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Suffering For Righteousness’ Sake

May 21, 2017

Passage: 1 Peter 3:13-18

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Easter (season)

Detail:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. It is one thing to be clear that we are saved from sin and death strictly on the basis of Christ’s atoning work apart from anything we do, but it is another thing to live as a Christian – forgiven, saved, born-again – and easily keep the thought: “if I live rightly and do good, then I will suffer less.” Along these lines, we are capable of setting ourselves up for incredible disappointment.

And while it is true that doing what is good often keeps us out of unnecessary trouble (and certainly this in and of itself promotes peace which can lead to less suffering), this does NOT mean however that the Christian will not suffer at all. In fact, while living rightly and doing good, things might just go in the opposite direction of our preferred position. It is entirely possible in other words that the reason Christians sometime suffer is precisely because they live rightly and do good.

As St. Peter by the Holy Spirit is teaching in today’s epistle where he writes at verse 14, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake,” Lenski comments with, “The unrighteous world cannot tolerate righteousness. The very presence of true righteousness irritates it, for this righteousness silently condemns its own righteousness. Thus Christians may often have to suffer in various ways (Lenski, The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, 147).”

That-is-to-say, the world with sin easily perceives your living rightly and doing good as an assault or at least an insult on its preferred lifestyle and belief system. You are not getting with the program; you are living against the grain; your way is not the popular way; and your very insistence on living rightly and doing good implies that you object to the world. And the moment someone or a group labels you as a “goody-two-shoes,” then that’s all the justification the world needs to treat you badly. And how many Christians have experienced this and continue to experience this?!

Ok, so this explanation is necessary: your reward for living rightly and doing good, is NOT that you would avoid suffering, but it is something else. But it’s vital to get this up front, because if we carry on with a false expectation, then we will bring down upon ourselves an inestimable amount of unnecessary frustration.

If I insist that my devotion to God and to others must “pay-off” with less suffering, but then I suffer anyway, then I will start to have all kinds of messed-up thoughts:

  1. Has God abandoned me?
  2. Am I really a Christian?
  3. What am I missing?
  4. Why is this happening to me?!
  5. This is so unfair!

And these kinds of thoughts are used by our own sinful nature, and the world, and the evil one to raise doubts in our minds and hearts about the faith and about the Lord! We must rather, however, hold to the truth of God’s Word.

Jesus is our great example that our wrong, popular idea is just that: wrong (even if it is popular)! The Lord was crucified! Why? Because He spoke the truth! Because He did good! And the brightness of His light was so revealing of the darkness around Him, that the darkness drove people to murder Him! He suffered for doing good. He suffered for speaking good. And if we are His children, we should never be surprised that the same could happen to us.

Now let’s face it, such a prospect doesn’t exactly make us all warm and fuzzy inside. It can make us a little gun-shy about living out our faith; it can make us hesitate about trying to live rightly and do good. Let me be more-blunt: this prospect of suffering for doing good can make us down-right afraid of doing the right thing! This state of affairs can make us live in fear.

 

Then,  start having these thoughts, “What if it is all for naught? What if it is all thrown back in my face? What if no good deed will go unpunished? What if, what if, what if…is it really worth the hassle?!” And when this sort of thinking takes over, we become overrun with anxiety and again, with fear.

And what does fear do? Well, you’ve all heard of the “fight or flight” syndrome, but in the case of continuing to live out our faith, it is often “flight” that kicks in. We just run away or just avoid living our faith altogether! We are not sure when sharing faith, speaking up for the Lord, or doing what is right and good might cause us to suffer, so we just avoid the whole thing!

It’s easy to second-guess ourselves! After-all we’ve all heard the complaints, “You shouldn’t push your beliefs on anyone!” Which by the way is a self-defeating position that strives to push a belief onto you! We have-to understand: acceptance of all things is not a neutral position (and its certainly not a more loving position). Acceptance of all things (first-of-all) is a distinct belief. Instead of One God, there are many gods. Instead of one way, there are many ways. Well, many gods and many ways is a belief system. And if someone tries to shut you up about your speaking up for the One God and the right way, then they are trying to replace your belief with their belief.

Secondly, the actual position of all gods and all ways isn’t even consistent within itself! Because inherently, that position rejects your way as a Christian! It claims to be all-inclusive, but it never is!

But there is something about the adamant claim that you shouldn’t be so darn “closed-minded,” that you shouldn’t be so insistent on your way! Stop being such a prude! And at- the-moment of the accusation, we can get really-self-conscious and suspect that maybe we should just shut-up. And the devil loves it when we cave.

This is what the first-century Christians were facing when St. Peter wrote his first letter. They were getting heat for living out their faith. As a result, they were living with fear and that fear was causing them to live as chameleons, silent about their faith and just avoiding potential trouble. Better not to rock the boat. Better to remain silent.

This is what St. Peter addresses. We cannot give in to fear. But he doesn’t just say that. In wonderful love and mercy towards us, the Holy Spirit reveals the answer to our fear. When there is fear in your heart, replace it. There is something, an antidote, a medicine, a shield, a weapon that replaces fear in the heart. It drives out fear! St. Peter writes out the answer at verse 15: “but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy…”. That’s the answer for our fear. Christ Himself replaces fear!

In other places of Holy Scripture, we gain a right perspective to help us understand why St. Peter is so straight-forward here:

Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

And St. Matthew says even more, but there’s an even longer elaboration in St. Luke’s gospel:

Luke 12:4-9, 11-12: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God…And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

But isn’t this just replacing one fear with another? No, not really. We are now talking apples and oranges; two different types of “fear.” Fear without the Lord is the desperate fear of a slave. Being a slave to sin is being a slave to what only leads to death. This fear is a condemning fear.

The fear of the Lord, however, is not the fear of a slave, but the fear of a child of God and the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7a). When I was growing up, I feared my father, but at the same time, I knew his great affection for me! I knew he loved me and I knew he would protect me. I feared him so as to obey him, but I did it out of confidence that he was for me. And he was! This is a different fear; this fear is alien to the fear of a slave. It’s not desperate, but rather disciplined.

What inspires this view? There is only one Lord, there is only one who has the power and the authority. There is only one that we should really be concerned about before anyone else: it is the Lord. So, to set apart Christ as your priority, your life, your direction, your wisdom, your knowledge, your protection…you set Him apart so that you are not ashamed to live rightly and to do good.

In this way, He is holy in your heart. As you daily pray the Lord’s prayer and the petition, “Hallowed be Thy name,” remember (as we quote from the Small Catechism):

What does this mean? “God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also.”

How is God’s name kept holy? “God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”

And He will! As Christ remains in your heart Christian through His all-providing Word and Sacraments, you will be able to live out the rest of what St. Peter here writes: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil (vv. 15b-17).”

Filled with Christ in your heart, when someone asks you, “Why are you a Christian?” “Why do you believe?” or simply, “Why Jesus at all?” Our first reaction is not, “What do I say?” or “How eloquent can I be?” or “What’s that Bible verse again?!” No, rather, the first reaction is set-apart Christ as Lord in your heart. Hallow His Name. Praise Him. Trust Him. Honor Him. Pray to Him. And then open your mouth and give an answer. And as you do, do it with gentleness. Luther: “When you are asked about your hope you are not to answer with haughty words and carry things off with audacity and force as though you meant to tear up trees, but with fear and humility as though you stood before God’s judgment and were making answer (from Lenski, ibid., 151).” Be gentle, be loving. Love the person who asks and be gentle to them and then speak! The Lord is with you!

But St. Peter throws in another word: not only be gentle, but be reverent; be respectful. But here, it is not respect and reverence for the person asking you, but rather respect and reverence towards the Lord. The Lord is listening in and you are being given the chance to honor Him. The Lord hears and promises, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, (Matthew 10:32).”

Don’t be afraid, rather be gentle, and reverence the Lord. Reverence Him because He spilled His blood to cover your sins. Reverence Him because “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (v 18).” Reverence Him because He is so great that He can bless you even when you suffer unjustly. Reverence Him because He works out all things for your good. Reverence Him because even your death that tries to keep your mouth shut for once and for all about faith and Christ has been overcome so that at the resurrection you will confess the truth again! Reverence Him because He loves you. Reverence Him by the work of the Spirit who deals with the fear in your heart by giving Christ in your heart and then enabling you to give an answer – not based on your knowledge or wisdom or strength – but based on His grace filling you with Christ as you are gentle to the one who asks as Christ was and is gentle towards you; and as you reverence the Lord who is worthy of all reverence even and especially when we suffer for doing good! But remember, even in this, you are blessed. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).” Replace fear with Christ, give answer, and reverence the Lord! You are blessed! He is with you!