Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1st Peter 3 - Unjust suffering

"Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong." (1 Peter 3:13-17)
Even if we do what is right, we may still suffer the pain, rejection, and ridicule of those who do not understand the ways of God. We will not always be loved by all people, and some may even hate us for our faith and our right living, however this should not dissuade us from the way that is right. Peter gives some advice on how to deal with the unfair rejection and the suffering that sometimes comes from doing right.

First, we are not to fear them nor their intimidation. Jesus told us, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) None of the suffering we may experience from others in this life is eternal but rather temporal. Our life on this earth, in comparison to eternity, is quite short. That is why Paul confessed, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18) and taught that these, "momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison." (2 Corinthians 4:17) We must see our life in the greater light of eternity in order to see how insignificant our present sufferings are.

Secondly, we are to let Jesus and His Word be the lord of our hearts and not our fear of others or our fear of suffering. We must let Jesus replace the fears in our heart. This is not always easy and may take practice and repetition, overthrowing fear by the word and presence of Jesus, but the end result is worth it and is greater peace and joy lasting from day to day. We need to understand that we are no longer to be slaved to the opinions, expectations, and estimations of others. Paul tells us that, "you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again." (Romans 8:15) Slavery breads fear. If we are slaves to the thoughts and intents of others, then we will have fear. However, if we understand that we are now sons and daughters of God, then there is no reason for fear. This is why John said, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18 NKJV) The more we allow God's love into our hearts', the less room there is for fear; fear of man and fear of what they can do to us.

Thirdly, we are to always be ready to give an answer for the reason of the hope that is in us to anyone who asks us. There are two interesting Greek words used here. First is the word for "answer" which is the Greek word from which we get our word "apology". This does not mean that we should apologize for our beliefs, but rather be ready to give a well thought out answer or explanation for our beliefs. It not always sufficient to just give the "what" of our faith but sometimes we need to explain the "why" of our faith; why we believe what we believe. We should be always ready to give our defense of the Gospel and of our beliefs, but this will require us to grow in understanding and wisdom; taking a path from infancy to maturity. The second word of interest is the Greek word for "reason", it is the Greek word Logos and the same word John uses to describe Jesus, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." (John 1:1-2) Here, every instance of the English word "word" is the Greek word Logos. Jesus is the Logos of God and we, as His body, should always be willing and ready to be His Logos here on the earth. When God wanted to communicate Himself to the world, He sent His Logos, and we too are to be His Logos here and now. This should motivate us to use great care and integrity when responding with an answer to anyone who asks, not only in words but also in character and action, "with gentleness and respect."

Finally, in all things, we should seek to maintain a pure and clean conscience so that, even if we are slandered, there will be nothing in our lives to give any justification to those things in which we are slandered.. This is something the old Law could never do. The writer of Hebrews, speaking of the old Law, says "Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation." (Hebrews 9:9-10) However, as believers in Christ, not only can we have our sins forgiven, but we can also have our consciences washed and purged from all that would define and cause us shame. However, notice that Peter understands that the obtaining of a pure and clean conscience will require the exercise of our own wills; it is something we must choose, and something that we must practice. A clean conscience is not automatic and will take effort on our part along with the grace given to use by God. However, for those who have obtained a pure conscience, what of this life could ever trouble them again?

David Robison

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