1 Peter 3:13-22 (MSG)
South & New Life Presbyterian Churches – July 26, 2015
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
If with heart and soul you’re doing good, do you think you can be stopped?
Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.
Keep a clear conscience before God.
Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.
That’s the wisdom that Peter has for us today. This Peter who was Jesus’ right-hand guy … Peter who was impetuous and ran ahead of everybody else straight into the empty tomb … Peter who denied that he knew Jesus three times as Jesus was being tortured … … … Peter, the “rock,” the #1 guy.
Now, before we go too far I want to state for the record that I DO know the difference between “doing GOOD” and “doing WELL.” If we are doing something in a most excellent way, we’re “doing WELL.” If we’re talking about doing good THINGS, then we’re talking about “doing GOOD.”
So let me ask you something …
What’s the difference between Doing Good and being a Do-gooder?
Today the term “do-gooder” is almost a little pejorative, isn’t it? In fact, I have friends who work in the inner city … in the Crescent … you know … that area where most of the crime and really bad stuff happens … also the area of greatest poverty here … and they’ll look at people who come in from the suburbs to clean up for a day, or throw money at problems and they’ll call them “Limousine Liberals.”
THEY’RE the do-gooders. They want to feel “better than” others and so they reach out … supposedly to “help” but really their motivation is to feel better about themselves.
People who do GOOD, on the other hand are those who are motivated to do things with others by dedicating their time and their LIVES to making a difference. People who “do GOOD” are often acting like Jesus; do-gooders are acting more like the Pharisees who were sometimes quite hypocritical, stating their beliefs on one hand and doing the opposite on the other.
This letter we read today is very interesting.
It’s written by Peter, the Apostle … with some help by a professional writer named Silas (or Silvanus) and it’s written to encourage Christians who are suffering for Christ. They’re being persecuted for what they believe. They were at the beginning of the time of great persecution … torture … execution … for their beliefs. Peter makes it clear that although Christians might suffer in THIS life, they will not suffer FOREVER. He reminds us in this letter that THIS world is not our real home. HEAVEN is our real home, and one day we will live with God in heaven and share God’s glory.[i]
Y’see, Peter wants his readers to understand the grace of God. He wants every Christian to know what God has done for us, and he wants us to learn more about God.
This letter is very practical. When a person becomes a Christian his or her life changes, and Peter tells the reader how to live a good Christian life. I mean after all, he was WITH Jesus for about three years. He SAW all that Jesus did. He HEARD all that Jesus said. Think about that for a minute… this guy HEARD Jesus’ voice just the way we hear each other’s. Peter is writing to encourage those early believers to live like Jesus.[ii]
So I went back to the Greek this week to see what just one verse, v.13, had to say in the original language.
The way we read it in the Message version it said: If with heart and soul you’re doing good, do you think you can be stopped?
The NRSV says, “13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”
And if we go back a few hundred more years to the King James Version: “13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?”
But the GREEK … there’s one word that, to me, makes it most interesting. If we translate the Greek verbatim on this verse it says, “And who shall be evil-treating you if ever of the good imitators you may be becoming?” Or … cleaned up just a little: “Who shall treat you with evil if you are becoming the good IMITATOR of Christ?”[iii]
I LOVE that … don’t you?
We are to become IMITATORS of Christ.
And in this sense imitation is a GOOD thing. It’s not the way some of us think of imitation jewelry like a “cheap knock off.” No, this is becoming an imitator in a POSITIVE sense. In fact, the Greek word used here, mimétés, is used seven times in the New Testament and each time it is speaking positively about imitating CHRIST![iv]
That, really, is the deep meaning of the word“disciple.” People think it means “student” but as I once heard a Jewish theologian say, the practice of being a disciple, of following your teacher, your Rabbi, was so intense, so complete that you wanted to walk closely enough to him that the dirt from his sandals would fall on you. The idea was for the disciple to live with the Rabbi in such close proximity that the disciple began to THINK and REACT just like the teacher.
THAT’s what Jesus tells us we are supposed to be … THAT kind of disciple. But he doesn’t stop there. When he tells us to go and MAKE disciples … he’s telling us that we are supposed to teach OTHERS how to think and react like he would … in ALL circumstances … in every situation … in the first century AND in the twenty-first.
In the first verse of Peter’s letter, he says he is writing this to the people of … and he names off 5 countries. Most of these are in the country that we now call Turkey. On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) people from three of these countries were visiting the city of Jerusalem. Some of these people probably became Christians there because of the whole Pentecost experience. Most likely they went home and started new churches. Peter wrote to Jews and Gentiles (that is non-Jews) who became Christians. The Gentiles didn’t believe in the God of Israel … in the God that Jesus believed in … so Peter is giving practical everyday knowledge on how to live together as a faith community in this time of persecution.
Peter most likely gave this letter to someone who travelled to the main churches in these areas and that person read the letter aloud to whoever would listen. Then people copied it and sent it to all the smaller churches near them[v] and this letter became sort of a GUIDEBOOK for how to believe and how to LIVE in the world where THEIR values were not the DOMINANT values.
Well, I don’t know about YOU, but I see a lot of similarities in OUR time and place, too. This world we live in does NOT mirror the values that we say we believe in. Just pick up a paper or check out the newsfeed on your browser. Killings, beheadings, torture, rape, incest, the loss of civility … THOSE are not the values of Jesus.
Teens in this city who think “an eye for an eye” is the way of the world … they’ve never really HEARD about Jesus teaching us to “turn the other cheek.” Machismo has replaced a LOT of our values. People act out of vengeance and call it justice. If it’s not the solution we WANT we say there is no justice.
Let’s make no bones about it: Being a Christian today is hard work. I’m not just talking about the Christians who are being SLAUGHTERED by Isis in Syria and throughout the Mid-East … I’m talking about Christians right here … those of us who strive to do GOOD and not just be the do-gooder limousine liberals. The ones who stand our ground and say “NO! Not in my neighborhood. We will not have that here. We WILL have acceptance and respect … we WILL have love … we WILL practice forgiveness … we WILL live our values.” It’s not easy to live out our values today any more than it was easy in Peter’s day.
The three verses right BEFORE this reading today say this: (v10-12) The Bible says: ‘If you want to enjoy life and have good days, then do not say evil things. Do not tell lies. Do not do what is evil. Do what is good. Look for peace and go after it.” Now, obviously this does not mean that Christians (or anyone) can live without troubles in their lives. We all know THAT’s not true. But it means that God will care for us, and in response to God’s love, we should live the right way.
And what IS the “right way?” Well we should be careful what we say. We mustn’t be people who say evil things and tell lies because that causes trouble. Instead, we must do and say things that encourage peace. God LISTENS to our prayers and helps us.[vi]
And so we come full circle from where we started a few minutes ago: the wisdom of Peter on how to live in today’s world:
Do good with all your heart and soul and you will be unstoppable.
Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who ASKS why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. In other words, don’t go BRAGGING about why you do things the way you do, but be ready to say something like, “because my faith TELLS me to be this way.” Be PROUD of the fact that you’re an imitator of Christ.
Keep a clear conscience before God,
Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies.
He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes.
May God bless us as we seek to be imitators of Christ. Amen.
[i] Peacock, Helen “More Precious than Gold,” an EasyEnglish Commentary on 1 Peter found on http://www.easyenglish.info/bible-commentary/1peter-lbw.htm on July 25, 2015.
[iii] Online inter-linear Greek New Testament found at http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/1pe3.pdf on July 25, 2015.
[v] Peacock article, cited earlier.