Friday, March 14, 2014

Suffering for doing Good (1 Peter 3:14-17; Psalm 59)

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, 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.” (1 Peter 3:14–17, ESV)

Earlier today I spoke with an individual about a situation in which this person was being attacked because of doing right and preventing others from causing harm to a loved one. These attacks have risen in their intensity and the individual is really feeling the pressure. As I thought about this I thought about just how much of a struggle it can be for us at times to stand in the face of those who want to do evil or abuse those who are not well-defended even if they don’t even recognize your efforts. As the one doing right and standing in this place you then become the one at the center of the attack.

The verses above in 1 Peter speak of suffering for righteousness’ sake. Suffering in this way is really suffering for doing right before God and others. In this we are encouraged not to be fearful of our attackers, but to continue to honor Christ as Lord in our hearts. In doing this we look not to the size and forcefulness of our attackers, but to the size and faithfulness of our God and our Lord. Our God is bigger and more powerful that any created being or institution. He also has given us a way to live, and we are called to live that way regardless of what anyone else might say or do.

And when we are called to defend this position, we are to respond in such a way that we gently and respectfully point others to God as the One who directs our steps and determines our actions. When they choose to revile us for our good behavior we ourselves can know that we are standing before them with a clear conscience. Ultimately God is the One who judges all people and their behavior is answerable to Him. In light of that, verse 17 tells us that it is “better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will.”

Earlier in 1 Peter this subject is also dealt with. And in this instruction we are instructed that we are to be subject to those who are over us, even if that person is unjust in their treatment of us. In this passage we are also given the example of Christ who submitted to the will of the Father to suffer abuse at the hands of man. We are reminded that Jesus committed no sin. He did no wrong, yet He suffered greatly. And in His suffering He did not take it as an opportunity to revile or speak harshly about those who were persecuting Him. It says that, even being God and fully capable, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself fully into the hands of the Father. He did this so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:18–24, ESV)

Everything we do as believers, even on behalf of others, we are encouraged to do as living sacrifices in recognition of what God has done for us (Romans 12:1-2). Standing for right in the face of others who want to do wrong and even accuse you of wrong is a part of that service. Jesus was fully focused on the reason He came and He was determined to fulfill it fully and without slipping into the tit for tat garbage of His accusers. Here we can plug in any kind of intense struggle in which we have to make a choice between doing right and succumbing to any number of pressures to do evil or permit evil under our oversight. Jesus understands that intensity. The very ones He came to save were those who the Father made an everlasting covenant with, and it was them who pushed to the point of putting Him on the cross.

There are things we can control in every situation, and this is what we are to prayerfully attend to. But there are also things over which we have no control, and that most frequently is what other people do. We are to stay focused on what we can do and repeatedly (as often as we need to) hand back to God that which we can’t. In Ephesians 6:12 the Bible speaks of this as a spiritual battle being waged in our minds, and in verses ten and following it goes into how we are to prepare ourselves for battle in Christ.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)

Many of the psalms in the 50’s range have to do with being attacked in one way or another. Following is one of those psalms, Psalm 59, which has to do with the persistence of our enemy who, in our minds, can rise to such huge dimensions. David was sinless (righteous) in relation to his attackers, but they were out for his life. In this psalm David speaks of our God who laughs at the futility of their efforts to attack him in relation to His own strength and in that David knows he will be delivered.

Psalm 59 (ESV)
To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him.

1 Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me;
2 deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men.
3 For behold, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men stir up strife against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord,
4 for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. Awake, come to meet me, and see!
5 You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah
6 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.
7 There they are, bellowing with their mouths with swords in their lips— for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
8 But you, O Lord, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision.
9 O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.
10 My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.
11 Kill them not, lest my people forget; make them totter by your power and bring them down, O Lord, our shield!
12 For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter,
13 consume them in wrath; consume them till they are no more, that they may know that God rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth. Selah
14 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.
15 They wander about for food and growl if they do not get their fill.
16 But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.
17 O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.

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