Rev John Henderson

Bishop Lutheran Church of Australia

‘Honour Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope’ (1 Peter 3:15 CEV).

The first letter of Peter in the New Testament is addressed to Christians scattered across Asia Minor in the first century after Christ. It is a practical manual on how to survive persecution.

We live very different lives to believers back then, but we, too, could soon face more active opposition or even some type of persecution. Even if that doesn’t eventuate, Peter’s guidance is timely. Society is marginalising Christian faith and churches are losing their privileges. We should not take our freedoms as Christians for granted. Popular pressure is forcing governments to abandon the Christian moral order that not so long ago was the norm. The uncovering of deceit and abuse in church institutions has disgraced us in the public square.

Are you one of those who fear what could be coming? St Peter’s letter is a good place to start if you want help with that. It takes the reader back to the basics of the Christian faith, encouraging us to hold on to the essentials that give all Christians strength and hope.

Peter begins with praise. ‘Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on. God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear. You have faith in God, whose power will protect you until the last day. Then he will save you, just as he has always planned to do’ (1 Peter 1:3–5 CEV).

Peter calls believers living stones, a chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. These titles are not descriptions of our worldly circumstances or achievements. They flow only from God’s gracious choice. He then describes at length the holy life that flows in turn from that choice: ‘… all of you should agree and have concern and love for each other. You should also be kind and humble. Don’t be hateful and insult people just because they are hateful and insult you. Instead, treat everyone with kindness. You are God’s chosen ones, and he will bless you’ (1 Peter 3:8,9 CEV).

Importantly, Peter says nothing about fighting back and defeating enemies. He even tells believers to obey the emperor and Christian slaves to obey their masters. We might be shocked by that, but this is about survival. Peter doesn’t say to attack wrongdoers. His teaching is like that of Jesus, ‘I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you. When someone slaps your right cheek, turn and let that person slap your other cheek …’ (Matthew 5:39 CEV).

How can this be a manual on surviving persecution? If we follow St Peter’s guidance, won’t we be run over, crushed and broken? Is that what we fear? But isn’t that Christ’s way? He submitted to the powers of his day, unjust though they were. Is the example of Christ, who did not return evil for evil but responded to evil with good, really our key to surviving whatever may come, including persecution? Peter thinks so. And when Christians suffer, let it be for doing good and not evil.

The courage to face persecution, then, begins with the praise of God and our hope in Christ. It continues with practising love in all we do. Whatever we fear losing will turn out not to have been so important. In Christ, we will always have more than we could possibly hope for. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

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