We naturally want people to be attracted to Christianity by our witness and good example. But we have to face the fact: This world is under the influence of Satan, and his influence is powerful. Many people are hostile toward Christ. Instead of being admired, we may be treated unjustly, maligned, or even persecuted for our faith. This is nothing unusual—it has happened to believers for centuries. Even today many Christians around the world face severe persecution. We need to learn how God wants us to respond in case we too face hostility for our faith at some point in our lives.
Jesus said something about this issue that might seem contradictory: “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
It’s difficult to comprehend how suffering for Christ could be a blessed condition unless we recognize that earthly life is like a puff of smoke compared to the blessings of our eternal home. When Peter wrote his first letter, he addressed the believers as aliens or sojourners, and that’s exactly what we are in this world. Yet sometimes we become too attached to this present life and think little about our eternal future. Persecution has a way of weaning us from earthly riches, pleasures, and concerns. It causes us to set our hope completely on the grace we’ll receive when Jesus is revealed (1 Pet. 1:13).
Peter’s letter included instructions to believers who were trying to live obediently and righteously under very difficult circumstances. They were dealing with slander, social ostracism, injustice, and persecution simply because they were Christians. So Peter reassured them, saying, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed” (1 Pet. 3:14). Then he gave them four commands.
First, “Do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled” (1 Pet. 3:14). In order to remain fearless and undisturbed by the attacks of people offended by Christianity, we need a biblical perspective of God’s care for us and sovereignty over our lives. Just a few verses earlier, we’re reminded that “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (v. 12).
Ultimately our persecutors will fail. Even if the Lord allows them to kill our bodies, they cannot destroy our souls because we belong to Christ (Matt. 10:28). And when we do what’s right, but suffer as a result, God’s grace encompasses us and strengthens us to patiently endure (1 Pet. 2:20).
Second, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Pet. 3:15). Responding to hostility in a godly manner requires devotion to Christ above all else and submission to His sovereignty over our lives—even when His will for us permits mistreatment, insults, or persecution. The Christian life is a journey to eternal glory, but the path includes temporal suffering. However, when we finally arrive in heaven, we’ll discover that our momentary suffering has produced for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17).
Third, always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). Keeping our eternal hope and living righteously while suffering injustice and hostility may open a door for us to share the gospel with our persecutors. We should always be ready to explain to them why we trust the Lord. Although we must be bold with the truth of the gospel, our attitude toward those who hurt us should be gentle and respectful.
Fourth, “Keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame” (1 Pet. 3:16). Although we may be tempted to compromise in order to avoid persecution or repay evil with evil to those who hurt us, this only leads us into sin and ruins our witness. All vengeance should be left to God who alone knows every detail and judges rightly. The only way we overcome evil is with good (Rom. 12:17-21).
The ultimate example for us to follow in times of persecution is the Lord Jesus Christ who suffered more injustice than anyone. “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:23). Whether we face severe or relatively mild persecution for our faith, it is exactly what Jesus predicted: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). But God’s grace is always abundant in those times, and eventually all our suffering will end when we finish the course, having fought the good fight and kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Then all that’s left is rejoicing because of our great reward in heaven.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. If the thought of persecution makes you afraid, remember God doesn’t want you to worry beforehand. You might not feel His grace to endure right now, but it will be there the moment you need it. Trust Him, because He will never leave or forsake you.