“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”1 Peter 3:13
The Curious Case of 1 Peter 3:13
The answer to this may seem pretty “duh” for us, this would be an excellent example of why we do not take single verses out of their context. If we continue to read, we can see that this line is almost meant to get us thinking. It is meant to keep us going along, to learn more, and to grow in this context of suffering.
Some of you will remember a couple of weeks ago we addressed suffering in a more communal context. We explored how Christ’s suffering creates within us an empathetic Spirit. We know that Christ knows our suffering because he suffered, and thereby we use our past suffering to inform us how we can be in the presence of others who suffer.
Peter answers this question that begins this section of scripture we are looking at today. He explores the context of suffering that is caused by living our faith, in a way standing up for what we believe in.
However, before we get too far we remember that much of this is taken with the grain of salt that this ideology and theology was written in. We read here a sense of standing firm in our faith, but this stand does have limits because we are bound by the great commandments to live in love.
What Peter is responding to in this portion of this text is when we do good and suffer, we question the meaning and purpose behind that.
Part of the purpose can be stated as a building of faith in God because we know God is there to help pick up the pieces of our broken hearts (though it does not make the heartbreak any harder). Peter wants his readers to understand that to live one’s faith, often means doing so in the face of what people in the world think you should do.
When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we see this very example. The religious elite and even authorities try to box Jesus in and force him to walk back his manner of extraordinary love. Through Jesus’ example, not just in ministry, but also through the cross and grave, our manner of existence is made known as well.
Verse 13 is presented as a question with a duh response;
“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do good?”…
Well duh…people who don’t like the good that we are doing.
Many examples can be given, but my mind immediately thinks about how the poor/homeless community is often treated and the advocacy that goes into that. The way that poverty is treated around the world often comes at odds, in a lot of ways, with the global capitalist intentions of those in power. It can be very complicated, yes, and this is not meant to be an anti-capitalism sermon. However, it raises questions when we unpack it a bit deeper.
The way we approach poverty as people who place a high value on money and the accumulation of wealth often causes harm to those who try to do good by helping those in situations of poverty. Many times poverty is a result of war, and people are doing good and trying to enter war zones to provide aid to people in need. Sometimes advocating for the poor in our societies comes with the risk of being labeled a communist. Even sometimes helping in areas of poverty puts us in danger from the very people we are trying to help.
These are important pieces to consider when we are doing good. We should weigh the risks of doing good in the world. However, this is where the question Peter asks comes into play, because while it may seem that he leaves it hanging it more sparks in our mind that there are risks with doing good.
Peter’s thought continues,
“But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”1 Peter 3:14-16a NRSVue
So we know that the consequences of doing good can often result in negativity or suffering imposed upon us, but Peter’s emphasis in this passage is to remember why we are meant to be good people in the first place. We are given our calling by a Savior who exemplified that calling in his own life and a God who exemplifies that grace through their manner of relationship with creation.
Living vs. Talking Faith
This is why I would say this passage is less about suffering in and of itself and more about our response when someone responds negatively to the living of our faith. I will denote here the difference between living and talking about our faith. Oftentimes we think of ourselves as “oppressed” when we cannot just openly talk about our faith. We think about these “evangelism” opportunities and we immediately beat people over the head with the Bible and Jesus. That is not how that is supposed to work. There is a more natural way to talk about faith, and it resides in living our faith.
When we live by the example of Christ and our hearts are sanctified by Christ. We become vessels for a visual, lived Gospel. That is what Peter is opening our hearts to in this passage. When we live the Gospel we do not live in fear, because we know our faith and hope reside in God. What does this mean for us? Well, I can speak about what it has meant for me, and how I seek to live, help, and advocate.
Why do I advocate for affordable housing?
- Because my faith in Christ leads me to see the ways all people deserve equal treatment.
Why do I put myself in possibly dangerous situations to help people?
- Because that’s what Jesus calls me to do.
Doctors without borders, missionary relief programs, disaster relief, funding for various sorts of equitable programs…why does the church side with many of these efforts?
Because it is a part of our calling, and how we are called to live out our faith. Christ suffered so that we would know what good looks like. Christ suffered so that by him our sins and the evils of the world would not only be highlighted but so that we would truly understand the nature of grace that floods into our lives.
In his book God of the Oppressed, James Cone writes,
“The Christian community, therefore, is that community that freely becomes oppressed, because they know that Jesus himself has defined humanity’s liberation in the context of what happens to the little ones. Christians join the cause of the oppressed in the fight for justice not because of some philosophical principle of “the Good” or because of a religious feeling of sympathy for people in prison. Sympathy does not change the structures of injustice. The authentic identity of Christians with the poor is found in the claim which the Jesus-encounter lays upon their own life-style, a claim that connects the word “Christian” with the liberation of the poor. Christians fight not for humanity in general but for themselves and out of their love for concrete human beings.”James Cone, God of the Oppressed. Found at https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/p-135
Peter desires the hearts of those who are learning and growing in faith to rest in that intention of holy living. This can be tough because we think we are always on the side of good, but sometimes we can misinterpret “good” as a moral ideology. Yes, good can be subjective, and that is why we should be intentional in the good we do. Last week we explored ideals that are seeded in the nature of evil. The idea of anger, hatred, judgmentalism, malice, or insincerity. We see these plague our society. How we can “do good” and consider ourselves suffering because of it harkens back to that nature of empathy in our original discussion on suffering. Can we sit and listen to folks? We must be ready “to make our defense,” and also be ready to hear out from another perspective. This can be the manner of holy conversation that exists in our denomination.
Can we sit down with one another in our disagreement?
If I have caused harm, can I understand that and help in the process of healing? I get it we want to be right, and when our values feel attacked, we want to attack right back, but we cannot do that. Michelle Obama once famously said, “When they go low, we should go high.” Yes, she talked about it politically against a Republican party that often vilified her, and you may disagree wholeheartedly with her on many levels. However, there is some biblical truth in that statement. If we jump back to a verse just before the beginning of our reading today.
“Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.”1 Peter 3:9 NRSVue
When our response to harm is more harm, it perpetuates a continued cycle that does no good. It would seem there is this merit that in the face of suffering it should cause us pause to think and reflect, not to inflict more suffering in the situation. We should be ready to know the background of what pushes us to do what we do. We stand on our faith as a manner of sharing the love of God with others, that is the good we reside in. We stand for grace, we stand for love, and we stand for a Gospel that shows us how to live in that way. The problem becomes when we misrepresent that sentiment. When we experience suffering in doing good it is meant to reconnect us with God, and the one who offers blessings upon us.
However, to live in a justified manner means being grounded in our faith and the manner of good we are called to portray. Our readiness to defend our faith is not a weapon to be used to harm others but should be an inward reflection with God about the actual merit of our beliefs. Yes, they can be used when harm befalls us or suffering is placed in our way, but we cannot think of ourselves as bigger or more important than those we are in community with.
This all returns us to our intentions…Always be ready, but for what?
We must always be ready to know that Christ died for us and for the world that needs this great witness to faith.