Dare To Be Different
I Peter 2:9-16
I read to you from the first letter of Peter, the second chapter, beginning to read at the verse numbered nine. Please, hear the Word of Almighty God. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. That you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I beseech you then as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul, maintain good conduct among the Gentiles so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of His visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the Emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by Him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right, you shall put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil. Live as the servants of God.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh God, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
A way back in the year 54 A.D., the city of Rome caught fire. That fire burned for nine consecutive days and nights. And when at last it had been extinguished, ten of the fourteen regions of that city had been totally destroyed. The enraged populace, incited by the insane Emperor Nero, decided without any supporting evidence whatever to blame that disaster upon the Christians who lived in Rome. And that set off what was to become the most diabolical persecution the Christian Church has ever faced at any time in its long history.
It does not make for pleasant bedtime reading to review the things that happened to those Christians in Rome. Practically every conceivable human torture and torment was visited upon them. And yet, they stood firm. And as a result, ultimately, it was the Roman empire that fell.
Now, it was into the midst of that persecution, to those Christians in the city of Rome, that Peter wrote the words which I have just read for you from his first letter. First of all, Peter reminded those Christians in Rome who they were. He said to them, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. No matter how difficult things may get, never forget who you are.” And then he went on to say something else to those Christians in Rome.
He said to them, “No matter how fierce the opposition, live your life in such a way that those around you shall be put to shame. It is God’s will,” Peter said, “that by doing good in your life, you shall put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” In other words, Peter was saying that the most effective, the most winsome, the most convincing evidence for Christianity is nothing other than a lived Christian life. Peter was saying that Christians are indeed to live so splendidly in the midst of a society of which they are apart, then all else around them shall be stained and shamed by comparison. Peter was saying that Christians are called to dare to be different, to be different for the sake of the Savior. Peter’s words addressed to the Christians in Rome are words which need to be addressed to Christians in America today.
First, I want you to notice this: those Christians in Rome were persecuted because they dared to hold a different moral philosophy.
The Christians in Rome would not become a part of the orgiastic follies which were so much a part of the Roman society of that day. The Christians deliberately stood apart from all of that, and they were persecuted for it. Now we are aware – are we not? – that much of the moral philosophy in our own time has come from the teachings of a playboy named Hugh Hefner, and that the basic thrust of those teachings is simply this, that there are no absolute standards for right and wrong handed down to us by God. What is right and what is wrong is to be determined by public opinion, nothing from on high. And so what do we do? We take surveys. We take surveys to determine people’s sexual preferences and practices, and then we base our own actions on the results of those surveys. We say, “Everybody’s doing it.”
That’s formulating moral policy by taking a vote. The old saying 50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong, is absurd. Fifty million Frenchmen can be wrong. And the fact of the matter is that 100 million Americans can be dead wrong. So regardless of what the majority may say is right or wrong in the world of which we are a part, only the Word of God stands forever sure. And if you and I, as Christians in America today, take our stand upon the standards of God in our personal morality, in our family morality, in our business morality, or even in our national morality, then we are going to be labeled as different. And as a matter of fact, we may even have to suffer a bit for it just as those Christians in Rome suffered nineteen centuries ago because they dared to be different.
But then, secondly, notice, please, that the Christians in Rome were persecuted because they also dare to have a different religious philosophy.
They were slandered because of their beliefs and the practice of those beliefs. Let me give you some examples. Those Christians in Rome said that they partook of the body and the blood of Jesus Christ at the Lord’s table and, thus, they were accused by society of being cannibals. Those Christians in Rome were persistent in taking their children always with them to worship when they gathered for worship, and they were accused by society of conducting heathen rites. Those Christians in Rome always embraced one another as they departed from worship, and, thus, they were accused of perverted behavior. They were slandered, and out of the slander came the persecution.
I would suggest to you that the church is still being slandered. I am weary, for one, of hearing the record of the church misrepresented. It was a year or so ago that a fellow came to me complaining that the Church of Jesus Christ does not really care about the needs of the people in our world. As for example, he said, as for example, the Peace Corps does. Well, I had to tell him about the Prince of Peace Corps. I had to tell him that in the very year in which he made that comment, the Peace Corps of the United States had 1,000 workers on the African continent, only 4% of whom could speak the language of the people they profess to serve, and it costs our government $44 million to put them there. In that same year, the Christian churches of America had 2,000 workers in Africa, 97% of whom could speak the native tongue, and the churches did it for less than $10 million. Let the record speak for itself.
I am weary of hearing it said that it’s only the communists or the socialist or the humanists or the super liberals who care about meeting the needs of the people of this world. That’s rubbish. I’ve never yet seen the Che Guevara Memorial Hospital. I’ve never yet heard of the Leonid Brezhnev School for the Retarded. I’ve never yet seen the Gloria Steinem Clinic for Drug Rehabilitation. I have never yet encountered the Abbie Hoffman Food for the Hungry program. The fact of the matter is that those who claim to carry the banner of humanity cannot begin to compare with the church of the Lord Jesus Christ when it comes to discerning and meeting the needs of the people of this earth. And yet, we, as Christians in America today, are being slandered. But we must remember that our brothers and sisters nineteen centuries ago were slandered as well, and they continued to dare to be different.
But then, thirdly, those Christians in Rome were persecuted because they dared to hold a different political philosophy.
You see, the glue that held the whole Roman Empire together was emperor worship, that is to say all of the people were required to put Caesar first and pay worshipful homage to Caesar. Now, the Romans didn’t care if the Christians wanted to go on from that and worship their own god – that was fine – but Caesar had to come first. The Christians could never accept that, never. They had to put God first. They could and often did pray for Caesar, but they never ever prayed to Caesar. They put God first. And because that’s true, they were persecuted. And we see the same thing in our own time. There are those in the midst of our society who say, “This country, right or wrong.” That’s blasphemy. Only God is to be obeyed.
For the Christian in America today, there must be a deep and profound commitment to the nation of which we are a part. We must be willing to give our very lives for the sake of this land. That’s true. When this nation is threatened, as it has been in the past by armed tyranny from without, we must be willing to die in order to save it. And when this nation is threatened, as it is now, by moral decay from within, we must be willing to commit ourselves no matter the cost to make this nation pure and strong again. For the Christian in America today, never “this country right or wrong.” No, for the Christian in America today, the word is this: “God and country.” Yes. But always God first, always.
So Peter challenged the Christians in Rome to dare to be different. They responded to the challenge. And you know something? The world was changed.
Today at this table, we celebrate our blood-bought faith, our faith paid, bought by nothing other than the blood of Jesus Christ. And the words of Peter are apropos this day. The Christians in America dare to be different for the Savior’s sake. And if you and I commit ourselves to respond to that challenge, it may change this nation. More than that, it may just change the world.
Let us pray. Almighty and most gracious God, give us the courage as Christians in America to stand firm on the standards of Your Word and on our faith in Jesus Christ and on our love for this country, committed always to make this nation a nation under God. Amen.