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Suffering for doing good (1 Peter 3:13-4:6)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1.The Count of Monte Cristo

Over my weeklong break, while I was working in the yard, building a shed, I listened to the audio version of the Count of Monte Christo. It’s a long book, the audio version went for something like 56 hours. I hadn’t read the story before and although long and sometimes over wordy and fanciful in its descriptions I enjoyed listening to it while I was doing other things in the yard.

It is the story of young man, Edmond Dentes who had his whole life before him when misfortune struck. He was just about to become the captain of a merchant ship and he was an hour away from marrying the love of his life, Mercedes when he is falsely accused of conspiring to bring back the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte from the Island of Elba to France. Of course, the young man is innocent. He had done nothing wrong, but because of the jealously of two men who falsely accused him coupled with the dishonesty of the magistrate who wanted to cover up the involvement of his father in the plot Edmond ends up in up dark and gloomy dungeon on island prison with orders for him to never to be released. Edmond ends up suffering for 14 years in this dungeon before he managed to make his escape.

The story is then largely about how after coming into an incredible fortune on the island of Monte Cristo he assumed the identity of the Count of Monte Cristo and then went about patiently and meticulously getting his revenge on those who put him in that prison. He made those who had done him so much harm, pay dearly for what they had done to him.

Wanting revenge is a very natural response when someone does us harm. The temptation is to return evil for evil. To pay back as good as we have got and to make those who have hurt us also hurt and feel our pain. However, as we read last week in chapter 3 God’s holy people are called to live differently to this. As God’s holy people in this world we are to live as foreigner and exiles  and our calling is to not pay back evil for evil, but to keep doing good and be a blessing to others, even those who might persecute us and do us harm.

1 Peter 3:9

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing[i].

2. Why we keep on doing good

Although Peter believes that, for the most part, if we are eager to do good and abstain from sinful desires (as we have been called to do) that no one will want to harm us, yet he is also aware that this isn’t always the case. There will be times that although we have done what is right and good, that which pleases God, people will still want to do us harm and we will suffer for it.

1 Peter 3:13-16

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Peter understands that at times God’s people will be unfairly treated. He knew that they would be falsely accused (2:12) and threatened (3:14) and abused (4:4).  And being aware of this, he wrote to the believers living in Asia Minor (and to us) to help them understand how they were to endure such suffering and why they should keep on being eager to good even in the face of evil.

2.1 We are blessed

The first thing that he reminds he readers of, is despite the suffering that others might cause us, we are those who are blessed. We are to keep doing good and blessing others because we ourselves are blessed.

We are those who have been given new birth into a living hope and as Peter explained in the opening chapter, we now have “an inheritance kept in heaven for us that can never perish, spoil or fade”. Though we might suffer grief through all kinds of trials for a little while, we are those who are “receiving the salvation of our souls” (1:9). We are those who bless others and don’t return evil for evil because we have been blessed and will inherit a blessing, our salvation. As he wrote in chapter 3 and verse 9…

1 Peter 3:9

On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

2.2 We are to revere Christ as Lord

The second reason for being eager to do good is because we aren’t to fear people and their threats, but in our hearts, at the centre of who we are, we are to revere Christ as Lord. He is the one we want to honour.

The word that is translated “revere” is the same word that Jesus used when he taught his disciples how they were to pray to their Father in heaven (see Matthew 6:9). The Lord told them to pray, “Hallowed be your name”. The word that is translated “hallow” in Matthew and “revere” in this letter is a word which means to set apart something as holy.

We don’t return evil for evil because we revere Christ who is Lord. We want him to be honoured no matter what happens to us. You might remember how Peter spoke about doing things for the sake of the Lord throughout this section. He told the all believers to submit themselves to every human authority “for the Lord’s sake” (2:13) and for slaves “in reverent fear of God” to submit themselves to their masters (2:18) and suffering for doing good and enduring it because it is “commendable before God” and wives clothing themselves with gentleness and quiet spirit for it is of “great worth in God’s sight”.

This desire to honour Christ as Lord by which we honour God is the like the compass that sets the direction of our lives no matter what the weather is like our compass heading doesn’t change. We might be sailing through stormy weather, but it doesn’t change our heading. We are still seeking to honour him. The weather might be fine and clear, but the heading doesn’t change. We live to honour him. The dark clouds might roll in and we might find that we have cause to fear what we see going on around us, but we don’t let those fears rule us or change the direction of lives. Everyone else might be sailing in a different direction reacting to whatever way the wind is blowing but we remain true to our calling and put our hope in Christ and keep honour him doing things for his sake, because they are please to him. We keep blessing others (doing good) for that is what we have been called to do, to bless as we have been blessed.

Being prepared with an answer

If all our hope is in Jesus, people will notice this. This was already happening for the believers in Asia Minor. Peter wrote in chapter 4 how the pagans (or Gentiles) were surprised that the believers were no longer joining in with them in what they did, their debauchery, their lust, drunkenness parties and idolatry and they were heaping abuse on them (4:4). The believers stood out as being different.

By the time Peter wrote this letter the persecution had started and it would come to a head often over the refusal to worship of the emperor. Polycarp was a church leader in the second century in Smyrna in Asia Minor. His generation was the one which came directly on the heels of those who had seen the risen Lord. Tradition has him having been discipled by the apostle John. But it was much later as an old man that he came into conflict with the local authorities over the practice of emperor worship. The people of Smyrna were fiercely loyal to Rome and demanded the worship of the emperor. At 86 Polycarp found himself being threatened by the local proconsul who gave him a choice of swearing by Caesar or being burnt at the stake. Tradition has Polycarp replying to this threat with the words…

“Fourscore and six years have I served him, and he has never done me injury; how can I now blaspheme my King and Saviour”[ii].

Whether he said those exact words or not we cannot know for certain, but surely his refusal bore out the sentiment of those words. He could not deny his King and Saviour whether that be in life or by his suffering and death and his reverence for Christ would have raised questions about the hope that was his.[iii].

Hardship and suffering become an opportunity for us to declare the one in whom we have put our hope. It’s an opportunity that we need to be prepared for if we are to honour him. There will be times when to honour the Lord Jesus we won’t be able to join in with things that others believe and do. At those time we all need to be ready to give an answer to those who ask us to give the reason for the hope that is ours. We need to be people who can articulate our faith, who can tell others about why we have put our hope in him. We need to be able to talk about God’s mercy and our new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Keeping on doing good

However, honouring Jesus will mean more than bearing testimony to him with words, but will also involve the way that we live. That’s why the apostle told the believers to answer those who ask with gentleness and respect. They were to do this so that their consciences might be “clean” or literally “good”.

Often when the Bible talks about a clean or a good conscience it is talking about one that has been cleansed by the blood of Christ and is free from the guilt of sin. However, here it seems to be referring to making sure that our conduct or behaviour in Christ is above reproach so that those who speak maliciously against us have nothing to accuse us of and may be ashamed of their slander. We are to keep on doing good and not return evil for evil in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Peter explains in verse 17 that it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

2.3 It is better to suffer for doing good than evil

Peter spends the rest of the chapter spelling out why it is better to suffer for doing good than doing evil. The first reason is because Christ suffered for us to bring us to God.

1 Peter 3:18

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

For Christ suffered to bring us to God

Peter explained that Christ endured suffering and death for us. The righteous one died for the unrighteous to bring us to God. He suffered once for sins so that our sin might be forgiven and so that we might draw near to God with a clear or a good conscience.

I believe that Peter is saying more than just Christ has left us an example to follow. He will say that in chapter 4. But here we are being told that the righteous one suffered for us as a sacrifice for our sin so that we might be saved and live for God with a clear conscience. It’s our calling as God’s people to live this way. He suffered death for our sakes that we might live no longer for sin, but for him who died for us so that we might belong to God. So, we can’t just go back and conform to those evil desires when we live in ignorance (1:14) even if we suffer for doing what is right. This is no reason to go back to the old way of life that we were saved from. We were called to be holy.

For God will save his people

Peter goes on in verses 19 to 22 to use the story of Noah to highlight the fact that God will save his people and bring judgement on the wicked. This is the second reason why it is better to suffer for doing good than doing evil.

1 Peter 3:19-22

19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

I admit these are difficult verses and that they have been explained in all sorts of different ways. Martin Luther thought these words strange and wrote that this was “a more obscure passage than another other passage in the New Testament.” He wrote, “I still do not know for sure what the apostle meant”[iv].

The 2011 NIV translation suggest that Peter is talking about a post resurrection appearance of Jesus by beginning verse 19 with the words “After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits”. But the text literally says what the NIV has in the margin, “but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits”.  The questions around this passage are numerous. When did he go to these imprisoned spirits? Who are they? Why would he preach to them? What does it mean for Christ to do this in the spirit?

For me I think the best explanation as to what is being referred to is the preaching of Noah to those who were alive in his day but who were at the time Peter wrote dead waiting for the day of judgment. Earlier in the letter Peter wrote how the Spirit of Christ revealed things to the prophets in former day who predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glory to follow. In Peter’s second letter he referred to Noah as a preacher of righteousness and how while bringing the flood on the ungodly he protected Noah (2 Peter 2:5). After referring to the example of Noah and others from the OT Peter then concluded in verse 9…

2 Peter 2:9

The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.

I believe that the idea is similar here in this passage. It was the Spirit of Christ that caused Noah to be a preacher of righteousness. And just as God saved Noah and brought judgment on the disobedient in his day, God will also save his people living among their own wicked generation. He will do it through water, not water of baptism, but through what that water represents the pledge of a good conscience towards God.

For me this is the most reasonable explanation. However, whatever way you understand these verses we are being reminded that those who put their hope in God will be saved and those who don’t won’t escape the coming judgement. Like Noah and the seven others, we too might be a minority in this world, but the result of our faith in Jesus will be the salvation of our souls.

We might be ridiculed, mistreated, and abused by those around us but what awaits them is a day of judgment like what awaits the disobedient people of Noah’s day. Peter repeats the idea in verse 4 of the next chapter where he writes that those who heap abuse on you will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. But in contrast to them, we, like Noah and his family are being saved through the Christ who has gone into heaven and is now at God’s right-hand interceding for us.

We are blessed because of the salvation which is ours. Even though we might have to suffer now for a little while for doing what is right, we are those who are being saved and called to belong to God. We are therefore to keep on revering Christ as Lord and not repay evil with evil or insult for with insult but repay evil with blessing for we are those who are blessed. We are to be eager to do good for to this we have been called to. We are to bless because we have been blessed.

3. Have the same attitude as Christ

We are called to have the same attitude as Christ in verse 1 and 2 of chapter 4. We are to no longer live for human desires but to do the will of God even if it means suffering for it in this world.

1 Peter 4:1-2

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. 2 As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

We are to have the same mind or attitude as Christ, who would not let anything get in the way of doing his Father’s will. Despite the suffering that was before him, he committed himself to his father’s will and he willing went to the cross. He committed no sin. When they hurled insults, he didn’t retaliate. When he suffered, he made no threats. We are to arm ourselves with this same attitude as Christ. We are to not live these earthly lives for ourselves according to our sinful desires, but to do the will of God. That is to be our resolve even when we suffer for what is right. We are to be eager to do good and not repaying evil for evil but to bless. We do this for we are to be like the one who said, “Not my will be done but yours be done.”[v]

[i] All Scripture citation, unless otherwise indicated are taken from the 2011 edition of the New International translation of the Bible.

[ii] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/incontext/article/polycarp-testimony

[iii] https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/polycarp.html

[iv] This quote is taken from Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament, Page 313

[v] Luke 22:42