A Biblical Response to Opposition: Part 1
Passage: 1 Peter 3:13-18
You’re probably aware that the Iowa caucuses took place this week. I’m by no means a political junky, but I have found this primary season to be very interesting. This is because for the past few years and especially over the summer with the Supreme Court decision on the definition of marriage, hardly anyone in the media has been willing to bring up anything related to biblical morals, except to lambast them. Then we have a number of Republican hopefuls vying for evangelical votes, which are very significant in Iowa and many other states. And suddenly, we are swamped with strong statements about the sanctity of life, protecting religious freedom, and on and on we could. For at least a few weeks, it’s cool for politicians to be Christians. We enjoy hearing significant individuals espouse our beliefs, and it gives us hope that maybe some of the negative momentum against our faith can be slowed, though I doubt any of us are too optimistic. The overall momentum is clearly building against our faith. How then should we live our times? Should we hold out hope for change? How much should we invest in bringing about change? How should we respond to the attacks against our faith? And specifically, how should you respond at work, at holidays with your family, or in the marketplace when people oppose your beliefs? This is one of the areas where 1 Peter is so incredibly helpful because it has a lot to say about how we should respond to opposition. So far in our study of 1 Peter, the topics of persecution and suffering have popped up several times, but in the third section of the book, which extends from 3:13–4:19, it becomes the central issue. In this section, Peter zeros in on how Christians should respond to opposition and suffering. The first paragraph of the section extends through v. 17, and there is a lot here for us to digest both in terms of what is being said exegetically and what significance it bears for us today. As a result, this will be a two-part sermon that we will do today and next Sunday, Lord willing.
I’d like to divide our study of these five verses into seven challenges. I plan to cover the first four today, and the final three next Sunday. The first challenge is…
Hope for a reasonable response to godly conduct (v. 13).
The basic meaning of this verse is pretty simple. It is optimistic that Christians will not face harm when they do what is right. But what kind of “harm” does Peter have in mind? Peter acknowledges many times throughout this book that his readers were facing “harm” of various kinds for their faith such as economic loss, abandonment by family, and at times physical abuse. In light of that, some scholars believe that v. 13 cannot possibly be holding out optimism that we can avoid harm in this life. Therefore, they argue that the harm Peter is referencing in v. 13 is spiritual harm. The idea then would be that wicked people may be able to hurt God’s people in this life, but they cannot take away our eternal inheritance or cause genuine Christians to fall away from their faith. Praise the Lord that those things are true. Romans 8:35 says that tribulation, distress, and persecution cannot “separate us from the love of Christ” because according to v. 37, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” But I’m confident that is not what Peter means in v. 13. This is because v. 14 defines the harm Peter has in mind in v. 13. The harm of v. 13 is “suffering for righteousness sake” which is clearly a reference to persecution. In light of that, v. 13 is optimistic that when Christians do right, they will not be persecuted. It’s worth noting that Peter isn’t speaking of half-hearted righteousness. He uses a verb that speaks of a zealous, passionate pursuit of a goal. Therefore, Peter describes a Christian who is wholly committed to obeying God’s will and is working hard, for example, to obey the commands in the previous section. He submits to the government, he obeys his slave master, and she honors her husband. And Peter states under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that when Christians zealously pursue godliness, we should be optimistic that it will diffuse hatred and that we will avoid mistreatment.
This is a crucial thought for us to consider because sometimes the opposition that Christians endure is self-inflicted. Christians will sometimes use their faith as an excuse to stir up controversy at work. They say they are standing for truth, but they really just like to argue. Or maybe they use their faith as an excuse to not be a good employee. It’s a great thing to witness, but if your witness means that you aren’t productive, an employer has a right to be angry. And we also often bring hatred on ourselves by how we present ourselves in the public square. Many Christians harbor genuine hatred toward homosexuals or Muslims. They are consumed with preserving the Christian culture of the past, and in the eyes of the world, they are known more for their opposition to changes in the culture than they are for a concern for souls and the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. My point is not that we shouldn’t stand for righteousness, but we need to guard our motives and our priorities. God hasn’t commanded us to revive America or to protect our place of significance and honor in society. Rather, he has commanded us to revive souls and to build the church. We need to make sure that we are zealous for the right things—for good and for God’s purposes, that we are obeying God and not tolerating hypocrisy.
Application: If we do so we can be hopeful that people will respond well. This optimism is another area where we need to be challenged because Christians can be gluttons for conspiracy theories and pessimism. Now, we do believe in depravity, so we ought to be pessimistic about the human nature, and we can look at history and see patterns that we don’t want to see repeated. But we can take that pessimism too far, and see conspiracy in every corner—in medicine, in the food industry, in government agencies, in business, and on and on we could go. But while we believe in depravity, we also believe in conscience and in common grace. The Scriptures teach that the Spirit is at work to prevent depravity from manifesting itself fully. Therefore, we ought to be hopeful that when we are zealous for good and are known for love, joy, and peace, that people will see it and respect it. Let’s not live our lives in the dumps, pessimistic about everything and seeing conspiracy under every rug. Instead, focus on doing good deeds. Be passionate in the pursuit of godliness. Show the world a true picture of God and Christianity, and trust that God will honor it and protect you from harm.
We ought to be optimistic, but Peter is also a realist. Suffering will come. Therefore, the second challenge of this text is to…
Rest in God’s reward (v. 14a).
Verse 14 acknowledges the possibility that Christians may suffer because of their obedience. I want to emphasize that phrase “for righteousness sake.” Peter is not talking about self-inflicted suffering due to our sin or stupidity; rather, there may be times when obeying God will cause us to suffer. Peter uses a grammatical construction that indicates this is not normal, but it may happen. Unbelievers may be so turned off by our faith that they act wickedly against us. It’s not all that uncommon to lose friends or to be alienated from family because of our faith. Sadly, we’ve seen some instances in our society where government employees or highly visible people have lost their jobs for taking biblical stands. There may be a day when we go to prison or lose tax benefits for simply obeying God. Sadly, these kinds of things and even worse things happen rather frequently to Christians in China and the Middle East. I have friends who have heard Chinese believers tell some awful stories of persecution. Of course, these are sobering realities to consider. We enjoy such incredible liberty and comfort in our society, and it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to lose these things. And so as we ponder what it would be like if this were to happen or especially if it were starring you in the face, we naturally may wonder if Christ is worth it. Is obedience to Christ worth losing a friend, my job, or my liberty?
Peter responds to this question with a simple reply. “You are blessed.” It’s possible that Peter was thinking of the words of Christ in Matthew 5:11–12 when he wrote this verse. Jesus said, “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.” Jesus promised that God will richly reward us in heaven for the suffering we endure in this life. He implies that the rewards of heaven will make present suffering seem small. Similarly, Paul stated, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17). Yes, wicked men can take a lot of things from us, but they cannot take what is most precious, and Scripture is clear that this reward is worth infinitely more than any harm people can bring in this life. But it’s not just that God will bless us in eternity. We saw two weeks ago in vv. 8–12 that God will bless us in this life also. God hasn’t promised to make us rich or to make our lives easy, but he will watch over us and hear our prayers (v. 12). He gives us joy and a peace that passes understanding. He gives us confidence that there is a purpose behind our hardship and hope that suffering is not the end. Maybe those things seem minor. What good is peace or joy in comparison to losing my job? But at the end of the day, I think we all know that joy and the peace of knowing that God sees and is in control is far more important than worldly comforts. Proverbs 15:17 states, Better is a dinner of herbs[a] where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.”
It might that you are enduring some kind of hardship right now because of your faith. Maybe your family doesn’t understand, and they are giving you a hard time. Maybe investing in your family or the church is taking up time that you could be using to advance in your company or to do better at school. Maybe there is an area where you are simply feeling the burden of obeying a hard biblical command. Honoring God’s design for marriage, acting with integrity at work, or sharing the gospel is proving hard. If enduring is hard, then be encouraged that you are blessed. Eternity is worth every sacrifice, and true joy and peace are only found in Christ. Maybe you have given up in certain areas. Obedience is too hard, or taking matters into your own hands seems so much easier. Repent and get on the right track because God’s blessing is worth it. Hold onto the truth that eternity with Christ is worth every sacrifice, and don’t by the lie that you can improve on the joy and peace that comes with obedience. Trust the Lord, don’t get discouraged, and press on by faith.
The second challenge is to rest in God’s reward. Peter follows with a third challenge, which concerns the opposite side of the coin from this kind of faith. The third challenge is to…
Maintain courage (v. 14b).
As you can see, Peter gives two commands here, though there is no significant difference in meaning between the verbs. Both of them challenge us not to respond to intimidation with fear. This statement is actually a quotation from Isaiah 8:12, where Isaiah encourages Israel not to be intimidated by the threats of foreign powers such as Assyria. Similarly, God commands Christians in this verse not to be “afraid” or “troubled” by the threats of evil people who would do them harm because of their faith.
I don’t know about you, but I find this challenge to be very convicting because fear is sometimes a powerful force in my life. Sometimes it is a great hindrance to my obedience. There have been many times in my life where I have failed to share the gospel because of fear. There have been times where I have failed to confront sin because I didn’t want to make someone angry or lose a friend. I can’t imagine what it would be like to potentially lose my livelihood or go to jail for obeying God. Those would be fearful situations. Fear is a powerful tool of Satan and our flesh. I wonder where has fear created a real struggle in your obedience. Is there someone that you need to share the gospel with, but you have refused to obey because of fear? Is fear keeping you from confronting sin in a fellow church member or relative? Far too often we let fear drive our lives, and we need to see this as sin. We serve a sovereign God who has promised us a great reward, and when we let temporal fears keep us from doing his will, it betrays a sinful lack of faith in God’s power and faithfulness. Don’t let fear dominate your life. Believe the promises of God, and obey him as Lord.
This verse also provides a good opportunity for us to reflect on what may lie ahead in our nation and what that means for our commitment to God’s Word. What would it take to make you turn your back on Christ and his church? What would you do if our city turned hostile toward Life Point because of our stand on biblical morals? Would you hide? Would you be in favor of us backing off Scripture? Or would you stand on God’s Word and not be intimidated? What if the day came that you had to compromise biblical values to keep your job? Would you stand with God or put your eternal destiny at risk for the sake of momentary ease? Folks, we have it so easy. It’s so easy to be a Christian in this country that it can just be a tag on to your life. It can be little more for many people than wearing a faddish WWJD wristband. If that’s all our faith is, we very likely don’t have faith at all. We need to cultivate a faith that will not back down and will not be intimidated. We need to be a church that will stand with God no matter the cost because he is worth it.
Maintain courage. The final challenge we will consider today is…
Maintain your primary allegiance (v. 15a).
There are a couple of interpretive challenges in this verse. For one, there is a textual variant regarding the word “God.” Many manuscripts have “Christ” instead of “God.” Of course, whether this verse has to do with the Father or the Son doesn’t significantly affect the meaning. A second and more significant debate is where to place God or Christ and Lord in the statement. The NKJV makes them into a dual title, but the grammar does not support this. Lord is actually the first word in the verse and is there for emphasis. As well, it does not have an article; whereas, God or Christ is later in the clause and has an article. Therefore, I believe it’s best to translate the command as “sanctify God (or Christ) as Lord in your hearts.”
As such, the point of the challenge is that we are to give God a position of lordship in our hearts. The verb Peter uses supports this idea. It comes from the family of terms, which describe something that is holy or set apart. It’s commonly used for sanctification, and here when it is used for God it means that we set him apart as holy or distinct. We give him a position of lordship or authority that does not belong to anyone else. This is a command to make a decision to set God or Christ apart as the supreme authority of life. Notice as well that Peter isn’t thinking of a superficial decision or commitment. Kids will sometimes make a promise, but later claim it wasn’t genuine because they had their fingers crossed. This is not that kind of commitment. No, Peter says we are to make this commitment “in your hearts.” In other words, this commitment must penetrate to the center of our being. We must make a decision that God will be the Lord of our lives no matter what, no matter how hard it may be, and no matter how much the world, the flesh, and the devil may resist.
I believe it’s intentional that Peter places this command at the center of the paragraph because everything else rises and falls on this issue. When you are faced with a costly decision, you have to make a choice. Will I obey my flesh? Will I obey the intimidation of the world? Will I do what is convenient for me? Will I live for the moment? Or will I obey Christ because he is my Lord? If we are willing to waver on the issue of authority, then we will not stand against opposition. We will not make costly decisions. Instead we will wilt and do what is convenient for the moment and what is popular with others. I have a book in my office about the fear of man with the title, When People are Big and God is Small. This title is a great summary of one of our biggest struggles. We let people become big influences in our life, and we only give God a small spot. If we are going to obey properly, we must decide to make God big and to leave people, our flesh, and Satan as small.
Have you set apart God as Lord in your heart? Ultimately, this decision is essential to becoming a Christian. Jesus himself said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt 16:24). It might be that someone here has never made that decision. Maybe you have come to church for years, but you are living two lives. You like to talk about Jesus and be around Christians, but he is not the Lord of your life and there are significant areas where you refuse to obey his will and you aren’t even trying to do so. I want to emphasize those qualifiers because none of us are perfect. Even the godliest Christian will struggle until he is glorified. My point is not to make all of us doubt our salvation. But there may be some people who need to because you have grown comfortable in a pattern of rebellion. You may simply need to confess it and change, but you may also need to be saved. If that’s you, I want to urge you to recognize that this decision is of eternal significance. In the next verse, Jesus says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt 16:25). Following Christ is hard, and it may get harder. But the decision is of eternal significance. It is the difference between heaven and hell. And if you need to repent and turn to Christ, I hope you will do so today because Jesus then adds in v. 26, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Don’t sacrifice heaven to follow your own foolish desires in the moment.
For those who are saved, we have decided to follow Christ, but we need to consciously make this choice every day. With every temptation, we’ve got to decide who is going to be the Lord in our hearts. Will I obey people, will I be slave to my sin nature, or will I obey Christ? We must not lose sight of the significance of obedience to our faith. Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10), and “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Your obedience defines your love. And so commit yourself to the lordship of Christ over your life, and obey him even when it is hard. And praise the Lord that when we do so, we are blessed. There is joy in Christ that the world can never match, and there is hope in Christ that blows away the world’s best treasures.