Peter is a straight-shooting challenger. He exhorts and prods his readers to mature in the faith and become different people- different both from their neighbors and from their former selves.
Notice that the Christians in these early days of the church did not live in a world like ours. In Peter’s day, Christians did not comprise the majority culture. They were not the darlings of their community. Instead, they sometimes found themselves under harsh persecution for their beliefs. They were outcasts who risked their lives to follow Jesus’ way. So, how does Peter encourage them to fight back? What was the defense strategy? How would they stand their ground?
They were to let their lifestyles do the talking. They were to be exceedingly good. In verses 8 and 9 of today’s reading, Peter writes, “be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing…”
Goodness would be their reputation. Not a routine, safe, run-of-the-mill kind of goodness, but kindness that refuses to strike back even when provoked. A sweetness of spirit that stands up in the midst of conflict and actively seeks a lasting peace. A rare humility that could never be born from a desire to get ahead of the pack. More difficult yet, they were to have a depth of love that would willingly suffer for the sake of blessing others- even those who would seek to do them harm.
Doing good…vigorously pursuing the kind of goodness that flows from God’s work on the interior of our lives. Pursuing a lifestyle patterned after the perfect love of the one who loved to the bitter end and suffered for doing the right thing.
Peter’s readers were faced with a world that was often at odds with this strange band of Christ-followers. The way forward was to let their lives speak loudly. When they did so, people weren’t turned off. Instead, they became curious and open to the message. So much so, that Peter followed up in verse 16 with an instruction to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” When we follow the simple rule of doing good, people will want to know why.
Love, charity, grace, respect and kindness. Peter’s words challenge me to pursue goodness today. Let’s make the world curious by being good together.
Dan Entwistle serves as Managing Executive Director for Programs and Ministries at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.