe the answer is that they are convinced with David that, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3). Like Peter, these Christians believe that the resurrection of Jesus guarantees their resurrection from the dead. And they eagerly long for the inheritance that God has been guarding for them (1 Peter 1:4). In other words, they know that to die and be with Christ is far greater that anything this world could offer (Philippians 1:21-23). This is not “pie in the sky” mumbo jumbo. This is blood-bought reality that fills the heart of Christians all over the world. This truth changes how they live and die.
Persecution at Home
Because of what is happening around the world, we may not like to use the term persecution to describe what is happening to us in America. I tend to agree with that sentiment. And yet, what is undeniable is that there are Christians in America who have experienced great turmoil because they have chosen to affirm historic Christian views. Some have lost jobs. Others have been ridiculed and shamed publicly. Christian institutions have been threatened with lawsuits.
I have a friend who is brilliant at his craft. He has gained a wonderful reputation among his coworkers and superiors. Over the years he has had opportunity to share about his Christian faith with those at work. One time after being asked about his Christian beliefs, his boss marveled and said that if he knew my friend had held those beliefs while he was being interviewed, he probably wouldn’t have hired him. The threats and struggles are real.
So what do we do? Peter tells us to be “zealous for what is good.” First of all, this means we shouldn’t go around seeking to offend everybody. I mentioned on Sunday that if your Christian beliefs and practices never offend people or always offend people, something is wrong. We should continue to affirm the exclusive beliefs of Christianity, but seek to be the inclusive in our actions toward others.
The early church lived out this vision. They preached a message of Jesus as the crucified Son of God who had risen from the dead. This message was incredibly offensive and led to persecution (Acts 4:3, 7:58, 8:3, 12:1-2). And yet at the same time, the early church cared for the poor, loved their neighbors, and showed extravagant grace to all people. This was incredibly attractive and led to many people becoming followers of Jesus (Acts 2:41-47, 4:32-37, 9:31).
Our desire to do good should be “zealous”—enthusiastic, fervent, passionate. May we love our community so deeply that we want to see it transformed spiritually and physically. And if people are offended by the message of the cross, then so be it. The cross will be seen as foolishness to many (1 Corinthians 1:18). But others will be drawn to Christianity when they realize the heart of its message is not power, but self-sacrificing love. May we love our enemies as radically as Christ loved his enemies. And if we suffer for doing good, we don’t have to fear, but can find comfort and confidence in the promises of Christ: that we will experience his blessing now and our reward will be great in heaven (Matthew 5:12).