Christians In a Contentious World

August 28, 2016

“Stop the world – I want to get off,” was the title of a 1961 British musical. It opened in the United States in 1962 and had 555 performance run. A well known song from that musical is, “What Kind of Fool Am I.” I never saw the musical, but I have felt a kinship with the title. “Stop the world I want to get off.” Have you ever felt that way? When we look at the world today, when we look at our country today it is not very hopeful.

And yet as Christians we are filled with a living hope because of the life we have received in Jesus Christ. In fact, we are not of this world; we belong to the world to come. This means that the way we live is shaped by our citizenship in the new heaven and new earth. Peter writes about how believers are to live in this old, sin-driven world filled with antagonism. He tells us that in the midst of a contentious world believers are to live a godly life.


In 1Pt.2:12, Peter writes, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Then in chapters 2 and 3 Peter instructs believers on how to live in various secular situations. How do Christians engage government? How do Christian slaves serve their non-Christian masters? How do Christian wives live with non-Christian husbands? Then we come to 3:8 where Peter says, “All of you.” He is speaking to all the believers in the churches that he is writing to. So is Peter speaking about how believers are to treat each other in the church? Is he speaking about how believers are to treat unbelievers in the world? I think the answer is both. In v.8 Peter instructs believers on how they are to treat each other in light of the persecution they are experiencing. But in v.9 it also seems that Peter extends this to include the way Christians treat unbelievers. He says, “Don’t repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling.”

All this to show that Peter wants us to see that these virtues describe a Christian’s general way of being. And it is important because persecution, opposition from the world puts stress and pressure on the church. When we are under stress we do not always treat each other in Christ like ways. And yet if the church is going to survive in the world, having Christ-like virtues is critical.

These virtues certainly do not imply weakness or apathy. There are times when Christians must be strong and firm in dealing with various issues. Sometimes doctrinal or moral issues call for a firm response in the church. Sometimes moral issues call for a firm response in regard to government or society at large. But when a firm response is required, even then believers should seek to live according to these virtues.

Our way of being ought to be oriented around having unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. These virtues are all in keeping with the character and conduct of Jesus Christ. These are the virtues that we focus on and pursue. And do we not want to be this kind of person? Do we not value the harmony that is found in unity? To be sympathetic means to have harmony in our feelings with one another. We enter into the joy and sorrow of each other. Do we not want to show brotherly love? I mean what value is there in being unkind, unloving? When the Greek word for “tender hearted” appears in a medical context it literally means “healthy bowels.” The idea here is that we are compassionate. We can be moved to help and encourage each other. Does anyone not want to be tender hearted? And what about having a humble mind? Do we want to have a humble mind, lowly mind? Of course the opposite is pride. Peter is saying that we should hold our thoughts and ideas in humility.

So how do we cultivate these virtues in our lives? How do these virtues become our general demeanor in life? Let me point out that we must be convinced that these virtues are worth having. Of course we all agree that these are desirable virtues, but at the same time most of us are very willing to abandon these virtues when we feel the need to secure our lives and have our way. Jesus did not use force to secure his life or to have his way. Yes, when he cleansed the temple it says, “…he drove out all who sold and bought in the temple and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” He used to force to restore the house of God as a place of prayer and worship. He was restoring things that belonged to him to their rightful place. But in his demeanor Jesus embodied the virtues Peter is calling us to embody. Do we believe that the way of Jesus is sufficient for living life? If so, how does this become reality for us? It happens as we continually bring before our minds the goodness of Jesus through worship, prayer, and the reading of Scripture. It happens as we regularly say, “No,” to our selfish desires and fears and say, “Yes,” to loving and serving  Christ and others.

Now it’s not that the world is against these virtues. Not at all! Each of these virtues is valued in our world. It’s just that people who don’t know Christ are apt to practice these virtues when they are self-promoting, self-enhancing. When they lose the personal advantage there is nothing to gain. Believers practice these virtues regardless of personal advantage because they flow from Christ who lives in us. We learn to embody these virtues in keeping with our Lord, Jesus Christ. So surely this will involve the ongoing process of dying to self and living for Christ and others.


In v.9 Peter includes something I did not discuss earlier. He talks about blessing those who do evil against you or who revile you. This idea comes straight from the lips of Jesus who said, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” In 1Pt.2:23, Peter refers to Jesus and writes, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” This is difficult for us because it involves personal attack and injury. I mean Peter seems to be suggesting that when this happens we are to respond with active passivity. I say active passivity because we must learn to not respond in an aggressive way.

But it is important to take note of the context. These believers were facing persecution because they acknowledged Christ as Lord of all. They would not worship Caesar or any other god. They sought to live righteous lives in honor of the Lord. For this they were being persecuted. So our first level of application has to be to situations in which believers are experiencing persecution. Often in those situations the believer has no control. He or she only has control over him or herself. In those situations the believer has no one to appeal to. There is no recourse.

This is not our situation. So how do we apply Peter’s words? For example, how would you respond if you were being mistreated at work, perhaps because of your identification with Christ or not? Assuming you have not given cause for such treatment, if you have recourse, you can pursue it. If you can do something about the situation, that might be the way to go. And you can always quit if you have to. But whatever you do, it should be done in line with these virtues. In other words we try to bless, seek the welfare of our enemy. Christ is our life and we live for him.

Think also about the way in which the church of Jesus Christ is being marginalized today. It may not seem to be so bad at the moment, but there is a trend away from the church in favor of a secular society. The church is being increasingly moved out onto the fringe of society. Well, how will we respond? Some of you may not agree with me when I say that there is no place that I can find in the New Testament where believers are to fight for their rights. Paul does exhort believers to pray for those in government so that we might “…lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Of course the New Testament was not written in the context of a democracy. We do have recourse in this country and when religious liberty is being trample upon, we can appeal to the recourse that we have, just as Paul appealed to Caesar. But whatever we do, the church of Jesus should strive to be known for being loving and peaceable.

Now I don’t want to miss the point I am making. Peter says that we have been called to bless our enemies so that we may obtain a blessing. What blessing is he talking about? Well, he supports his admonition by quoting from Ps.34:12-16. You see the blessing defined in v.10: “Whoever desires to love life and see good days.” I don’t see this referring to the time of the new heaven and earth; I see this referring to our life on this earth. And obviously persecution and martyrdom does not bode well for loving life and seeing good days. So here is what I think. I believe that when Christians choose to bless those who are persecuting them, God will bless them with an outlook on life that is filled with the joy and goodness of Christ. Think about this. When we ask God for blessings we tend to be materialistic and focused on our happiness. But who is really blessed by God? I mean are his persecuted followers blessed less than his unpersecuted followers? I don’t think so. When Paul and Silas were singing hymns in prison after having been beaten, they were loving life and seeing good days. Notice v.12, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” God sees you. As we seek to live a life that is gracious to all God will bless. A godly life is blessed by God.


The last part of v.12 reads, “But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." Would you look again at 2:23? It says that Jesus, “…did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Brothers and sisters our perspective on life in this world is far different from the perspective of an unbeliever. Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. And as followers of Christ you and I are not of this world. Christ is our life.

This past week I read an article by Dr. John C. Nugent on the website called “think Christian.” He was writing about the coming election. Let me quote a statement. He says, “…we must not vote as if the nations bear the meaning and direction of world history. They don’t. God’s transnational church does. The nations preserve the old order and are destined to perish with it. Christians are ambassadors of the new order. We seek it first. We know it alone will endure. And we know that we must not force it upon others.”

Now I am not so much interested in commenting on the elections. Rather I am interested in this idea of the old order and the new order of the Kingdom of God. We should not be surprised if we suffer at the hands of the people and governments of this world. The religious freedom that we enjoy is a great gift from God. It is one of the things that makes America a great country. And we pray that it will continue. But it may not. We may come in for persecution.

If that happens how are we to respond? Well, we must respond like Jesus. He continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. God has his eye on those who do evil. Vengeance, justice belongs to God.

Now trying to discern the ways of God is difficult. If you and I had been Jewish slaves in Egypt perhaps we would have wondered, “Where is God.” They were slaves for 400 years before God delivered them. If you were a Christian living in North Korea, Syria or Iran and you lost your family because of persecution, you might be wondering how God is for you since you see that many are against you. I do not have answers for these questions other than the example of Jesus given here by Peter. Jesus entrusted himself to God, who judges justly. When Asaph, the psalmist pondered how it could be that the wicked could prosper while the righteous suffer, he concluded in Ps.73:26-28, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge that I may tell of all your works.

As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, we do not vest our lives to this world or its governments. We are thankful when government secures the safety, justice, and morality of a nation, but we are well aware of the pitfalls of government in this world. Our lives are vested in God through Christ. We look to him for security, justice and morality as we seek to live a godly life. A godly life is preserved by God.

One day this world will stop. But so far, that day is not today. While it is still called “today,” it is for us a day to show the world the gracious life given to us in Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ we have been born again to a new eternal life. We are being transformed into Christ like people. How can we not seek to make the world a better place through gospel talking and gospel living? Gospel talking and living is in our DNA for Christ is our life. Amen