20/7/03 8 a.m. Trinity 5 : 1 Peter 3:8-15a
8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9 Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. 13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? 14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
In many films and television programmes today we see 'redemptive violence', people using force to achieve justice. The avenging hero comes in and, against all the odds defeats the evil enemies who want to destroy the world.
Using violence to achieve justice is not the way of Jesus, otherwise he would have overpowered the soldiers who arrested and crucified him.
Peter is addressing Christians who were being persecuted. However, it is clear that Peter is also envisioning a situation where Christians oppose one another. 3:8 ( NIV) Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing
Verse 13 suggests that some Christians are being persecuted unjustly. 13 And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
Perhaps some of these early persecuted Christians would have been tempted to retaliate to physical violence or verbal abuse on a 'like for like basis' . Some people who would call themselves Christians take this approach today saying 'an eye for an eye'. What they do not realise is that this is not and was not God's way of dealing with people. It was to limit the damage people did to one another so that if someone damaged someone else's eye the wronged person, or his relatives would not injure both the eyes of the other, and this, in turn lead to further injuries in retaliation. This was not prescriptive, but limiting.
Lev. 24:19 If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.
Someone once said that if everyone practiced the 'eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' the whole world would be blind and toothless!
On Friday 11th July 2003 thieves stole a car from a garage in Lower Gornal near Dudley owned by Henry Raybold. They reversed the car that Henry was working on, knocking him down in the process. He died soon afterwards in hospital from head injuries. His son Paul spoke about his father saying, "His Christian faith was very important to him and this had a great effect on the way that he lived his life. The Christian faith is very important to myself and my brother and we would like to extend the hand of forgiveness to the people who did this act. We would like to see them brought to justice through the correct legal ways of this country. Jesus said to us that we must forgive those who harmed us. It is very difficult, but Jesus committed us to do that and with all my heart I believe that this is the way Jesus wanted me to go and I will go that way."
Peter refers to more than just restraint. He commends a positive reaction : being : united; compassionate; loving; sympathetic ( pitiful ); humble ( courteous ); doing good; seeking peace; blessing those who wrong us.
The word for blessing, verse 9, literally means 'to speak well of someone'. However, the context and the teachings of Jesus suggests that this should involve more than this including getting alongside someone and praying for them. For example, last week when we looked at Luke 6:36-42 and saw how we are not to condemn but be gracious, merciful and forgiving.
Sometimes when we get alongside and pray for those who oppose us this can heal their relationship with us. We should not desire revenge but for them to repent.
Peter says that where persecution does exist it can be positive, giving the opportunity for Christians to witness. 14 But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
In Nigeria where there is widespread persecution of Christians two muslim professors recently turned to Christ after one episode of extreme violence because they were so amazed that the Christian did not retaliate.
As Christians we are called to follow the ways of Jesus, turning the other cheek, drawing alongside those who would see us as enemies, and sharing the love of Jesus with them in word and deed.
Another illustration of Peter's words from Nigeria.
A mob of 200 young people marched toward the Baptist Church in Kaduna, Nigeria, where a Sunday morning worship service was in progress despite threats from Muslim leaders to burn Christian churches that day. Christians fled when they heard the chanting: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet!"
Clutching torches and cans of petrol, the Muslim marchers stood at the gate of the church compound, crying: "Kill them! Burn down their church! Confiscate their property!"
Pastor Fola Lateju, now alone in the building, decided to face them. Walking to the gate, he told the crowd, "What you are about to do is against the will of God. You will incur his wrath. Go back and tell those who sent you that this is against God's will."
Taken aback, mob leaders paused to talk among themselves. Suddenly they seized the young pastor, drenched him in petrol and torched his clothing. Nothing happened. Turning to a clump of grass, they poured out some of the petrol and touched the torch to it. The grass exploded in flames.
Wheeling back on Lateju, they drenched him again, but for the second time the torch would not set him ablaze. A third try also failed.
Confusion spread among the Muslims, and Lateju retreated into the churchyard. The crowd followed, pelting him with stones. One attacker struck him with a weapon, and he fell, bleeding profusely from the forehead. The Muslims left without burning the church. Several deacons emerged from hiding and took their injured pastor to a nearby clinic.
God has intervened on several occasions to protect his people in the face of Muslim persecution, says Lateju, who now teaches world religions at the Nigerian Baptist seminary in Ogbomosho.
Northern Nigeria has endured 20 years of religious conflict. Clashes between rival Muslim groups, or attacks on Christians, often have degenerated into rioting and bloodshed, ending only with police or military intervention.
Muslims reportedly have tried several strategies to slow Christian growth: blocking land allocations for church buildings; excluding Christians from political office, jobs and schools; shutting off the supply of petrol or currency to stymie the economy in strong Christian areas; even encouraging Muslim men to impregnate Christian women. Failure of those tactics has led to threats, intimidation and often violence against Christians.
About 6,000 people, mostly Christians, have died in rioting since the 1980s. One result: the growing popularity of a militant Christian faction, the Christian Association of Nigeria, that pledges to retaliate for every instance of anti-Christian violence.
Lateju abhors such vengeance -- or violence from any side -- even though he himself has suffered at the hands of Muslim militants. Instead, he participates in PROCMURA (Project for Christian and Muslim Relations in Africa), an organization dedicated to winning Muslim to Christ. It conducts seminars to teach Christians the basics of Islam. Understanding Muslim beliefs opens the door to friendships , and opportunities to share God's love, Lateju says.
Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet, virgin-born and sinless in life. This provides an important point of contact for Christian witness. When Christians show they understand the basic beliefs and customs of Islam, the door to friendship often opens.
"We emphasize witness through living the Christian faith before our Muslim friends: prayer, Scripture reading, attending Christian meetings, being kind to others," Lateju explains. "Muslims respond to such witness. Many converts have been won this way among both nominal Muslims and Muslim leaders."
Vengeance and retaliation will not defuse Nigeria's religious powder keg, Lateju says. Understanding, friendship and living a life of love will.