Persecution as Opportunity – 1 Peter 3:13-16

Persecution is therefore not a cause for fear, but rather an opportunity to honor Christ and revere him as Lord (as opposed to Caesar!) Peter is not commanding a completely passive acceptance of suffering. Rather, he tells the readers to be ready to give an answer when asked about their hope in Christ (v. 15b). Typically this verse is used to encourage people to know what they believe and why they believe it.

This is a good application (and it is true that you ought to know why you believe what you do), but Peter has in mind believers who are being unfairly harassed because of their faith in Jesus. Although it may not be the case than anyone has Suffering Churchbeen tried before a court on account of their faith in Jesus, the word Peter uses here is typically used for a legal defense (ἀπολογία, Acts 22:1, 25:16; 1 Cor 9:3). The believer is not to revile his opponent or repay insults with insults, but he is ready to give an honest answer when asked why he suffers for his faith.

The command is to be prepared, meaning that the believer has already knows why they are willing to put up with harassment for their faith.  To prepare something is to do the work ahead of time. The word “always” or “constantly” also implies that the reasons for one’s faith are prepared and always available. Peter does not envision a sudden rush of the Holy Spirit inspiring someone to give a good defense, rather the believer has ready an explanation for why they are humbly suffering for their faith.

By way of analogy, if someone is called into court on some charge, a lawyer “prepares a case.” this means there is some investigation of the evidence so that the lawyer can anticipate questions and give a good answer. A lawyer who comes into court without ever looking at the case ahead of time will fail and the person under arrest will be convicted.

This defense is to be “with gentleness and respect.” Since the Roman world was used to verbal abuse between philosophical schools, it would be very easy for the Christian to give his defense of his faith with the same sort of abuse the orator heaps on his opponents.

This is a very convicting verse since there are many Christians who have no idea what they believe, or if they do know what they believe, they are unable to give much of a reason for that belief. (The old hymn, I need no other argument, I need no other plea, it is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me – that is a nice sentiment, but perhaps knowing a little bit of the “device or creed” will help confirm one’s faith when suffering does occur!)

The “hope we have” should be taken as eschatological. In the midst of suffering, the believer can know than Jesus is going to return at some point at render justice. For the believer, that means vindication (they were suffering unjustly) and reward, but for the persecutor, it means punishment.

The point of all of this is that the Christian ought to maintain a clear conscience so the outsider will be ashamed to slander the Christian faith (v. 16). This seems to me to be opposite of Christianity in recent years, or perhaps it only seems so because the media is able to broadcast a few particularly shameful examples of Christian hypocrisy. Think for a moment about presidential candidates claiming to be Christian yet giving hate-filled and vulgar speeches.

Rather than dwell on people who are shameful yet claim to be believers, what are some positive examples of Christians who are living out this “patient suffering” and have given outsiders no reason to slander them?

23 thoughts on “Persecution as Opportunity – 1 Peter 3:13-16

  1. To me I would say the Christians who state their views but do so without ridiculing someone who believes differently than they do would set an example of someone who cannot be slandered on account of their faith. If a Christian truly is living and being like Jesus, they set the example of true faith and what that should look like. Any Christian who is not always pointing out what people do wrong or constantly judging others would be someone who sets the example of one who does not deserve slander. Also the Christians who are putting themselves out there and evangelizing and serving the public and are truly being the hands and feet of Jesus expecting nothing in return they are also positive examples of people who do not deserve slander on account of their faith. The Christians who are truly walking the Christian walk by being like Jesus set the example of positive examples of Christians in the modern society.

  2. I can think of a couple people from my home church that have given their entire lives over to Christ and who have not given unbelievers a reason to slander them. They are like distant role models somewhat. I really think it is important to separate between Christians acting right in the sight of non-Christians and Christians being able to rebuke and discipline or call out other believers who might be doing something wrong. Because a pastor can get booed out of a church for calling on the congregation to repent in the wrong way. He might be walking so rightly with God that there is nothing an outsider could possibly accuse him of. But he also has to find the line where Christian discipline toward other believers becomes wrong too. I guess what i am trying to say is that living a life that LOOKS great to outsiders also involves DOING that life in front of believers too.

  3. I can think of very specific people who exemplify this idea. The people are all the quiet, always willing to help, resourceful, kind people. Every one of them is helping spread the gospel, but in a quiet, yet impactful, way. The issue comes when people get too big. The more influence and popularity they receive the more under scrutiny they become and their lives become open books. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says we should live quiet lives and mind our own business. The people that can do this are the ones who give no reason to slander. Churches try and reach to big of an audience. Jesus had big crowds but invested in only a few people. When you live in a community like that it’s hard to be persecuted for much.

  4. Peter speaks of Christians as foreigners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11); because of their faith, they may stand out as different from everyone else. As Jobes points out, “Peter expects a negative reaction from unbelievers when Christians express different priorities and values by conducting themselves differently than the social norm.” Today too, our lives and conduct may cause others to notice that we live according to the priorities and values of our faith.
    The Amish come to mind as those who might be unfairly harassed because of their faith. I know that Amish rules and regulations can vary greatly from one Ordnung to the next, but I have only learned that they have basic Christian beliefs and strive to follow Jesus in their daily lives. My understanding is that their beliefs about salvation are as varied as the regulations from one Ordnung to the next.
    Their differences might seem strange to the world and even to those who are Christians. In their decision to lead a simple lifestyle, the Amish have set themselves apart from the distractions of the world so as not to be led into sin.Their priorities and values keep them from enjoying many modern-day conveniences, and it is very likely that they will be the brunt of jokes from people who do not understand them.
    I do believe the Amish are a positive example of those who are living out the patient suffering; outsiders have no real reason to slander them. We, too, must live our lives in such a way that non-Christians will see the truth and want to know Christ. We must give outsiders no reason for slander.

  5. I think that suffering and sacrifice have become dirty words within the Christian faith, at least in America. I think that the American church has lost sight of the fact that suffering in something that we are called to expect and endure when it comes and consider it a joy, indeed one that has been freely given and bestowed upon the follower as a privileged. The types of suffering that we face daily is nothing compared to what goes on in other parts of the world where people lose their lives in the defense of the Faith. But in the suffering that we do face we need to be faithful. Just because we have been called to suffering for the cause of Christ does not mean that we need to go looking for it. Our conduct should be beyond reproach and we should live in such a way as to not become subject to suffering. Much of the stigma that surrounds the Church stems from Christians who have not lived in this manner, who have brought suffering upon themselves and upon the Church because of their misconduct.

  6. It is so easy for the negative side of things to overshadow the positive side. More people hear or are inclined to listen to the negative side in comparison to the positive side especially if they are already predisposed to the negative outlook.
    For an example of Christians “living out this ‘patient suffering’ and have given outsiders no reason to slander them”, I think of people in Romania. More specifically those in the city of Timișoara that Jenn Schroeder who gave a tour while I was in Romania, an event that sparked a revolution. Ceaușescu was a communist leader that went crazy and want people to really worship anything or anyone who was not him. He had secret police and spies to report any behavior that is out of line. Laszlo Tokes, a priest, was on a list to be taken care of, but the church surrounded his house. So when the secret police came, more and more people kept coming. The priest told the crowd that they were going to do this peacefully, just before the police came with tanks. They thought putting the kids on the steps of the church would save them because they are children and it is church; sadly they were the first to be killed. These were innocent people murdered for protecting their priest. This is just a summary of the horrific event to avoid going off topic.
    An example from the Bible would be those who were murdered by the hands of Saul due to their beliefs.As demonstrated in Acts 9:1-2, which is before his conversion.

    • In light of that example, I ask at what point do we stop “patiently suffering”? Perhaps it is just American culture but we tend look up to freedom fighters like Washington and the rest of the founding fathers. Abraham Lincoln went to war and spent hundreds of thousands of lives to end slavery and hes a national hero. Suffering and dying for another is easy. Deciding who lives and who dies is different. When is fighting justified. When is killing justified? Of course, there are also Christians in the military. No one can blame them for defending themselves, their squad, and their country. But when we are called to be “Christ-like” where does war fit in that? I don’t mean to sound pacifist, but when is violence justifiable?

  7. I believe to find the answer to this question, you could look around in modern society and just a little bit back. Mother Teresa is a perfect example. She was born into a rich family and left to help out others who were poor and has diseases. She was persecuted by many people before she became popular and received rewards. She never fired back with insults, she was known for being an upstanding person.

    A good Biblical example is in Acts 16:16-40 when Paul and Silas were thrown into prison, freed by G-d, but did not run away. They were above reproach. By not running away they did not break any laws and appeared above the common criminal who would have.

  8. Persecution is not a common term that is used in America. It doesn’t become a common term until you start talking about missions to the middle east, or unless there is a mass persecution on the news. I know there are a few people in my life that fit the category of “patient suffering” but they have stood firm in what they believed and they took whatever came their way. Persecution is not always getting martyred for your beliefs, but it can be one mocking your beliefs and you have to stand firm and not question do I really believe this. I know I have a hard time when someone I know mocks Christianity, it makes me question my beliefs, but it shows I am not firmly grounded in my beliefs.

    • Kayla,

      You’re absolutely right that persecution does not only mean you getting martyred for your beliefs but also people mocking your beliefs. Every time when I see a viral post about Christianity or another post about something bad that has happened in the world on Facebook there are always people there to mock to us believers. They say things along the lines of “how can someone believe in fairy tales?” or “these people are nuts to believe in something not there.” It is absolutely crazy what people will say to Christians just because they do not believe in what we believe. A person that I can think of when it comes to the idea of “patient suffering” would be Francis Chan. I know he is a very famous Christian but he can answer any question as to why he believes what he believes because as this blog states he is prepared! Hopefully, one day I can be as prepared as he is because right now I am still trying to figure how to answer these questions. Ephesians 6:11 states, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” I used this in one of my other posts but I think it can be applied here. It reminds to stand firm in my beliefs even when I question them. Hopefully, it can be a good reminder to you as well!

  9. This article reminds me of the verse in James that says “count it all joy my brothers when you face any kind of trail for its an opportunity to live out our faith”. Like Kayla said, here in the states we don’t feel real persecution for our faith unless we travel outside the country to places like the middle east where being killed for your faith is a very real thing. In Chapter 11 of Letters to the Church by Karen Jobes mentions that as long as Christians are separate from the world, the more they will be distanced from the world. Jobes mentions “To suffer persecution even the threat of death and remain faithful to Christ is a profound act of self-denial and cross-bearing.” Faithfulness to Christ and faithfulness to the Christian faith produces joy and closeness to Christ. Lastly, the article speaks about being prepared. Persecution doesn’t always mean death but also could mean personal-verbal attacks. It’s important to be prepared to be shamed and looked down upon by the world because of our faith. Jesus tells us that the world will hate you because it first hated me.

  10. We as Christians do have a responsibility to be able to defend our faith when we are called upon to do so. We also need to be aware when we are being challenged, or when we are being treated differently for our faith, as one of the reasons behind the book of 1 Peter is to address mistreatment of Christians (Jobes 333). This concept reminds me of Ecclesiastes 7:9, which says “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”

  11. People who walk humbly with the Lord, and live to serve Him and love others bring great honor to the Kingdom of God. I can think of several ladies in my home church growing up who are such positive forces in my life–yet they have great burdens that weigh on them while they wait upon the Lord. I think being at peace and trusting in times of suffering is very important.

    I like what Jobes says in her book about how the more that we take ourselves away from the world the more we can draw closer to God (obviously, I’m paraphrasing) But I think that when you start to realize that God walks with us through the suffering.

  12. This post intrigued my interest because I as well as the media do not agree with Christians who live a lie. Hypocrisy if were honest is something that all Christians struggle with, but it is a struggle because of the flesh. Only when we give into the flesh after we talked about the right and wrong to others do we become hypocrites. For me the positive stories that come to mind are martyrs for their faith. Those who die to their flesh, and fight the good fight daily are those who come to mind. We all have our struggles. We all have our demons. Admitting that is not a bad thing and neither is asking for help. It is those who seek God and other Christ followers to help them along their way because they know they are weak without God are those who will grow strong. It is in these people those who fight and win over their temptations that give outsiders no right to even think about opening their mouths.

  13. The man that comes to mind when I consider this was a Pastor in my home town. He took remaining above reproach very seriously and always gave any person a listening ear. There were some people in town who did not like him and would talk very negatively about him. However, almost everyone in town, including non-Chirstians, would express confusion when anybody talked bad about him. It was his consistent kind heart in the midst of persecution that granted him an overall positive position in the community. The lesson that I learned from this while I was growing up was that persecutions are not going to pass by us because we are pleasant people. In fact, they will certainly come to us because we are Christians. But in the midst of that persecution, we have the opportunity to maintain a demeanor that shows the love and grace of Jesus.

    When we find ourselves in the midst of a political season I think this concept is one we should not take lightly. We will find ourselves at the center of ridicule, maybe less because of the person we vote for and more having to do with the policies we support or disagree with. But I hope that we can remember to stay calm and loving in the midst of arguments fueled by hate.

  14. The best example that I have of someone who suffered for their faith and yet no one could slander them for it was someone that I knew growing up. She married the love of her life only to find out after ten years of marriage that her husband had been unfaithful multiple times. So many people told her to walk away from him. They told her that she deserved better. But she did not walk away from him she loved and suffered through all the hurt and embarrassment surrounding her husband’s choices. She loved him like Christ loves those he knows might never love him back. At the time I asked her how she could stay with him through all that? Her response was simple, Christ loved me when I was in a darker place then my husband is right now so how can I not love my husband? That answer blew me away and yet it is true. Christ loves us so much no matter what we do and we need to love others in the same way so that we can give an answer when people ask us why we live and love the way that we do.

  15. Jobes says that the people Peter wrote to no longer live in sin, so “they have caught the attention of friends and neighbors who criticize and malign them” (p. 338-9). The important part is that they caught the attention of non-Christians, thus bringing attention to Christianity as a whole. These people, although they may be facing suffering from those friends and neighbors, also have the chance to bring attention to the Gospel. They get the chance to explain why they act the way they do, especially when it is someone who started out sinning along with the culture and then turned their lives around and stopped. It is the same thing today. People who do not partake in the sins of the world are noticed, and often times treated differently – some worse than others. Being willing to go through this and not giving into the temptations of our friends or those around us brings an opportunity to share the Gospel with them. But because people are noticed for not partaking in these sins, it becomes imperative that we are careful with our words and react in love instead of hate. I think that in recent years it has become a stereotype of Christians to be very judgmental and hateful towards those who do not agree with us, which turns more and more people away from God. I think those who live out this suffering the best are the ones who are able to keep quiet when they are slandered, instead of defending themselves (or their faith) in anger. I also think the ones who live this out the best are the ones who are willing to give true love to those who are different or disagree with them, and are willing to walk alongside those who live in sin, rather than reject them for things that they don’t even understand are sins. After all, if they don’t even believe in God, they won’t believe that what they are doing is a sin in His eyes.

  16. One of the points that Jobes made that is critical to recognize a modern day “Christian who [is] living out this “patient suffering” and have given outsiders no reason to slander them” is on pages 332-333. Jobes explains that Peter defines the new birth of a person as a new reality that requires a new Christian to align themselves with “God’s saving purpose.” Jobes goes on to explain that this transformation calls Christians not to conform to the ways of the non-believers but to “embrace the values and priorities that define human holiness, and to stand fast in them even when suffering results.” (p 332) I think a simple way this could translate to modern times would be a Christian at a non-Christian party. A believer in Christ may be offered drugs or alcohol and respectfully declines. This person may face some ridicule for not embracing what everyone at the party is doing. They may be embarrassed, but they are called to continue to hold to the values that they know are right. This example is minor suffering, but it is an example of not retaliating or telling the people at the party that they are wrong, but instead using themselves as an example as to what is better.

  17. This idea that the Christian should be prepared to give an answer for why they are suffering unjustly mirrors the analogy of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb. As the sacrificial lamb, Jesus was accused of things he did not do and so also suffered unjustly. This passage sounds like several other passages regarding joy in the face of sufferings. As Christians, we can take heart in knowing that we follow Jesus and the guidelines of scripters when we rejoice in our sufferings.

  18. Christians as a whole are promised that they will face persecution and hardship if they choose to follow Jesus. But I feel like the church in America has gotten off pretty easy when it comes to this. We don’t face a whole lot of persecution for our faith, and when we do, instead of suffering in the same way that Christ did, we often make a big deal out of it and unfortunately, Christians in America get a bad name for how we handle persecution. I think there are several reasons for this problem that all relate directly to 1 Peter 3:13-16. Firstly, we don’t always do good. As Christians trying to live ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ it can be very easy to follow some of the ways of the world and make excuses for how they are not wrong. We want to look out for ourselves and that can lead us to be selfish, which in turn sometimes leads us to do things that are not good. We can be hypocritical, saying we believe one thing, but living another way. Which I think ties directly into another point found both in 1 Peter and emphasized by the blog, we must be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. Because we can so easily be hypocritical, and because it has become so easy to say, “Yeah, I’m a Christian” when what is really meant is that you believe God exists even though you don’t have a personal relationship with him, we often fail to know the reason. Most people don’t bother to learn why they believe what they believe or even what it really means to believe what they do. The lack of trials and persecution that we face here has allowed us to become lazy in that sense. We don’t prepare ahead of time to know what sort of answer to give. The final factor of these verses is to give your answer with gentleness and respect. When we are put on the spot, don’t know how to give an answer and are frustrated by the persecution we are facing, gentleness and respect might just be the last things we are concerned about, our selfish nature has caused us to seek something that isn’t good. Jobes explains that we are to follow Christ’s example when we face these situations “The imitatio Christi (‘imitation of Christ’) has been a spiritual quest since ancient times that has taken on various expressions” (344). Everything that 1 Peter instructs for how to handle persecution, is modeled directly after Christ. Be eager to do good, do not fear their threats, be prepared to give an answer, but do so with gentleness and respect. Jobes further explains what it means to imitate Christ, “And so to follow Jesus is not an expectation to reenact the things he did but to reenact his virtue” (345). And while we may struggle to reenact his virtue when we face adversity, there are countless examples of those who did. One of the first that comes to my mind is Corrie Ten Boom. She was arrested though and sent to a concentration camp even though she was not a Jew. She suffered unjustly, as did her father and sister. Yet she imitated Christ’s virtue, she was prepared to give an answer, and she did so with gentleness and respect even facing the worst persecution. Another example is Joni Earckson Tada, she faced suffering through a diving accident that left her a quadriplegic, yet she imitated Christ, being eager to do good, knowing the reason why she suffered and answering others with gentleness. Tortured For Christ tells the story of Richard Wurmbrand who endured patient suffering for Christ. And there are so many more, both with stories told and stories untold.

  19. An example of a Christian who would be living out “patient suffering” is one that doesn’t waver in their faith no matter what they are faced with. When looking through Scripture a prime example of this would be Job, a man of God who was brought through hell on earth yet still put his faith in the Lord in trusting all would work out. Now in Job’s time alone I don’t doubt that he was confused and hurt; but that’s the thing Job wasn’t vulnerable to those around him rather he only allowed the Lord to see that side of him. The patient suffering that Job endured was rewarded by the Lord once he walked through this trial never abandoning his faith.
    Oftentimes I think we allow people to see the most vulnerable parts of us that only the Lord should see leaving room for others to slander our dedication to the Lord. Patient suffering isn’t noticeable today for that reason, allowing others to see the parts that are only for the Lord allows our walk (on the outside) to look messy and not put together. When indulging in the Lord, keeping our mouths shut when asked and only addressing our patient suffering with Him (though painful) in the end the reward will be much greater than it would be if we were to just complain to others about it. In this suffering we learn to rely on the Lord in a new way that grows our spiritual life and benefits us. I personally have never experienced patient suffering to a degree of physical pain like Jobe but in some aspects of my life I have, being alone with the Lord soaking in His presence during these times allows us to be appreciative of what we do have even if it’s the simplicity of life.

  20. It is so interesting and intriguing to me think about just how we can look at persecution as an opportunity. When we are told in this passage to always have a reason for the hope that we have, it is interesting to think of this testament in the context of being persecuted. Perhaps there is a moment where we find ourselves interacting with someone who doesn’t know the Lord, and they begin questioning us- it is important to not only have an answer for the hope that we have but to do as the verse says, with gentleness and respect. Perhaps we come upon a hardship in life- death of a loved one, losing a job- and at that moment, when a nonbeliever witnesses how we act in these scenarios, they should be able to see us living out the faith and hope that we have. It’s also important to take a step back and realize that persecution doesn’t always mean a blatant verbal, in your face attack on your faith, it can be discouragement, doubt, disagreements- whatever the enemy may true to attack us with. But we must stand on the faith foundation that we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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