I had a quick look at the newspaper this morning and noted how many items were about crime and the results of court cases. The guilty are always ‘innocent’ and the victims very quick to defend themselves. Jesus takes a different view of what to do if you are an innocent victim.
1 Peter 3:13-17 says, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart 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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
Victims of abuse sometimes think they must have deserved it; “If I were a better wife, he wouldn’t beat me.” Victims of accidents often blame themselves for being in the wrong place; “I shouldn’t have gone to town this morning.” Victims of slander sometimes retaliate with some mudslinging of their own (politicians, maybe?). But in this Bible passage, victims are supposed to react entirely opposite to what most of us do.
Do good. If I got drunk, drove my car in that condition and became involved in an accident, that does not qualify me as a ‘victim.’ Sometimes we do dumb things that have consequences. Christians are not supposed to behave in ways that give others reason to speak against us. Even though their slander is also not right, I cannot protest if I did something wrong and suffer for it.
Don’t be afraid. Those who speak against me are fearful that what I say about Jesus Christ and eternity might be right. If they slander me, I need to consider what they are saying, but if it is a lie, then I’ve nothing to fear. God is God and He will vindicate me.
Set apart Christ as Lord. Who is the ultimate boss? Can anything touch me without the consent of God? Two places in this passage indicate that ‘suffering for doing good’ falls under His jurisdiction. “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed” tells me that God sees suffering from a different perspective than I do, to say the least! Jesus said I am blessed if others persecute me for His name’s sake. He was sinless and they crucified Him. I cannot suppose that being godly means I will escape evil treatment from others.
The end of the passages says it is better to suffer “if it is God’s will” — better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. My Lord is not turning His back when people mouth off about my faith and life. Instead, He has reasons for allowing it. He calls me to remember that He is Lord, and He knows what He is doing. I am to trust His will, not fear it.
Be prepared. I’m supposed to have a ready response that tells others why I am filled with hope, why I am not in a flap over malicious talk. That presupposes that I am filled with hope. I hate to admit this of us, but most Christians think life here is a foretaste of heaven and God will prevent all suffering. Many times we are protected and blessed with great abundance and comfort, yet I would be foolish to think that being like Jesus means I will not suffer the same things that He suffered. I’m supposed to have my hope based on what John Piper calls future grace. Life here is short and could be difficult. Some Christians die for their faith. My hope is in full redemption and eternity with Him, not a cushy life here.
Be gentle and respectful. This might be the toughest of all. I’ve a hard time being respectful toward rude people, never mind those who think my faith is folly. How can I be gentle when another person tells me what I believe is a pile of ____?
Jesus did it. Oh, there were times when He took out a whip, but most of His ministry was characterized by compassion. He knew that the people were blind, oblivious to spiritual matters. They did not understand what He was doing or why because God had not yet opened their hearts. Because He opened mine gives me no reason to look down on or retaliate against others. Instead, I should show them great compassion.
Keep my conscience clear. If I do wrong, God will deal with me first. He will not answer my prayers or go to bat for me until I’ve confessed and forsaken all known sin. How can I claim victim status or ask for His help against others if I am sinning against Him? Fix it, then pray for His intervention!
Heap coals of fire. Romans 12:17-21 says I am never to retaliate, but to do good to those who harm me. I know from personal experience that if a person I attack fights back, I am more convinced of their guilt. God uses non-retaliation to convict attackers of their own guilt. When I am gentle, respectful, and without sin or selfish retaliation, He will burn their conscience, not mine.
It IS better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. When I do something wrong, I’m pitting myself against Almighty God. Who can win that war? But if I do good and someone else attacks me, they are pitting themselves not against me, but against Almighty God. They don’t stand a chance because God does protect His people. He will come to my side, see me through the suffering, give me grace and courage to endure, and will even use it for my best.
Still, I am discouraged by those who misunderstand or hate me or other Christians for what we believe and do. Surely we need one another’s encouragement to stay within the will of God when it happens.