Reading in 1 Peter the other morning, I was struck by this sentence:
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
That’s chapter two, verse twelve, from the English Standard Version. The NIV says people will “accuse of doing wrong” and then afterwards see your good works. With that sitting in my thoughts, I picked up an older paraphrase I sometimes read, by J.B. Phillips. He rendered the verse like this:
“Your conduct among the surrounding peoples in your different countries should always be good and right, so that although they may in the usual way slander you as evil-doers yet when disasters come, they may glorify God when they see how well you conduct yourselves.”
I’m telling you, 1 Peter is feeling tangibly relevant these days. It’s like he sent me a long email just last week. The first phrase that got me thinking was this assumption Peter seems to make that people will malign Christians as those who actively do evil things. We harm society. We’re dangerous. We should be stopped. If those things sound outrageous to you, I would just offer the fact that I’ve had them personally said or written to me, or heard them in the media, just in the last couple of years. It’s always a little odd to me. Us? You mean the ones feeding homeless people and digging wells and teaching literacy and doing relief work and…well, why go on?
Of course, we know the Lord does not want us to descend into any kind of bitterness or discouragement (after all, he told us it would be this way, right?), instead, the first part of Peter’s sentence should guide our response to any situation when we’ve been slandered, that is, called evil, because of our association with Christ. He says first of all we should already have been living lives of consistent, active good. We need to be doing things that even a culture who doesn’t acknowledge God’s law will recognize as good. There are lots of verses that say this kind of thing. A Christian’s response to evil is not evil, or shut-down, it is to do good. This sets us up to win as many possible when the situation begins to change.
It’s this change in situation, or “day of visitation” as Peter calls it, that provides us the incentive to press through otherwise disheartening situations. Phillips paraphrases this idea, somewhat provocatively, as “when disasters come.” That sent me searching commentaries and lexicons to see if it’s really what Peter meant. Was he saying that if we kept doing good, then whenever crazy stuff would happen the people who used to slander Christians would turn and glorify God instead? That just sounds so applicable to our world. It turns out that the word could be rendered that way (based on some parallels in Isaiah), but then I read Karen Jobes’ commentary on 1 Peter, who observes:
The day of visitation should probably be understood as a reference to the future final judgment, by which time Peter hopes that the unbelievers who have observed the good works of the Christians they have slandered will have come to faith in Christ. The future visitation of God in Christ will be a day of blessing for God’s holy nation but a day of judgment and condemnation for the “nations” who are not God’s people.
The witness of a sustained good lifestyle by Christians who are being maligned by their society will be a testimony on the final day of judgment, which will vindicate the Christian’s faith.
What’s the upshot? When Christians find themselves maligned, Peter directs us to continue doing what he assumes we’ve always done–continue blessing those who oppose us and being kind and generous to everyone. Our hope in this? First, the knowledge that we have a future vindication ahead of us. Second, that before it’s too late, this consistent witness against the grain of opposition will lead many people, who might have otherwise faced judgment from God’s throne, to be able to give God the glory of grateful praise instead.