For the faithful Christian, add ‘persecution’ to that list. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). There’s not much wiggle room there. Persecution is on the short list of things of which we can be absolutely sure. To God’s people, it is just a fact of life. (By the way, if you don’t feel persecuted, are you really a faithful Christian?)
Persecution is rarely physical abuse, especially in this country. American Christians are not likely to be beaten, killed, or thrown in prison. We are much more likely to be mocked, misrepresented, bad-mouthed, and treated unfairly. Not just from unbelievers, but also from counterfeit Christians (who may even sit next to us at church).
I promise: if you stand for truth, you will feel the heat. You will be hurt by lies and misrepresentation. You will be verbally abused by being called things like “unloving,” “legalist,” “intolerant,” “anti,” or “liberal.” You will be ridiculed for trying to scrupulously live a holy life. You will lose sleep over how downright mean some people, even so-called Christians, can be.
How do we defend ourselves against persecution? 1 Peter 3 tells us how.
1. Live A Godly Life (v. 13). Peter rhetorically asked, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (v. 13). People who pursue righteousness and goodness have the added benefit of God’s watchfulness (v. 11-12). All things work together for good, but only for those that love the Lord (Rom. 8:28). Any abuse we receive, whether physical or verbal, is only temporary. Not only does godly living please the Lord, fair-minded people take notice and give you respect.
2. Have A God-Honoring Heart (v. 14-15a). When persecuted, don’t be “fearful” or “troubled” (v. 14). Instead, “honor Christ the Lord as holy” (v. 15a). Don’t let worry and stress destroy the tranquility Christ has given you (cf. Matt. 11:28). Peter says we must “cast all our cares upon Him, for he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Realize this fact: If God is for us, who can be against us? As Christians, we confess Jesus Christ as Lord. He is not just Lord over us, but He is Lord over all the powers in heaven and earth. He is in control. Understanding this will help us endure whatever the evil world throws at us.
3. Be Prepared To Respond (v. 15b). Truth always has the advantage. The Christian’s hope is not some nebulous ideal. Our Hope is based upon evidence and reason. God’s Word is the very definition of Truth. Satan’s goal behind persecution is to shake our confidence, but our hope is built upon a firm foundation. Our anchor of the soul is sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19). We must be able to defend our hope, not only to convince others to believe, but to strengthen our own belief. Perhaps the most effective way to grow as a Christian is to defend God and His Word.
4. Have A Gentle & Respectful Attitude (v. 15c). These days, logic and reason rarely win any arguments. It is the people who appear to be on the ‘moral high ground’ who end up winning the arguments. Make people want to believe you. Don’t be cocky or arrogant when responding to persecution. Being “gentle” does not mean we have to be “weak;” it just means we need to be reserved and balanced in our response. Being “respectful” does not mean we need to be “pushovers,” but that we are going to treat even our enemies like we would like to be treated (Matt. 7:12). Remember Paul’s words in Romans 12:20:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
5. Have A Good Conscience (vs. 16). Having a clear conscience means you are free from the burden of guilt. Why are you being persecuted? Is it because you took a stand not for Truth, but because of personality conflicts and personal grudges? Make sure everything you do is driven by a child-like desire to please God and serve Him. Keep your motives in check. When you are persecuted, make sure it is because of the Lord, and not for some petty reason.
Persecution is guaranteed, every bit as much as death and taxes. Don’t give up, don’t lose faith, don’t get discouraged. Instead, live a godly life that honors God, being ready to make a defense for the hope and assurance you have in Christ. Be gentle and respectful, answering everyone with a clear conscience. Is there any better way to defend yourself?