You might remember three months ago when we started this series, I talked about the situation that these Christians found themselves in. They were being persecuted. So when Peter says in verse 13, “who is going to harm you?” he knows there is a real possibility that not only had his Christian friends already been persecuted, but more could be on the way. It was not a widespread persecution like the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews. It was much smaller. But the Emperor in Rome, a kinda crazy guy name Nero, did sanction some persecution of Christians. It is likely that both main leaders of the church, Peter and Paul, were killed by Nero.
Most of the persecution these Christians were facing, though was small, as I said, and in their own towns and cities. So what Peter is saying here is that if they are eager to do good, it is less likely that they will be persecuted. That is common sense.
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? Very few people. That is a principle that is true today. If you are a loving, kind person, people may disagree with your decision to follow Christ, but it is unlikely that they will harm you.
But it is not a promise. Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, even if they were amazingly good, were being rounded up and exterminated. In many places throughout history, and still today, there is persecution simply because of ethnicity, nationality, gender, politics, religion. Even if people are good, they can still be persecuted simply because of the color of their skin, or because of their beliefs.
Does this apply to us Christians in America? Are we American Christians persecuted for our faith?
On the books, because the USA has freedom of religion, persecution and discrimination based on religion is illegal. If persecution would happen, there is legal recourse that we can take. Just because it is illegal, though, doesn’t mean persecution doesn’t happen.
Does persecution for being a Christian happen in the USA? The simple answer is “I don’t know.” I don’t have comprehensive knowledge of everything that happens in the USA. No one does. So my guess is that persecution, in some form, does happen. By that I mean that there are probably times when Christians in America are persecuted for their faith. Possibly even physical, bodily, painful persecution. But my suspicion is that it is extremely rare, as Christianity is by far the majority religion in every single state, and that persecution is against the law.
Also I think it is important to note that there is not any systemic, government-sponsored persecution in a physical bodily way against Christians or any other religion. Sometimes, though, we Christians can act like there is a conspiracy against us, like the picture at the top of this post suggests. But it is simply not true. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is wrong for American Christians to act like or think or declare that we are oppressed in the United States, when there are millions of Christians around the world, living in countries where it is actually illegal to be a Christian, and where they daily face physical bodily persecution.
The newest issue of Persecution magazine came out recently. I urge you to check it out and learn about what is happening around the world. Just reading that could make you extremely grateful for the freedom of religion that we have in the USA. And it could encourage you to pray for Christians around the world who are, right now, being persecuted.
So what persecution do we face in the USA? We do, from time to time, face ridicule from those who disagree with us. What that means is that we are affected by our Christianity. As we should be though, right?
We Christians hold to the way of Jesus, and even in free society, there will be people who think believing in God is ridiculous. They might have all kinds of ways to make fun of us, belittle us, or marginalize us. We should not be surprised when this happens. Think about what happened to Jesus.
One author I found said, “We can’t stop people from shooting us down, but we can stop giving them ammunition. When we respond with anger, bitterness, revenge, we give people ammunition to tear us down.”
Is it persecution when a company takes a stand on an issue and people who disagree with the company’s stand decide to boycott? Should the company say they are being persecuted? Or should they just say “We took a stand for what we believe is right, and we knew that not everyone would agree, and maybe we’ll lose a lot of income. But we’re willing to accept those consequences.”
If people treat us illegally, of course we have legal means to pursue getting justice, because in our country there is freedom of religion. But Christians have another way to respond when we are simply insulted or made fun of.
Peter is saying in verses 13-15 that when we are mistreated, we can absorb it, because Jesus is our Lord. We don’t have to be afraid. Furthermore we can know that when we are mistreated, Peter shockingly says in verse 14, we are blessed. Jesus taught that to Peter. In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”
So instead of responding negatively to criticism or insult, look how Peter says we should respond in verse 15, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” This is crucial. And tomorrow we’ll talk about how to set apart Christ as Lord.