MORNING MESSAGE – John
Text: 1 Peter 3:13-4:19
Reader: Ariel Pacpaco
A 45-year-old widow in the southeastern nation of Laos was sharing about Jesus with her fellow villagers – and has paid for it with her freedom. This lady, whom Christian Aid Mission has given the nom de plume of Rina, began following Christ after police came to her village and announced on loudspeakers that the villages were prohibited from worshipping the Christian God. Her people, the Prai people, are traditionally animists who worship nature and its small-g gods. Rina was intrigued by the policeman’s pronouncement and so she sought out two missionaries at their home. The missionaries shared the Gospel with Rina. When she prayed to follow Jesus, Rina was also healed from a chronic bacterial illness! From that moment, Rina began sharing her new faith with her fellow villagers, and many of them embraced Christ as their Saviour. A district official eventually heard about the surge of Christianity in the village and he came with soldiers and police and ordered all believers to renounce their faith. When every new Christian refused his order the official demanded to know who the first person was to become a Christian. Rina stepped forward. She was thrown in jail and remains there eight months later. Meanwhile, 16 house churches have started in that area and 1,213 people have become Christians. The persecution of them is intense.
Next door to Laos, a Christian family in Vietnam have been forced from their home village for refusing to re-convert to a local animist religion. The family of Xong Ba Thong converted to Christianity in 2017 after hearing evangelistic radio broadcasts presenting the Gospel about Jesus. Local authorities claimed that it was against the law to follow another religion and that doing so was damaging to “national unity”. They have been pressuring the 13 members of the family to re-convert back to animism and have made life difficult for them by doing things such as, on June 4, expelling theme from their home village, confiscating their livestock, their only plough, the wood intended for use in building a house, cutting off electricity supplies, and attacking them with stones. Birth certificates for the youngest children have been denied, ensuring those children cannot get healthcare or school.
A few countries further to the west, in Pakistan, two Christians, it was announced this week, will be hung for having blasphemed the Muslim prophet Mohammed, though they claim that the only thing they did was defend their faith in Jesus Christ when asked about it. Annually, over 100,000 Christians are killed around the world because of their faith. There is no way to know the exact number of Christians who are persecuted and harmed in the world as North Korea alone has placed an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians in concentration camps and prisons. Christian persecution and suffering has always been.
At the time of the apostle Peter’s writing of his first letter, the Christians he was writing to in the five political regions of the Roman Empire in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia Minor, and Bithynia (today’s Turkey) were being heavily persecuted by the Roman authorities who were angry that the Christians refused to call Emperor Nero a god, as well as by the citizens of that region who were upset that the Christians were not worshipping the ancient Greek deities such as Diana and Apollo. Those non-Christians accurately believed that their culture – and the money that came from pilgrims going to the temple of those gods and goddesses – was in danger of being lost if Christianity continued to flourish. The resulting persecution was so heavy that the Christians fled to and lived in tunnels and caves whenever their persecutors showed up. We saw photos and a video of those cave systems a few weeks ago. So, in his letter, as we have already read in the first two chapters, Peter addressed the suffering of the Christians he was writing to but he tried to encourage them that their persecution could actually work in their favour. Today, in chapters 3 and 4, we will see him continuing in that theme.
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 their threats; do not be frightened.” 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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)
That famous verse about being prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have, originally referred to those situations when non-Christians see your suffering and ask how on earth you are managing to carry on. By “revering Christ as Lord in your hearts”, you can answer and point to Christ for he with victorious over the unjust suffering he was put through.
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. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits – 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, 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, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)
In this passage – which is referenced in the later famous Apostles’ Creed – Peter writes about the time period between Jesus’ crucifixion and his resurrection when he descended to Hades and preached to the “imprisoned spirits there”. He would not have been preaching to the “imprisoned spirits”, demons, the gospel of salvation but about victory over suffering and persecution and death. After all, they had been celebrating Jesus’ death as their moment of victory but Jesus’ said, “Uh-uh. I have overcome sin and suffering. I am about to overcome death. And my followers are likewise going to be safe from your tormenting of them.” Earlier, when Noah preached a similar message of telling people to turn to God prior to the flood in his day, only 8 people accepted the message, but those 8 were kept safe by God through the deadly flood waters. Peter, in this strange-sounding passage, equates baptism and the symbolic dying to self that happens when a person goes into the waters of baptism, with those flood waters. Through Jesus, the flood waters of suffering and death hold no power. While a believer’s baptism is not about removing dirt from one’s body, it is the pledge of following God with our whole hearts. One is not saved by the waters of baptism: one is saved by one’s faith in Christ. And, Jesus, now ensconced in heaven and reigning over all angels and demons, recognizes our commitment to him in baptism and saves us. If we are suffering in this world, Jesus, the one who has overcome suffering and death, will save us from any eternal suffering and will protect us in this world, as well. Turning now to chapter 4, the only way to understand it, because, frankly, chapters 3 and 4 are not easy reads, is by going one verse at a time. So, here we will start:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. (1 Peter 4:1)
How do we live this life we have as Christ-followers? Through right living. Peter’s first point is that such living involves doing away with intentional sin. We must “arm ourselves with the same attitude as Christ”, the one who did not sin, even as he suffered.
As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:2)
Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Right living involves God’s will being done.
For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. (1 Peter 4:3)
Don’t waste your life on unrestrained indecency. Be different from your non-Christian friends. They won’t understand but do not do as they do.
They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. (1 Peter 4:4)
People may think we are crazy for trying to live the right way. Others may persecute us for living for Jesus but don’t be surprised by discouraged by any suffering or persecution you are experiencing.
But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:5)
Jesus is the one who will judge. Why? Because he has all authority, enthroned in heaven over all spiritual authorities, angels, and demons.
For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6)
The gospel is life for those who believe. But it is more than that. The acceptance of it means an eternal release and relief from suffering.
The end of all things is near. (1 Peter 4:7a)
As we await the end of suffering, recognize that Jesus could return at any moment. God has set the gears in motion and at some point, fixed in the mind of the Father alone, Jesus will return and all that has been foretold will come to pass. The clear testimony of the New Testament writers, however, is that they expected Jesus to return during their lifetime but what they often failed to recognize was that God’s timetable is not the same as ours. Jesus is in fact coming again; it’s just that no one knows when. But the clock started ticking when Jesus ascended and now it could happen any day. We are to watch for His return but this does not mean that we are to spend all of our time gazing into the clouds as some have done in the past. For example, after 14 years of studying the Bible, William Miller became convinced that Christ would return in 1843. When Miller announced April 3 as the day, some of his disciples went to mountaintops, hoping for a head start to heaven. Others were in graveyards, planning to ascend in reunion with their departed loved ones. Philadelphia society ladies clustered together outside their city to avoid entering God’s kingdom amid the common herd. When April 4 dawned as usual, the Millerites were disillusioned, but they took heart for their leader had predicted a range of dates for Christ’s return. They still had until March 21, 1844. The devout continued to make ready, but again they were disappointed. A third date – October 22, 1844 – was set, but it also passed. This type of thing has happened over and over again in the last 2,000 years but this is not how we are to live. We are to be watching but we are also to be ready and persevere in right living.
Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. (1 Peter 4:7b)
Our way of living should involve regular praying. Peter ties praying to his assurance that, “the end of all things is near”. We are not to get distracted by the things of this world, but to be intentional in right living, and serious and disciplined in praying.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4::8)
God wants us to love each other deeply, strongly, fervently, because love covers a multitude of sins. It certainly did for me! And Christians, it did for you, too. Amen? Living the right way involves loving others!
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9)
Grumbling or whining should never be the mark of a Christian. It is insightful that Peter ties in grumbling with being asked to be hospitable. He knows human nature is to not be hospitable. But be so!
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)
Spiritual gifts are, of course, to be used. In fact, they must be used if we are to be “faithful stewards of God’s grace”. Remember, “God loves the cheerful giver”, the hilarious-to-watch giver.
If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)
Our life in Christ is about radiant serving, doing so with the strength God provides through Jesus.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)
When Peter writes about suffering, we need to recognize that he had experienced suffering for his faith firsthand. So, by the time he wrote this letter, he had come to see that Christians should not be surprised by persecution. After all, Peter had been present when Jesus told the crowds, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And, he understood that the suffering of his listeners and readers was a participation in the sufferings that Jesus himself went through and then Peter came to develop the understanding that a love that does not suffer with the suffering of the beloved is not love at all and, applying it to the divine, Peter came to ask of what help to wounded people is a God who knows nothing of pain himself? As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that Christian pastor who suffered terribly in the WWII concentration camps of Hitler, later came to state: “Only a suffering God can help”.
But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)
In the village of Miango, in north-eastern Nigeria, there is a small church called Kirk Chapel. Behind the chapel is a small cemetery with 56 graves. Thirty-three of them hold the bodies of children of Christian missionaries. The stones read: “Ethyl Arnold: September 1, 1928–September 2, 1928.” “Barbara J. Swanson: 1946–1952.” “Eileen Louise Whitmoyer: May 6, 1952–July 3, 1955”, and so on. This was the cost of taking the gospel of Nigeria for many missionary families. The only way we can understand the graveyard at Miango is to remember that God also buried his Son on the mission field and that Jesus suffered in his own lives just as those missionary families did. Glory awaits those who suffer, though, because the Christian who suffers is participating in Christ’s own suffering.
If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (1 Peter 4:14)
Suffering insults, revilements, and ostracism from society ironically can bring blessing for that suffering proves your conversion, in which the Spirit entered you and sealed himself inside you, was real. That particular type of suffering proves that the Christian has the Spirit.
If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. (1 Peter 4:15)
Right living as a Christ-follower means that any suffering we are undergoing is because of righteousness. It is not because of stupid or carnal behaviour, in which case we are suffering due to the laws of sowing and reaping. There is no honor when one suffers as a murderer or as a thief or as a busy-body or as an evil-doer, for these acts bring shame in society and in God’s law-court. Be ashamed to suffer for unrighteous acts, for that kind of suffering brings dishonor to God.
However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16)
Christians should not be ashamed to suffer as a Christian for we are named after Jesus. The word “Christian” means a “Christ-follower”. Christians glorify God by suffering for the name of Jesus Christ when non-Christians dishonor them and shame them for their faith in Christ. The command to glorify God by the name of Christ is another way of talking about hoping in and trusting God. It is a witness of your faith.
For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)
Non-Christians will not escape the future suffering of their souls, but followers of Jesus will. This is a hard truth that can also be a witness.
And “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18)
Salvation and safety from suffering is not a given, despite what our society may say. “He is in a better place now”, etc.
So then, those who suffer according to God’s will, should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:19)
Peter concludes chapters 3 and 4 by exhorting Christians to trust God when they suffer in accordance with his will. So, please allow me to suggest three responses to Peter’s teaching. When suffering:
- Assess everything in your life through the lens of this truth: Jesus could come at any moment.
- Use your time intentionally. Live rightly, not self-indulgently.
- Pray and live accordingly.
At the time Peter wrote this Epistle, Nero was the Emperor. Nero was notorious for taking Christians, soaking them in combustible liquid and using them to light the lanterns of his gardens at night. Nero would also clothe Christians in the hides of wild animals and they would be torn to death and eaten by other wild animals. The suffering of the Christians then was intense. But, suffering for one’s faith still happens today. We don’t need to be defeated by it, though. Just as Jesus was victorious over his suffering, persecution, torment, and death, so can we join in his life and experience that same victory. So, live the victorious life Jesus provides!