I have done a daily devotional for my church for the last two years, encouraging them to read the Bible. I use the popular format of an OT reading, one from the NT, and a selection from Psalms and Proverbs each day. I work (at least) a day ahead and so I was working on tomorrow’s reading this morning. The NT reading is 1 Peter 3. Did you know that God gave Peter a vision of the future when social media would take over and a prophetic word for those of us who engage in it?
Of course, I’m kidding. People don’t change. I am a little skeptical (perhaps its my old codger reflex kicking in) when I hear about GenX, Millennials, Baby Boomers, etc.. ad infinitum, ad nauseum. People are people. Each generation doesn’t become a whole new genus. I understand that things are different today – the breakdown of the home and many social structures, the rise of media, other powerful influences have affected people. My wife is a preschool teacher – I hear the stories! But at the root, people are people. What was true about human beings in Peter’s day is true about us today.
My Social Media Struggle
In 1 Peter 3:8-22, He gave an instruction that hit me squarely between the eyes. I am glad social media didn’t happen in my younger days – I’d be one of those young whippersnappers who wakes up when they turn 35 and wishes he could erase all the stupid things he said in his youth. I’ve said plenty of them in my 50s, but if this outlet had been around in my hotheaded 20s I’d have to change my name and become a New Tribes missionary.
It is a struggle – that elusive unity thing. I’ve always wanted to be a force for unity in the SBC, but I’m also a hothead, emotional, passionate. Blogging has been “very, very good to me.” But it has also been a constant spiritual struggle. Many start blogging as firebrands and one of two things happens. Either then burn out and walk away in bitterness (that list is LONG!) or they cool down and become productive bloggers. When you look back at the Wild West days of Baptist blogging, some of the more irascible names of that time are now men of reason, leaders in the SBC, people who are making a positive contribution to the Southern Baptist family.
Every once in a while I go back and look at old posts and old comments steams and I both laugh and want to cry a little – at my own silliness. I remember a post I wrote in response to someone else and I look back on it now and I understand what he was trying to say and how I misunderstood him back then. We eventually worked through things and became friends and he’s out of the blogging game, but I see so many misunderstandings, harsh words, silly conflicts. But I also love blogging. I think it has had a positive effect on the SBC (don’t ask some of our leaders to admit that!) and it has certainly been a good test for my character and growth. It has also been a spiritual challenge, especially as I learned to deal with criticism.
I have always had trouble responding to criticism. Normally, I handle it pretty well when it is being given – God has often given me that grace to listen to people as they rail against my abundant inadequacies. It is afterwards that the trouble sets in. Sometimes it is anger; sometimes it is paralyzing sorrow or depression. I used to call them my “fetal position” days – when all I wanted to do was curl up on my bed in a ball and block out the world. I either wanted to strike back or withdraw completely. If you have been involved in blogging very long, you know what I’m talking about. None of us particularly likes to be criticized, bashed, persecuted, blamed, railed against, or in any other way spoken ill of, do we?
In 2003 I began an email blast called “WORD Processing” in which I sent out devotionals on a semi-regular (I think that is another word for sporadic) basis. God blessed it far beyond my expectations and a couple of my emails got picked up and sent around the world by other email blasts. I was amazed. I received thank you notes from people everywhere who read what I had written and were blessed by it. But I also received a couple of notes criticizing what I had said. “Take me off your list.” “That was not biblical.” I’m not sure what the ratio was, but the affirmation was much greater than the criticism. Guess what happened to me? You got it the first time. Fetal position! I let this blessing from God, this opportunity from heaven, die because I couldn’t handle a few words of criticism from some people I didn’t even know! I crumbled like an old cookie.
Then, blogging happened. I started posting some comments, started my own blog (read by at least a dozen people!), then got invited to join one of the more active blogs (sbcIMPACT) as a writer, and pretty soon I was involved here at SBC Voices. Along with that came…one guess…yep! Criticism. This time it was harsh and mean-spirited – much more so than I’d ever gotten from the email blast. By articulating the positions I’ve taken, I’ve incurred the wrath of one state executive who called me a “fraud,” many discernment blogs who didn’t like the fact that I have challenged the tone of SOME of the discernment blogs, and several others who feel my positions or criticisms have been unfair. Sometimes, the criticisms have probably been fair. Sometimes, I maintain they have not been.
What I have noticed is a distinct change in my heart through the years. It was a good change at first, but in recent months I’ve been wondering if I’ve gone too far. I began by growing a thicker skin. If you don’t have a thick skin, don’t blog (or even comment). If you can’t handle someone disagreeing with you, this isn’t for you. I don’t know if Bart will demand an apology and a retraction for this, but I consider him a very good friend. We are traveling to Senegal for the second time soon – I’m hoping to engage a UUPG that he put me in touch with after his church (and their absolutely amazing work with the Bayot people. Through the years, Bart and I have been on different sides of most of the blogging controversies. Baptist Identity – anyone remember that one? We’ve had some humdinger arguments. (He was always wrong, but he’s smarter than me, so he seems to win the arguments!) Learning to disagree, to be disagreed with, to be challenged – that is one of the blessings of blogging.
Even being criticized has been a blessing. I have several good friends in blogging who once I exchanged some pretty harsh blows with. And I’ve developed a much thicker skin about criticism. I no longer go into fetal position when someone writes an article calling me an idiot. I don’t like it. It often seems unfair. I’ve had outright lies published about me at pretty active blogs. It still hurts. Mostly, I’ve learned to ignore those things. I don’t read those blogs (though my “friends) are often good at linking me to them) and don’t respond to them. No point in it. But I’ve learned to live with the fact that people hate me, that they say terrible things about me, that they slander me. If you are going to blog and articulate a position, you can count on the fact that SOME who disagree with your position will go negative. That’s the nature of the game.
But recently I’ve been wondering whether I’ve allowed my heart to go too far in the other direction. I need a thicker skin, but I didn’t need a hard heart! There is a fine line, a narrow place in the middle of the road that we have to walk to avoid the ditches on either side. I cannot be fearful of the opinions of others, but neither ought I to put myself beyond critique. I should neither be weak or hard. I must find that sweet spot that Peter described in this passage. He was constantly accused falsely, beaten, imprisoned, and suffered extensively for loving Jesus and serving him. In 1 Peter 3:8-22, he gives a powerful and humanly impossible attitude toward suffering, criticism, and hostility from others.
Please understand – this is supernatural. It is the character of Christ infused into us. It is interesting that even in the Christian world, in the blogging world, many will disdain these attitudes as weak, as namby pamby. But the words of Peter match the words of Paul – and reflect the character of Christ. This is Spirit-filled living, enabling the character of the indwelling Christ to be seen in us. It is something only Christ can do, but it is not optional equipment. It is the command of God for us.
Peter’s Philosophy toward Criticism and Suffering
1. He establishes the basis for all of this, the work of Christ on the cross, where he suffered unjustly and redemptively. This is the conclusion of the passage, but is the foundation of everything written here. Look at verse 18.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
We use that verse in evangelistic situations (as well we should), but Peter was establishing here that our sufferings are a reflection of the work of Christ. As Christ suffered for our sins to bring the unrighteous to God, we should be willing to suffer in the name of Christ to accomplish the work of Christ in this world. As Jesus said repeatedly in his teachings, it is only our suffering “for righteousness sake” that is blessed. I cannot suffer for being a jerk and expect to be rewarded by God!
But for the glory of God and for the work of Christ, I ought to be willing to suffer injustice, false accusation, slander, and anything else that is thrown at me. If I suffer because I am insufferable, there is no reward, but if I suffer because I speak the word of Christ and others don’t like it, because I uphold truth when others want to promote compromise, then the blessing of God attaches to that suffering and I must be willing to endure it – without answering back, without justifying myself, or attacking the other person.
Please understand – I’m bad at this and so are you. This is Jesus stuff and only by walking in the fullness of the Spirit will Jesus stuff become you stuff.
2. His core command is in verses 8-9. While the entire passage is worth meditating on, absorbing, ruminating on deeply, the heart and soul of it is verses 8 and 9.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
Here’s the simple and unfortunate fact – these character qualities that Peter admonishes us to pursue are disdained by many in the church as signs of spiritual compromise and weakness. What does it say about us when we disdain Christlikeness? But that is not the issue, is it? The real issue is what does it say about me when I ignore these things and go on about my ministry?
- Unity, sympathy and brotherly love are real biblical values.
Of course, unity is based around Christ, but we must not use that as a dodge. There is no need to admonish us to unite with those who agree with us about everything. The command to unity is that we would seek to build unity with those with whom we disagree (as long as the disagreement is not on fundamental issues – the gospel, the nature of God, Christ, the Bible, etc – see my book Brick Walls, Picket Fences – shameless self-promotion). It is Baptist Calvinists and those of other soteriological positions coming together around the work of Christ and the gospel. It is people with differences valuing unity more than our camps, more than victory. It is a commitment to kindness and respect to the others – affirming their brotherhood even as we disagree with their positions.
This is not unity without standards – doctrinal or personal. But this is recognizing that in the Bible, unity is one of the highest standards God sets, and in the Body of Christ it is far more important than many of the things we cherish and divide over!
- Tender heartedness and humility are commands of God.
Christians are to be servants – viewing the needs of others as even more important than our own (Philippians 2). We are to see ourselves as the paupers among the royalty, not striving for supremacy but seeking to elevate others instead. This quality is lost when the blog wars heat up, isn’t it?
But the word that intrigues me is “tender hearted.” That is what I’ve lost. Through years of battles, scar tissue develops and the tenderheartedness goes away. There are people in the SBC and in the blogging world whom I see as enemies of the work of God in our denomination. I do not come to that designation easily and it must never be because of how they have treated me. But I’ve seen people do some evil things without repentance and we must be willing to stand against evil men (or women – equal time, ladies) who do evil things among us. But we must not lose our tender hearts in doing it.
That is a balance I struggle with. I can articulate it – force people to MAKE you designate them as enemies of the work of God. Don’t consign people to the “bad guy” list just because they question you, disagree with you, or even challenge you. If I do that, I am committing an act close to blasphemy – putting myself in the place of Christ. But when someone hurts the Body, hurts Christ’s people, sins egregiously and unrepentantly, organizes others to sin – there is a time and place to see that person for what he or she is. But somehow, we have to do that without losing our tender spirits.
It is a balance I struggle with. When I began, I was too tender. I think I’ve lost that. I’m trying to become tender again without losing doctrinal or behavioral standards – we must never tolerate sin or aberrant doctrine that undermines the gospel. It’s a tightrope walk that I’ve not quite mastered. Maybe you have some help for me?
- Don’t repay evil for evil – the best strategy.
This! If I’ve learned one thing in my decade, it’s that generally, the best thing to do is not to answer an attack. If someone has a question, answer them. If someone disagrees with you, answer (if you can, if you have time). But when the twitter terrorists start in, when someone “calls you out”, the best thing to do is either a) nothing or b) a private response (without anger – that’s hard for me too). If you’ve been around, you’ve witnessed a spectacle of mudslinging between two sides concerning a very controversial public figure (who shall remain nameless). Each side hurled epithets at the other. Each side challenged the other’s sanity, reason, and eventually Christianity. Each side anathematized the other. And, in my humble but correct opinion, the church of Jesus Christ did not profit an iota from the conflict. No minds were changed, no spirits were edified, but a lot of people were dragged down.
Sometimes, if you let things cool down, then talk to the person, you can work things out. Sometimes you can’t. That’s why Romans 12 says, “as much as is in you, live at peace…” The old adage says, “Never ‘rassle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” Godly people hate to fight and only do it when they have to, for the honor of the Savior. Fleshly people love the conflict and would rather fight than unify. Our job is to repay good for evil, to refuse vengeance, to love our enemies.
If we claim we are defending the Bible, we’d better live it out! No sense defending inerrancy or biblical doctrine if we are going to simply ignore the teachings of the word – love, servanthood, unity, love your enemies, forgive one another, bear with one another. If we consign those to weakness and doctrinal compromise, or if we redefine those as only applicable to those who agree with us about everything, then we have done as much damage to the word as any liberal ever could!
3. The goal in all of this is verse 16. Peter tells us to live lives of such holiness and love that when people do slander us, they are the ones who are shamed for their slander. You and I need to be such men (and women) of God that when people write or say negative things about us there is no need to defend ourselves. Look at verse 16.
…having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Wouldn’t that be amazing? To walk in holiness and love in such a way that when someone tries to skewer me, he is put to shame by his own accusations! That is the goal. And even if I do suffer because of such slander, verse 17 tells us that it is good to suffer for doing good.
There is much more in this passage than I can speak to right now. This has already become much longer than I intended, but as long, perhaps, as you expected. In my decade of blogging, I have failed these standards regularly. In the future, I will likely fail them again. But they are a biblical goal, a biblical standard that must not be discounted. May this be in my life and in yours, our noble and godly goal.