by Mike Ratliff
12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12 (NASB)
I grew up as a Southern Baptist. I have heard a lot of very good preaching in my 68+ years. However, I have also heard a lot of what I would call now-a-days, humanistic preaching. Until just a few years ago I really didn’t know the difference, or if I did, then it was that the former was grounded deeper into the Word of God than the latter. The biblically based preaching was always geared toward the eternal even if talking about the temporal. The humanistic preaching was always geared to the temporal even when talking about the eternal. Do you see the difference?
If we have a temporal focus, suffering of any type for any reason is regarded as tragic and something God would and should prevent. The fact a person is sick or is persecuted are events that prove that someone has sinned or does not have enough faith or isn’t praying enough, etc. How should Christians regard suffering by believers?
13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 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, 15 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; 16 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. 17 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 (NASB)
In 1 Peter 3:8 we are commanded to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit. The two Greek words translated as “harmonious” mean “to think the same” or “to be like-minded.” This is not a command to have unity in spite of differences. This is a command to be unified by believing the truth. This is a concept of maintaining inward unity of heart. Again, Peter is not commanding Christians to unite with pseudo-Christians who hold doctrinal positions that amount to heresy. Instead, he is telling us to not be disruptive or cause disharmony within the Body of Christ which is united by holding to the truth. How do we behave toward one another when we do this? The rest of v8 tells us. We are to be “sympathetic.” This is one word in Greek that in some translations read, “having compassion one of another.” it simply means to be compassionate with each other. When someone is suffering we come along side them to minister as the Lord leads. We are to be “brotherly” with one another. This is also translated as, “love as brethren.” All Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are adopted children of God. We should actively love one another with that “brotherly love.” We are also to be “kindhearted” with one another. The KJV translates this as, “pitiful.” We are not to be cold towards other Christians or hard hearted towards their needs and suffering. Instead we should regard the suffering or weaknesses of our brethren with softness and gentleness. Am I the only one who sees Christ’s character in these descriptions? The last part of Peter’s command is for us to be “humble in spirit”. I find this very interesting. Our biggest battle is against our pride, isn’t it? It sure is with me. The Greek word translated here as “humble in spirit” is rendered as “courteous” in the KJV.” The Greek words combined to make this word actually would translate as “friendly of mind.” I find that this quality of my character, when it is actively present, surprises me the most. This is the quality of our outer bearing that causes people to see Jesus in our demeanor.
If we are doing all of that, then how will we regard suffering within the brethren or in our own life? In v9 we see that Peter tells us to return blessings for cursings or harm. Peter is telling us to speak well of those who are speaking evil about us or who are persecuting us. Huh? How can we do this? A Christian is to find a way to serve the reviler, pray for his or her salvation or spiritual progress. The Christian should express thankfulness for the reviler, speak well of him or her and desire their well-being. I confess to all reading this that I fail miserably at this most of the time. There are some bright spots, but I usually struggle mightily with this for awhile until God gives me the correct path. It is amazing how kind words coming forth from a humble mind can disarm those who are reviling us. I have experienced this very thing and it is truly amazing how God blesses our hearts with His joy and peace when we humble ourselves before our enemies. Verses 10-12 expand on this.
In v13 we have an exposition of Proverbs 16:7.
7 When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord,
He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Proverbs 16:7 (NASB)
This is a wonderful blessing, but as we see in vv14-17 there are times when God still allows His sheep to suffer for righteousness. God will cause those who do suffer for righteousness to be blessed. I have read through Fox’s Book of Martyrs. It is heart-rending. However, the commonality found all through it is the calm godliness of those giving an account before their accusers at their trials and especially as they were being killed for their faith. They actually lived out vv14-17 even as they were being killed.
As I stated earlier, the good preaching I have heard is always eternally focused even when speaking of the temporal. From this sort of preaching and teaching we learn that the eternal is what is real and important whereas the temporal is only this little short time in this place that is completely hostile to our faith. Right now the persecution we experience in the US is mostly just being reviled. However, I read in my Voice of the Martyrs newsletter about a street evangelist in Ethiopia being dragged into a mosque and beaten to death simply for standing on a street corner and preaching the truth. There appears to be little chance of justice in this case. Folks, this is normal nearly everywhere in the world except here. I expect it to be a reality in our country soon. Therefore, let’s prepare by learning how to respond when we are reviled for righteousness as Jesus would. That, of course, means that we are actually walking this Christian walk before the face of God as He desires.
Soli Deo Gloria!