How Should We Respond to Present Trials?
© 2021 C. O. Bishop
1st Peter 3:13-20; 2nd Samuel 18:19-33
13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
As a general principle, people who do good things in their human relationships are also treated well by their fellow-humans. We are seen as “harmless,” and “usually beneficial.” So we are treated fairly well, as a rule. But there will always be an undercurrent of evil in the human race, and those who are enemies of God by nature will eventually become enemies of God by choice, and, because they can’t attack Him personally, will choose to attack His children and servants.
I don’t make a practice of preaching on current events, but I would like to observe that, while the whole country, (and much of the world with it) is deeply frightened by current events, this is obviously “pretty small stuff” compared to some of the horrors that have happened in years gone by: In the centuries past there have been plagues that wiped out whole populations. There have been dictators and emperors who murdered people literally by the millions. In our own times (including that of our parents and grandparents) over 100 million, worldwide, have died under the various communist regimes…and it isn’t over!
Those of us who see the current events as leading into more of those horrific days, are rightfully afraid of what is to come. But we must remember that believers have faced the same sort of things since the beginning. In Psalm 116:15, God says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” We are not abandoned, nor are we ignored. We know that believers are expected to suffer for Jesus. Philippians 1:29 clearlysays, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Our problem is just that we have enjoyed a season of relative peace, and we have hoped that it would continue. There is nothing “wrong” with that hope: We just have to remember that, eventually, the peace will fail. Human-sourced peace will always fail!
In Habakkuk 3:17-19, the prophet Habakkuk showed us how to respond to the destruction of our nation. In Job 1:20-22, Job showed us how to respond to the loss of all we hold dear, including all our belongings and even our loved ones. In Daniel 3:16-18, Daniel’s three friends showed us how to face death, with faith and courage…but they were spared! In the seventh chapter of Acts, Stephen made it even more plain; and he was not spared: neither were most of the prophets, nor most of the apostles. As far as we know, virtually all the Old Testament prophets who were sent to Israel were eventually killed by the people they came to serve. And with the possible exception of John, history tells us that probably all the apostles were killed because of their faith and their testimony.
How Should We Respond?
14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. 17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
Since suffering is virtually inevitable, as a general rule, we need to see what Peter says to do about it. (By the way, tradition holds that Peter was eventually crucified…so he wasn’t talking “theory!”) He says that we are to put Jesus first: “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” (The word “sanctify” literally means “set apart” as special, in some regard…for a special purpose…but it carries the idea of “making holy.”) God is already utterly holy: how am I to “sanctify” Him in my heart? I am to recognize that He is of first importance: above all else, He is to be honored. And the result is that I will deliberately prepare myself to give honest, clear, humble, and loving testimony to His Grace and His salvation.
Will that cause people to treat us well? Absolutely not! It will intensify the hatred of those who hate Jesus, and focus their wrath on us! (Just as it did Peter and the other apostles and prophets. John the Baptist was beheaded before his 33rd birthday, because he spoke for God!) But it will have the reverse effect on those who are willing to hear the message of salvation. The Philippian jailer believed, partly because of the earthquake, obviously, but that was only the “exclamation point” on the testimony of Paul and Silas. They had already preached Christ in the town of Philippi. They had been savagely beaten, without trial, as a result, and, while chained in the prison, still bleeding from the beatings, they were praising God and singing hymns at midnight! Everyone in the prison could hear them! And then the earthquake struck. The Jailer believed the Gospel as a direct result of their response to sufferings.
J. Vernon McGee liked to tell about something he had repeatedly experienced as a child: he was often tasked with feeding the livestock at night, and so he entered the barn with a lantern, in the darkness. When the light of the lantern dispelled the darkness in the barn, two things happened simultaneously: the rats scavenging the barn floor for food ran for cover, knowing that the light was from their enemy, and would reveal them to their enemy. But at the same time, the birds roosting in the rafters mistook the lantern light for sunrise and began to sing, because they thought it was morning! Different people respond differently to the light of the Gospel as well. And, in another appropriate metaphor: if we place a slab of soft potter’s clay out in the sun, along with a similar slab of hard beeswax, the clay will respond to the heat of the sunlight by becoming harder and harder, while the wax will become softer and softer. In both metaphors, the stimulus was the same but the responses were opposite. The nature of the recipient determines the response to the light. Jesus said, “…this is the condemnation, that light is come into the World and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
Does that mean that we should only share the Gospel with those who already believe it? Of course, that is a ridiculous question: those who have not heard of Jesus are the primary target audience, which is precisely why we support missionaries who go where the Gospel has not gone before. Romans 15:20 says, “Yea, so have I strived, to preach the Gospel not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation.” That was Paul’s goal!
But we do need to realize that there will be a cost for obedience: I have known people to be fired from a job, simply because it became known that they were a Christian. I know others who were persecuted and driven out of jobs because they shared the Gospel with others. In my own case, the persecution was quite mild: I was simply seldom invited to any sort of gathering, and not included in groups of friends. That doesn’t feel very good, but it hardly compares with real persecution. There may come a time, possibly even relatively soon, when it will be very costly indeed to call upon the Name of Jesus.
But we are to prepare our hearts in advance, as taught by Stephen, Daniel, Peter, and others, and joyfully expect to share the Gospel in word and deed.
How should we Share the Gospel?
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
There is an odd passage here: Peter transitions from our preparation to share, to talking about the suffering of Jesus, to the souls of them who died in the Flood! (Say what?) We don’t want to miss the main point here: Jesus lived His entire life out under the Law, but also, entirely under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit! Jesus refused to use His prerogatives as God, to benefit Himself. (Yes, He could have turned the rocks into food, if He chose to do so. But He was committed to dependency upon the Father, not His own ability.) So, under the control and direction of the Holy Spirit, He endured the privations of life as a poor man in a poor country with poor hygiene and limited diet… and to being physically abused by those He came to save.
How did He do it? He was put to death in the flesh, but “quickened” (made alive) by the Spirit, the same Spirit by which he went and preached to the spirits (now) in prison.
I am aware that some versions of the scripture have done a little “interpreting,” in attempt to make the passage easier to understand. But there is a danger in so doing. We need to ask several questions:
- What “Spirit” is spoken of here? (I will take it to be the Holy Spirit.)
- Is that the same Spirit mentioned in 1st Peter 1:11? (“The Spirit of Christ?”
- When did the preaching occur?
- If Jesus went and preached in Hades, as many believe, why would he only preach to a select group of Old Testament Sinners? If He was offering a “post-mortem” opportunity for repentance and faith, why only to that group? And, if He offered such a thing at all, wouldn’t that contradict Hebrews 9:27? Why would that group alone get a “second chance?” Or, if He was only “proclaiming victory,” as some suppose, why only to those individuals? (And, what would be the point?)
- Since it was “by the same Spirit” who is also called “The Spirit of Christ which was IN them,” in 1st Peter 1:11, doesn’t it follow that it was by that Spirit He preached, and that it was during their lifetimes, just as it is for every other sinner in history? So when did they hear? It was while the Ark was being built! That is why they were called “disobedient!” They heard, and they rebelled!
- Who physically did the preaching? 2nd Peter 2:5 says that Noah was the preacher. The Spirit of Christ, which was in him was how the preaching occurred. And while the ark was being built, is when the preaching occurred.
- In that case, the “Where”question has also been answered: Jesus preached in the person of Noah, by the Holy Spirit (also called the Spirit of Christ) where Noah was, on the only continent that existed before the Flood, while the Ark was being built…for 120 years!
So, what we are being told, here, is that just as Jesus preached through Noah, He wants to preach through us. And the results could be good, bad or indifferent. But that is how we are to share the Gospel. Jesus wants to speak through us by the Holy Spirit.
How Should We Prepare?
There are at least three levels of preparation we might consider:
- Spiritual preparation: Is Jesus really “first in your heart?” Am I really “sanctifying the Lord God in my heart,” as I am commanded to do?
- Mental preparation: Do I actually “know the message” well enough to “be a messenger?” This is one part of being “ready always, to give an answer.” It may require some study, some reading, some planning, and some memorization, so that when the opportunity arises, you have the facts at your disposal, and are not left fumbling, saying, “Well, I know it says in there, somewhere….”
- Emotional preparation—preparing the Heart, or the Will: There was an example given, in 2nd Samuel 18:19-33, when David’s son, Absalom was killed. (Read it!) The messenger Ahimaaz was a very fast runner, and desperately wanted to be “the one chosen” to go with the message. But another runner, Cushi, was chosen, because Commander Joab knew there was a very good chance that the messenger would bear the wrath of the King, and be executed, when it was told that Absalom had been killed.
But Ahimaaz wanted to go anyway, and he begged until Joab finally said, “Go!” So, Ahimaaz took off, found a short-cut, and, in fact, he outran the chosen messenger (Cushi) and arrived first. But, evidently, he had been “doing some thinking” on the way, and was afraid to give the true message. So he said, “There was a great tumult, but I couldn’t see what happened.” (It was a flat-out lie! He knew exactly what had happened.)
So King David told Ahimaaz to stand aside, as Cushi, the chosen messenger arrived just behind him. Cushi was both faithful and wise, and he told the truth, but gave the message sadly, in inoffensive terms. The result was that king was in grief, but, as far as we know, he did not punish the messenger. But what we need to see is that Cushi, the faithful messenger, fully expected the possibility of suffering, and he faithfully gave the message in spite of the danger. The unfaithful messenger, Ahimaaz, feared the consequences and refused to take the chance. He knew full well what the message was, but he chose to pretend he didn’t know. He chose personal safety over honoring God.
So, it seems we have some choices to make, too, in terms of our “current events:”
- We have to choose what master we will serve.
- We have to choose what message we will deliver.
- We have to choose what values we will embrace as primary in our lives.
- We have to choose what source we will trust, to find Peace and Joy.
- The first seems an easy choice: all of us have already chosen to serve the King of kings! But: do our thoughts, attitudes and actions reflect that choice? Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” And also, “These things I have spoken unto you that in Me ye might have Peace. In the World, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the World.” If He is my Master, doesn’t it require that I obey those commands, as well? Set aside my fears, and experience the Peace of God? I don’t know about you, but I find that a pretty challenging assignment!
- The second requires some thought: the Gospel is defined as “the Good News of Jesus’s death for our sins, His burial, and His resurrection, which, being believed in, is the power of God to save sinners.” (1st Corinthians 15:3, 4; Romans 1:16) Is that the message you are sharing? Or is it “You would be happier with Jesus!” or “You would like our church!” or something else, still? The message we were assigned to carry has not changed throughout history. We are either willing to carry that message and faithfully deliver it, or we are not. But the message remains the same!
The third requires a little more self-awareness: Yes, I am grieved at the circumstances in our nation (So was Habakkuk, in his!)— But is “my country” or “my politics,” etc., my primary value, or are the Message of Christ, and Rejoicing in the Person of Christ, and honoring God through faithfulness to Christ the most important things to me? Only you can examine your own heart before the Lord and give an answer to that question.
The fourth choice is very “Black and White:” Will I turn to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, our Redeemer, and the Captain of our Salvation, to find Peace and Joy? Or— will I not? Moment by moment, this is a choice: I am either choosing to keep my eyes on Jesus, or I am looking somewhere else. That’s it!
Those are the choices we all have to make. We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change the way we respond to them.
Lord Jesus, help us to be conscious of the choices before us and to make wise, Godly choices with our time, our affections and our values. Let us keep you constantly before our eyes as our leader, Teacher, and Lord. Fill us with your Spirit, and allow us to serve.