As believers we often grow complacent in our identity as the children of God. We claim the promises of Scripture that all things work together for good for believers, we echo the mantra “If God is for me, who can be against me?” and we spend a lot of energy defining our identity in Christ, being of Christ (Rom 8.28, 31). And while it is extremely important to understand these truths and to take comfort in them, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal for all of creation is to bring glory to God. As God’s children, we should want to obey Him, please Him and bring honor to Him through our lives. We need to look outward instead of looking at ourselves.
My small group is reading through the book of 1 Peter right now, and Peter exhorts the believers who have been scattered by the persecution to look to and and trust in God through their suffering. Peter, however, takes a slightly different approach than Paul in many of the fighter verses we claim. He teaches us that not only does God bring about character and perseverance through our suffering, He says it actually finds favor with God:
“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.”
– 1 Peter 2.19
These brand new believers, these baby Christians, were suffering persecution to the measure that they had to flee their homes and run for their lives for no other reason than because they trusted the Gospel; they turned to Jesus. And Peter encouraged them to submit to the governments who are in authority over them and to submit to their slave masters who treat them harshly. He echoes the teaching of Jesus that when someone demands of us or persecutes us, we should turn the other cheek and give more than was requested (Matt 5.39-40). We love our enemies (Matt 5.44). We bless those who persecute us (Luke 6.28).
Peter’s logic, however, takes us to the next level. He states that there is no honor in humbly receiving the discipline and harsh treatment when you have sinned (1 Peter 2.20). But the way to find favor with God is to endure the persecution and harsh treatment when you do not deserve it. He says, in fact, that this is the calling of Christianity:
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
– 1 Peter 2.21-24
This is where the value of looking outside of ourselves becomes vital. If we continue to focus on ourselves and our “identity”, we will have difficulty bearing up under persecution and suffering. This is why Peter calls Jesus into focus as our example. We have indeed been called, and that calling is to suffer – in the same manner that Jesus suffered: to the glory of God.
But how often do you find yourself being persecuted or suffering for choosing to do what is right?
I was in the seventh grade. My family went to a smaller church, and the Jr. High was included in much of the Sr. High students’ activities. One day we all went over to the associate pastor’s house and most of the youth group was there, as were the church staff, just having an evening together. After dinner, the youth all went upstairs. One of my girlfriends and I remained downstairs with the adults, but after a while we decided to head upstairs to see what everyone was up to. As we climbed the stairs there was a young man sitting outside of the game room door – standing guard. We entered to find everyone playing spin the bottle. We were invited to join, and as my friend sat down in the circle I was shocked and appalled. Seeing my reaction, two of the seniors in the group grabbed me and took me to the other room to calm me down and assure me that this was no big deal. Wanting no part of it, I went back downstairs to leave them to their game. I had no malice in my heart or intention to tattle, but the associate pastor’s wife could see the frustration on my face, so she asked me what the problem was. So I told her. The staff, of course, broke up the game. And for the next year I lived in the youth group as the whistle blower goodie two shoes.
This, of course, is a funny story. But for a little seventh grader, this was a very real and difficult situation in which I had to choose if I was going to go with the crowd or not. I chose not to, and I suffered the consequences for it. The first century Church was probably not in crisis of deciding if they would play spin the bottle, but rather if they would claim Jesus at the risk of their lives. But they were also choosing to obey their masters, live peaceably with one another, and to submit to the government and authorities. Peter is certainly speaking to life and death situations, and he is also speaking to the day-to-day situations of turning the other cheek and loving those who hate us.
Here in the states it is rare to find ourselves in a situation whereby our lives might be required of us because of our faith. We are, however, regularly in situations where people hate us because of our faith. And if people do not hate you because of your faith, you should have a conversation with Jesus about that, as He promised us,
“You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”
– Matt 10.22
If you want to find favor with God, you will follow the example of Jesus: to do what is right and honor God, and while we are being hated for doing what is right, we bear up under that suffering and love those who are hating us.
Are you doing what is right, even when it brings you suffering and hatred? Are you dying to yourself and choosing to love those who would hate you and persecute you for doing what is right? If so, then Scripture teaches us that you are finding favor with God. If you want to find favor with God, then get busy loving your enemies.