Sunday, July 5, 2015

How to Live in a Hostile World

How to Live in a Hostile World

Fifth after Trinity

Epistle: 1 Peter 3:8-15a

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly  love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
10 For
“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?
14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,
15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.

When Nikita Khrushchev threatened, “We will bury you,” many Americans feared he was right. It was not uncommon for ministers to warn that if Khrushchev’s prophecy came true. Christians could face persecution for their faith. Then the Soviet Union collapsed and with it that fear. But many Christians are persecuted, as the brutal executions in the Middle East testify. How should Christians live in a hostile world? St. Peter tells us.

1. Circumstances

It will help us to know the circumstances of Peter’s writing this letter.

Peter was in Rome. The Emperor was Nero, but he had not begun the intense persecution of Christians that followed the burning of the city.

The readers are Gentile Christians. They lived in a region of Asia Minor which is modern Turkey. Peter calls them scattered exiles, not because they were  dispossessed from their homelands, but because heaven is the homeland of Christians.

There was not a general persecution of Christians in the Empire, but there was sporadic and localized persecution which these  Christians were experiencing.
This is not surprising. Jesus told his disciples the world would hate them as it hated him.

Christians in the West have been spared the kinds of persecution faced by many Christians. We don’t fear having our country conquered by foreign power that could be hostile to Christianity. However, there are responsible Christian leaders who warn that churches and Christians could soon face significant restrictions on their freedoms of  speech and religion. Our Bishops are sufficiently disturbed to advise clergy not to act as agents of the state but only as priests in the conduct of weddings.

Apart from such dangers there is no doubt that we live in an increasingly secularized culture, and sympathy for the historic Christian faith and morals is in steep decline. We have reasons to be concerned. The world is hostile to Christ and his people, and that hostility may be more severely expressed in both words spoken about and to Christians about Christians and the ways Christians are treated.

How should we respond?

2. Church

Peter begins by telling us how to live together in the church: “All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly  love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

This list of ways we should relate to one another is not a list of duties or rules that stand by themselves. Christ is the motivation, empowerment, and example of how Christians live together. Christ “ransomed” us by his “precious blood” (1:18,19), “bore our sins” (2:24) “suffered once for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous”  (3:18). His love, mercy, and compassion transform how we treat each other.

Peter tells us to have…

...unity of mind, which does not mean we have to
think the say way about everything, politics for
instance, but that we have one Lord, one faith, one
baptism, one God and Father of us all. We are
saved and made one body by the same gospel of

...sympathy, which means that instead of
distancing ourselves from others in their sorrows
and envying them in their joys, we share one
another’s feelings, rejoicing and weeping together.

....brotherly love, which is the family love we have with one another as those born of the Spirit, adopted into the Father’s family, and acknowledged by Jesus as his little brothers and sisters.

...a tender heart, which is a heart that is not hard but filled with love and mercy toward one another.

...humility, which means we are not concerned about our status, reputation, rights, or power, but consider others better than ourselves.

We need to be a healthy church with good relationships for two reasons: (1) Stress in the church as in the family either draws us together or drives us apart. When we cultivate these Christian qualities we will be able to stand together and support one another. (2) When we live as this kind of community, we give a powerful testimony to the world. Tertullian said that unbelievers said of Christians, “Look how they love one another and are ready to die for each other.”

3. Contrast

Peter has told us how to live as a church in a hostile world. Now he tells us how to live in the world itself.  There is a stark contrast between the way the world may respond to us and how we respond to the world.

The world may do evil to us. Jezebel, a Baal worshiper. tried to kill the the Lord’s prophet Elijah. King Herod executed John the Baptist. Before he his conversion the Apostle Paul was a persecutor and violent oppressor of Christians. So it is today in Pakistan, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and parts of Iraq and Syria.

The world may revile us. Unbelieving Jews accused Jesus of being demon possessed and a blasphemer.  King Felix said Paul had lost his mind. Even we who say Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life may accused of intolerance. Christians who openly profess Christianity’s teaching about sexual morality can be accused of hate speech.

What is our natural reaction when people do us evil and revile us? We get angry; we want to pay them back. But Peter tells us that should not repay evil with evil or reviling with reviling. Rather we should bless those who hurt and slander us. Not bless them in the evil they do, but we treat them with respect, show them mercy, and pray for and seek their salvation in Christ. The best revenge you can get on those who persecute you is to see them become Christians.

Peter got that from Jesus:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-45).

St. Paul teaches us the same thing about how to live in a hostile environment:

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it  to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).

We are called to be blessed. We experience God’s blessing when, depending on his grace, we bless those who hate us. Peter tells us that this is what David tells us in Psalm 34:

Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do
evil (3: 10-12).

God called us to himself to bless us, and he blesses us as we respond to those who hate us as Jesus did.

4. Confidence

As we bless the world that hates us, we have confidence that as we are zealous for good works no harm will come to us. The best way to stay out of trouble with the world is to do what is right, such as being good citizens. But Peter is not promising us that we will always be safe from persecution if we do good works. He is telling us that God will so protect us that no eternal harm will come to us. God will save us from persecution and death or through persecution and death.

If do are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, we are blessed along with all believers in history who have been persecuted for the loyalty to Christ. Jesus told us how to regard such persecution:

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 5:11,12).

When think about the possibilities of persecution, mild or severe, our natural response is fear. But Peter tells us not to fear those who persecute us or be troubled by by the things they threaten. Rather in our we should honor Christ our Lord as holy. We set him apart in our hearts as our Lord. We are loyal to him; we entrust ourselves to him; we are confident of that he will not leave or forsake us but will be with us through all we face in this life and bring us to the eternal safety of his heavenly kingdom.

Polycarp, the Bishop Smyrna, was about to be martyred if he would renounce Christ as Lord, because in his heart he had set Christ apart as Lord, he replied: “Eighty-six years have I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” From death he entered glory and in glory he waits for the day when Christ will raise his people from the dead and vindicate them before the world.

How do you live in a hostile world? Love each other. Bless your enemies. In your heart set Christ apart as Lord and entrust yourself to him.

1 comment:

Curt Day said...

This is a good post but there is one post missing. We need to inventory ourselves to see if we Christians have, when Christianity had a privileged position in society, caused others to live in the margins. We certainly caused homosexuals to live in the margins of society when we were privileged. And those who were marginalized because of their race received little to no help from us.

Being honest and upfront with how we have hurt others just might help us win people to Christ and might even mitigate any hostility we might be facing for our beliefs.