In that moment I looked at the girl and did my best to suppress my laughter. I was so surprised to hear this kind of answer. I tried to muster up some sympathy and I said, with all my tactless candor, “I’m sorry to burst your bubble, my dear, but Christ isn’t going to make anything easier for you. If anything, life’s going to get much more difficult for you now that Christ is in your life.”
This young lady thought that Jesus was going to make life all hunky-dory for her. It might have been that she was seeing all her friends do the “get-religious” thing and she saw how much fun it could be since we were all having a great time at camp. Whatever the causes might have been, she thought that Jesus was going to make life nothing but a bed of roses.
If you are here today, I want to make it clear that this is by no means the case. When Jesus enters your life, life can get very messy. Life can even become quite difficult.
Becoming a Christian does not mean getting ahead start on the American dream. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that your life is going to perk up or take a turn for the better. There are certainly many up-sides to being a Christian, but Christianity is not a short cut to “Your Best Life Now.”
And certainly that is the case that we find in the book of first Peter. This book is dedicated to people who are experiencing hardship. It contains teaching for people who are being afflicted and hassled for their faith.
When Christ enters your life, I want you to understand it can really muss up your life quite a bit. You can be sure that is true for virtually anyone who becomes a Christian in a Muslim dominated country. Life for them becomes extremely difficult. They can lose their jobs. They can lose all their social connections: their friends and families can turn them out—and that would be the nicest thing they could do. For honor killings are possible in such circumstances too.
Christ is hated by the world. And because of that sometimes the world ends up hating us. And that can be most certainly true for us as well. In this secular and humanistic society, there can be times when we find ourselves ostracized. We can become the objects of scorn.
Certainly you can see this in the Tebow craze that is going on now. If you live under a rock and don’t know what’s going on, let me give you a little heads up: Tebow is a kid that plays for the Denver Broncos. After a good play he takes the posture of prayer as a way to pay homage to the Lord. And he has been broiled for it by every newscaster, blog and twitter account.
But that’s the kind of culture that we live in. We live in a culture where even a simple little gesture as taking a knee during a football game is vilified. And so we should find it surprising that we will find ourselves in similar situations.
So the question then becomes for us, “What do we do?” How do you live in a society where the threat of persecution looms large? It is not like we can just move away and find another little Christian community to hide in. God has set us where he has set us and the culture is what it is. So the question becomes, what do we do?
Well, in our passage this morning Peter answers that question. He tells us that we must make it our aim to do good. As a matter of fact, he says we should be an enthusiast when it comes to doing good. That’s really what the passage means when it uses the word zealous. Your version may use the word “eager.” But the thrust of it is that when it comes to living in an environment that is hostile to the faith you ought to be fanatical when it comes to doing good.
You might say to me, “Well, why in the world should I do that?” That might sound a bit queer to you because you think, “If I’m being treated ill, why should I go out of my way to do good?”
Our natural reaction is to jump into the fight. To us, the best defense is a good offense. So we think that if they attack us we think we should get right back at them. You know, there’s nothing like a little “shock and awe” to keep somebody off your back. If you show them you are a powerhouse, then they are likely not going to mess with you, right?
But that’s not what Peter tells us to do. He tells us that we must be zealous for good. And He gives us two very good reasons why we ought to be fanatical do-gooders.
The first reason is because doing good reduces the possibility of suffering.
I. It reduces the possibility of suffering 
Look at verse 13. He says, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?”
Peter is just using simple logic here. He says, “The chances of you taking heat are significantly reduced when there is no cause for provocation.” Most likely, nobody is going to harm you if you are out doing things that are beneficial to the wider community. If you are out helping your neighbors and showing people you actually care about them, then it’s likely that they are not going to attack you. They will see you as an assent too important to lose.
Listen, if you are in the woods and you come across a wild animal, chances are that it will leave you alone as long as you do nothing to provoke the animal. I checked this out with my very own professional woodsman. I emailed Lyle Becker this week and I asked him that question. For those of you who don’t know Lyle, Lyle is a fellow who used to attend Providence and now he leads hunts up in Alaska. He knows a lot about grizzly bears, brown bears, wolves, mountain lions and all sorts of other wildlife.
Lyle told me that in North America most animals will not pounce upon you if you come across them in the woods. As long as you give them no reason to be provoked, they will leave you alone. The only exceptions he mentioned were the Nile Crocodiles, Tigers, and Sasquatch.
But really, when it comes to human life, Peter tells us that it’s much the same. If you are one who is out doing good with zeal, and you are giving no reason for provocation, then the chances of you being persecuted are going to be diminished.
But if you are not known as one who is a do-gooder, then don’t expect that things are going to go your way. Let’s not be surprised that we experience some hardships if we are renown as someone who is a Christian gripe.
You know that’s a problem we have. We can be rather cynical. When the world around us is falling apart, we can be like the talk show host and sit there and make snide comments about every cotton picking thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I like a good sarcastic comment when it is appropriate. I think that it’s good to mock evil from time to time and make fun of things to show the absurdity of it. But we should never be known as cynical people. We should always be known for what we are for, more than what we are against. If we are not known as activists (in the good sense of the word), then we shouldn’t expect that our sufferings should be lightened.
But when people look at our church, our acts should make them think twice before they carry out any evil plans. When people look at our church, they should think, “I like those Keeners. They are an honest, hard-working bunch.” “That Tobias family, they are really hospitable. It seems like they are friends with everybody. I mean they are always seems like they are having people over.” “And those McFaddens, I have to hand it to them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them break a promise. Even when they got into a pinch, I knew that I could always rely on them.”
Just keep this in mind. As a general rule, people are not harmed for acts of kindness. And if we ever do come to a time where there’s the potential of conflict, then God says we can reduce the possibility of it by being fanatical about doing good.
But you’ll notice that our passage says doing good not only reduces the possibility of suffering, it also enhances the possibility of blessing.
II. It enhances the possibility of blessing [14a]
Look at verse 14. It says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed.”
In other words, even if man doesn’t regard the good things you are doing, your God will. If for some reason you do meet up with a sasquatch—you know, one of those rare occasions where someone does pounce on you despite your being on your best behavior. Even if you do find a person who just wants to lay into you, then don’t worry. God is still on your side. The All-Knowing, All-Seeing God is going to take notice of you, and He will see to it that your works are rewarded. God will bless you for your faithfulness.
Now you are probably wondering, “What kind of blessing do I get?” You might be trying to weigh out your options here. You are thinking, “Is it worth it to undergo this suffering thing? What kind of blessing are we talking about?”
Well, we are not told in this passage what exactly the blessing is. We do understand that this is a blessing from God and, as such, it is something that will most certainly satisfy our deepest yearnings. After all, God is not scant with his blessings. They are like the clouds of heaven breaking open upon you. When God blesses he always inundates you with joy unspeakable.
But while we do not have it explicitly stated here, we might find a hint at what this blessing is in a parallel passage. When Peter says this he might be alluding to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. You’ll remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When you undergo persecution for your faith, you are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is yours.
Do you know what the persecution proves? It proves that this world, in its current form, is not your home. When you are reviled and people say all kinds of evil against you, then you are blessed in that you receive a bona fide confirmation that the kingdom of man and the kingdom of the devil is not yours. Being turned out by the world is a good thing. It is an affirmation that you belong to the kingdom of God.
There might be other blessings that accompany the persecution. But friends, what greater blessing can we have in times of hardship? I think it has to be pretty nice when our culture tells us, “You don’t belong here.” Because it helps us to remember that we belong to an eternal kingdom, wherein righteousness dwells.
A number of years ago there were some American journalists working over in the Middle East. While they were there they were captured by Muslim extremists. They were treated with the utmost contempt and the conditions of their captivity were quite severe. Everyday they were reminded that they didn’t belong in that region. Their extreme conditions and harsh treatment was a reminder that they were foreigners and that theirs was the kingdom of America.
By God’s grace the reporters were released from their captivity, and they were allowed to return home. They came back to a land where there is freedom. They came back to a land where all their needs would be met. They were given food and clothing. They were treated with respect and dignity. They came back to a land where they could enjoy the presence of their families and friends and Americans who possessed the same mindset. Theirs was the kingdom of America.
That, my friends, is the essence of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. The one difference is that yours is the kingdom of Heaven, a land that far supersedes anything America can offer.
May that then be reason sufficient for you to be fanatical about doing good. Not only will it reduce the possibility of suffering, it will increase the possibility of this kind of blessing.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.