Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t tend to read the New Testament epistles as sources of wonder. The Old Testament, yes! Noah’s floating zoo, Abraham’s awesome convos with God, the burning bush, and the miracle of Passover. Even the prophets: Ezekiel’s dry bones and Isaiah’s Servant Songs. And the gospels, of course! Jesus’s holy birth, the dove alighting on him at his baptism, his stunning transfiguration, and all his many wonders—water into wine, feeding the crowds, healings by hand and at long-distance. And resurrection! But by the time I get to the epistles I’m not usually expecting to read something miraculous.
Then Peter makes me adjust my expectations when he says things like, “do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse, but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing” (v. 9). And “if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed” (v. 13). And “do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated… be ready to make your defense… yet do it with gentleness and respect” (vv. 14-16). And “maintain a good conscience so that… those who abuse you… may be put to shame” (v. 16) and “it is better to suffer for doing good… than to suffer for doing evil” (v. 17). When I think about what Christians are known for today, these verses seem shocking. It would be a real wonder for any human beings, including Christians, to practice the kind of restraint, respect, and reorientation Peter describes.
Let’s be honest—not only today but over thousands of years of Christian history—followers of Jesus have not always been the good guys. We have not paid back evil with blessings, we have not resisted the intimidations of worldly fear, and we have not responded to challenges with gentleness and respect. We definitely are not into suffering for any reason, especially not for doing good. There are even threads of Christian thought insisting that those who follow Jesus will get paid back with material gain and political power, and that even the slightest negativity or restraint amounts to suffering and persecution. Even if that were true (and it usually isn’t), Peter still says our response shouldn’t be moaning and complaining, getting sucked into manipulative fears, or returning evil for evil. If we receive negativity because we follow Jesus, we don’t turn it into a battle cry; we call it blessing and we turn it into blessing for others. Peter calls for Jesus’s people to turn our expectations—and the world’s expectations of us—upside down.
It would take a miracle.
- How might changing our expectations as Christians affect the world’s expectations of Christians?
- What stories and images of Christians have you seen in the news lately? Do you think these are representative of most Christians? Do they represent you as a Christian? What messages do you think the world gets about Christ followers from these representations? Why do certain versions or representations of Christianity seem to “make news”?
- How have you witnessed or experienced Christians or a church community living out Peter’s teachings?
- Do you think it would take a miracle for Christians to embrace and experience this surprising shift in expectations?
- Meditate on stories of Old and New Testament miracles and think about miracles you or others have recognized in daily life. How do these testimonies help you hold on to hope that we might embrace the “miracle” of the kind of community Peter describes? How might we more fully follow Peter’s teachings and affect the world around us with the blessings of Christ?
Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.
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