Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God… – 1 Peter 3:13-18a ESV
Sometimes, doing the right thing can produce a wrong reaction from others. And when the right thing involves doing the will of God, it can result in all kinds of negative responses from those who oppose God. Loving your enemy will not always be received well by your enemy. Keeping your tongue from evil and your lips from deceit (verse 10) doesn’t guarantee that others will not speak poorly of you and attempt to spread false accusations against you. Suffering for the sake of righteousness is a real possibility for every believer. He even used Christ as an example of suffering for righteousness sake. He “also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). Now the problem with Peter’s use of Christ as an example is that it seems to provide a negative answer to his opening question: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” It would seem that, based on the death of Jesus, the answer would be, “A lot of people!” There seemed to be no shortage of people who wanted to see Jesus suffer and die for doing what was right. But Peter seems to have the words of the psalmist in mind as he writes this passage.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.– Psalm 118:6-7 ESV
The words of Jesus, spoken to the disciples as He was sending them out of their first ministry assignment without Him, were probably still echoing in Peter’s ear. He had warned them of coming persecution.
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. – Matthew 10:16-18 ESV
Jesus had gone on to tell them, “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). But He had also said, “So have no fear of them … And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:26, 28 ESV). The bottom line for Peter was to honor Christ rather than to fear man. “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Peter 3:14-15 ESV). Again, Peter seems to have the words of Jesus in mind. “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matthew 10:27 ESV). As believers, we must be ready, willing and able to speak the truth concerning Christ to any and all we meet. But we must do more than proclaim the good news about Jesus, we must live it out in our everyday lives. Our behavior must reflect the reality of what we say we believe about Jesus and His redemptive, life-transforming work in our lives. That’s why Peter honoring Christ as “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). The truth of the gospel is best defended by both words and deeds. Redemption proclaimed is best proved by righteousness lived out. The good news must be accompanied by good behavior. And when others “revile your good behavior in Christ,” Peter says they “may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:16 ESV).
As believers, we ultimately answer to God. Peter, quoting from Psalm 34, said, “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12 ESV). That includes Christians. God is a righteous, holy god. He cannot tolerate sin. So we must be zealous to do good, to live righteously, even if it leads to suffering. A guilt-free conscience before God is better than a life free from suffering because you allowed your fear of man to overshadow your fear of and love for God. Suffering is inevitable and unavoidable in this life. We will either suffer for doing wrong or for doing what is good and right in God’s eyes. Jesus Himself reminds us, “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV). We may suffer for doing what is right, and we have been promised salvation as a reward. Paul would have us focus on the end result of our faithfulness. While doing what is right may result in suffering here, it will ultimately produce glory in the hereafter. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV). Doing good may turn out bad for you in this life, but you will be far from disappointed in the long-term results of a life lived in obedience to God.