The proper response to suffering for righteousness’ sake
1 Peter 3: 8-22
We've been looking at the book of 1 Peter, which is a book written to small churches scattered throughout part of the Roman empire a couple of thousand years ago. They were massively outnumbered and were facing hostility because they believed in Christ. The question we have to ask is this: How should the believer respond to suffering unjustly from others?
In this text we see Peter encouraging Christians who are suffering by teaching them how they should respond.
In suffering, believers must live with the right attitudes. (vv. 8-12)
8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Peter starts off saying “finally.” Obviously, this is not the end of the book, but it is an end of a thought process. He has been talking about the believer’s response to government, masters and slaves, husbands and wives, and now he talks about the believer’s response to suffering, or in difficult times.
In verse 8 Peter lists 5 adjectives to describe the attitudes with which Christians should treat others.
unity of mind,
a tender heart, and
a humble mind.
a. Believers should seek to live in harmony with one another.
Unity of mind: Most of us are willing to have unity of mind, as long as that one mind is my mind! But the one mind is to be the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16, Philippians 2). Our common mind is to be Jesus’ mind.
This command brings us back to the need to know God’s word. We can’t be of one mind, the mind of Jesus, if we don’t know what His mind is. The word of God shows us the mind of Jesus.
b. Believers should be sympathetic.
To be sympathetic means to “share the same feeling.” This would be very important for a congregation that was suffering attacks from without and within. There would be people mourning losses and others enjoying victories. It would be very easy to be detached from the rest of the church, especially if one’s experience was different from others. This happens every day in our churches.
However, this is not how a body should work; it’s not how a family should work. When a body is sick, the rest of the members of the body recruit one another to help in the healing process. This is what we see in a fever. The body is responding to a sickness in order to heal itself. This should happen within the church as well. We should be sympathetic and share both successes and problems. Look at what Paul said in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
Let me ask you this: Do you rejoice with others? Do you mourn when others are hurting?
c. Believers should respond by loving one another as family.
Peter then says we should love one another as brothers. This is the word phileo, which is a brotherly or family love. Christ said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). As believers, we have become as close, if not closer, than natural family with people in the church.
d. Believers should respond to one another with tender hearted or compassion.
The word used here is actually a physical word. It means to be moved so much by a situation that we must respond. Some have called compassion “feeling in action.” It is more than sympathy; it is compassion that compels us to respond.
We see this often used of Christ. For Example in Matt 14:14: “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick”. Christ was so moved when he saw the crowd that he began to heal their sick. We should feel that way when we see members in our church who are struggling and in pain. It doesn’t do much to feel pain and to not respond. We should be moved in such a way that we respond with action.
e. Believers should respond to one another with humility.
It is pride that is the root of almost all our disputes. We feel disrespected, we feel not cared for, and our pride rises up with anger.
However, humility enables us to lower ourselves in order to work for peace and the good of the whole. Listen to what Paul tells the Philippians who were struggling with division, especially as they had two women fighting.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3–5).
A person who is humble listens to the complaints of others. They are not quick to become angry, even when wronged, because they care more about others than themselves. Believers must be humble in their relationships with one another.
These five attitudes are necessary to have in the church especially when going through hardship, division, or persecution. Trials often reveal the ugly in our hearts, and therefore, when going through them, we must seek to respond with these godly attitudes instead.
9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
People have 3 fundamental choices about how they will respond to people around them.
The satanic or evil way: Respond with evil when others do good to you.
The worldly or human way: Respond with evil when people treat you evil and good when people treat you well.
The godly or Christian way: Respond with good regardless of whether people treat you well or not.
Christians are called to the third way.
But on the contrary, bless: The greatest challenge to our love for others comes when we are wronged. At those times we are called to not return evil for evil, but to give a blessing instead.
The natural response to hostility is retaliation. This is what the terrible ethnic or tribal conflicts all over the world are all about – one group wrongs another, and dedicates the rest of its existence to repaying that wrong. Only the love of Jesus for our enemies can break the terrible cycle.
Jesus reminded us that it is no great credit if we love those who love us in return; the real test of love is to demonstrate compassion to our enemies (Matthew 5: 44-47).
For to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing: – by blessing those who have wronged us, we will inherit or obtain a blessing. Psalms 34 -
“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Friends, believers must live with the right attitudes in the midst of suffering unjustly.
2. In suffering, believers must be ready to defend our hope in God. (vv.13–17)
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
It is in the midst of suffering that our life shines the most. It is often in the midst of the fire that there are opportunities to evangelize or share the faith. The word defense in the original language is where we get the word apology or apologetic - to defend one’s faith.
People will wonder why are you responding the way you are responding. How come you are not angry or fighting back?
Why are you persevering through this difficult relationship, job, marriage, or church situation?
And it is there you will have the opportunity to encourage other believers or evangelize nonbelievers. We may not feel capable of ministering in our trials but that is often where God uses us and demonstrates his glory the most.
So let me ask you this:
When is the last time someone asked you the reason for your joy and hope in pain?
When is the last time someone asked you about why you are so generous? So forgiving? So patient?
BTW, this was the secret of the early church’s success! They lived in ways that blew everyone’s minds! Rodney Stark's written a book called The Rise of Christianity with the subtitle How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. Rodney Stark says there are several things about the early church that set them apart:
First, multi-ethnic unity
Radically generous. They took incredible care of the poor. We have that famous letter from Emperor Julian complaining “These godless Galileans care not only for their poor but ours as well.”
Or how bout this: Only in the church was there a regard for all life, especially those lives considered cheap by the Roman Empire. Rome had it’s own abortion scheme: If a Roman family had a baby they didn’t want, they would just leave it out by the trash overnight. There are ancient letters from Roman men to their wives, "If it is a boy, keep it. If it is a girl, discard it." That sound familiar? The early church practiced things called baby runs. Members would walk the streets at night listening for these discarded babies. Soon churches were filled with new babies, particularly baby girls, discarded on the streets.
These things made them ODD, and they provoked questions. When was the last time someone asked you about your generosity odd-ness? If they haven't, maybe that's because you're not that much different!
Certainly, we see this in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are about to get thrown in the fire if they do not bow down to the idol in the Kingdom of Babylon. Let’s look again at their apologetic to the King and to all those watching.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16–18
Here we see their apologetic, they said, “The God we serve is able to save us.” But, we should also notice the manner in which they responded. They said, “O Nebuchadnezzar” and “O King.” They responded with honorific language with the “O.” Even right before being thrown in the fire, they are honoring and respecting the king even in their apologetic.
Peter teaches the same thing. He says not only must we be prepared to give an apologetic, but the manner we do it in is important as well. Look again at what 1 Peter 3:15 says: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”.
3. In suffering, believers must remember Christ suffered for righteousness’ sake (vv.18-22)
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit
What else should we do in order to respond properly to those who mistreat us or when going through suffering?
Peter says, we must remember Christ. In this passage, Peter calls the believers to remember that
Christ died for the sins of the world, even though he was righteous.
He was without fault, and therefore, not deserving of death.
He took the penalty for our sins.
Because of this reality, followers of Christ should be encouraged by his model, and therefore, willing to suffer for righteousness’s sake, even as our Lord did.
The writer of Hebrews also exhorts believers to look at Christ to encourage them when they were suffering. Look at what he says: Hebrews 12:2
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
As we suffer for righteousness’ sake, we must fix our eyes or look to Jesus or Christ who suffered before us. This means an unwavering look. It is like Peter walking on water in the storm. While his eyes were fixed on Christ, he could walk even amidst the storm. But when he began to focus on the storm and the waves, he sank.
In the same way, it is impossible for us to stay holy in the storms of life and especially when suffering unjustly without a fixed, unwavering look at Christ. By looking at him, we find encouragement and strength to suffer for righteousness’ sake.
For Peter, and for us ultimately as well, we must look to Jesus or remember Jesus for our motivation and as a perfect example of how turning from evil and doing good works.
In fact, Peter used familiar language in 1 Peter 2:21-23: “21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. ”
Do see what Jesus did? Why does Peter think Jesus is our perfect example for turning away from evil and doing good in the midst of persecution? Because He continued entrusting Himself to God who judges justly.
Jesus trusted the just Judge that He would be vindicated for suffering an unjust persecution, ultimately ending in His death. If Jesus trusted the Judge, we, too, must trust the Judge knowing that He will take care of us.