Read this scripture passage: 1 Peter 3:8-18, 22
The original recipients of the Apostle Peter’s letter were facing difficult and dangerous times. The apostle Peter is writing in the 60s AD to Christians scattered in various regions of the ancient world. He speaks of fiery trials and suffering, and it is evident that persecution was taking place or was right at hand. So, Peter writes a pastoral and passionate letter encouraging believers to stand firm in the true grace of God during these times.
This powerful little Epistle encourages believers to hold on to the “living hope” they have in Christ. And Peter writes, calling these believers to live faithfully for Christ during these difficult days. And that is our theme in this message – “Living faithfully for Christ during difficult times.
Across our world today, many Christians are being persecuted directly for their faith. There are places where there is open hostility to the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ. At the same time, there are other places where there is resistance to and rejection of the things of Christ without necessarily any physical violence. There are places where there is basic indifference to the gospel, and people are not interested.
For many of us, what may be more important to think about are difficulties on a more personal level. What I mean by that is opposition within families and with people we work with. This may not be violent opposition, but it is a basic rejection of the Christian faith on the part of many. I am not sure what you are experiencing. But I'm sure many of you realize that these are difficult days for being a Christian and sharing your faith with others. That was the case in Peter’s day, and I think it is very much the case for many people today.
Peter begins this section of his epistle with general exhortations to God's people. There's the need for unity and sympathy and brotherly love and to have tender hearts and humble minds towards one another. These are essential qualities that Christians need to have and need to exhibit in the life of the church. We don't have time to focus on this verse in detail, but these are exhortations that are similar to others you will find elsewhere in the New Testament. The loving lifestyle among Christians and toward others is so important.
For this message, I want to move to Peter's particular challenges for those facing difficulty or hostility as a Christian. And what he is presenting is going to call for great dependence upon the Lord. Because Peter is calling for a faithful lifestyle and witness even in the context of rejection, resistance, and possible persecution that may come.
From this passage, I want us to consider that living faithfully for Christ during difficult times will involve at least four responses that are God’s will for us in Christ.
You see it right here in the text. Instead of repaying evil for evil or reviling for reviling, the Christian is called to bless others. Peter even says - to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing. Ultimately the only blessing we need is from God and not from other people. And God will bless us.
Our need is to bless others even when they are mean, harsh, or hurtful towards us. Of course, this is much easier to say than actually to do, but this is the calling of the Christian in difficult times. And part of our witness to a watching world is to be committed to blessing others in our speech and actions even when such a response seems almost impossible. But with God, all things are possible. He will give the strength to bless others when they don't really deserve it.
Now, I’ve been in ministry long enough, along with my wife, Ellen, to know how sinful and hurtful people can be to one another.
You may be able to think right now of somebody who is really not kind to others. You may be able to think of somebody who speaks harshly to others and to yourself. You may be able to think of someone who does not respect you because you are a Christian. There may even be somebody who is openly hostile to you.
Our commitment as Christians is to bless those people. That means that we pray for God's blessing for these people. We do not return evil for evil. We do not speak harshly in return. We seek to show kindness towards them and bless them in any way that God would direct us to do.
Of course, we can pray that God would change their behavior. We can pray that God would work in their hearts. But rather than reacting and in some way responding negatively, we are called to bless. Living faithfully for Christ during challenging times means living a life of blessing others. What a challenge. How we need the Holy Spirit to empower us to be this way. Peter reminds his readers later that the “Spirit of glory and of God” rests upon believers when they face rejection and ridicule.
Living faithfully for Christ during difficult times means:
The apostle Peter quotes a beautiful Psalm in the following verses, and there are a number of key truths in this Psalm.
We don't have time to fully study the Psalm, but look at verse 11 of 1 Peter 3. Our Heavenly Father's expectation and desire is that we will do good and keep ourselves from evil. If you look at verse 13, the apostle Peter brings in the idea of being harmed for doing good. And his teaching is that we should still do good even if we suffer for it. In verse 16, he speaks of good behavior as important because it authenticates and supports our witness for Christ.
This teaching in this section of Peter’s Epistle is in keeping with the same emphasis throughout the epistle.
In Chapters 4, verses 12 through 19, Peter deals with the subject of persecution directly. And he concludes this whole section in verse 19 (4:19) by encouraging his readers to “entrust their souls to a faithful creator while doing good.” So, even in the midst of persecution the Christian is to continue to do good things, this is the will of God. The Christian must continue to do the good things that God has called us to do. The Christian is not to be tempted to respond in some type of evil or unkind way. Consistent goodness is what the Apostle is calling for.
Such a commitment will call for a deep trust in the Lord and, indeed, a willingness to entrust ourselves to the Lord, regardless of the consequences. How, again, we need the help of the Holy Spirit to live such a consistently good life. We need the work of the Holy Spirit to give us a passion for goodness, for kindness, for the kind of goodness that is so often missing in our contemporary world. It is doing things for Christ's sake and for others' good. It is the opposite of doing things with a selfish motive and just for personal gain or advantage. And living such a life gives us a platform for sharing the gospel as we will see in a few moments.
Christians can be criticized and questioned when non-Christians sense a lack of integrity or impure motives. Such criticism should not stop us from doing the right things in the right way with the right motives. God is good all the time. We need to be good with His help.
There's a third truth and challenge that we need to consider. It is mentioned only briefly, but it is very important. Living faithfully for Christ during difficult times will mean:
Notice some brief words in chapter 3 and verse 14 that have an Old Testament text as their base. The text in 1 Peter 3:14b reads, “Have no fear of them nor be troubled.” Who is Peter speaking about? Peter seems to be speaking of people who are hurtful, or hostile, or in direct opposition to the gospel. The simple directive is not to fear them. The Old Testament quotation in context focuses on just fearing God himself. And we will see in a moment that we're to reverence Christ in our hearts. But let's pause to consider this practically and personally.
It is so easy to live in fear of others for various reasons. It may not be a fear of direct persecution. It may be the fear of rejection. It may be the fear of some type of conflict or hard interaction. It may be the fear of losing a relationship. And I am especially thinking of fear in relation to living the Christian life and sharing the gospel.
Think of the Apostle Peter himself. He denied His Lord three times. Simple questions were asked of him concerning his possible association with Jesus. Jesus was facing suffering and death, and I’m sure that Peter feared the consequences of being labeled a disciple of Christ. Well, we know the rest of the story. Peter wept and repented. Christ restored Him and re-called him into service and leadership. And filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter was a changed man.
We need to pray for confidence in the Lord and a passion for the Lord that the Holy Spirit enables. We also need to pray for compassion for others that overcomes fear. We need to have confidence in our Lord's protection and guidance and grace as we live day by day. And we need to see people as created in the image of God and created to have a relationship with God. God has given us his Holy Spirit to give us confidence in our relationship with God and not to live in fear. We need to pray for a holy boldness that is matched with genuine humility in our relationship with others. We must ask the Lord to conquer fear in our lives and give us freedom in himself and total trust in God's sovereignty and ability to use us for his glory even in difficult times. The people in Peter's day had a real reason to receive this brief corrective from the apostle, and we may need it also.
Just the other day, I prayed with someone who was experiencing fear. Fear can be experienced in relation to many circumstances and many people. But we do not need to have a fear that paralyzes us from being faithful to the Lord or causes us to disobey the Lord in some way. And so, Peter mentions this before moving to our last and fullest consideration in this message.
The Apostle instructed his son in the ministry, Timothy, writing that God does not give us a spirit of fear. No, God provides a spirit of “power, love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Fourthly, in order to live faithfully for Christ during difficult times, it will mean:
Verses 15 through 17 (3:15-17) are really the core of the passage that I want us to give our attention to.
For us to be dedicated witnesses to others, there must be, first of all
True witness to Christ begins as an act of worship. We witness for Christ because we worship him, and Peter expresses this in a very strong way. It is as if our hearts are a temple, and within that temple, there is only one to be worshipped, and it is Christ the Lord.
Christ the Lord is to be set apart as holy. That means he has no rivals. There is no other one that we worship. He is to be worshipped alone. He is to be honored alone. He is to be the one directing our lives alone.
In our reading, I wanted us to see the end of this passage (18,22) and all that Christ has done for us. We must remember that He died for us and that He rose again. But we learned furthermore. that He's exalted above (verse 22) and He's at the right hand of God. Also, all authorities and powers are subject to Him. Christ is Lord of all. He is above all and deserves our total allegiance and dependence.
“He is Lord, yes, He is Lord, He is risen from the dead and He is Lord - every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
But, we must make that confession constantly, day by day, acknowledging His Lordship over our lives from our hearts. This acknowledgment must be one that comes from our hearts. It must be sincere. It must be total. It must be authentic. And this inner dedication to Christ will give motivation and strength for outer witness, so a life of dedicated witness begins with a life of devoted worship to Christ and to Christ alone as Lord.
Is He the Lord of your life? Is He Lord of all of you? That lordship needs to be acknowledged deep in our hearts. This is not a superficial thing. This is not a Sunday practice only. This is not a simple belief that we think about at church once in a while. This involves a daily personal deep reverence for Christ.
But that inner devotion needs to lead to what I'm calling:
This is a challenge that we all need to face in our day. It was a challenge that the people in Peter’s day needed to face. Let’s read it again in verse 15. Peter is saying that his recipients need to be prepared to make a defense, to give a reason for their hope. In other words, they need to explain the gospel. They need to be able to explain why they have faith and hope in this Lord Jesus Christ. That is something that we need to be prepared to do.
We need to be able to share with people what Christ means to us personally. We need to be able to explain to people why we believe in Christ. We need to be able to tell our own story but then move to the gospel story.
Think about how Peter begins this very epistle. I would encourage you to study it on your own in the coming days. But in verses 1 through 12 of the first chapter, Peter describes the ‘living hope’ that believers have. He's describing the salvation that believers have in Christ even as they anticipate seeing Christ face to face. And as you read that section and others in 1 Peter, you know that this salvation is based on the merciful character of God. It is not based on our own achievements. It is a salvation that has come through the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, rose again, and ascended on high. Peter affirms the certainty of Christ's resurrection, which is why we have a ‘living hope.’ He affirms that God brings to birth His children, they are born again by faith in Christ. It is an act of God’s mercy and grace. He affirms that believers are kept through faith for salvation and the inheritance that is ahead. And he teaches that there is purpose even to the present sufferings that we go through now, as God purifies our lives because we anticipate seeing Christ face to face.
Now we know that outside of the help of the Holy Spirit, people don’t fully grasp spiritual truth. Many will struggle with the idea that they are sinners facing the judgment of God if they're not trusting Christ. So, often, the gospel can be shared, and people may question it, wonder about it, or think it makes no sense at all. But that's when we just have to trust the Holy Spirit to open people's minds and hearts to the gospel. We need to be ready to share the gospel with God’s help.
There are foundational truths that we need to know and be able to share, and then trust God for the results.
I was encouraged a few years ago to write out my own gospel encounter. I would encourage you to do so yourself if you have not done so. It can be as short or as long as you want it to be. You can give it to people to read. You can send it in a letter. You can email it to someone or a group. If you use social media, you can post it. But, most importantly, you need to be ready to give an answer to those who ask you about the “hope” you have. And when Peter says the “hope” you have, he is speaking of your hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so, inner devotion should lead to gospel presentation. And maybe the Lord will open up a new opportunity to share the gospel in the coming days. This is an area for further study as we read the Word of God and have fellowship with like-minded believers. But as I said, it may be helpful to write out how you came to trust in Christ and the difference that Christ has made in your own life.
Lastly, looking at 1 Peter 3:16-17, this inner devotion to Christ and a gospel presentation of Christ needs also:
The Apostle Peter talks about having a good conscience and good behavior. Let’s read verses 16 and 17. The apostle is encouraging these believers in the very way they speak to do so with gentleness and respect. Their witness is not of self or fleshly. It's not to be done with arrogance. There must be humility, genuineness, and graciousness in the very way that we share the gospel. When we share the gospel of Christ, we need to be Christ-like in our attitude and demeanor.
Then, beyond that, there needs to be consistent good behavior before others so that our own consciences are clear and that any charges or criticisms that people might have against us really are not true. Indeed, people ultimately are proven wrong when they speak falsehoods about us.
In short, our lifestyle supports the message.
These are days for total commitment to the Lord. The Lord is calling us to live faithfully for Himself during these difficult and challenging times. Even when we face opposition, and we are hurt or harmed we are to live lives:
I need to come back to this issue of total surrender to the Lord because that's at the heart of all of these directives that Peter is giving to us. The heart needs to be given to Christ. He needs to have the preeminence in our lives. His throne needs to be established in our hearts. The Temple of our hearts needs to be his alone. He is the only one who we worship. He is Lord. He's the Lord of our lives.
Is that your commitment today?
Let's acknowledge that and declare it.
— David O.