Starting Point, 1 Peter 3:13-18
Discussion & Practice
- Read 1 Peter 3:13-18 together.
- What is the difference between general suffering and "suffering for righteousness' sake" in 1 Peter 3:14?
- How often and in what ways have I seen my suffering as a potential conduit for God's blessing, both for myself and for others?
- In what ways does your outlook on your own suffering change when you consider that Christ himself entered into the suffering of this world to redeem it? (1 Peter 3:18).
- Identify idols. Where have I put things like my desire for security or my fear of looking foolish above God's mission in the world? Consider, is there anything in my life that if I were to lose it I would lose my hope?
- How prepared are you right now to give a defense for the hope that is in you?
Practice: Assess your readiness. Go around the group and have everyone answer, What is the reason for the hope that is in you? You may choose to give part of your testimony, how you came to know Christ, what it looked like for him to save and transform you, or maybe a particular way he is working in your life now. Sometimes this answer will be a lengthy conversation with a friend; other times it may be a simple sentence in response to a question asked by a stranger. Why are you a Christian? Why do you have hope? Why do you live and act differently? See if this conversation in your group helps you articulate anything you haven't been able to quite put into words. You may even give one answer and then choose to revise it after hearing other people's responses. This process helps us learn together how to make sense of deeply spiritual realities. What is the reason for the hope that is in you?
During this series, we’ve all connected to our apathy as believers and as the church. We see it. We’ve recognized that we can’t stop loving the world. We can’t stop trying to reach them. It’s not an option for God’s people.
The question becomes, “How?”
Some books I’ve been reading:
- How to Win the West Again
- To Change the World: The irony, tragedy, and possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern world
- Another book that reviewed that book.
To change the culture is a fairly complex discussion.
Hunter starts off his book asking how believers live out their faith in the late-modern world.
Many of us would be at different places in how we think about if we even should change culture or how.
Christianity needs no specific culture to thrive. It’s not dependent on a moral structure in society. It’s not dependent on political or social structures. It’s offensive to all cultures.
There are some basic things it seems like we’ve lost in the entire debate.
There’s a basic stance that is essential to grasp. It’s a starting point.
If we’re all in agreement that we’ve been apathetic and need to do something, this is a starting point.
1 Peter lays out that critical starting point. I don’t think there’s a more relevant New Testament book for the Church today than 1 Peter.
Peter is writing to a group of Christians in a very hostile environment. They were oppressed and persecuted. Peter reminds them they are exiles. You’re not at home anywhere.
In the series we did called “The People of God,” we learned that Americans are a little too at home here. We did that series back in 2020, and it may have been too soon for us.
The lines have blurred on what it means to be a Christian in America. The loss of one feels like the loss of the other, but that’s not a biblical reality.
Peter is arguing that we have an identity that is detached from any political or social structure.
That series was one of the most important series that we’ve been a part of in the last decade. More people left Hillside over it than any other series I’ve done. I had a lot of interaction over it.
We feel intimidated by the world. We feel ill-prepared to engage the world.
Let’s look at the whole text. You’ll see the word “good” pop up a lot.
Zealous is the opposite of apathetic. What harm can come to you if you are zealous?
If you live the good life Jesus prescribed, no harm can come to you in an oppressive culture. What you have is indestructible.
The believers in 1 Peter were enslaved, ostracized, cancelled if you will––it changed nothing.
You are not a victim.
You must not see yourself as a victim of culture, because there’s no harm that can ultimately come to you. Stop thinking like a victim as a people who have lost say in culture.
We have acted like victims. It’s made us mad and disengaged. We’ve lost privilege, status, and what we believe is looked at as dangerous to society. We’re in a post-Christian world now. Society sees us as dangerous.
If you can’t imagine Christianity without the American culture you grew up with––freedom, your rights, religiously-minded people––then you don’t really understand what Christianity is. It’s not dependent on those things.
The greatest threat to the church according to Peter is not outside it, but inside it.
What is harmful then? What is harmful if you’re not zealous?
Society losing its mind is one thing, but we can’t lose ours. We cannot lose our identity, mission, compassion…
We can’t withdraw from culture and the socio-political reality. We have to operate within that sphere.
Culture can fall apart, but God help us if we do. If we lose our minds, that’s the worst possible thing that could happen. The most harmful thing is if we disengage.
So what is Peter going to say now?
Even if harm comes to you, Peter is saying you should see it as a blessing. Who has seen the last few years as a blessing? This is a radical approach to culture. We are blessed. This is a big word in this text.
How is there blessing?
Richard Bachman writes on the end times and talks about what he calls “powerless witness.” It’s witness without a platform. There’s no way to manipulate and manufacture faith. We have to be careful not to be tempted to manufacture faith through culture. Constantine tried that and it didn’t work.
He’s talking about believers living in the end times in Revelation. Christians have the least amount of leverage, they’re under the greatest persecution, and people are coming to Christ in Revelation. Bachman calls it a powerless witness.
Jennifer McBride calls it a non-triumphant witness. It’s one from pain and difficulty. It shines brighter than when it’s full of prestige. Your witness doesn’t go away when your power goes away.
There’s a blessing there. Your faith looks more profound when it doesn’t come from a place of power or influence.
Christianity is not something you can force over people. When we don’t have position and power and leverage, God can still use it, and often uses it more. It speaks loudly to people.
God uses this in a few ways. One of the ways is that he purifies us.
It’s not from power, it’s from humility.
No one can fully wrap their heads around “humility” in this text. We’re the underdog in the game. But it can have a great impact.
We’re not ultimately going to be hurt. In fact, we may very well find blessing in it.
Don’t be afraid and don’t be intimidated. One of the most important qualities we can have is confidence.
We’re looking back at 1 Peter, and he’s looking back at Isaiah, at a time when they had no clout or power. Here we are in our day looking at 1 Peter when God’s people had no say. We have no say in our culture. It’s not anything new. Christianity has been offensive to every culture.
John Piper says you pay homage to what you fear. We’re paying too much homage to culture.
Another writer said, “How do you know if America is an idol to us?” When you lose an idol, it threatens your entire perspective. It doesn’t matter what it is, money, a person, status. You feel devastated and hopeless in a moment.
That’s how you know you had a counterfeit god operating in you. Hope left the church. We became hopeless. Panic gave us away.
What does Peter say to do? You’re not going to be harmed ultimately, you’re going to blessed. You already have a race and a priesthood in God, we don’t need America for that.
I want you to honor Christ in your hearts as holy. Think about in your own hearts.
We don’t know quite what to make of this. Sanctify the Lord in your heart. Have an internal focus in the center of your being, the deepest possible place of conviction. It just takes over your insides.
Sanctify is one of the holiest words you can say, because it literally means holy. Holy means to be set apart as special. It’s raised up with a certain kind of value. That’s what God wants his holiness to do in our heart.
He’s not going to call us to overthrow or disengage society. Don’t be intimidated. Be sanctified. Be grounded internally when all the chaos is going on around you.
You need this internal groundedness that is very distinct from the rest of the world. Be ready. Be prepared.
There’s a readiness on your part that comes because Christ has taken his place at the center of your being.
No withdrawal, no isolation, and no attack.
The word “defense” in this text is where get the word apologetics. You don’t have to be a scholar for that and be able to prove everything. You need to live a solid, grounded life. You’re never ready to give an answer if Christ isn’t sanctified in your heart.
Everywhere you go, is Christ dictating the way you live your life?
“Defense” in this text is a legal term. If you were on the stand, you would want to be ready for whatever comes to you. It’s an engaged posture.
Scholars debate whether this is in a courtroom setting. But that’s not the case. This is at all times, not just a courtroom. It’s all the time.
My life and my faith should be able to be explained. There’s a logic to my life and faith. You’re not nuts. There’s a coherent, concise way to communicate in modern language why you believe what you believe.
This is not about proving anything. I’m giving you a defense of the life I lead. I can help you make sense of that, but I’m not trying to prove it to you.
The crazier society gets, and the more holy your life is, the more curious they are going to be why you’re different.
I think most of us think of our faith like something crazy we did in college and we shouldn’t talk about it because it was crazy. But there is a logic to it. The culture will make you think you’re nuts, but there is a really good reason why you live the way you do and why you’ve chosen to put your faith in Christ.
I watched a debate between an atheist and another guy who chases down conspiracies and the one who chases down conspiracies became a new believer. I watched long enough for this guy to try to explain what has happened in him. He doesn’t know yet how to use proving language. All he could say was that he had been changed.
He had no desire to prove it, but he would answer questions all day long about how God had changed his life.
That’s what people need to see is why you have faith.
We need something beyond this reality. Not what’s going on here. There’s an ultimate kind of hope that drives the way we live life. It’s a death-defying hope. It’s lasting.
Hope, in Peter’s mind, is ultimate reality. No one wants a dying hope, but a lot of people are willing to put their hope in a dying hope.
You can lose America, but you can’t lose this hope. You can lose say in culture, but you can’t lose hope.
That’s where we’re coming from when it comes to culture. We’re hoping that they will figure out it doesn’t work, and then we will have say.
If you watch Limitless, Chris Hemsworth is trying to overcome death. The very last episode is called acceptance. You can sense the crisis in the show that death is looming. They make him pick out a coffin and get inside it. What is driving this man for meaning? He doesn’t have an answer for that. There’s no hope for him beyond this life. It’s somber.
1 John 3:3 says that he who has this hope purifies himself.
James K. A. Smith says our most revolutionary political act is to hope. That’s revolutionary.
One blessing with culture turning on us is that we get to be the underdog. But when the bottom falls out of somebody’s life, you’re not the underdog anymore.
One writer says the world is walking around in a suit that is too small. It’s uncomfortable, it pinches, and it will eventually rip.
Nothing else in this life solves the riddle. When it rips in somebody’s life, you’re there. It’s ripping all the time. Life is an experiment.
Barna has a new study about the generations coming up now. We’ve seen for years the rise of the “nones” who want nothing to do with church. He’s saying now that 3/4s of the generations coming up want to understand something about spirituality. When the suit rips, we want to be there.
Deaths of despair, such as suicide, have been going up. They thought it was the opioid crisis. But that didn’t happen until the mid-90s. You have all these scholars looking at the relationship between religiosity, spiritual practices, and mortality rates in deaths of despair. When we abandon spiritual practices altogether, these deaths of despair rise.
When the suit rips, we need to be ready.
Life is a hard experiment. It will reveal the weakness of your hope in seconds.
Peter says, I need you to be gentle and respectful. It may be chaotic out there, but we need to be ready to explain the hope we have in gentleness, without bullying.
You’re just trying to be an opportunity and a doorway when that reality falls apart.
What does it mean to live a whole life? If your life doesn’t match your message, there’s nothing distinct about it, then what are they going to want?
When you have the internal reality, you are able to explain your hope.
Verse 16 sums that up. Have a good conscience.
Please don’t be the one that puts us to shame. When culture loses its head, don’t lose yours.
Don’t be the guy who everyone can see Christ is not real to you.
Is it God’s will for that suit to get squeezed a little too tight? That may be exactly what God wants and for us to be in a position that when it rips or tears, we’re there.
Next week we’ll talk about the particular encounters. But look at the very next verse.
If you’re suffering in bringing someone to God, it may very well be the will of God for you to suffer.
That’s how it works and Jesus modeled it for us when he died. We may not understand suffering, but we know that Jesus entered into it.