[reprinted from February 24, 2010]
20What honor is there in it if you are treated badly for doing wrong and you endure it? But if you endure suffering when doing good, God graciously blesses you. â€” 1 Peter 2:20 (HN)
â€“ Henry Neufeld
When Peter penned these words, he was talking to Christians who might face persecution at any time. Most of the time they were left alone. At certain periods, the Romans instructed their officials not to pursue Christians, but to take action against them if they were reported. At one point, since martyrdom was considered great, some Christians would turn themselves in so as to become martyrs.
I doubt Peter was addressing that particular situation, but it illustrates a potential problem. Many Christians like to think of themselves as persecuted. For whatever reasons it makes them feel better. They wouldnâ€™t want to undergo actual persecution, of course, but they like to be thought of as upholding their faith against great opposition.
Now I donâ€™t want to belittle the opposition that Christians do face, including ridicule from unbelieving coworkers. More commonly you might face ridicule from others who are Christians, at least in name, usually because they regard some of your spiritual or moral choices as fanatical. At the same time, I think we need to be careful how we use the word â€œpersecutionâ€ when all over the world there are people who are truly persecuted, in the sense of being killed, tortured, or at a minimum have their lives threatened. This type of persecution is very rare in the United States. Perhaps we could try â€œharassedâ€ or â€œannoyedâ€ for what we go through here.
The people Peter addressed, however, were more likely to give up on being law abiding citizens. After all, they were outlaws already, so what was the difference? Why not go all the way with the â€œcitizens of another kingdomâ€ thing? Peter is telling them to be sure they donâ€™t deserve the trouble. Suffering for Jesus when youâ€™re doing right is good. Suffering because of your own wrong actions is quite another matter.
Now I want to transfer this principle to modern day Christianity. Many Christians determine not to witness because they are afraid of opposition. Others who do witness tell repeated stories of being laughed at, ridiculed, or otherwise mistreated. I would start by reminding them that there are many places in the world where you would be likely to get executed for witnessing, so whatâ€™s a little verbal opposition. The number of people who will drive you off with a shotgun in America is vanishingly small.
But a more important point is this: Donâ€™t bring harassment on yourself because of your behavior. The fact is that too many Christians see witnessing as the process of proselytizing, which we could define as â€œmaking other people into Christians.â€ But that isnâ€™t it. God makes people into Christians, or not, according to his knowledge and purpose. (Iâ€™m purposely skirting the â€œfree willâ€ discussion here!) Convicting and changing hearts is the work of the Holy Spirit. Your job is simple: Witness.
Now there are matters of timing, but most of us, if we would just treat witnessing as a natural part of our lives, would have no trouble with that. What do I mean about treating witnessing as a natural part of our lives? If you buy a new car you tell your friends about it. You donâ€™t break into their church service, for example, to do so. You do it when it comes up naturally in conversation.
If you live as a Christian, you will have little difficulty finding opportunities. In fact, if you are involved in your church community it is likely to show, and youâ€™re likely to get questions. Answering someone elseâ€™s questions is always good timing.
Make sure that if youâ€™re being treated badly for your faith, youâ€™re not bringing it on yourself. As Peter says elsewhere: â€œ. . . Always be ready to give an answer to those who ask for the hope that is in you. 16But do so with gentleness and respect, having a clear conscience, so that those who speak ill of you for your good behavior in Christ might be put to shame when they abuse youâ€ 1Peter 3:15b-16 (HN)