The witness of countercultural living

Bible readings

  • Psalm 34
  • 1 Peter 3:8-22


My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

One thing about a Christian, is that the direction of his/her life completely changed when Jesus Christ became their Saviour and Lord.   One day the apostles were professional fishermen, the next they became followers of Jesus Christ, leaving everything behind.  On one day Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, the next he was worshipping the same Jesus he persecuted.  The disciples in the end chose to die for the One who saved them from eternal hell to bring them to God. It still happens today.  I want to read parts of a report I read.  It’s about Christians in Syria.

I asked them to leave, but I gave them the freedom to choose.  Every time we talked to them, they were always saying, We want to stay here—this is what God has told us to do. This is what we want to do. They just wanted to stay and share the gospel.

“All were badly brutalised and then crucified.They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them. The women, ages 29 and 33, tried to tell the ISIS militants they were only sharing the peace and love of Christ and asked what they had done wrong to deserve the abuse. The Islamic extremists then publicly raped the women, who continued to pray during the ordeal, leading the ISIS militants to beat them all the more furiously.  

As the two women and the six men knelt before they were beheaded, they were all praying.  One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!'”

She knew her hope.  These people knew Christ, and they knew their hope.  They died with honour, and the doors of heaven were opened for them in the same way as Stephen died, 

They stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59–60, NKJV)

Pardon and acceptance with a reconciled God; fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and constant grace and peace out of his fulness; the preserving and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit; victory over death and hell; and an everlasting possession of heaven as a inheritance gift. All is understood and fully believed by the Christian as his position in Christ: by hope, he surveys it all, anticipates it all, enjoys it all. The life of the Christian is countercultural!

Unbelievers do not comprehend Christian living 

Why does the Christian turn his/her back on this world?  Why allow good prospects of career advancement pass you by just because you are a Christian?  Why does the Christian choose to be the odd one out to not laugh when bad jokes do the round, or when the outcast is ridiculed?  Why not grab the bribe and go on the promised holiday?  Why give some of your income to support the poor or missionaries far away, while you can enjoy it yourself?  Why not allow the white lie to go through if the truth is going to hurt your chances in life?

These questions and the answers and Christians give stuns the world.  Are you out of your mind?  Carpe diem! Grab the day!  No one is going to pick you up when you have fallen.  No one is going to stand in for you when you tell the truth and get fired.  Wake up to yourself!  Get real!  

The Christian answers, not with any smugness or self-pity, but with gentleness and respect,  “I have never been more real in my life!  See, the difference in Christ!”

For this the Christian is more often than not excluded from friendship circles; they are not invited to parties anymore; they are not included in deals anymore; they sometimes become lonely; they become the outcast, the weird, the dumb, the stupid.  When they resist temptations to immoral activities, when they stand up for the sanctity of marriage as God intended it to be, when they speak up against abortion and one night stands or any alternative  definition of marriage, they are condemned as unloving, bigots and downright evil.  That’s when we know that evil has become good and good has become evil.  “Woe to you when men speak well of you”, our Lord said.

Christians are not welcome in the world

Our Lord said:  

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19, ESV)  

Our chapter takes us to Psalm 34 to teach us how we should react to the hostilities of this world and even those who proclaim to be Christian, who are not.  

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:12–14, NIV)

Who said these words?  David.  When?  Although Samuel anointed David as king, he was nevertheless forced to become a refugee before Saul. David, the elect of God, was forced to suffer on the earth as an exile.  Twice during those refugee years David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life. On the first occasion David cut off a corner of Saul’s robe when Saul unknowingly had come into the cave where David was hiding. After Saul arose and left, David called to him from the opening of the cave, and Saul replied: 

“Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.  When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. (1 Samuel 24:16-17, 19, NIV)

On the second occasion David spared Saul’s life while he slept in his own camp. He did not take Saul’s life.

Our chapter from 1 Peter says of those who are wronged by this world while they submit to the Lord:  

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:9, 12, NIV)

God knows our struggle and our loneliness when we are rejected and would, if things were in our hands, love to see retribution:  His eyes are upon the righteous, and his ears listen to our prayers.  He will vindicate those who belong to Him.

When the time comes and people want to know why we act differently, and why it sometimes looks as if we don’t have any backbone to stand up against those who would love to tread us underfoot, we regroup, we fix our eyes upon Christ, we reaffirm our submission to Him – we set Him apart in our hearts as our Lord – and we take his Name as the sweetest of all names on our lips as we stand firm for his glory; we pray that He will give us his gentleness, and we look at those who want to ridicule us as God’s own creatures – with respect -; we pray that Christ will keep us from falling and so defile our own conscience before Him and those who falsely accuse us – because we only want to see glory of our Lord on display – and we tell them of Him who called us our of darkness into his marvellous light.  That is to give reason for the hope that we have (1Peter 3:15).  The hope God gave us cannot fade, it’s about an inheritance which cannot be spoiled, now already put away in heaven for us whose hope is in Christ.  And we leave it to God to use our testimony to the salvation of the lost, or to the hardness of heart of those who revile our Lord. 

The example of our Lord 

Peter continues in his letter:  

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NIV)

He was reviled and denounced, mock and spat upon.  They hated Him to the point that they stripped Him naked, put a crown of thorns on his head and nailed Him to a cross with criminals, mocking and jeering the Son of God!  He was willing to take this treatment to bring up to God.  So, why we should be surprised if those of the same spirit do the same thing to us.

But, and this is the great but, Christ was made alive.  Peter records something which is hard to understand because it is only here we read about Christ preaching to the spirits of the disobedient.  We don’t know when it happened, and we don’t really know who the disobedient spirits were.  What we know is that their disobedience is connected to Noah and the flood.  These people probably thought old Noah was some stupid and off his mind when he, the righteous preacher warned them of the pending judgement of the Lord upon their sin – they thought they had the last word – but they were wrong!  the victorious Christ who was raised by the Spirit of God did not go to preach to them any message of hope as Noah would have done; no, his message as the Victor over death, hell, sin and Satan was to seal their condemnation – forever! The righteous Noah and Enoch were vindicated by the victorious Christ. Let’s take courage from this. 

And, united by faith to Him through baptism, and by the sacrament of wine and bread, we humbly but joyfully proclaim that we share in his victory.

How do members of the congregation care for one another in times of persecution?

Verse 8 gives us direction:

Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; (1 Peter 3:8, NKJV)

In the time when Peter wrote this letter, Christians were violently mistreated.  They were beaten and regarded as second class citizens.  But we would be living in fool’s paradise to think that persecution against Christians were only happening then, or are only happening in the middle east or in China and Pakistan.  Indeed, in those places persecution is brutal and violent—may our Lord protect his people—and may He guard us living in this part of the world such brutality. But persecution happens here, right under our noses, it just operates under a different cloak. 

Reality is that none of us here today can boast that being treated like dirt will leave us untouched.  It hurts when people spread unfounded rumours about you; it hurts when one applies for a job and loses out because you are a Christian; it hurts when you are made a public spectacle because you stand by your principles in Christ; it hurts when those whom you rub shoulders with in the workplace abuse the Name of your Saviour and ridicule you for defending his honour.

Peter in 3:8 these terms to describe a family unit which stands together and takes care one for the other. 

  1. Be of one mind.  When persecution and victimisation becomes the experience of one member, the last thing he or she needs is a divided church family.  The most natural attitude within the church family would be to care and defend. We need to stand together and defend the honour of our brother and sister.  Touch him, and you touch me!” In the Name of Christ, we owe it to one another to encourage one another by being one in mind and purpose.
  2. Having compassion for one another:  This expression is the opposite of being unmoved and cold towards the hurt of the next member of God’s family.  Not only will I defend you, but I will weep with you as we both work through the hurt of being ill treated. I will pray for you and with you. And if needs be, my home is your home; if you need food and shelter, what is mine, is yours. 
  3. Be tenderhearted:  When your fellow Christian feels the psychological and physical hurt of discrimination and victimisation, he would know there is a church family who feels for him/her.  You’re my brother, you’re my sister, I’ll look out for you, because as Christ loved us, I need to have the widest room for you in my heart. What happened to you could just as well have happened to me.
  4. Be humble, or to self-abasing:  When someone hurts, the last thing needed is someone who takes a “holier-than-thou” attitude which sends the message, “I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me. You must have known better to not instigate the situation.” Christians don’t do that; the world does, but we are not from this world.  It is by our love for one another that the world will know we are disciples of Jesus Christ.


So, my dear friend, when the hard times come, or when you face the ridicule of this world because of your testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ, follow the example of David’s Son – Jesus Christ.  Take it on the chin, but never, ever forget this:  victory is yours through Jesus Christ.  We have a hope which cannot spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us, shielded by the power of God.  Look to your left and your right, you will find a fellow brother or sister to help you in your hour of need. Follow in the footsteps of our Saviour:  submit to all authority, but never disobey or disown your Lord. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 June 2018

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