Before seminary, I worked for American Express. There was an occasion where I ran across some software that would make what we do more productive. I presented it to my boss and he said go ahead and order it.
Now back in in the day, I would have been able to just place an order. But somewhere along the line, it was decided that all software purchases be approved by the Director of Technical Services. There must have been some perception that there was too much software being purchased and it needed to be brought under control.
So I went to the Director’s office. I explained to him what I wanted, how much it cost, and how it would help my group and that my boss approved it. He said, “Fine. You need to fill out this form and give it my secretary.” It seems every new rule involves the generation of paper. I followed his instructions and ordered the software. It is ironic that in ordering software, I needed paper.
A month or two later, I don’t remember how long it was, my boss came to me and said we have a meeting in the fourth floor conference room. I thought it odd that there was an impromptu meeting, but went with him to the third floor.
In the room were the Director of Technical Services, my director, my boss, and me. I first assumed there was some kind of new project that was going to be launched. I was wrong. The Director of Technical Services began a long diatribe about company rules and how they are to be followed and that all software purchases are to go through him. After hearing this for a little while, it began to dawn on me that he was talking about me and that this was a disciplinary meeting. During the diatribe, I don’t remember him ever making eye contact with me.
I think my director finally asked me to explain myself. I said, “Paul, I came into your office to get your approval. I filled out the form. How would I have gotten the form if you didn’t give it to me?”
There was a pregnant pause in the room. The Director of Technical Services then walked out of the conference room. Then my director said, “Well, he stepped in it this time.” That little comment gave me great relief.
Giving relief to a people under threat is what Peter (or someone) was doing when he wrote his epistle. It is wisdom in the face of peril.
In this section of 1 Peter, the author is speaking to the church. The author is concerned with how the members of the church behave. It is likely there is a desire for the church to blend in with Roman society. The message is basically to lay low. There is enough persecution already.
So this section begins with a rhetorical question. Who would harm a good person? Of course we know that evil people will do harm to whomever they can exert power over, good or bad. The readers of this letter knew this all too well.
How do we respond when we suffer in the face of evil even if we did everything right? This letter gives us affirmation and advice.
It is hard to feel blessed when we are being threatened. Our brains are not wired that way. Our brains kick in the primitive fight or flight response before we can ever process the threat. Our primitive ancestors wouldn’t have survived long if they stopped to think about their odds of taking on a big cat and evaluating what fighting strategies would be the best to deploy. Instead it was an instantaneous weapons up or run response.
It is highly likely that the first and second century people reading this letter know of friends who suffered. Knowing they were good people, it would be easy to know they were blessed. It is also assuring to know that we are blessed when we are punished for doing the right thing.
In general if we are persecuted even though we are in the right, the persecutors are acting out of fear. A lot of human damage is done in reaction to fear. We lash out and may get angry. The fight response goes into full gear way before our rational minds can evaluate the threat. When our notions are challenged, when our ambitions are threatened, when our hard work is trashed, when our status is challenged, when anything that forces us re-examine who we are or where we want to go, fear triggers ugly responses.
Anyone in a relationship knows that.
But we are being asked to corral our fear. When we are attacked, usually out of someone else’s fear, we are to keep our fear response in check. Well, I already said we can’t control the reptilian part of our brain.
You see, we don’t have to do that by ourselves. If we keep Christ in our hearts, we can exert some control of our fear. I am not going to say we can ever fully control our fear.
When we replace fear with hope, we can mount an effective defense. Our prehistoric ancestors when confronted by a fierce predator could face the animal with a respectful dose of fear, but could never prevail without hope. We know that if we don’t believe we can accomplish a task, there’s a good chance the task will not be accomplished. And when we mount our defense, in gentleness and reverence, in others words, in humility, it will go a long way.
When we are falsely accused and the truth wins out, it is the accuser who becomes the condemned. Our conduct is predicated on Jesus’ commands, love God and love our neighbor. When our actions are consistent with Jesus’ commands, then our accusers will find nothing but shame. A footnote: that does not mean that our accusers will always lose. But even if they win, their shame will hang on them like a cold, wet cloak.
If we are to suffer, then suffer we will. No one gets through life without suffering. People carry different burdens, some light and some heavy. We all carry weights that we did not sign up for. In carrying these weights, we are better off carrying those weights and doing God’s will than it is ignoring God.
The ultimate suffering is to hang from a cross. Thousands upon thousands died on Roman crosses. Except for Spartacus, we mainly know the name of only one other crucified victim. Spartacus carried the dashed hopes of slaves to find freedom. Jesus died to deliver us from the slavery of sin and death. Spartacus died for slaves in Italy. Jesus died for the whole world.
Jesus’ body died on the cross. He was buried. Only Jesus didn’t stay dead. Jesus went to those who died before him, bringing the gospel to them and inviting them to God. Jesus went to all regardless of their actions when they were alive. Those who turned their backs on God were given another chance to return to God.
Noah’s family was saved through water. We are saved through water. Through water we die and are born again. And when we are born again we have a good conscience. It is with this good conscience that we are given the strength of good conduct to meet the challenges that life brings us.
May we always be of good cheer. “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31b) It is only little people who let fear dictate their lives. For us, we are a people of hope and hope will rule the day.