1 Peter 4:3-5 – 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
What should the church expect from the world? If you listen to some who promote many a modern church growth strategy, you will hear an expectation that the modern church can win the culture through our kindness. There appears to be a belief that the church, if she will only contribute to her community, will be beloved and treasured by civic leadership. The church that cleans up the city park, takes gift baskets to local teachers, and serves meals to families when tragedy strikes will be seen by the city as an indispensable part of the community. And, in fact, the church may be able to gain a better standing in the community and a greater hearing for the gospel for a time. Besides, doing good to all people is a right act of those who follow Jesus.
However, it is not true that the church will be able to stand strong and be beloved by the community perpetually. The word of God is clear that, as we stand on the word of God, as we follow the commands of our Lord, as we speak what the Savior commands and refuse to follow the ways of the world, we will face hardship. See what Peter wrote above. As Believers, we cannot join the lost world in certain acts that are immoral according to the word of God. But what will the world think of us when we refuse to join them? Will the world shrug it off and adopt a live and let live strategy? Nope. That has never been the way of the world.
When we refuse to join the world in affirming or participating in immorality, the world will have two reactions according to Peter. First, they will be surprised. When the world sees someone opposing what the world assumes that everybody knows or everybody does, there is a shock. How could we not go where they go? How could we not do what they do? How can we not join them in affirming and even celebrating their actions? Even worse, how can we call it immoral? You see, as the world embraces sin, the world embraces a mindset that declares that everybody knows that what the world is doing is right. There is a cultural mindset that is adopted that says that every right-thinking person embraces this lifestyle or that agenda.
Second, surprise will move to censure. Peter says that they will malign you. When the world sees the church refuse to embrace something the world loves, eventually the world will move against the church. The world will move from a false tolerance to surprise to ridicule to persecution. The world hated Jesus. Jesus says that the world will hate those who follow him too.
The church needs to gain an understanding that no amount of social improvement strategies will ever win the church the approval of the world. The church may engage in ten positive, community-impacting strategies that are all for the good. But the moment that the church stands against one of the world’s sacred cows, the world will respond first with shock and then with maligning. Again, this is not to say that the church should not do good in the community. Doing good honors Jesus. But we should not expect that our doing of good will persuade society to embrace a church that will not go with society into sin.
Is our mission hopeless? No, not at all. God will grow his church. Christ will see his glory spread all over the globe. All God intends to save will be saved. The church’s mission includes making disciples of all nations. Christ will not fail in his mission. He has never failed once in a single thing that he ever set out to do in the past, and this will not change in the future.
Peter also reminds us in verse 5 that the Lord will judge sin and reign supreme. Peter writes, “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” God will judge. God will do justice. We need not fear. Yes, we may suffer in this life. We may be ridiculed, maligned, and persecuted. And we will also see the church grow and the gospel spread all over the globe. We need not lose heart. The Lord will win his people. The Lord will judge those who oppose him and reject the gospel. Let us be faithful to obey the commands of God without giving in to the temptation to compromise for the world’s approval.