On My Honor
(1 Peter 3: 8-18)
When I was a young boy growing up in Upstate New York I was a Boy Scout. There wasn’t much to do in my small town, so my main, outside-the-house activities were the Scouts and Methodist Youth Fellowship. I really loved Scouts. Our troop, Troop 60, was a real outdoors troop. We would rather camp than do anything else. I missed getting my third year-round camper badge by one campout. We even camped in the wintertime in some very old Army surplus tab tents. I had all the outdoor merit badges. I wasn’t interested in the Citizenship merit badge and the rank of Eagle Scout was out of the question. We were more interested in running through the woods like savages and squatting by the fire grunting and eating meat. Little did I realize Scouting was about citizenship and being a better person. Before each meeting we had to recite the Boy Scout Oath; On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. We also had to recite the Boy Scout Law; A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Whether I got the Citizenship merit badge or attained the rank of Eagle Scout was irrelevant because my Scout leaders were working very hard to prepare me for the life I would eventually try to lead as an American citizen.
Our Scripture reading for today tells how we should respond when we’re under pressure, under attack, and being falsely accused in the face of doing what we know is right. The Apostle Peter wrote this letter to the Christians who had been driven out of Jerusalem and scattered throughout Asia Minor around A.D. 62-64. They were being persecuted by the Jewish establishment for breaking away and calling unwanted attention to their inability to minister to God’s children. They were becoming a problem to the Roman Empire because they would not bow down and pledge allegiance to Rome. Peter himself was executed during the reign of Emperor Nero.
Peter tells his readers to be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves. Peter characterizes five key elements that should be the core set of beliefs for any group of believers. He’s talking about harmony, living together as one and pursuing the same goals. He wants us to be sympathetic, responsive to the needs of others and to show love to others by seeing and treating each other as brothers and sisters. We must exhibit compassion by being affectionately sensitive and caring and we must show humility by being willing to encourage one another and rejoice in each other’s successes. In short, like a Boy or Girl Scout, Peter is saying that a Christian lives in harmony, has sympathy for others, loves others, is compassionate and is humble.
He tells us not to pay back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, he says, give blessings in return. In our fallen world, it is often deemed acceptable by some to tear people down verbally or to get back at them if we feel hurt. Where do I begin on this topic? All you have to do is watch CNN or Fox to see and hear the screaming heads tear into one another. And, on a more personal level, you experience it on Facebook where people and groups square off against the opposing view and get just downright nasty. Some of my friends and family members have gotten so out of control that I’ve stopped following their Facebook posts. Peter was likely remembering what Jesus said about turning the other cheek when assaulted or insulted. Unfortunately, turning the other cheek is viewed by some as weakness and only encourages further assaultive behavior. It’s not okay for you to respectfully disagree with me. I have to beat you into submission and get you to concede that my way is not only the right way, but it is the only way. In God’s kingdom, revenge is unacceptable behavior, as is insulting a person, no matter how indirectly it is done. God wants us to rise above getting back as those who hurt us. Instead of reacting angrily to these people, God wants us to pray for them.
Peter tells his readers that they were called to do this so that they might inherit a blessing and then quotes Psalms 34: 12-16 where it says that those who want to love life and see good days should keep their tongue from evil speaking and their lips from speaking lies. It’s okay to have an unspoken thought. You may want to say something about a person or lash out at them but in the end, it almost invariably comes back to bite you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a response to something on Facebook only to delete it before hitting the send key. Mark Twain cautioned not to argue with fools as they would drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. It’s just best not to go there. It serves no good purpose. The Psalmist goes on to say that we should shun evil and do good; seek peace and chase after it. Stay away from what you know is bad and actively do what you know is good. It’s not enough to live a peaceful life. You must be a peacemaker. To be an effective peacemaker you must actively pursue peace. The peacemaker anticipates problems and deals with them before they occur, before the problem takes on a life of its own. Making peace is hard work, but it results in God’s blessing. Remember Matthew 5: 9 where Jesus said, Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. The Psalmist reminds us that the Lord’s eyes are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayers and that he will not tolerate those who do evil. There’s no future in it.
Peter next gets down to the crux of the matter, the persecution that is plaguing the young church. He rhetorically asks them who can really harm them if they are zealous for doing good? He tells them to be happy in their efforts even if they are suffering for it. Don’t be afraid or upset by your tormentors. Instead, he tells them, regard Christ as holy in your heart. Stay focused on Jesus and the hope he promises. Then, whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, you will be ready to defend it and when you explain your hope in Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers you will be able to do it with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. If you act in this manner, those who seek to malign your good lifestyle in Christ may ultimately become ashamed of themselves when they slander you. Others will see them for what they are, and you will bring glory and honor to God. Peter then makes what I think is an important observation. He says that it is better to suffer for doing good, if this could possibly be God’s will, than for doing evil. He’s saying that it is not God’s will that you be punished or persecuted for doing good, but that it just happens that way because there is evil in this world. Through your suffering the glory of God shines through. He reaffirms this by pointing out that Christ himself suffered on account of sin. The righteous one suffered on account of the unrighteous. Christ did this in order to bring us into the presence of God. He was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit.
Nobody said being a Christian would be easy. But in light of the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ to bring us into the presence of God, it is an honor to be a follower of Jesus Christ. So, on my honor, I will do my best to live in harmony with others, to be sympathetic and responsive to the needs of others, to love others treating them as brothers and sisters, to be compassionate to the plight of those who are suffering, and to be humble in my dealings with others in encouraging them and rejoicing in their successes.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are for the company of fellow believers we have in you. Keep us mindful of our duty to be of one mind in our service to others. Let our compassion for others be foremost in our thoughts as we strive to live lives worthy of your grace and mercy. Keep us humble as we toil to do your will and work in a world wracked with turmoil. Remind us through the Holy Spirit of our duty to seek peace and be peacemakers wherever and whenever possible. Steel our resolve in the face of anger and persecution so we may rejoice in our sufferings as Christ suffered for us. Place us where you need us, so we may be in a position to exhibit what it means to be Christians and to live a life of peace in you. In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.