Last week we looked at how Peter said we should relate to people inside the church. This week we’ll look at how we’re supposed to relate to people outside the church–especially those who don’t treat us well.
“Do not repay evil wiht evil or insult wiht insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. . . . Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:9-16).
We have it easier than the Christians of Asia Minor who first read Peter’s letter. American Christians are not asked to make sacrifices to a deity before joining a trade guild, nor is our refusal to worship the emperor likely to result in execution. And yet we can’t deny that our culture is shifting. We used to accept that being in the public square meant you might hear the voices of those with whom you disagree. Today, there is increasing pressure to silence the opposition–particularly in the areas of Christian sexual ethics and morality. And though we are incredibly privileged compared to our brothers and sisters in places where Christianity is a life or death choice, we would be foolish to ignore our changing reality. It’s not 1950 anymore, and we must learn to navigate a world where many see our faith as more vice than virtue.
This is not a new situation for the church. But when we live in an indifferent and antagonistic culture, it is vital for us to learn how to respond. The words Peter gave to those first-century believers struggling to survive in a hostile world apply to us as well:
Repay evil with blessing (vs. 9). Yeah, people can be nasty. Publicly articulating a Christian worldview nowadays means you’re likely to be a target for insults and verbal abuse, maybe even downright threats. But it’s one thing when it’s a stranger on the Internet; it’s another when it’s a friend, coworker, classmate, or family member. We are called to bless, not curse. That means being kind in the face of insults and refusing to indulge in gossip, passive-aggressive behaviors, or behind the scenes manipulation. Blessing means seeking the other’s best interests and choosing to do them good instead of evil. It doesn’t make us doormats. Setting limits and healthy boundaries can be a form of blessing. But our goal is redemption, not retaliation.
Be eager to do what is good (vs 13). Even as key values in our faith are questioned, people still generally recognize good for what it is. Employers value employees who show up and do their jobs well. People recognize the good in caring for the poor and defenseless. Acts of service, generosity, charity, and grace are still praiseworthy, even when they don’t recognize the One who motivates us to do them. Christians should do good–even be eager to do so. What we want is for people to be able to say, “Well, I don’t understand Christianity. And some of what I hear Christians say seems ridiculous and intolerant. But I know Susan. She’s kind. She’s honest. She goes out of her way to help people. And she’s always been respectful–even when people are rude to her. Maybe I should listen to what she has to say.” Live well. Love well. And if we do what is right and still suffer for it, we know that God ensures our blessing.
Don’t be afraid, but honor Jesus as Lord (vs 14). Boldly following Christ may come with a cost. It may cost you some friendships. It may cost customers or a job. Particularly as the phenomenon of social shaming becomes more acceptable, speaking out for Christ may mean that we find ourselves on the other end of the next social media mob. But we are not to give way to fear. Though the Christians Peter wrote to lived under an emperor who declared “Caesar is Lord,” Peter reminded them that real authority and power belong to Jesus. Jesus is still Lord. Don’t be afraid. Honor him.
Use our words well (vs 15-16). We need to be able to give reasons for the hope that is in us. Know what you believe, why you believe it, and be willing to speak it out when opportunity arises. Why are you a Christian? Why do you believe the Bible is true? Why should questions of ethics and morality matter to you? We need to be prepared to answer these questions. But we also need to do so with a clear conscience, and with gentleness and respect. We can’t win a spiritual war with worldly weapons. If we are people of truth and love, our words need to be truthful and loving.Don’t speak for Christ in a way you’ll be ashamed of later. We don’t have to choose between kindness and truth. Speak boldly–but do it with gentleness and respect.
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