Who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? This is the question Peter asks in 1 Peter 3:13. Common sense tells us that nobody will harm you when you are doing good. Right? Well, not exactly. Consider a recent new report. An evangelical Christian pastor in Northern Ireland is being prosecuted for making “grossly offensive” remarks about Islam. Pastor James McConnell is facing up to six months in prison for delivering a sermon in which he described Islam as “heathen” and “satanic.” McConnell is accused of violating a 2003 Communications Act by “sending, or causing to be sent, by means of public electronic communications network, a message or other matter that was grossly offensive.” So what did he say? “For there is one God. Think about that. For there is one God. But what God is Paul referring to? What God is he talking about? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “The God who we worship and serve this evening is not Allah. The Muslim God, Allah, is a heathen deity. Allah is a cruel deity. Allah is a demon deity. A deity that this foolish government of ours … pays homage to, and subscribes financial inducements to curry their favor to keep them happy…. “While in Muslim lands Christians are persecuted for their faith; their homes burned, their churches destroyed, and hundreds of them literally have given their lives for Christ in martyrdom. A lovely young woman by the name of Miriam, 27 years-of-age, because she has accepted Christ as her Savior, will be flogged publicly and hanged publicly. These fanatical worshippers are worshippers of the god called Allah. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a fact and it cannot be denied and it cannot be refuted. “I know the time will come in this land … and in this nation to say such things will be an offense to the law. It would be reckoned erroneous, unpatriotic. But I am in good company, the company of Luther and Knox and Calvin and Tyndale and Latimer and Cranmer and Wesley and Spurgeon and such like him. “The Muslim religion was created many hundreds of years after Christ. Mohammed, was born in 570. But Muslims believe that Islam is the true religion, dating back to Adam, and that the biblical Patriarchs were all Muslims, including Noah and Abraham and Moses, and even our Lord Jesus Christ. “To judge by some of what I have heard in the past few months, you would think that Islam was little more than a variation of Christianity and Judaism. Not so. Islam’s ideas about God, about humanity, about salvation are vastly different from the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell.” Though McConnell issued a public apology for broadcasting his message, he refused to recant. In his public statement he said, “I apologized last year if I had unintentionally hurt anyone’s feelings. I would defend the right of any Muslim cleric to preach against me or Christianity. I most certainly don’t want any Muslim clerics prosecuted but I find it very unfair that I’m the only preacher facing prosecution.” So, here is a Christian who speaks the truth about the Gospel and about our Lord Jesus Christ and he is being oppressed. How are we to understand 1 Peter 3:13-17? “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” Be zealous of good The word for harm is used only here and in Acts. In Acts 7:6 and 19, the term is used regarding the oppression of Israel. In Acts 12:1 and 18:10, it is used regarding persecution of the Church. In Acts 14:2, it used of the persecution of believers. In 1 Peter 3:13, Peter is making the point that although oppression of those doing good does happen, it is not natural for people to harm those who are doing good. For that reason, Believers need to become followers of what is good. This means that Believers need to be zealous in their pursuit of good. And what can be better than preaching and teaching the truth about God, the Bible, and our Lord Jesus Christ? In the case of McConnell above, he was teaching the truth of God and making every attempt to bring people to the truth of the Gospel. After all, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Any faith group that ignores the truth about Jesus, misses the Gospel message. They are not in the truth. They are at enmity with God. How do we explain this verse in light of harm we see done by the enemies of Christ to those who faithfully follow Christ? Two possible explanations can be posited.
- Generally, those who are busy about doing good are not harmed because of their policy of passivity. Thus, their nonresistant attitude seems to disarm the opposition–those who would do harm to the do-gooder.
- Perhaps more realistically, the harm the enemies of the cross actually impose on the faithful disciple cannot bring about eternal harm. The enemy can do damage to the body, but he cannot damage the soul.
Above, I called the faithful follower of Christ a “do-gooder.” Think about it. Our society makes this label sound bad. But here, Peter is calling us to be do-gooders. When can it ever be a bad thing to do what is good? Our society is really upside down when it calls good evil and evil good. Do not be afraid of threats Peter subsequently quotes Isaiah 8:12 (“…Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” Sometimes, loyalty to the Savior does bring about persecution–and this will only increase in the coming years. Pastor McConnell was threatened by the powers-that-be. They made threats in order to force him to back down. He refused; but rather, stood firm in his conviction. The Apostle John had a disciple named Polycarp. Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna and he was revered as a living witness of the apostolic age. Eventually, Polycarp was martyred. But not before numerous threats. When Polycarp was promised release if he would blaspheme Christ, he said, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ and He has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” When the proconsul threatened to expose him to the wild beasts, he replied, “It is well for me to be speedily released from this life of misery.” Finally, the ruler threatened to burn him alive. Polycarp said, “I fear not the fire that burns for a moment: You do not know that which burns forever and ever.” Isaiah 8:13 says, “The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; Let Him be your fear, And let Him be your dread.” Our fear should only be of the Lord, God Almighty. Someone has said, “We fear God so little because we fear man so much.” We should be like Polycarp or even Pastor McConnell. They feared God and stood up to man. Instead, any threats made by the enemies of the Cross should be met with defense of the faith. Be ready to give a defense Peter presents us with a great challenge. When we are threatened with harm regarding our faith, we must mount a defense. He makes a number of points:
- Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. We must make God the Sovereign of our lives. I recall this in my own life. I was going through a bit of a spiritual depression. I was so uncertain of so many things. At times, I actually doubted my own salvation. But I did always know and believe one thing: God is Sovereign. Whatever happened in my life, whether I was deemed fit to serve God or not, I knew that God was in control and that I always need to “set apart” God in my life. All I do and say should be in His will, for His pleasure, and for His glory.1 Christ needs to dominate my life in every area. This was a hard lesson to learn…and I am still learning. Every day I must set apart the Lord God in my heart. The same is true for you.
- Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you. Of course this passage assumes you have hope. The hope we have is in Christ alone. When we have this hope, our lives demonstrate it. There becomes something about us that attracts others. They pay attention. Interestingly, last week we had some snow and the roads were treacherous. I drive a delivery vehicle for NAPA Auto Parts. My senses were greatly enhanced and I had to concentrate more than normal on driving. There were many accidents around town and I didn’t want to become another statistic. As a result, my demeanor was different. One of the other drivers asked me if something was wrong with me. My normal attitude had changed. I didn’t seem so “bubbly” to her. That caught my attention. I had been so worried about my driving, that I had stopped demonstrating “the hope that I have.” It was a wake-up call for me. Our hope is seen by other. People are watching us. Eventually, they will ask us for the reason for the hope that we have. We should be ready at that time to tell them what great things the Lord has done for us. This should be done with gentleness and reverence. We should not joke at moments like this. If you have trouble expressing yourself, then memorize this little ditty: “I believe there is a difference between heaven and hell, and how you respond to Jesus Christ determines where you will spend eternity.”
- Have a good conscience. Only by knowing we are innocent of any crime can we go withstand persecution for doing good. If we do not have a clear conscience, we will be plagued by guilt and shame. Then we will not be able to provide the defense God would have us make. Now, we all sin, so how can we be blameless? Only by trusting fully in Christ and His ability to bring about forgiveness of our sin. We need to confess our sin to maintain fellowship with God (1 John 1:9). If we stay in fellowship with God, then we cannot be defamed. Instead, the accusers become the ones who are ashamed of their accusations.
Peter finally reminds us that if God wills for us to suffer, it is better that we suffer for doing good than for doing evil. So, let’s all become do-gooders.  MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. Ed. Arthur Farstad. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995. Print.