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How To Stand Out In A Crowd, 1 Peter 4:1-6

How To Stand Out In A Crowd

1 Peter 4:1-6


Asian Access (or A2), is Christian missions agency in South Asia, and they listed a series of questions that some church planters in Asia have been asking new believers who are considering baptism. Due to safety concerns, Asian Access does not mention the country’s name. This particular country is predominantly Hindu, but over the past few decades Christianity has grown in popularity – especially among poor and tribal peoples. The following seven questions serve as a reality check for what new followers of Jesus might experience if they decide to “go public” with their decision to follow Christ:


Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?


Are you willing to lose your job?


Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?


Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?


Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?


Are you willing to go to prison?


Are you willing to die for Jesus?[i]


Why ask those questions? Because following Jesus will make you stand out in a crowd, and in many places in the world, that isn’t safe. The consequences we face in our country for following Jesus are far less severe. Mostly its rolled eyes and  ridicule. But the truth of the matter is, following Jesus WILL make you stand out in a crowd, and here in America those of us who follow Jesus often don’t stand out very much.


We excuse it by saying that America is, was, or is supposed to be a Christian nation, so we shouldn’t HAVE to stand out. The problem with saying that is there’s no such thing as a Christian nation, because nations can’t follow Jesus. Only people can follow Jesus. Even a nation based largely on the principles of faith in God and Scripture will eventually fall short, because a nation is governed by people. And even if those people are legitimately trying to follow Jesus, they can, will, and do fall short. And it doesn’t take even the most sincere followers of Christ long to turn their backs on Christ if they aren’t careful.


It didn’t take the people of Israel long to go from miraculously crossing the Red Sea, on dry ground no less, because God sent a wind not only to drive back the waters but to dry the river bed – their shoes didn’t even get wet – and then have food and water miraculously provided in the desert, to forming a golden calf and worshipping it while Moses was receiving the Law of God on Mt. Sinai. And the calf was formed BY their high priest before God, Aaron, Moses’ brother, who had spoken for Moses before Pharoah, who had seen the miraculous signs God had done in Egypt.


And we are no different today. The human heart is fickle. We tend not to stand out in a crowd because we don’t WANT to stand out in a crowd. We want to blend in. We want to be liked. We don’t want to stand out, so we try to FORCE others to be like us. Here’s the thing, I don’t care who the president is, or how godly a nation is or isn’t, following Jesus, really following Jesus, WILL make you stand out in a crowd. Any crowd. Your crowd. Your conservative crowd or your liberal crowd or your young modern crowd or your seasoned traditional crowd. Your white collar crowd or your blue collar crowd. Turn with me to 1 Peter 4:1-6.


Peter lays out before the reality of living as citizens of the Kingdom of God in this fallen, broken world. And he begins by reminding us that as followers of Christ, sin is no longer our master. Look at Vv. 1-2. This doesn’t mean that we no longer fall into sin or are influenced by sin. It means that now, we have a choice. We can choose, in the power of the Holy Spirit, not to fall into sin in any given situation. We can now choose to obey the will of God. Sin still has an influence, but it is no longer our master. In Romans 6:6-7 St. Paul says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” We are no longer slaves to sin. Sin’s desires no longer overwhelm us. When we place our faith in Christ, we close the door on godless living and open the door to following God’s will, the door to following Jesus.


And that victory over sin was won through the suffering of Christ. He suffered, once and for all. He dealt with sin and will not have to deal with it again. When, from the cross, he yelled out “It is finished,” he was proclaiming his victory over sin and sin’s death. Christ hasn’t returned to establish his rule, so sin hasn’t been abolished, but it is a defeated foe. It can still influence us, but sin is no longer our master.


And when we enter into that reality, placing our faith in Christ, we leave our former life behind and begin a new life. Now, we don’t recognize it today, but our former life was marked by idolatry, worshipping things other than God, and that led us into all kinds of bad living. Look at V. 3. He mentions 6 marks of life in the flesh. Three involve sexuality, two involve drunkenness, and the sixth is the source of it all. Peter is talking about idolatrous celebrations – celebrations of false gods, either civic holidays or regular meetings of the trade guilds, both of which were marked by sexuality and excess. Vice has always been the result of idolatry. But today, we don’t recognize idolatry as idolatry. And that’s because we don’t recognize our idols. An idol is anything that is more significant in our lives than God. Financial security, wealth and materialism, comfort and excess, the unrelenting pursuit of pleasure are all idols in our culture. So is the worship of self as the most important thing – living MY truth, pursuing MY happiness, seeing only MY perspective, living MY life on MY terms. Even country and flag can become an idol, if they’re more important to us than the cross. And where there is idolatry, there is vice.


Now, look down at V. 4. Peter pictures human cultures not just as falling into these things, but as pursuing them. The word for “join” is actually the word for running after, chasing after something or someone. We don’t just fall into idolatry and everything that goes with it. With our hearts, our minds, and our wills we pursue it. We look for it, seek it out. And idolatry isn’t just a trickle or a stream, it is a flood.


One of the best ways to learn where your idolatry lies is to engage in fasting and other spiritual disciplines. The spiritual disciplines … are so easy that any adult human being can do them. There are no particular skills required to be alone, to be silent, or to abstain from food. Yet on the other hand, they are so difficult, and so perfectly calibrated to reveal the true condition of our hearts, that no one can “succeed” at them. Indeed, the secret of the classical spiritual disciplines, and all disciplines that tame power, is how reliably they lay waste to whatever sense we may have of ourselves as competent agents in the world.


Author Andy Crouch says, “Take fasting and food, where I can offer a personal testimony to the humbling effect of the disciplines. My annual fasts during the seasons of Advent and Lent are darkly comical reminders of how completely undisciplined I truly am in my relationship with food. No matter how minimal the fast I set out to practice – one Lent it simply was leaving milk out of my tea – I find that I am almost never able to keep it to the end. Among the most pitiful moments of my life was that day, about two weeks into Lent, when I desperately and furtively opened the refrigerator, fully aware that I was breaking the most minimal fast conceivable but feeling completely unable to go on without milk in my tea. It was the sweetest, and the bitterest, cup of tea I have ever had.


When we practice the spiritual disciplines, we discover how deep runs our commitment to our own autonomy and comfort, and how addicted we are to the approval of others, the sound of our own voice, and the satisfaction of our appetites.”[ii] Idolatry and everything that goes with it.


But when Christ replaces sin as our master, we begin to go against the flow, and our lives begin to stand out. We are no longer worshipping the same idols as everyone else, so our behavior and lifestyle changes, and we begin to stand out in the crowd. People notice. If they DON’T notice, there’s something wrong with the way you’re following Jesus. Look again at V. 4.


“They malign you.” Why? Because they don’t understand why you’re living differently than they are now. In the case of the people Peter was writing to, it was rumors and slander. Christ’s followers were viewed as hating humanity and being politically disloyal and abnormal because they refused to worship Caesar at the guild meetings and civic holidays. In fact, they often didn’t participate in these things at all, which cost them customers and referrals and things like that. Their businesses suffered. They were also accused of cannibalism, because of the words used during the Sacrament of Holy Communion about eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood. When we begin to stand out in the crowd, people notice, and they often resist it. You see, we are wired to be a part of the crowd and go with the flow.


Martin Lindstrom, a former market research expert and author of Brandwashed, argues that advertisers know something that human beings have in common with birds and termites. Without even thinking about it, we’re often controlled by peer pressure. For instance, Lindstrom notes how many bird species “rise from a field in complete synchrony, as though doing a choreographed dance.” Scientists will say that the birds are “acting as if they shared one collective brain.” Termites also act like one enormous termite brain. “In other words,” Lindstrom writes, “only by observing and mimicking the behavior of its neighbors can a termite figure out what it should be doing.”


Lindstrom observes that as consumers human beings act in much the same way. He writes:


Just like those birds and termites, we, too, are wired with a collective consciousness in that we size up what those around us are doing and modify our actions and behaviors accordingly. In a 2008 experiment conducted by researchers at Leeds University, groups of people were instructed to walk aimlessly around a large hall, without conversing with one another. But first the researchers gave just a few of the people detailed instructions on where, precisely, they should walk. When [the researchers] observed the resulting behavior, they found that no matter how large or small the group, everyone in it blindly followed that handful of people who appeared to have some idea where they were going.


As [one of the researchers] put it, “The research suggests that humans flock like sheep and birds, subconsciously following a minority of individuals,” and that it takes a mere 5 percent of “informed individuals” to influence the direction of a crowd of up to two hundred people. The other 95 percent trail along without even being aware of it ….


There is ample research to show that we instinctively look to the behaviors of others to inform the decisions we make—everything from which way we should walk, to what music we should listen to, to which kind of car we should drive. It seems, in short, that we instinctively believe that others know more about what we want than we ourselves do.


Psychologists have a name for this phenomenon. It’s called peer pressure …. [And] this implicit peer pressure is a far more insidious kind, and companies and marketers are taking advantage of its persuasive powers in ways you couldn’t even imagine.[iii] We are WIRED to blend in. We are CALLED to stand out. And those who stand out often find themselves on the outside of the crowd, and that can feel to us like suffering. Not the kinds of suffering followers of Christ find in other parts of the world, though.


Now look at Vv. 5-6. The coming judgment of God, a source of pain and angst for many, is a source of hope for those who follow Christ, because it is then that our lives will be vindicated. It is then that others will see, to their own dismay, that we were right in following Christ, even when it caused us to go against the flow of our culture. Even when it caused us trouble and pain. Even when it left us feeling like we were on the outside looking in. Even when we chose not to drive as nice a car as our neighbors because we were giving money to help those suffering in Ukraine, or to help at risk kids, or to missionaries sharing the love of Christ in the dangerous places of the world. And we used our time differently, coaching little league baseball teams for kids whose dads sat on the sidelines and criticized them, and feeding the hungry, and housing the homeless. Because we volunteered in elementary schools mentoring at risk kids and gave of our time to support single moms. Those who follow Christ aren’t the ones who will have to answer to God. It is the others who will have to do that.


You see, it is normal to suffer when we follow Christ, because Christ suffered. That’s why Peter tells us in V. 1 to “arm yourselves (in other words, prepare for a battle) with the same way of thinking” that Christ had. He suffered. We will suffer. And suffering isn’t a sign of God removing his blessing on our lives. It’s a sign OF God’s blessing. We don’t view suffering the way the world does, because we view things through God’s lens.


Foxe’s Book of Martyrs tells the story of Christ followers throughout the centuries who knew exactly what Peter was talking about here. One famous account is the second century martyrdom of Polycarp. He was pastor of the church in Smyrna, recipient of one of the letters sent by God, through St. John, in the opening chapters of the Book of Revelation. Polycarp had known and learned from the apostle John himself, and he faced the fury of the Roman proconsul of Smyrna with the hope Peter encourages us to have. Of Polycarp’s martyrdom, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs writes,


“Therefore, when he was brought before him, the proconsul asked if he were Polycarp. And when he confessed that he was, the proconsul tried to persuade him to recant, saying, “Have respect for your age,” and other such things as they are accustomed to say: “Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent; say, ‘Away with the atheists!” (which is how Christians were viewed because they refused to worship the Roman and Greek gods). So Polycarp looked at the whole crowd of lawless heathen who were in the stadium, motioned toward them with his hand, and then (groaning as he looked up to heaven) said, “Away with the atheists!” But when the magistrate persisted and said, “Swear the oath, and I will release you; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”


But as he continued to insist, saying, “Swear by the genius of Caesar,” he answered, “If you vainly suppose that I will swear by the genius of Caesar, as you request, and pretend not to know who I am, listen carefully: I am a Christian …”


So the proconsul said: “I have wild beasts; I will throw you to them, unless you change your mind.” But he said, “Call for them! For the repentance from better to worse is a change impossible for us; but it is a noble thing to change from that which is evil to righteousness.” Then he said to him again, “I will have you consumed by fire, since you despise the wild beasts, unless you change your mind.” But Polycarp said, “You threaten with a fire that burns only briefly and after just a little while is extinguished, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Come, do what you wish.”


As he spoke these and many other words, he was inspired with courage and joy, and his face was filled with grace, so that not only did he not collapse in fright at the things which were said to him, but on the contrary the proconsul was astonished, and sent his own herald into the midst of the stadium to proclaim three times: “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.”[iv]


Let me take you back to the question church planters ask those who want to follow Jesus in one Asian country:


Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?


Are you willing to lose your job?


Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?


Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?


Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?


Are you willing to go to prison?


Are you willing to die for Jesus?


How do you answer, Christian? Let us pray.

[i] This illustration was revised on 9-19-13. South Asian nation struggles to shape itself, Mission Network News (1-17-12)

[ii] Andy Crouch, Playing God (Inter-Varsity Press, 2013), page 239

[iii] Martin Lindstrom, Brandwashed (Crown Business, 2011), p. 104-108

[iv] Charles Swindoll, “Swindoll’s New Testament Insights: James, 1 & 2 Peter).