Sermon Text: 1 Peter 3:13–17
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
Fearless Hope, Fruitful Zeal
Our text this morning is 1 Peter 3:13–17,
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”
-1 Peter 3:13–17
You may remember from what we’ve covered already in the letter, but Peter is writing to Christians living in Asia Minor in the early 60s AD. In these first few decades after the coming of Christ, these are churches and households of faith that are the very first seeds of the Church planted in hostile ground.
This is a culture that is foreign to the gospel. It hasn’t yet been shaped by it, leavened by it. The seeds are barely taking root and putting out their first shoots. It is a time where our brothers and sisters must have felt exceedingly vulnerable.
In some ways, we are similarly postured, right? The ground and soil of Utah’s culture has been shaped in some very powerful and very fundamental ways by the worship of the false god, false Christ, and false gospel of the Mormon Church.
The true Church is, in many ways, still in its seed stage here, isn’t it? In the history of the state, the true Church has never been more than a small undercurrent, counterculture. And so we can identify with our brothers and sisters who first received this letter in some ways that Christians in other places—places where Christianity has been for periods the dominant cultural force—may not be able to. They and we are not welcome in many circles of our community.
Into that differentness, that peculiarity, that feeling of danger and risk, Peter speaks four distinct words of exhortation to us in this section:
1. Bet your life on the blessing of God (13–14a). When opposition and difficulty comes, it’s easy to turn inward in self-protection rather than pressing the shape of the gospel—the giving away of self, crucifying the self for others.
And rather than that, Peter would have us bet everything on the blessing of God, to be zealous for the good of a gospel-shaped life. To press the suffering and subsequent glories of Christ into every crack and crevice and corner of your life, betting everything on the resurrecting blessing of God in Christ.
2. Don’t fear the opposition of the unrighteous (14b–15a). Do not fear those who would persecute you, revile you, hate you, and slander you. Fear and honor Christ the Lord as holy, trusting in his triumph over the world.
3. Be ready to defend your gospel-folly (15b). As the Lord presents the gospel to the world through our lives—a gospel that is folly to a perishing world—they are going to ask, “Why on earth would you do that? Live like that? Make decisions like that?” And Peter would have us ready to give a defense of the hope that makes what is folly to the world the very wisdom of God.
4. Live like your enemies are watching (16–17). Nothing undermines a Christian defense of gospel folly like wicked Christians. Full stop. Live in such a way that even if your enemies could watch you around the clock, they would be put to shame when they slanderously accuse you of evil.
Let’s begin with that first exhortation, to bet your life on the blessing of God.
Bet Your Life on Blessing
Look again at verse 13,
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed.” -1 Peter 3:12–14a
Peter here refers back to the pattern we’ve been tracing for 5 weeks, namely, the suffering and subsequent glory of Christ as a pattern for our lives: Death to self, resurrection with God. And what he would have us see is that, if the gospel is true and we belong to God in Christ, then safety doesn’t lie in hedging our bets and protecting ourselves, but in zealously throwing ourselves into the giving away of self for the sake of life and love.
Peter is saying, “Be zealous to obey God, even if it means you look very weird to others in doing so. Be zealous to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself—even if it means persecution.”
Even if the direct result of your obedience to Jesus is opposition, hatred, reviling, persecution, obedience to Jesus is the better option. Why? Because “…even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.”
This guarantee of blessing isn’t Peter’s invention; it’s Jesus’ promise to his people in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:10–12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So here’s a question for us, Refuge: Are you zealous for what is good? Do you view yourself and your purpose biblically? What I mean is, do you view yourself as being for something? When God in Christ redeemed you, he bought you and saved you and renewed you and forgave you in order to make you something, to use you, for you to be his possession, his instrument.
To be zealous for what is good means to aim for your life directly at bold, risky obedience to Jesus. Meaning we need to devour the Word of God to see what the good looks like, to lean into that, and to live in such a way as to make it look like we are betting everything on the reality of resurrection and divine blessing.
Could I look at your life and say, “There’s a man who is betting it all on the truth of the gospel, the worth and reward of Christ!” Or are you, are we, hedging our bets?
God promises that he will bless us when we suffer for his sake, doesn’t he? Is that promise still good today or not? It is! God delights to bless his people to vindicate his Word as those who hate him hate his people.
And what happens is that as the people of God zealously pursue the glory of God in every corner of their lives is that the Kingdom advances, but persecution and opposition do as well. And so, number two, Peter exhorts us to live fearlessly.
Have No Fear of Them
Look at verse 14 again with me, if you would.
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…”
-1 Peter 3:14–15a
Do not live in fear of those who oppose Christ, that is, don’t give honor and fear to those who oppose Christ, but rather live in holy fear of God, honoring Christ as your holy Lord. Peter is assuming that if you do Christianity correctly, you should need to hear this as an encouragement. If you’re obeying Jesus, zealous for good, you should expect to be hated, to suffer, to need the heartening encouragement of this exhortation.
We will know we’re going the right way when we look peculiar, when people raise their eyebrows at us, when people oppose us, what us to fail, want us out of there. Want us to stop troubling their world and stirring up their culture.
The issue of fear is a fundamental one in Scripture. It is a law of the Universe that you will live in the fear of some thing or someone. This is a “not whether, but which” sort of issue, meaning you can only choose whom to fear, not whether or not you will live in fear of something or someone.
If you are mastered by fear of people rather than the fear of God, it becomes impossible for you to be zealous for what is good according to God. Instead, you will be zealous for what is good according to the people you fear. You will find yourself continually flexing your identity, your values, your words, your deeds—all of you—to mold around the people you’re trying to impress, the people you’re living in fear of.
Do you fear people? Are you terrified of sharing your faith? Are you ashamed to publicly be known to believe certain unfashionable parts of the Bible? The Christians in Asia Minor had massive worldview gaps between themselves and their neighbors, gaps that were resulting in persecution and suffering. But they knew that they couldn’t love their neighbor if they feared their neighbor more than God.
And what Peter would have them believe and to have us believe is that God is good for his promises, that fearing people and trying to get them to bless you and satisfy you will never prove out the way that fearing God and trusting him to bless you will.
And as Christians live fruitful lives, zealous for the good of a gospel-shaped life, and live fearless lives, honoring Christ and fearing him rathe than fearing man, the result just will be that people are going to ask you a particular kind of question, Peter shows us.
An Apologia for Gospel Hope
Number three, be ready to defend the hope that is producing in you a kind of life that looks utterly foolish to those around you. Verses 14b–16,
“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
-1 Peter 3:13–16
Be ready to defend your gospel-folly. Here’s the thing: The world is going to look at you doing those first two things—walking out the suffering and subsequent glory of death and resurrection, and doing so fearlessly—and they are going to ask you, “What on earth are you doing? You fool! Protect yourself!”
That’s what this text is about, ok? There’s a common, but wrong idea about this text, that it’s saying that Christians walk around with some kind of magical glow on their face. Like, “If you hope in God enough, people are going to walk up to you and say, ‘You look like an angelic being! Your face is just radiant with a righteous hope!”
In the context of this passage, which is about non-Christians persecuting Christians for looking like Christians, what Peter is saying is that you are going to have to defend the hope in you that makes what looks like folly to the world the very wisdom of God.
It’s about people looking at you and saying, “Geez, only an idiot would do that with their money, their time; only an idiot would shape their lives around an old book.” And Peter would have us be ready in those moments where people scoff at us and at a gospel-shaped life to say, “Let me tell you about the hope that makes what looks like folly to you the very wisdom of God.”
When the body of Christ lives with a Spirit-cultivated zeal for good works—obedience to Jesus born from hope in Jesus—it simply looks weird.
It looks peculiar because the life of a Christian lived with bold, fruitful, fearless zeal just is a lower-case-i incarnation of the shape of the gospel into a human life. It is a display of the gospel in skin. God is through his people making a display of the way of his gospel—that life comes through the cross of Jesus, and so life and joy and fruit come from Christians taking up their cross daily to follow Jesus.
And lastly, number four, Peter would have us avoid marring our witness with evil.
Live Like The Enemy is Watching
Live like your enemies are watching. Look again at verse 15,
“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”
-1 Peter 3:15–17
Very simply, nothing undermines a Christian defense of gospel folly like wicked Christians. Live in such a way that even if your enemies could watch you around the clock, they would be put to shame when they accuse you of evil.
So summing it up, here’s the shape this text calls us to:
1. The Lord saves us from our sin. He dies for us to pay for our sin and rises for our resurrection and sends the Spirit to give us new hearts and new desires.
2. The Lord by that same Spirit and same grace begins the long work of conforming us to the image of Jesus, bringing our lives into the shape of the cross—suffering and subsequent glory. We therefore begin to look weird, peculiar, different.
3. People don’t like it. They are confronted by it. They are unnerved by it. They want us to live in fear of their gods and not our God. And so, whether in little ways or big ways, opposition happens. Slander happens. “How could you believe that, live like that, say that?”
4. By the grace of God, we imitate Jesus in how he responded to us when we made ourselves his enemy. With gentleness, respect, and love. We return slander for truth. We return reviling for blessing.
5. We aim by the grace of God to be free from the evil that would mar our witness. We aim to put our accusers to shame, so that the deeper they dig into our lives, the more they are confounded by the holiness they find.
We love our God by honoring and fearing him, and then we go and love our neighbor by not fearing them, but by living as the weird, other, peculiar people of God in their midst, ready to call them to the same hope we have when we are confronted.
Acts & Us
As we leave the text this morning, let me give you a picture of this in action from Acts. The book of Acts records the work of the Spirit through the Apostles in bringing the gospel to the ends of the known earth at that time, the Roman Empire.
That pattern or shape that I laid out a moment ago describes the arc of God’s work in the church in that place and time. As the gospel went into new towns and cities and regions and took root in souls, we actually have moments where the non-Christians give us insight into what it is that they thought was happening, what Christianity looked like from their perspective. Here’s one such account from Acts 17,
“Now when [Paul and Silas] had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.”
Here’s what I want you to see in this text: The non-Christians got it. They understood what was being claimed by the Christians. They understood that they weren’t heralding a new system of good works, a tweaked philosophy of the morality, a nice new religious ideology.
They understood that the apostolic gospel—which they received as of first importance and which we today receive from them as the same—was a claim to everything. It was nothing less than the claiming of their city as a new province of Jesus’ Kingship. “These men have turned the world upside down… saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
We serve the same King. We have the same good news to herald: The King is forgiving all rebellion and sin by his own blood! Be saved and be his!
What is stopping us? What’s stopping us from being bold in gospel agitation? Are we zealous to love our neighbors—loving them by serving them and by making them uncomfortable? What are we scared of? Our Lord has told us to “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”