Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 August 6, 2017
“The Blessing of Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake”
Text: 1 Peter 3:13-17
We noted in our last message in this series that the specter of suffering—merely for wearing the Name of Christ—hangs over much of this material in 1 Peter. This specter becomes much more visible to us today as we examine this morning’s text. Suffering—and that for righteousness’ sake—was a present reality in Asia Minor (i. e., modern-day Turkey), ca. A. D. 60-65. It is highly visible in many parts of our world today—especially in the persecuted church. Alas, even in twenty-first century America, such suffering increasingly is possible—and, in spots, increasingly is visible. Yet God, in His Word, tells us that suffering for righteousness’s sake brings blessing to us. Let’s look at this more closely as we look at today’s text from God’s Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
It seems strange to us that a Christian is blessed when suffering for righteousness’ sake. We think all suffering inherently evil and, thus, to avoid. Yet Scripture here, and elsewhere, tells us our good estate when suffering thus. When suffering for righteousness’ sake—merely for being a Christian and behaving consistent with that name—we are blessed, or happy (Greek makarios [makarioV]). Jesus, God incarnate, speaks to this in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). If we be zealous for what is good—and for the doing of the good—the risk of such suffering shinks, but it does not vanish wholly. Hence, we may expect to face suffering for righteousness’ sake from time to time.
We have valuable guidance from God, in His Word, when faced with such suffering. First, God’s Word tells us neither to fear the persecutors nor be troubled by them. The command, “Fear not,” is the most oft-repeated command in Scripture. Jesus Himself, beginning His farewell discourse (John 14:1-16:33), told the Eleven, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me” (John 14:1, cf. 14:27). Hence, we are not to be afraid of those who revile us. We are not to be stirred up or caused great distress. In place of these things, we are to follow the Lord Jesus, Who entrusted Himself to Him Who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). Such trusting requires profound work of the Spirit of God in our lives, but may He work this profound work in our souls as occasion requires.
Second, Scripture calls us, when persecuted for righteousness’ sake, to honor Christ the Lord as holy (literally the Lord Christ, cf. Colossians 3:24). We do this in two senses. We regard the Lord’s Name as holy, and we treat it with honor. This is what we mean when we pray each week, “Hallowed by Thy Name,” (Matthew 6:9). There is another sense to this command, namely, that we conduct ourselves in holy fashion, according to Scripture. We do not honor the Lord when we walk contrary to His ways. The American church generally needs to work on holy walking; let us do the same here as we have need. Let us regard the Lord’s Name as holy, and let us testify to our regard with behavior conformed to His Word.
Third, God calls us, when persecuted for righteousness’ sake, to be prepared always to testify why we have the hope we do. If we maintain our hope in Christ, His goodness, and the indescribable goodness yet to come from Him, then some of our revilers will become curious about this blessed hope. Then we have an opportunity. Scripture here gives timely guidance when (not if) our opportunities come.
We must testify to our Christian hope with gentleness. We must not speak harshly to those who inquire of us, as Solomon teaches us by the Spirit, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). We also must testify to our Christian hope with respect. This may be difficult when our revilers mistreat us, but we must by God’s grace show them respect because of our common creation imago Dei—in the image of God. Though our revilers share not our faith in Christ, yet because they too are made in God’s image, we testify respectfully to them of our hope in Jesus. Moreover, we testify thus in good conscience. That is, we are convinced of what we say to those inquiring of us, and we square what we say by what we do. Alas, the discrepancy between what we say and what we do is sufficient wide to cause many a thoughtful inquirer to stumble. Let such never be said of us. Let our words and our deeds be of a piece—and some of those appointed for eternal life (Acts 13:48) will inquire of us concerning it.
This gentle, respectful testimony of Christ to our revilers has an aim, namely, that our revilers be put to shame. Some of them will feel shame because they will discern that their accusations concerning us are incorrect on substance and, therefore, unjust. Others of them will feel shame because they are grieved at their poor conduct when they perceive our excellent conduct. May this process work in them the godly sorrow that further works repentance unto life.
I am reading a biography of a lesser-known French Protestant Reformer, Pierre Viret (1511-71). I am discovering God’s powerful work in and through Viret’s remarkable life. He was often persecuted: intangibly to be sure by threats, stiff verbal opposition, and the like; and physically almost to the point of death—he bore lifelong scars and maladies from his wounds. Yet, in the face of this, Viret always answered his opponents, even his persecutors, both with great erudition and with laudable gentleness and respect.
In the face of this, blessing came to Pierre Viret. It came personally in relations, such as a Godly wife and Godly colleagues in ministry and study. It also came ministerially. Much of Viret’s section of Switzerland embraced the Reformed understanding of the Gospel. Remarkably, many of his opponents were won to his side—and these both by the matters he declared and the manner in which he declared them. Like Viret, we cannot comply with today’s text apart from the strong work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Yet by God’s grace and for His glory, we can comply—and we can know the blessing of God in our sufferings for righteousness’ sake. May God indeed give us to know these blessings, including ministerial fruit and the exquisite sense of His nearness and favor. No matter our external state, there is nothing better than this.