Listen To Article
Over the past year I’ve had the privilege of being a guest co-host on the radio show “Groundwork,” a show co-produced by the Christian Reformed Church’s Back to God Ministries and the Reformed Church of America’s affiliated radio ministry Words of Hope (you can hear the current show here). The current show was recorded back in July but by the time it aired late last week, it became for me another one of those semi-eerie examples of how the Holy Spirit often choreographs things far beyond our ability to comprehend. Because as it turns out, this particular show ties in pretty well with the events swirling around that movie trailer about the prophet Mohammed and all the mayhem and also death it has unleashed worldwide.
The theme of our current series of six episodes is suffering as Peter details it in his first epistle. But at one point in the current episode we linger a bit over 1 Peter 4:15 where Peter tells his readers that if they suffer, they had better be sure it is only because they profess Jesus as Lord and not because they are behaving in such terrible ways as to actually deserve to get pushed around. Peter says, “If you suffer, it should not be be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.”
The last four words are the kicker.
Like his colleague the Apostle Paul, Peter was pretty good at mixing in the mundane with the spectacular. Paul, for instance, saw no reason to put traits like gossiping and envy into separate categories of sins that were not too bad after all. Instead Paul would slip those right in alongside attending orgies and getting stinking drunk. Here, Peter does the same thing. As you read that verse, it would be easy to think to yourself, “Well of course I am no murderer or criminal!” But well before you can get yourself off the hook, he throws in the idea that you ought not be a meddler either.
Turns out the word Peter used there is a rare one. It occurs only here in the New Testament and does not have a lot of attestation outside the Bible, either. Among the handful of conjectures the linguists have made over the centuries include both “busybody” and “revolutionist.” But it looks like its best meaning is probably along the lines of meddling in affairs that have nothing to do with you and, just so, infringing the rights of others in ways you simply have no business doing.
The origins of the movie in question–if it even exists beyond the 14-minute trailer that has caused all the fuss–are murky but it does appear to have funding from some Christian groups and has for sure been endorsed by that master of Christian meddlers, Terry Jones of Florida. And look at what it has done and the way it has once again associated Christianity with something tawdry, sad, mean-spirited, and finally destructively fatal. I for one now understand perhaps better than ever before how being a meddler could be associated in Peter’s inspired imagination with being a murderer.
Peter knew that Christians are here for one reason only and that is to witness to the Good News that just is the Gospel of Christ Jesus the Lord. That alone–even when done purely and lovingly–can lead a person to suffer and can cause conflict in this world. True enough. It was that reality in the first century already that led Peter to pen his first epistle and its overarching theme on understanding suffering in the Christian life. But we do not witness to Jesus or to his Gospel by tearing apart other people, by meddling in their religious affairs, or by focusing our efforts and spending our money on attacking those with whom we disagree.
It is striking to me that Peter wrote to believers who lived in a world that was officially hostile to the Christian faith. The claim that Jesus was Lord and God was an affront to the Caesar of Rome who had long been hailed as Lord and God of the Empire. At least some of the people to whom Peter was writing were suffering because of official government policy and because people of other religious faiths had no use for the Christian faith. Yet nowhere in 1 Peter–or anywhere in the New Testament generally for that matter, including in a letter Paul once wrote to people living in the very heart of Babylon itself, the Letter to the Romans–do you find calls to be critical of other people, of their faith, of their practices. Instead throughout 1 Peter we read words about showing gentleness and respect even in the face of hostile opposition, of being ready to give reasonable and loving responses to questions people might ask along with calls by Peter for people to lead lives that were just generally so peaceable as to make it nearly impossible for opponents to come up with anything bad to say about the Christians whom they did not like.
Meddlers don’t understand all that. They have lost the focus of the faith and, along with that, the meaning of the Gospel as representing “Good News” for a world that could use good news at any given moment.
Murderers, thieves, criminals, meddlers: all the same thing in Peter’s book. Smart guy.