By Rachael Lie
Today is St. Thomas' day, so let's think about Thomas the apostle. Thomas boldly proclaimed Jesus as his Lord and his God (Jn 20:28), and tradition tells us that he then became a passionate evangelist of the gospel who was willing to travel far to Asia to tell about Jesus Christ.
We're not all called to be full time missionaries like the Jacksons in Japan, but we are all called to be full time gospel bearers to demonstrate the good news of Jesus who suffered, died and was raised after three days. Do you realize that we all should be full time gospel bearers? When I say full time gospel bearer, I am not talking about those ministers who are hired full time and therefore they are the ones who should be preaching and sharing the gospel 24/7. I am talking about you, everyone of you, including Chris, including myself, who are full time gospel bearers. As we look at today's passage, this concept will get clearer.
Peter is writing to people who are suffering from persecution by the government and suffering from discrimination of the society that results in maltreatment in everyday life. However, Peter says to them, yes, it's a tough life, but,
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. And then, conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge V.11-12.
Yes, life is tough, people around you might be hostile to what you believe, they might accuse you, or persecute you, and they might make your life difficult, but Peter wants us to live carefully among our unbelieving community, especially those who do not like us and accuse us of doing wrong so that, ironically, in the end they'll glorify God and give honor to God, when they see how we live our everyday lives, and especially when they observe how we react to bad circumstances. We are God's people, we represent God in the world, therefore, behave like his representative!
How do we behave like God's representative? From today's passage, we have two examples of how Christians in his time should live like a representative. First, for the Lord's sake, accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor or of governors v.13. Second, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh v.18. Now, notice that these were the two main sources of persecution for Christians at that time? The government of the Roman Empire and a society that's profoundly hostile to Christianity. How then could Christians maintain good conduct by accepting persecution and living submissively as representatives of God? Notice we're talking here about what could be a miserable life of suffering. Yet they're asked to be submissive and to be good representatives of God? Could it be possible?
With masters who are kind and gentle, submission is not a problem but to those who are harsh and unjust? Accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh v.18. According to Peter a servant is called to submit and be respectful towards them! What a shocking answer! In other words, you must be submissive even though you are suffering under them, even if you don't like them, even if they are unreasonable (NASB), you must respect them (NIV), and do whatever they tell you (NLT).
Personally, I don't like suffering. I don't even appreciate minor difficulties, let alone when I suffer for things that I haven't done wrong! And I guess most of you will be like me. But let me ask you, why do we struggle with suffering? Why did we think that suffering is not part of our life? I want to introduce you to a very important fact about suffering that Peter is talking about in this letter.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps v.21.
Suffering as a Christian is inevitable. Suffering is not a failure, suffering is not an obstruction, suffering is not God forgetting about what he's promised, suffering is not the result of God's unfaithfulness. No, in a world that's opposed to God, opposed to Christ, suffering is inevitable for those who are followers of Christ. Suffering is part of the Christian life. As Christians, you have been called as representatives of Jesus Christ to suffer for what is good, to suffer for his sake, for his kingdom, and therefore you may experience pain as a result of injustice.
We need to be careful what the Bible tells us about suffering. When Peter talks about suffering being commendable in God's eyes, he is not talking about the suffering that results from our own sin, our own weakness, or failure or our flawed character. I believe that all of us have a great ability to mess up our life, to complicate our own life with bad decisions here and there, or breaking of rules here and there, and as a result, we suffer because of our own rebellion, because of our own foolishness.
Sometimes what we call persecution is not persecution at all, it's a result of our Christian arrogance, pride, self-righteousness. We're mean, arrogant, and condemning. Therefore, people around us get angry and they push back. We shouldn't confuse the anger that people have then with what Peter is talking about in this passage. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval v.20.
So brothers and sisters, let's ask ourselves why we're suffering. Are we suffering for God sake or for our own mistakes? And if we're truly suffering for good, our enduring behavior can be a very powerful way to promote the gospel. We are the witnesses to a watching world in a representative way! We're not only sharing the gospel through our formal ministry, our spoken words, but also through the way we live. Our lives preach the gospel! How do you react when your boss is unreasonable? How do you react when your neighbor is looking for any opportunity to get at you? How do you react when people mock you, or tempt you to break the rules at your workplace, at your school, in your everyday living? And when you know you can only advance by playing politics and using some dirty tactic? Will you do it? No you won't! Because you know it, it reflects on your faith, and so you're willing to suffer for it!
Some people think if they're suffering, they can behave like a victim. They give themselves permission to do things that they wouldn't otherwise do. They say to themselves, it's alright, you're under stress and you're going through suffering, so don't worry, you deserve it! People understand that you're going through a hard time…. No! Suffering doesn't change the rules of all game, it does not give us permission to do whatever we want to do, and most importantly, it does not give us permission to do things that God has called us not to do! Morality, ethics, attitudes and behaviour should not be dictated by external circumstances that are pressing on you!! Don't elevate the suffering!
Look at Jesus, he never sinned, and he never deceived anyone, He did not retaliate when he was insulted. When he suffered, he did not threaten to get even. But instead he left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly v.22-23. This is the most difficult thing to do, isn't it? To let go of our case and let God be in charge! It's natural for us to want to take control of things; we like to handle our own case by our own ability, own strengths and our own wisdom, we judge before even God judges. Do you remember when the last time was that you were mistreated by others? Do you remember what your reaction was? You talked and listened a lot right? You talked and listened to yourself, to your family, your colleagues, your best friends, but did you talk and listen to God first? When we're treated unjustly, we tend to get down and dirty, we retaliate, we work out how to get revenge, and worst, we let sins grow in the moment of suffering! We question God's wisdom, God's faithfulness, we let envy, doubt, fear and anger take us over and as a result we don't entrust ourselves to God!
But not Jesus, he never gets down and dirty, he never took revenge, he didn't retaliate, or leave or elevate the suffering. He didn't run away from his problems. BUT… he remained committed to his Father. We all know that Jesus had the power to get himself out of trouble but he wasn't willing to do that. He believed in God's presence, God's power and God's wisdom, He believed in God's justice and sovereignty and therefore he could entrust himself to God. Do you believe what Jesus believed? Do you believe God is in charge of everything, do you believe in his power and do you believe that nothing can happen apart from his will?
Maybe you're sitting there and thinking it's just too hard… I can't do this, I hate suffering for my faith, I hate being mistreated because I'm a Christian, I want life to be easier and more comfortable, and to be more accepted. I just can't…. can't be like Jesus! Brothers and sisters, if you're thinking that, I want to tell you that there is hope for you and me because Jesus is not only your example but he is also your substitute.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wound you have been healed! v.24.
This is a purpose statement, isn't it? Jesus bore our sins, he took our sins on himself and died on the cross, so that, what, so that and in order that we might live for righteousness. We are no longer under the bondage of sin; Jesus has set us free. If you can't do what Jesus wants you to do, it may be because you still think that sin is controlling you. Yes, sin is still controlling you when you let it, when you say yes to it, when you welcome it into your life! But this situation can be changed, Peter makes it clear that the redemption that's brought by Jesus is here and now. If he's taken your place, and if he's healed your wounds and made you a healthy person, then you have the power to say no to sin and do what is right. Jesus is your source of strength, wisdom and power! Without Jesus and the cross, I have no hope, but here is Jesus and the cross, so now I can endure pain. I can endure mistreatment that results in suffering, I can say no to envy, doubt, fear and anger, and revenge! I can now behave like a representative of Jesus!
For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls V.25.
What a promise, brothers and sisters, what a beautiful, encouraging, and comforting passage. We used to be wandering like lost sheep, we were lost before; we'd messed up our lives, but now we can return to Christ the shepherd and guardian of our souls. You never suffer outside the care of our great shepherd because he has drawn you to himself, you are his sheep. If you are his sheep, it is impossible for you to be in any situation, any circumstances, any location, and any relationships that are outside his shepherdly care.
Brothers and sisters, you can endure, and as you endure, you'll bring glory to God, you'll live like a representative, as a witness to the world. And then…. almost beyond believing, somehow, someway, someone will be brought to conviction, they'll be brought to faith as they watch your life! They'll be confused about your reaction to those unjust moments, they'll be confused about why you say no when most people would say yes, and they'll begin to be attracted to what you stand for. Then they'll want to know this Jesus that you know!! Do you realize now that why we are 24/7 full time gospel bearers?
Let us pray.