In order to evangelize in the world, we must get along with the world.
We Need to Get Along
Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:8, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted, and humble in spirit, not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead, for you are called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”
This is our access point. This is our point of contact with the world.
Our Christian virtue, which is hard-fought internally and then manifested externally, grants us favor in the world. We ought to seek to find favor in the world, because favor in the world is our opportunity to witness to the world.
In Genesis 39:4, Joseph found favor in Potiphar’s sight and became his personal servant. In Genesis 39:21, the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. In Genesis 41:38, Pharaoh bestowed his favor upon Joseph by making him second in command in all Egypt, even giving him a signet ring and a chariot.
Notice where Joseph found favor.
He found it in Egypt—the most godless nation of the day. Joseph befriended the Egyptians. He got along with them so well that they preferred him—they favored him over their own. Why? How? Because in essence, Joseph practiced the principle of 1 Peter 3:8. He was harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, humble in spirit, never returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.
That is how we are to interact with the world.
We forget this truth. The world is not the enemy. The world is the mission field.
The enemy is our sinful nature that we internally battle, but the secular world—we love them. We are sympathetic toward them. Why? Because they are lost and hopeless. We are kindhearted to them. We are humble before them. When they insult us, we return that insult with kindness. We repay their evil with kindness, love, and blessings.
Does it sound odd to say that we are to have harmonious relationships with the world? It shouldn’t, because Paul wrote in Romans 12:17, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men,” and then he goes on, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
As the world becomes increasingly secularized, as it becomes more aggressive and hateful toward us, as far as it is possible from our end, we are to be at peace with all men.
Too often, we are Pharisees. Too often, we speak of the world in belittling, condescending, judgmental tones. I understand that the world does horrendous, horrific, and sinful things.
But that is what sinners do: sinners sin.
We are to build relationships—good relationships, peaceful relationships, harmonious relationships—with unbelievers, because that is where we find the most fruitful opportunities to proclaim the gospel. Was Christ not called a friend of sinners?
Good, harmonious, friendly relations with the world give us access into the world.
Pastor MacArthur once said that the greatest problem with evangelicals is that we hate the mission field. I will tell you that my greatest moments of evangelism at work have come from my friendships at work: men with whom I carpool, men whom I eat with at lunch, men whose families have been at my dinner table with my wife and my children. These are the men with whom I have been able to evangelize, pray, and share the gospel.
We fight this secular world by befriending the people of this world.
WE NEED TO SUFFER
Next, as believers who live in a secular society, we need to ensure that we are suffering for all the wrong reasons.
Peter writes, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?” (1 Pet 3:13). He writes this immediately after telling his readers to be harmonious with all men in 3:8. Even in a godless secular society, people generally reward good behavior and punish bad behavior.
Peter writes, “For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God” (1 Pet. 2:19–20).
When we suffer unjustly, we find favor with God.
We need to ensure that when we are suffering, we are suffering for all the wrong reasons. In other words, we’re not suffering because we have done wrong. We’re not suffering because we worked negligently. We’re not suffering because we were irreverent or insubordinate to the authorities over us.
Suffering in those situations is suffering for the right reasons. When we do wrong, we should suffer. But if we suffer as Christians, let it be that we suffer because of our faith. Despite the fact that we were harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, humble, excellent in all of our behavior, and that we repaid evil with good – if we suffer even then because of our faith, then we suffer unjustly. If we suffer, may it never be for sinful behavior. May it always be for our faith.
Sometimes as believers, we can have a martyr’s complex. We are treated harshly at work, we are not liked; we are ostracized, slandered, reviled. But the truth is, sometimes we can earn that type of response because of condescending and unpleasant attitudes, or even unreliable performance at work. Yet it is that very man who claims to be persecuted for his faith. To men like this I say, “You are not being persecuted because of your faith. You are being persecuted because of you. You are being persecuted because of who you are and how you are behaving.”
As we live in a secular world, the reality is this: we can still get along for the most part with unbelievers. We can and should have harmonious relationships with them, because even in an unbelieving world, who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for that which is right?
If we suffer, let it be for our faith and not because of our behavior.
WE NEED TO SHARE
Finally, how do we proclaim the gospel to a highly secularized society?
We proclaim the gospel clearly, fully, and unapologetically.
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear their intimidation and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is within you, yet with gentleness and reverence. (1 Pet 3:13)
We fight for internal holiness, and that internal holiness manifests itself in external excellence. We surrender to the secular authorities over us, and we strive to live in harmony with the unbelieving world around us. We live in such a way that we are so excellent that we avoid punishment for bad behavior. But even then, there may come a day when we suffer and are persecuted for what we believe.
As we face that persecution, as we face that suffering with a steadfast spirit, with hope that transcends the circumstance and situation, there will be those who come to us and say, “How can you have so much hope when your boss has treated you so unjustly? You are the best employee, and they fired you for what you believe. How can you be so loving to people when they slander you? How can you have such hope and joy?”
In those moments, we stand ready to share the reason for the hope that lies within us. The hope that lies within us is that, despite the fact that we are sinful, a loving and holy God has forgiven us our sin, and by the grace of God, He has given us the righteousness of God that we may stand before Him, holy and pure.
That is how we do war with a world that is hostile against us.