During my time in ministry, I have spoken at churches in 14 different states in the US and seven of the ten Canadian provinces. Some of these congregations were large urban groups and others were very small churches in remote locations who only had a full time minister come once per year to give a seminar on one subject or another. Regardless of the size or location however, I noticed that every church struggled to make a good witness in their communities. It seems that wherever the church is located, people outside the church often make the same accusations against us.
- They accuse Christians of being self-righteous, or of being hypocritical.
- Or they say we think we're the only ones going to heaven.
David Letterman in the audience spoke to a minister of the Church of Christ and asked him if he thinks they're the only ones, etc. Confident we are, was his answer. And then, of course, there's the old standby that we're legalistic. It's as if they all read the same propaganda about Christians and swallow it whole. Of course, that Christians are not popular is nothing new. In the first century, the favor of Christians among the populace fell dramatically as Nero, in an effort to consolidate his hold on power and divert attention from his leadership failures and crimes, outlawed all religious and especially signaled out Christians accusing them of starting the great fire in Rome. A terrible time of displacement prejudice and persecution followed for Christians.
At a time that it wasn't popular being a Christian, Peter writes a letter to the church giving them some helpful ways to maintain a good reputation in a hostile environment. We're not openly persecuted today, but in this post modern era where religious people are seen as foolish, insignificant, marginal, Peter's words provide a good public relations plan for the church to follow.
I'm persuaded that the art of public relations did not exist in Peter's day. There were no "AD" men/women, no P.R. representatives for individuals or government officials. But Peter's first letter contains a very definite strategy for the church in any age to establish and improve its image and reputation in the community that it is in. We know that it works because the presence of the church within the Roman Empire grew so strong (despite persecution and prejudice) that it survived the fall of the empire and thrives to this day, stronger than the Roman empire ever was.
So let's take a look at 1st Peter and the P.R. plan he provides to help churches impact their neighbors and their communities:
Strategy #1 — Live Holy, Not "Holier Than Thou" Lives
Living Before God Our Father
13Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."
- 1 Peter 1:13-16
2Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
- 1 Peter 2:1-3
9But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
- 1 Peter 2: 9-10
The main accusation lodged against Christians is not about what we preach, it's about what we practice. People are drawn by the forgiveness and hope offered by the gospel. They are turned off by people who profess to be Christians but live in no better way than they themselves or worse! So there is no attraction because there is no proof that the faith actually impacts the ones who claim Christ.
Note that everything Peter mentions in this passage is something that is real and dynamic in a person's life, not ceremonial or cerebral.
- Holy behavior
- No malice, envy, slander, sneakiness
People who actually see themselves as called by God to a different lifestyle described in the Bible as priests, a nation of spiritual royalty, a people that know and act like they belong to God, personally.
There is no faking a genuinely holy life. It stands out from the crowd; It shines despite the darkness; It speaks without uttering a word. If we have to explain, excuse or defend our lifestyle, we lose any impact on those around us for Christ.
A genuinely holy life, however, immediately makes a statement and creates a positive effect no matter who we are or where we are.
Strategy #2 — Practice Good Citizenship
As Christians we are good at pointing out the failures of godless leaders and worldly government policies, but our criticism is not what impresses others about us. If there was ever a government easy to criticize and find fault with, the Roman government was it — brutal, godless, immoral, self-serving. But listen to what Peter says about a Christian attitude towards the "system" in which he lived.
13Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.18Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. 21For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22"Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth"; 23who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. 25For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
- 1 Peter 2:13-25
Everything about the government, the social system of slavery, the burden that all of this created for the Christian was unfair! But what does Peter tell these people about their situation? Revel, revolt, criticize? No, he reminds them that regardless of the system under which they live, they are citizens of another place and another ruler whose leadership and example they follow. As citizens of the kingdom, their conduct, their contribution, their calling is governed by a heavenly ruler and their good conduct, sincere service, loyalty and devotion are a witness to the fact that they serve a much higher power than the earthly government that rules over their short time here.
Good Christians are good citizens who lead by example, service and involvement in the affairs of their nation, not just criticism and self-imposed isolation. Groups who stop paying taxes, hide out in the woods, and practice fake spirituality never impressed their fellow citizens about the power of God or the sincerity of their faith.
Strategy #3 — Love Your Own
3Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— 4rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. 7Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. 8Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; 9not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
- 1 Peter 3:1-9
Few of us ever get the chance to be famous, or get up to preach to great numbers, or write a best-selling book promoting our Christian ideas. Most of us lead ordinary lives out of the spotlight and the only people who notice us are our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and church family. Most of us have ordinary jobs and hobbies and so the thing that most people notice about us are the ordinary things in our lives like our families and how we treat them. Your neighbor may not know what you think about the Trinity or the second coming. Your friends and co-workers probably don't understand or care about the teachings in the Bible concerning the use of music in worship or how to choose elders.
But you know what?
- They know how you treat your wife/husband/kids/friends.
- They know about your kids and how you help or don't help your aging parents or sick sister-in-law.
In other words, the most frequent and dynamic advertising tool you have for your faith and this church is how you treat your family day in and day out. People are not impressed by your doctrine, they're impressed by how your doctrine affects your life in a situation they can relate to → family life. This is why the Bible makes how a man deals with his family the main criteria in judging his suitability for leadership in the church.
A happy, balanced, faithful family is the best way to promote the sincerity of effectiveness of your faith. This is why Mormons make this the key idea in their TV commercials. Their beliefs are strange and based on flimsy evidence so they appeal to the community by pointing to their strong family values and it works! For them, it may be a marketing approach, for us it has to be the actual way that we are.
Strategy #4 — Suffer Patiently
We don't have time to read this long passage, but Peter summarizes the thought in 1 Peter 3: 13-16.
13And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. "And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled." 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.
The early Christians were accused of all sorts of things in order to fuel the fire of their persecution. They were accused of sedition, public mischief and secrecy. Some said that they were cannibals (misunderstanding of the communion).
Peter tells them to continue doing good and living holy lives as their testimony of faithfulness so that their accusers would be ashamed of charging them with evil. Today we're accused of being legalistic or hypocritical or concerned more with our internal disagreements and ceremonies than the plight of the poor and the need to evangelize the lost. How do we answer such things? We do it by:
- Suffering patiently our own troubles and trials
- Demonstrating our zeal to share the gospel
- Being sensitive and open to sharing the love of God with those around us in need
Nothing has changed in 2000 years. Christians are still alienated, maligned, and misunderstood by most people. We need to remember that everyone in the world suffers, whether they have faith or not.
We generate the best P.R. when we demonstrate our attitude of faith and love and service despite the trials and sufferings we encounter. This is what inspires non-believers.
Strategy #5 — Be Faithful
1The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 5Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." 6Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 10But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. 11To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- 1 Peter 5:1-11
Note Peter's final exhortation is to the elders and then to the flock they shepherd. He tells the elders that if they are not faithful themselves in their leadership, they jeopardize the safety of the flock. You see:
- The flock belongs to the shepherds. They are responsible for it, no one else.
- Ministers, deacons, teachers help the elders, but in the end, they will be held accountable by God, no one else.
- If the sheep are weak and directionless, the first place to look is to the shepherds, if they are conducting themselves and serving as they should.
He then speaks to the congregation and says that they are faithful to Christ in the way they are in submission to their shepherds.
Shepherds need to be faithful in their leadership, and the flock needs to be faithful in following the lead of the shepherds. Faithfulness and humility is required by both groups because Satan devours the proud:
- Elders who crave power, control, prestige will be destroyed by their own pride and destroy the souls that God has given them charge over.
- Saints who are too proud to submit to the word, to the Spirit or to the leaders God has placed over them will wreck their faith and create division in the church.
No one is impacted by lukewarm Christians, and no one is inspired by leaders who are too proud or worried or tangled up in worldly pursuits to lead properly.
Brothers and sisters, disbelievers are not impressed with a faith that we are not willing to sacrifice ourselves for!
Every church, no matter how big or small has similar problems and challenges:
- Wanting to grow
- Making budget
- Dealing with discouragement, apathy, division
What's different about congregations is how they deal with these things.
- Some throw up their hands and quit and simply go through the motions on Sunday/Wednesday church.
- Others throw away the best parts of their heritage and try new doctrines, new religious styles in an effort to infuse some life into the body.
- And some, hopefully, go back to God's word and re-read carefully what the Spirit teaches and directs churches to do in times like these, for problems and challenges like these.
Peter tells this church that is tired, discouraged, afraid and disillusioned that they must take the spiritual "offensive" and lays out a plan that will keep them motivated and viable during a difficult period. And this same plan I offer to you brethren as an invitation for you to respond to this morning. Peter's plan, and my invitation are one and the same to all who are (really) listening to the message this day:
Invitation #1 Renew your commitment to holy living. No church program or project can replace the holy and pure lives of members witnessed by the world.
Invitation #2 Practice good citizenship. We're not of the world but while we're in it, we have to try to make it a better place to live.
Invitation #3 Make sure you're loving your family. Your spouse and family are the first witnesses called to prove if you are a true Christian or not.
Invitation #4 Learn to suffer Patiently. That you do not abandon your attitude of kindness and mercy and hope while you suffer, shows that Christ truly lives in you. Everybody suffers. Some do it more like Christ than others.
Invitation #5 Keep the faith. It's easy to slack-off, grumble or quit. God needs people who will hang in there no matter what, because these are the ones who have truly seen the light of heaven and can witness from this perspective.
This is our plan for success, for growth, for harmony, for glory, for churches everywhere. This is God's plan for revival for this or any congregation that desires to do the "greater" things Jesus promised His disciples in John 14:12. I hope this will be your strategy…
If you need to respond to God in some way this morning:
- To be buried in baptism
- To be renewed in prayers
- To be recommitted publicly
- To be in fellowship…
- Come now