We live in a world that’s full of scorn. Sooner or later we’re likely to suffer scornful abuse of some form or another, likely verbal, perhaps even physical. How can we deal with it? How should we deal with it? Here the apostle Peter reflects on how Jesus dealt with it. We can learn from His powerful example, built on a clear perspective, laced with astonishing grace. As Peter wrote immediately before this verse, ‘Christ also suffered… leaving you an example’(1 Peter 2:21).
Jesus suffered scornful abuse. This might seem an obvious statement, but important to remember. As Isaiah prophesied, he was ‘despised and rejected by men; a man of suffering’(Isaiah 53:3). Then, to cap it all, the world ‘spat on him… struck him on the head… mocked him… and led him away to crucify him’(Matthew 27:30-31). God knows this abusive place we’ve made. He came to live in it, as a fellow sufferer. He understands. More than that, He came to show us a way through, to healing and heavenly wholeness.
There are many forms this blight might take (the devil’s equivalent of common grace!), but as Christians our very calling can attract it. God promises no immediate escape, but rather likely intensification of the problem. As Jesus warned, ‘“If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you”’(John 15:20). The apostle Paul knew this, and warned Timothy ‘all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution’(2 Timothy 3:12). Although for most of us it will be verbal (spoken or as text), perhaps even quite subtle (condescending and/or snide), even just social exclusion, it’s painful nevertheless. Sadly some of the worst can come from various religious authorities; again Jesus warned of this, that He would send ‘“prophets, wise men, and scribes”’(Matthew 23:34), who would fall foul of such institutions. Paul suffered some hostility from within fellowships even, with opponents saying, ‘“his speech is despised”(2 Corinthians 10:10). It’s important to recognise that we’re all imperfect, so we might suffer this from fellow true believers, and must guard against inflicting the same ourselves. Peter recognised that possibility in this letter, encouraging his readers to love each other, ‘not rendering evil for evil, or insult for insult; but instead blessing’(1 Peter 3:9).
Which brings us nicely to how we should respond. The temptation is ‘insult for insult’, but Peter recommends blessing instead. He’d learnt this from Jesus, who taught ‘“do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you”’(Luke 6:27-28). This might sometimes best be done in a frame of peaceful silence, as when Jesus faced many accusers, ‘stayed quiet, and answered nothing’(Mark 14:61). But if we do respond it should always be with ‘humility’(1 Peter 3:15). Paul explained the apostles’ approach: ‘When people curse us, we bless. Being persecuted, we endure. Being defamed, we entreat’(1 Corinthians 4:12-13), and taught the same, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse… Repay no one evil for evil… If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all’(Romans 12:14-18).
But how is it possible to respond like that? Doesn’t it leave us with a burning sense of injustice, which unexpressed might be inappropriate or unhealthy even? Again both Peter and Paul give the same answer. Peter says Jesus ‘committed himself to him who judges righteously’, and Paul explained after his teaching above ‘Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath’(Romans 12:19). It’s about seeing things in perspective, being aware of ‘God’(1 Peter 2:19), who has ‘called you to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while’(1 Peter 5:10). In time He will ensure true justice prevails, we don’t have to dispense it ourselves here. We’re with Jesus and our ‘“Kingdom is not from here”’(John 18:36). Moreover, everyone’s under its jurisdiction, whether they realise it or not.
However, Jesus’ example takes things to another level, by revealing His astonishing grace. Peter’s very next statement is about that. Jesus, fully aware that there’s a higher Divine Authority, and that justice for His accusers would prevail in eternity, in ‘his own self bore our sins in his body on the tree’(1 Peter 2:24). He took the punishment Himself, so He could offer grace, and ‘overcome evil with good’(Romans 12:21)! This astonishing grace is ours first to receive, then live and give. We can rest secure that justice will be done in eternity, yet knowing Jesus’ powerful love, hold out His amazing grace in response.
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