The book of I Peter is directed at first century believers scattered throughout modern day Turkey. These people are among the first generation of believers who never saw Jesus and yet still believe. They are also facing widespread persecution. It is in light of this persecution that Peter writes this letter. He gives specific directions to the believers as to how they are to interact with each other in 3:8-12 (the passage of study for which I am preparing):
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:8-12 ESV)
The Psalm in this passage is an excerpt from Psalm 34. The context of this Psalm is also important to note, as it was during a time of great danger in David’s life, having just escaped from King Abimelech.
However, it is not the persecution on which I would like to focus, but our call in persecution. Peter here addresses the state of our heart and our mind. This is important because persecution and pain affect both our thinking and our feelings. As someone who has experienced significant amounts of physical pain, I can understand this. The natural response in pain is “There’s something wrong.” While this is true at times, when that pain is a result of persecution, the opposite is true. While the goal of those who persecute is to silence and destroy the church it in fact does the opposite. It proves true the words of Jesus (Matt 10:22, John 15:18-25). I believe that it is in light of this reversal of logic that our minds are to be unified and humble. We must be unified in mind with Jesus and with each other. When we set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2), we are not concerned with earthly logic. This unifies us together AS we are unified to Christ. As we humble ourselves, having a correct view of ourselves as lower than God, we will not be persecuted for our sake but because we are like Jesus.
The pain also affects our hearts; our emotions and feelings. Every follower of Jesus that faces pain is someones son or daughter. Many are fathers and mothers. Brothers and sisters. Leaders. Teachers. The people we love. Our hearts are to be sympathetic, tender, loving as brothers to these people. This comes as a result of setting our minds on the things above. When I understand the reason behind someone’s pain, it keeps me from minimizing it. This
minimization, this brushing aside, is one of the most hurtful things to do to a brother in pain.
When I reached this part of my study and preparation, part of me wanted to stop because I know that these words (unified, humble, sympathetic, loving, tender) are not the words that best describe my attitude towards my persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. Do you sense that hesitation to stop reading? That if we keep going, we will find pain? This is in fact what we will find. If we stop here, however, we hold ourselves back from obedience to God. As a church, we have been created in a community. To clarify, when I say “as a church”, I mean
as the body of Jesus across the whole earth. Not just the “American churches” or the “protestant churches” or the “underground churches” or the “good churches” but every single person on this planet that is in a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the community in which we have been created.
The reality of this church is pain. Let me share with you some recent headlines I received in the news:
Syria’s Christians Drawn Into Conflict
Christian Boy Tortured and Killed in Pakistan
Jailed Iranian Pastor Facing Death, Denied Medical Care
Muslim Rioters Attack Five Churches, Kill Two in Kenya
Ugandan Pastor Speaks Up After Acid Attack By Muslim Radicals
And the list goes on. These are not “Syrian churches” or “Iranian churches” or “African churches”. This is THE church. We live in a time where we can no longer claim ignorance to what is happening to the church around the world. These are our brothers and sisters. The elders and pastors of our church. Fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As I read these stories, I feel for these people. I can feel growing inside of me that brotherly love and that sense of unification with them. Yet even in this, there is a resistance. “They’re so far away, I could never do anything to help them. They’ll never know that I didn’t do anything. Really, though, what can I do? I’ve never met them and probably never will, so why does it matter?” The answer to “What can I do?” begins simply with 1 Peter 3.
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (I Peter 3:8, ESV)
As we pursue these things with our local community, we must pursue them with the church as a whole. What does this look like in practicality? Although that is largely up to how the Holy Spirit directs your heart as you step forward in obedience, I think it begins with prayer. The power of God working through the prayers of his people reaches across oceans, into the thickest cell walls, and breaks the hardest hearts.
You are now faced with a choice. Do we carry on, pretending we never knew? Or do we step forward, not knowing what we may face? I believe the persecution of our church is that which we can no longer ignore.
For more information, here are some ways you can keep informed about the church around the world as well as make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters.
International Christian Concern – www.persecution.org
Christian Freedom International (based in northern Michigan) – www.christianfreedom.org
Release International – www.releaseinternational.org