Western culture and most of our societies today are based on making one person happy: me. This has infiltrated the thinking of many who would call themselves Christians. Like me, you have probably been told when certain things happen to us that are perceived as ‘bad’ that you are doing something wrong. The prevailing message often taught by many – and that most like to hear – is that if you do everything right, God will bless you and prevent bad things from happening to you. Those who teach this message seem to have never studied the pages of scripture.
We are to live the best lives we can. Peter wrote about this in 1 Peter 3:8-12, emphasising the need to live good, upstanding lives where we don’t give evil for evil but are a blessing to others. He supports what he wrote by quoting Psalm 34:12-16.
He then said, “For who is going to harm you if you are devoted to what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13 NET). If we stopped reading there, we might get the impression that as long as we are faithful to Jesus and do what is right, nothing bad will ever happen to us. But we need to read on …
“But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13-17)
Yes, we are to be faithful to the Messiah – he is to be Lord and Master. But this will not stop suffering from happening. Often it is because we are faithful and doing what is right that suffering happens. If this is the case, we are still blessed. You see, suffering does not mean that God is withholding his blessings from us. Because we are doing what God wants of us, we have no reason for this to shake our faith or to be terrified (a quote from Isaiah 8:12).
The real question is: how do we deal with suffering when it comes our way? Notice what Peter wrote: be gentle, courteous and respectful to those who do bad things to us and say bad things against us. Be ready to give them an answer about the hope we have. In other words, be ready to explain to them why we believe what we believe and live the way we do.
When we give an answer we are not trying to win a battle over them. We are trying to show them what it is we have. So don’t blast them back or get upset with them. Instead be courteous and show them respect. When our worldly instinct is to give as good as they are giving to us, the Holy Spirit through Peter tells us to keep on living as a Christian.
Why do this? Peter gives a reason: “so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.” Isn’t it hard to keep hurting those who are nice to us? We always need to show that we live for Jesus no matter what happens to us. If we are going to suffer, then suffer for what is good rather than because we have been doing evil.
Peter then calls attention to another reason why we need to do this: it is what Jesus did (see 1 Peter 3:18 & 4:1-2). He is our example.
If we are faithful to Jesus we will suffer. We must keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and gently explain to people who we are and why we live for him.
Readings for next week: 1 Peter 1-5