Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Ready Heart and a Gentle Response

And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)
In the previous section, Peter spoke about loving one another and doing good to all, even to those who do us evil. If we return evil for evil, we become part of the problem. God knows how to reward those who do good and deal with those who do evil, so we can leave it in His hands.

Peter now asks the rhetorical question, “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?” The word “and” shows that he is continuing the discussion he introduced in verses 8-12. People naturally tend to respond in kind, good for good, evil for evil. When we repay evil for evil, we only escalate the situation and increase the likelihood of coming to harm. If one suffers for doing evil, justice has been done; but if one suffers for doing good, the justice of God will set things right. If we return good for evil and blessing for cursing, we break the old cycle and establish a new one.

When we respond with good, it becomes harder for those who formerly did us evil to continue doing that. Harder, but not impossible. Though most people respond well to kindness and respect, there are still those who are bent on evil toward those they fear or with whom they disagree. Even so, we will still come out all right because we are blessed by God. Once again, Peter echoes Jesus’ teaching on the mount:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
This puts us in very good company. Who, then, can harm us?
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Therefore, do not be afraid, Peter says. He has Isaiah 8:12-14 in mind:
Do not say, “A conspiracy,”
Concerning all that this people call a conspiracy,
Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.
The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow;
Let Him be your fear,
And let Him be your dread.
He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.
He quoted verse 14 earlier, in 1 Peter 2:8, concerning the cornerstone that became a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense for those refused to believe. Now he draws from verse 12, “Do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” And he makes allusion to verses 13 and 14, about hallowing the Lord and taking Him as a sanctuary: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” The HSCB translates it as “But set apart the Messiah as Lord,” reflecting the earliest copies of Peter’s letter. Paul said,
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11)
When we confess Jesus as Lord and take our refuge in Him, we do not need to back down or fear anything man may do. This frees us to give a defense when people ask us about the hope we have, the joyful expectation of faith that is in us. The Greek word for “defense,” apologia, refers to a reasoned statement in response to charges or questioning, whether in a court of law or informal conversation.

With our faith in God, we can present our case with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience. Then we will not be put to shame, even when we are called evildoers; our good conduct will prove otherwise, and perhaps cause our accusers to back down.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

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