Incorrect Behavior During Persecution

25 Jan

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Living in our modern era, we sometimes feel the need to lash out at people who treat us or others unjustly. After all, it is our right to do so, within the law of the land. We may bring people to court and cause them pay for their indiscretions. Isn’t this the way to stop evil behavior? Force could be reasonably used for a righteous goal, and should be in life threatening situations. However, in other circumstances Christ tells us we shouldn’t resist evil (Matthew 5:39). Rather we should turn the other cheek, which points to an insult, not physical violence. Peter wrote about this very matter in 1Peter 4:15, but this verse needs to be interpreted in the context of the persecution going on in the first century AD. This verse is not speaking of normal law-breaking. Rather, Peter is telling his readers in Asia Minor not to retaliate when they are persecuted.

If all manner of evil is produced by the heart (Matthew 15:19), and since Jesus claimed that when one is unnecessarily angry with one’s brother, he risks being judged with the same judgment given a murderer (Matthew 5:21-22), it is entirely possible that a believer could suffer as a murderer without ever taking a man’s life! Therefore, if a believer in Asia Minor during the first century AD reached out in anger to retaliate against his persecutor, he might end up being killed or at least physically beaten in the process. When reason is abandoned, escalation is inevitable, because violence on the part of the unrepentant is met with wrath on the part of the believer.

Jesus tells us that the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Moreover, the thief does these things under the cover of darkness—or in secrecy (1Thessalonians 4:2, 4). Understanding Peter’s letter at 1Peter 4:15 in this light, a believer might suffer as a thief, even though he didn’t steal anything. If any of Peter’s readers were observed as using clandestine methods (that is, acting under the cover of darkness or secrecy) in an effort to uncover and destroy the plans of their enemies, this would undoubtedly cause an escalation in his persecution, and he would suffer as a thief, according to the definition given by Jesus in John 10:10.

Jesus was accused as an evil doer (G2555) in John 18:30, which is defined by the Synoptics in Luke 23:2. Among the lies told about Jesus was that he sought to rebel against Rome, told others to stop paying taxes to Caesar, and he made himself King. A believer might be falsely accused of these same things—i.e. not submitting to or recognizing civil authority, saying he refused to pay his taxes to the state, and declaring Jesus as his King in competition with the head of state. He could also suffer persecution, because he actually did these things. He might, for example, refuse to submit to the state because of its unrighteous goals; he might stop paying taxes, because of how public funds are immorally used; he may even claim to recognize only Jesus as his King or Leader, thus eliminating his responsibility to the human head of state. Such an attitude, if carried out, would not only be understood as doing evil, but would also be a poor representation of Christ and the Gospel.

The phrase busybody in other men’s matters comes from one Greek word (G244) which is made up from two other Greek words (G245 – meaning other), and (G1985 – meaning overseer or bishop). If a believer begins to point out the sins of others or takes it upon himself to tell others how they should behave, he may very well suffer as a busybody in other men’s matters. Peter told the believers in Asia Minor to keep themselves from doing such things, because, if they did so, they would only fuel the fire of their present trial. This is sound advice for us even today. Retaliation of any kind, when we are persecuted for our faith, could only escalate matters and hurt not only us to a greater degree but also besmirch the cause of Christ and the Gospel.

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Posted by on January 25, 2017 in Epistles of Peter


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