Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg | January 22, 2012
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 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, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits– 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Peter 3:13-22)
Chapter 3:13 – 5:11 is the last major section of 1 Peter which answers the question, “How should a Christian respond when facing actual persecution.” This passage tells us that since God has restrained the powers of evil through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, believers can face any persecution fearlessly and intentionally through fellowship with Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension.
So we will take this up under several headings:
- Facing persecution fearlessly
- Facing persecution intentionally
- Facing persecution in fellowship with Christ
- through Christ’s resurrection
- through Christ’s proclamation
- through Christ’s exaltation
No one wants to have to deal with persecution for our faith. We all would love to be able to worship God, go about making disciples and be left alone. However, because our master was persecuted, so we may be persecuted for our faith in him. John wrote, (15:20ff) “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also… They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. …Whoever hates me hates my Father as well.” But this passage offers practical help and hope if and when persecution may take place for each of us.
Face persecution fearlessly
We are told that we should face persecution fearlessly, if and when it occurs.
First, it tells us that persecution is possible but not a necessity. The mood of the verb (optative) tells us that not everyone will be persecuted for their faith. It is expressed in English as a rhetorical question. (v13) Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? The apparent answer is – nobody or not many. Good behavior usually prompts others, if not to commend you, to at least leave you alone.
Second, it tells us that even if we do suffer for doing what is right, we are blessed. (14a But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.) The fact is some people cannot leave well enough alone. Some people are infuriated when others do good because it upsets their control of the world around them. The good works of Jesus upset the finely controlled world of the Pharisees and Saducees as did the non-violent protests of Martin Luther King and Mohandus Ghandi upset those who considered Africans Americans and Indians to be second class citizens. Doing good can result in persecution, but Jesus promises his followers that God’s blessing will accompany any persecution they experience. As we read earlier from Jesus’ sermon on the Mount,
Mat 5:10-12 (NIV) Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. God blesses those who are persecuted in this life with a great reward in heaven and joy in this life.
Think of Jesus’ reward for all that he suffered. (Phil 2:8-11). And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. He was given the highest reward for his obedience in suffering. Likewise, God will bless us accordingly for any suffering we endure in this life.
Third, Peter quotes Isaiah 8 to remind us not to fear what our enemies might do to us, but rather to fear God by putting Christ first in our lives.
14b “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.
How do you overcome fear? Not by running away from it, but by standing up to it. How do you stand up to it? By trusting in something that is greater than your fear. In this case, Peter says that Christ is greater than those we fear. It says in effect, don’t let your hearts be filled with fear of your persecutors. Instead, let your hearts be filled with Christ. Don’t let fear be lord of your life, let Christ be Lord of your life.
To stand up to the fear of persecution you must ask and answer the question, “What’s the worst that could happen to me?” The answer is, the worst thing that could happen is that I would be tortured and killed because of my faith…but that’s not the last word. This tell us that Christ is the last word because he is Lord, as we will see in more detail later, and that if we consider him Lord, we will not fear our persecutors. We will trust in his ability to protect us or to see us through any persecution we might endure or see us safely into the next life if necessary. Christ is greater than our persecutors and greater than our fear of any persecutors if we will trust in him who is truly Lord of heaven and earth.
Face persecution intentionally
Second, we should face persecution intentionally.
15b 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… 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander
We are told that we should have a plan – that we should pre-pare for two kinds of persecution. The first is what I will call “persecution light.” We should have a plan to answer those who honestly question us about our faith. Second, for what I will call “persecution heavy,” we should have a plan for what we will do when others speak maliciously against us because of our faith. Persecution light is more like a competition. Persecution heavy is more like a fight.
To face persecution intentionally we should first pre-pare for those who honestly question us about our faith. 15b 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…
This is like a debate competition. First, debaters prepare arguments in favor of their case. Second, they anticipate counter-arguments from the opposition and prepare arguments against them. Third, they debate according to established ground-rules.
Likewise, we should prepare the basic argument of the gospel message; we should anticipate typical objections; and we should observe the rules outlined here by Peter.
First, we should learn and practice the main points of the gospel. This is best done in partnership with at least one other person. Second, we should anticipate typical objections to the gospel and prepare and practice answers for these. Third, we should do with gentleness toward the person who is asking honest questions and with respect for God who is working in both our hearts during this process. This is the basic format of programs like Evangelism Explosion and others. They teach you to defend your faith in using argumentation from the Scriptures. I recommend that every Christian take one of these courses or something similar that teaches you to do this.
Second, to face persecution intentionally, we should pre-pare our defense against those who slander us for our faith. This is more like a fight.
Some people just want to fight with you because you’re a Christian. They want to knock you down and let you be counted out. They are not asking honest questions. They want to take you down by making malicious accusations about you to others. They want to discredit you in the eyes of others, often, to assuage their own guilt. They think, “If I blast these people and their faith, maybe they will go away.”
As we saw earlier in 1 Peter, the best way to deal with this is not to fight back directly, but to be steadfast in your good behavior, so that whatever they might say against you is found to be untrue. When others examine the evidence of what they say, they will find you innocent and your accusers to be slanderous. And when God examines the evidence in the final judgment, he will find you innocent and find them guilty.
By having a plan and following the plan we can face persecution intentionally, trusting that God is working in and through our plans.
But it’s not enough to be fearless and intentional. We must face persecution in fellowship with Christ. We cannot do it alone. Paul wrote to the Phillipians
(Phi 3:10-11 NIV) I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Face persecution in fellowship with Christ
So let’s look at three aspects of our fellowship with Christ in persecution found in this passage.
First, we face persecution
- through Christ’s resurrection
Verses 17 and 18 tell us, among other things, that if you suffer for your faith, remember that God will defend you just like he defended Jesus by bringing him back from the dead.
17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit
God vindicated Jesus’s unjust suffering and death – God proved Jesus was righteous and that his persecutors were unrighteous – by raising him from the dead. Peter’s point here to believers is that God will do the same for us. Because of Christ’s suffering on our behalf – once for sins, the just for the unjust – God will vindicate us as well. In fact, he has already begun to do so. The regenerate life we now enjoy is the same resurrection life that Jesus enjoys. God has already defeated our persecutors by raising us to new life in Christ, and will finally defeat our persecutors on the last day when we are judged righteous in his sight, just as Jesus was in the resurrection.
So when we suffer for doing good, we should remember that just as Jesus was vindicated by being raised from the dead, so we are vindicated or justified by our being raised from spiritual death and will be finally vindicated on the last day when Christ returns. The death of Christ did not destroy him and it will not ultimately destroy the Christian sufferer.
Not only through the lens of Christ’s resurrection, but we can further face persecution
- through Christ’s proclamation
19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits– 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,
According to many commentators this is one of the most difficult passages to understand in the NT and there are a number of ways to interpret it. The crux of Peter’s point here is that though Noah, in his day, was surrounded by persecutors who disbelieved and maligned him, God vindicated him and his family by bringing them safely through the flood by means of the ark.
So Jesus’ proclamation of victory was apparently directed to the evil spiritual forces that motivated those who disobeyed God and persecuted Noah in his day. To them he announced that victory over sin and death had been accomplished in deed through his death and resurrection.
Jesus’ proclamation should remind us that though we are surrounded by persecutors as Noah was in his day, God will deliver us through the work of Christ as he did Noah and his family.
Finally, we can face persecution
- through Christ’s exaltation
21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand–with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Peter’s reference to salvation through the waters of the flood in the days of Noah, remind him of the waters of baptism which symbolize to his readers and to us the washing away of our sins through the resurrection of Christ, who was not only resurrected, but he was also exalted by God to a position above all authorities in heaven and earth. Jesus now rules and reigns and we are joined to him in baptism.
Though we may suffer as Christians, we are joined to the resurrected reigning Christ. The ability of people and the evil forces that motivate them are not the last word. The rule and reign of Christ is.
Click here for the series of twenty-three sermons on the entire book of 1 Peter.