(13) Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right?
Christians should be “zealots for the good.” Can you do something good for someone? Can you help them? Can you change something bad and make it good? Then do it. And do it with zeal!
Will you be harmed? Not ultimately. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 6:31) “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6) “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Do not fear those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do…Why even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4, 6-7).
(14a) But even if you do suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed.
Yes, there will be opposition, even if you are zealous for what is good and righteous. But never forget the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
(14b-15a) Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.
You pay homage to what you fear. So cowering in fear before men is the opposite of bowing in reverence before the Lord of glory.
(15b) Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
Why would they ask about hope? Because the craving for happiness in the human heart is so strong that the only explanation for our willingness to suffer for righteousness’ sake must be some hope on the other side. That’s exactly what Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). Hope sustains zeal for the good under persecution. People know that intuitively.
(16) And keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
There is a lag time between a good deed and the recognition of the deed as good by our opponents. First they “revile” our deed. Then some time later they are “put to shame.” How much later? Perhaps not until the judgment will some see things as they really are. But for some perhaps sooner.
“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 visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). So for a while they slander us as wrongdoers. But then later they glorify God for the very good deeds they once reviled.
What makes the difference? A clear conscience and a gentle and reverent answer.
Do you have zeal for any cause? For what good are you being evil spoken of? Or is your routine so harmless in this evil world that it fits nicely with the way things are going?
Praying for more zeal for the good,